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Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

Price: $50.00

Paperback 400 pp.
171 mm x 246 mm



Publication date:
June 2014

Imprint: OUP UK

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The Neurobiology of the Prefrontal Cortex

Anatomy, Evolution, and the Origin of Insight

Richard E. Passingham and Steven P. Wise

Series : Oxford Psychology Series

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.

Readership : Suitable for graduate students in neuroscience, neuroscientists (especially those in Systems Neuroscience and Imaging Neuroscience), and cognitive scientists (including psychologists).

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

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Richard Passingham did his undergraduate degree at Oxford University (BA, 1966), and then did a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology.at the Institute of Psychiatry in London (M.Sc. 1967). He then undertook his Ph.D. at the University of London (1971). Afterwards he returned to Oxford University as a Research Officer on a MRC Programme Grant. He was made a University Lecturer in the Department of Experimental Psychology in 1976 and a Fellow of Wadham College in the same year. He was made an Honorary Senior Lecturer at the MRC Cyclotron Unit at the Hammersmith Hospital in 1991 and an Honorary Principal at the Wellcome Centre for Neuroimaging in London in 1996. In 1993 he became an ad hominem Reader in Cognitive Neuroscience at Oxford University and became a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in 1997. Richard was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2009 and Fellow of the American Psychological Society in 2010. Steven P. Wise received a B.A. in biology from Dartmouth College and a Ph.D. in biology 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.

The Neurobiology of Spatial Behaviour - Edited by K.J. Jeffery
The Neurobiology of Memory - Yadin Dudai
The Prefrontal Cortex - Edited by A. C. Roberts, T. W. Robbins and L. Weiskrantz
Principles of Frontal Lobe Function - Edited by Donald T. Stuss and Robert T. Knight

Special Features

  • Uses a comparative approach, combining evidence from humans and monkeys - from this readers will learn about the evolutionary history of the prefrontal cortex.
  • Adopts a multidisciplinary approach, combining evidence from anatomy, cell recording, imaging, and lesion effects, enabling understanding the broad scope of data on the function of the primate prefrontal cortex.
  • Based on the anatomy of the prefrontal cortex helping people to understand the connections of the prefrontal cortex and their importance to its function.
  • Advances a testable proposal, examining ideas about experiments for future exploration of the prefrontal cortex.