The differing roles of the frontal cortex in fluency tests

Gail Robinson, Tim Shallice, Marco Bozzali, Lisa Cipolotti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fluency tasks have been widely used to tap the voluntary generation of responses. The anatomical correlates of fluency tasks and their sensitivity and specificity have been hotly debated. However, investigation of the cognitive processes involved in voluntary generation of responses and whether generation is supported by a common, general process (e.g. fluid intelligence) or specific cognitive processes underpinned by particular frontal regions has rarely been addressed. This study investigates a range of verbal and non-verbal fluency tasks in patients with unselected focal frontal (n = 47) and posterior (n = 20) lesions. Patients and controls (n = 35) matched for education, age and sex were administered fluency tasks including word (phonemic/semantic), design, gesture and ideational fluency as well as background cognitive tests. Lesions were analysed by standard anterior/ posterior and left/right frontal subdivisions as well as a finer-grained frontal localization method. Thus, patients with right and left lateral lesions were compared to patients with superior medial lesions. The results show that all eight fluency tasks are sensitive to frontal lobe damage although only the phonemic word and design fluency tasks were specific to the frontal region. Superior medial patients were the only group to be impaired on all eight fluency tasks, relative to controls, consistent with an energization deficit. The most marked fluency deficits for lateral patients were along material specific lines (i.e. left - phonemic and right - design). Phonemic word fluency that requires greater selection was most severely impaired following left inferior frontal damage. Overall, our results support the notion that frontal functions comprise a set of specialized cognitive processes, supported by distinct frontal regions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2202-2214
Number of pages13
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Energization
  • Fluency tests
  • Fluid intelligence
  • Frontal cortex
  • Selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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