Neuropsychologists commonly use the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test as a test of the integrity of frontal lobe functions. However, an account of its range of validity and of the neuronal mechanisms involved is lacking. We analyze the test at 3 different levels. First, the different versions of the test are described, and the results obtained with normal subjects and brain-lesioned patients are reviewed. Second, a computational analysis is used to reveal what algorithms may pass the test, and to predict their respective performances. At this stage, 3 cognitive components are isolated that may critically contribute to performance: the ability to change the curreNt rule when negative reward occurs, the capacity to memorize previously tested rules in order to avoid testing them twice, and the possibility of rejecting some rules a priori by reasoning. Third, a model neuronal network embodying these 3 components is described. The coding units are clusters of neurons organized in layers, or assemblies. A sensonmotor loop enables the network to sort the input cards according to several criteria (color, form, etc.). A higher-level assembly of rule-coding clusters codes for the currently tested rule, which shifts when negative reward is received. Internal testing of the possible rules, analogous to a reasoning process, also occurs, by means of an endogenous autoevaluation loop. When lesioned, the model reproduces the behavior of frontal lobe patients. Plausible biological or molecular implementations are presented for several of its components.

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