Emergence of abstract rules in the primate brain

Farshad Alizadeh Mansouri, David J. Freedman, Mark J. Buckley

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Various aspects of human cognition are shaped and enriched by abstract rules, which help to describe, link and classify discrete events and experiences into meaningful concepts. However, where and how these entities emerge in the primate brain and the neuronal mechanisms underlying them remain the subject of extensive research and debate. Evidence from imaging studies in humans and single-neuron recordings in monkeys suggests a pivotal role for the prefrontal cortex in the representation of abstract rules; however, behavioural studies in lesioned monkeys and data from neuropsychological examinations of patients with prefrontal damage indicate substantial functional dissociations and task dependency in the contribution of prefrontal cortical regions to rule-guided behaviour. This Review describes our current understanding of the dynamic emergence of abstract rules in primate cognition, and of the distributed neural network that supports abstract rule formation, maintenance, revision and task-dependent implementation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)596-610
Number of pages16
JournalNature Reviews Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • cognitive control
  • learning and memory
  • perception

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