Meta-analytic evidence for a superordinate cognitive control network subserving diverse executive functions

Tara A. Niendam, Angela R. Laird, Kimberly L. Ray, Y. Monica Dean, David C. Glahn, Cameron S. Carter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1073 Scopus citations


Classic cognitive theory conceptualizes executive functions as involving multiple specific domains, including initiation, inhibition, working memory, flexibility, planning, and vigilance. Lesion and neuroimaging experiments over the past two decades have suggested that both common and unique processes contribute to executive functions during higher cognition. It has been suggested that a superordinate fronto-cingulo-parietal network supporting cognitive control may also underlie a range of distinct executive functions. To test this hypothesis in the largest sample to date, we used quantitative meta-analytic methods to analyze 193 functional neuroimaging studies of 2,832 healthy individuals, ages 18-60, in which performance on executive function measures was contrasted with an active control condition. A common pattern of activation was observed in the prefrontal, dorsal anterior cingulate, and parietal cortices across executive function domains, supporting the idea that executive functions are supported by a superordinate cognitive control network. However, domain-specific analyses showed some variation in the recruitment of anterior prefrontal cortex, anterior and midcingulate regions, and unique subcortical regions such as the basal ganglia and cerebellum. These results are consistent with the existence of a superordinate cognitive control network in the brain, involving dorsolateral prefrontal, anterior cingulate, and parietal cortices, that supports a broad range of executive functions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241-268
Number of pages28
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Activation likelihood estimation
  • Cognitive control
  • Executive function
  • Meta-analysis
  • Prefrontal cortex


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