The clinical significance of incidental white-matter foci seen on MRI is controversial. Mainly using a computer-assisted neuropsychological test battery, we tested the hypothesis that there is a clinical correlate of these foci. We studied 41 individuals aged 45-65 years with no history of neurological or psychiatric disorder, in whom no indication of central nervous system abnormalities was found on standardised neurological examination. A computer-assisted neuropsychological test battery, with the advantage of precise measuring of both time and deviation (e.g. in position memory tests), and rating scales for emotional dysfunction were administered; selected soft neurological signs were assessed. In 16 subjects (39%) MRI showed high-signal foci in the white matter on spin-echo sequences. White-matter foci not adjacent to the lateral ventricles were found to be related to performance on immediate visual memory/visuoperceptual skills, visuomotor tracking/psychomotor speed and, to a lesser degree, learning capacity and abstract and conceptual reasoning skills. Subtle cognitive dysfunction would appear to be a clinical correlate of punctate white-matter foci on MRI of otherwise "healty" individuals.