The Neurobiology of the Prefrontal Cortex: Anatomy, Evolution, and the Origin of Insight

ISBN : 9780199552917

Richard E. Passingham; Steven P. Wise
424 Pages
182 x 247 mm
Pub date
Jul 2012
Oxford Psychology Series
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The prefrontal cortex makes up almost a quarter of the human brain, and it expanded dramatically during primate evolution. The Neurobiology of the Prefrontal Cortex presents a new theory about its fundamental function. In this important new book, the authors argue that primate-specific parts of the prefrontal cortex evolved to reduce errors in foraging choices, so that particular ancestors of modern humans could overcome periodic food shortages. These developments laid the foundation for working out problems in our imagination, which resulted in the insights that allow humans to avoid errors entirely, at least at times. In the book, the authors detail which parts of the prefrontal cortex evolved exclusively in primates, how its connections explain why the prefrontal cortex alone can perform its function, and why other parts of the brain cannot do what the prefrontal cortex does. Based on an analysis of its evolutionary history, the book uses evidence from lesion, imaging, and cell-recording experiments to argue that the primate prefrontal cortex generates goals from a current behavioural context and that it can do so on the basis of single events. As a result, the prefrontal cortex uses the attentive control of behaviour to augment an older general-purpose learning system, one that evolved very early in the history of animals. This older system learns slowly and cumulatively over many experiences based on reinforcement. The authors argue that a new learning system evolved in primates at a particular time and place in their history, that it did so to decrease the errors inherent in the older learning system, and that severe volatility of food resources provided the driving force for these developments. Written by two leading brain scientists, The Neurobiology of the Prefrontal Cortex is an important contribution to our understanding of the evolution and functioning of the human brain.


1. Introduction
2. Evolution of the primate prefrontal cortex
3. Medial prefrontal cortex: choosing actions based on outcomes
4. Orbital prefrontal cortex: choosing objects based on outcomes
5. Caudal prefrontal cortex: searching for goals
6. Dorsal prefrontal cortex: generating goals based on recent events
7. * Ventral prefrontal cortex: generating goals based on visual and auditory contexts
8. * Prefrontal cortex as a whole: generating goals from current contexts and events
9. Human prefrontal cortex: generating goals from instructions and imagination
10. Conclusions

About the author: 

Richard Passingham was an undergraduate at the University of Oxford. He did his Ph.D at the University of London before returning to Oxford in 1970. He was made a University Lecturer and Fellow of Wadham College in 1976. He was made a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in 1997 and is an emeritus Principal at the Wellcome Centre for NeuroImaging in London. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 2009 and Fellow of the American Psychological Society in 2010. He has recently retired from his role as Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Oxford, UK; Steven Wise received a B.A. in biology from Dartmouth College and a Ph.D. in biology (neuroscience) from Washington University in St. Louis. After a brief period of postdoctoral study, he had a 30-year career as a neurophysiologist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr Wise served as the Chief of the Laboratory of Neurophysiology at the National Institute of Mental Health and Chief of the Section on Neurophysiology of the Laboratory of Systems Neuroscience. His current affiliations are the Olschefskie Institute for Neurobiology of Knowledge, Potomac, Maryland, USA and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Neuroscience, Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neurosciences of Natal.

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