Rev Neurol 2002 Apr 1;34(7):673-85
Tirapu Ust rroz J, M oz C spedes JM, Pelegr n Valero C.
Servicio de Neuropsicolog a.; Fundaci n Argibide. Asociaci n Da o Cerebral Navarra, Pamplona, 31007, Espa a.
The new cognitive neuropsychology approachs have aroused an increasing interest in understanding the higher cognitive processes as well as the neural substrates linked to them. Particularly, the executive functions, reckoned to be essential to control the information processing and to co ordinate behaviour, have received preferential treatment from specialised literature on the subject.
From obsessive compulsive disorder to schizophrenia, from Parkinson s disease to multiple sclerosis, there are many reports that show the affectation of these functions in all these morbid processes. On the other hand, the part that the prefrontal cortex plays in human behaviour in general, and in executive functions in particular, constitutes one of the most important fields of research of neurosciences nowadays. Thus, this cortical area appears closely linked to the executive processes, affecting different respects of the cognitive functions. Working memory, supervisory attentional system, somatic marker, information processing, behaviour planning, social judgement, are processes which have been related to the prefrontal cortex activity as a structure, and to the executive processes as a function.
The aim of this article is to revise the concept of executive functions, and give rise reflections about the usefulness of the aforementioned concept and its practical applicability. It is essential that we understand the difference between structure and function, cognition and emotion, brain activity and behaviour, category and dimension, and between mind and brain, to achieve a more comprehensive approach to this concept of executive functions we all use, and many times find difficult to define and to understand.