, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 637-671

The role of prefrontal cortex in working-memory capacity, executive attention, and general fluid intelligence: An individual-differences perspective


We provide an “executive-attention” framework for organizing the cognitive neuroscience research on the constructs of working-memory capacity (WMC), general fluid intelligence, and prefrontal cortex (PFC) function. Rather than provide a novel theory of PFC function, we synthesize a wealth of singlecell, brain-imaging, and neuropsychological research through the lens of our theory of normal individual differences in WMC and attention control (Engle, Kane, & Tuholski, 1999; Engle, Tuholski, Laughlin, & Conway, 1999). Our critical review confirms the prevalent view that dorsolateral PFC circuitry is critical to executive-attention functions. Moreover, although the dorsolateral PFC is but one critical structure in a network of anterior and posterior “attention control” areas, it does have a unique executiveattention role in actively maintaining access to stimulus representations and goals in interference-rich contexts. Our review suggests the utility of an executive-attention framework for guiding future research on both PFC function and cognitive control.

This work was supported by Grants F49620-93-1-0336 and F49620-97-1 from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and Grant RO1-HD27490-01A1 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. We are indebted to Alan Baddeley, Todd Braver, Andrew Conway, John Duncan, Timothy Salthouse, and Jeffrey Toth for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.