chapter  11
22 Pages

Executive functions

The development of sophisticated neuropsychological testing techniques and the advent of in-vivo imaging have led to increased interest in the role of cortical regions, particularly the frontal lobes, in what neuropsychologists call “executive function(s)”. However, it is important at the outset to be clear about the term itself, and the relationship between executive functions and the frontal lobes. Executive functions refer to a set of psychological attributes that are supervisory, controlling, and organisational. Although these skills are all critical for normal everyday behaviour, their somewhat abstract nature means that routine psychological assessments such as IQ tests or measures of sensory perception may fail to detect any executive dysfunctions. Executive functions include the ability to plan, initiate, and terminate actions, to think in abstract or conceptual terms, to adapt to changing circumstances, and to respond in socially appropriate ways. Individuals with impaired executive function show deficits in higher-level cognitive operations that require planning, flexible thought, and coordination of different subprocesses. Baddeley (1986) has used the term “dysexecutive syndrome” to identify these impairments.