ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Psychological Research

, Volume 63, Issue 3, pp 289-298

Executive functions and the frontal lobes: a conceptual view

  • Donald T. StussAffiliated withRotman Research Institute, Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, 3560 Bathurst St., Toronto, Ontario M6A 2E1, Canada e-mail: rotman@rotman-baycrest.on.ca
  • , Michael P. AlexanderAffiliated withRotman Research Institute, Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, 3560 Bathurst St., Toronto, Ontario M6A 2E1, Canada e-mail: rotman@rotman-baycrest.on.ca

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Abstract

Several problems in understanding executive functions and their relationships to the frontal lobes are discussed. Data are then presented from several of our studies to support the following statements: (1) the examination of patients with focal frontal lobe lesions is a necessary first step in defining the relation of executive functions to the frontal lobes; (2) there is no unitary executive function. Rather, distinct processes related to the frontal lobes can be differentiated which converge on a general concept of control functions; (3) a simple control-automatic distinction is inadequate to explain the complexity of control-automatic processes; (4) the distinction between complex and simple tasks cannot explain the differences in functions between the frontal lobes and other brain regions; and (5) the most important role of the frontal lobes may be for affective responsiveness, social and personality development, and self-awareness and unconsciousness.