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Executive Functions Program


This program supports basic research on multiple aspects of cognition, and executive functions in particular. Complex categorization processes, action planning/monitoring, decision making, and cognitive control are all areas of significant interest to the NIMH and this program specifically. Higher-level attentional and perceptual processes are important to understand because they are fundamental building blocks of more complex cognitive functions. Deficits in executive function are associated with many psychiatric disorders, hence NIMH’s interest in supporting basic research in this area. Questions include but are not limited to resolving issues such as: How do these cognitive processes interact? What neural systems underlie their function? How do these neural systems interact in the normally functioning organism and how do abnormalities in these interactions lead to disruption of specific aspects of cognitive function (e.g., as the result of temporary or permanent lesions, either structurally, pharmacologically or genetically based)? Purely computational work is supported if it makes substantive contact with behavioral, physiological and neuroscience evidence. The overall objective is to provide general support for basic science research on cognitive phenomena that have relevance to the broader disease mission of the NIMH. Research related to the areas of learning and memory is supported in a separate program ( Substrates of Memory and Learning).

Areas of Emphasis

  • Applying multidisciplinary approaches to identify the fundamental architecture and computational properties of normative human cognition, particularly those aspects of cognition that may become dysfunctional within mental disorders.
  • The nature and determinants of individual differences in human cognition, particularly differences relevant to understanding vulnerability to and the course of mental disorders.
  • Sex differences in, and the developmental time course of, executive functions, especially as expressed through their behavioral and neurophysiological correlates.
  • The role of the prefrontal cortex as part of an integrative network coordinating various aspects of higher level cognitive function.


Andrew F. Rossi, Ph.D.
Program Chief
6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 7194, MSC 9637