Architecture of cognitive flexibility revealed by lesion mapping

Aron K. Barbey, Roberto Colom, Jordan Grafman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neuroscience has made remarkable progress in understanding the architecture of human intelligence, identifying a distributed network of brain structures that support goal-directed, intelligent behavior. However, the neural foundations of cognitive flexibility and adaptive aspects of intellectual function remain to be well characterized. Here, we report a human lesion study (n=149) that investigates the neural bases of key competencies of cognitive flexibility (i.e., mental flexibility and the fluent generation of new ideas) and systematically examine their contributions to a broad spectrum of cognitive and social processes, including psychometric intelligence (Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale), emotional intelligence (Mayer, Salovey, Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test), and personality (Neuroticism-Extraversion-Openness Personality Inventory). Latent variable modeling was applied to obtain error-free indices of each factor, followed by voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping to elucidate their neural substrates. Regression analyses revealed that latent scores for psychometric intelligence reliably predict latent scores for cognitive flexibility (adjusted R2=0.94). Lesion mapping results further indicated that these convergent processes depend on a shared network of frontal, temporal, and parietal regions, including white matter association tracts, which bind these areas into an integrated system. A targeted analysis of the unique variance explained by cognitive flexibility further revealed selective damage within the right superior temporal gyrus, a region known to support insight and the recognition of novel semantic relations. The observed findings motivate an integrative framework for understanding the neural foundations of adaptive behavior, suggesting that core elements of cognitive flexibility emerge from a distributed network of brain regions that support specific competencies for human intelligence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)547-554
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Nov 15 2013


  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Creativity
  • Latent variable modeling
  • Voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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