While it is well accepted that the left prefrontal cortex plays a critical role in planning and problem-solving tasks, very little is known about the role of the right prefrontal cortex. We addressed this issue by testing five neurological patients with focal lesions to right prefrontal cortex on a real-world travel planning task, and compared their performance with the performance of five neurological patients with focal lesions to left prefrontal cortex, five neurological patients with posterior lesions, and five normal controls. Only patients with lesions to right prefrontal cortex generated substandard solutions compared to normal controls. Examination of the underlying cognitive processes and strategies revealed that patients with lesions to right prefrontal cortex approached the task at an excessively precise, concrete level compared to normal controls, and very early locked themselves into substandard solutions relative to the comparison group. In contrast, the behavior of normal controls was characterized by a judicious interplay of concrete and abstract levels/modes of representations. We suggest that damage to the right prefrontal system impairs the encoding and processing of more abstract and vague representations that facilitate lateral transformations, resulting in premature commitment to precise concrete patterns, and hasty albeit substandard conclusions (because the space of possibilities has not been properly explored).Highlights
★Right PFC patients generate substandard solutions in a real-world planning task. ★ Real-world planning requires a judicious interplay between abstract and concrete representations. ★ Right PFC patients are impaired in real-world planning because they are unable to maintain vague, abstract representations. ★ Right PFC patients rely on overly concrete representations that prematurely lock them into poor solutions.