The prefrontal landscape: implications of functional architecture for understanding human mentation and the central executive

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1996 Oct 29;351(1346):1445-53. doi: 10.1098/rstb.1996.0129.


The functional architecture of prefrontal cortex is central to our understanding of human mentation and cognitive prowess. This region of the brain is often treated as an undifferentiated structure, on the one hand, or as a mosaic of psychological faculties, on the other. This paper focuses on the working memory processor as a specialization of prefrontal cortex and argues that the different areas within prefrontal cortex represent iterations of this function for different information domains, including spatial cognition, object cognition and additionally, in humans, semantic processing. According to this parallel processing architecture, the 'central executive' could be considered an emergent property of multiple domain-specific processors operating interactively. These processors are specializations of different prefrontal cortical areas, each interconnected both with the domain-relevant long-term storage sites in posterior regions of the cortex and with appropriate output pathways.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Consciousness
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Motor Cortex / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology