The leaders in the area of executive functioning, which deal basically with critical higher order cognitive functions are Russell Barkley, Phd., Dr. Thomas Brown and Dr. John Ratey, among many others.
You can find much information on this subject online, within medical journals, professional books, and more, however, Russell Barkley has probably done the most extensive work on our brain's executive functions, themselves, apart from ADHD, and has written an entire book on this subject. His reflection on these critical cognitive functions and their purpose from a theoretical and biological standpoint is different in some major aspects from most others who research and write on the subject.
Barkley separates these functions into a hierarchy of skills or abilities that build upon each other and/or develop creating the ability for self-regulation. These internalized abilities continue to allow an individual to cooperate within a group, which allows societies to work together for individual and group goals.
He draws his ideas from Richard Dawkins' Theory of Evolution, in that the evolutionary goal of executive skill development is for humans and animals (they, too, have developed a degree of cognitive abilities) to work together.