One hypothesis proposed to underlie formal thought disorder (FTD), the incoherent speech is seen in some patients with schizophrenia, is that it reflects impairment in frontal/executive function. While this proposal has received support in neuropsychological studies, it has been relatively little tested using functional imaging. This study aimed to examine brain activations associated with FTD, and its two main factor-analytically derived subsyndromes, during the performance of a working memory task. Seventy patients with schizophrenia showing a full range of FTD scores and 70 matched healthy controls underwent fMRI during the performance of the 2-back version of the n-back task. Whole-brain corrected, voxel-based correlations with FTD scores were examined in the patient group. During 2-back performance the patients showed clusters of significant inverse correlation with FTD scores in the inferior frontal cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex bilaterally, the left temporal cortex and subcortically in the basal ganglia and thalamus. Further analysis revealed that these correlations reflected an association only with 'alogia' (poverty of speech, poverty of content of speech and perseveration) and not with the 'fluent disorganization' component of FTD. This study provides functional imaging support for the view that FTD in schizophrenia may involve impaired executive/frontal function. However, the relationship appears to be exclusively with alogia and not with the variables contributing to fluent disorganization.