The Prefrontal Cortex and Brain Development
The brain is the most complex organ in the body, research and tests always unveil something new regarding functionality, especially in terms of which parts of the brain control what. Development is an important factor of how the brain operates because if damage occurs here, functionality can be stunted or simply removed after a period of time depending on the level of damage. In more specific terms, the prefrontal cortex is involved in many functions that are important to a human being, especially one that is still growing and changing. It has been proven that when it comes to the brain developing, the prefrontal cortex is a crucial part of an adult’s life and should be given the time to develop properly without interference. So, this must raise the question: why is the prefrontal cortex so important when it comes to a person, but additionally, what role does this part of the brain have exactly?
The prefrontal cortex, as described by its name, lies at the front of the brain and overall, makes up about ten percent of the brain. In turn, this makes the prefrontal cortex involved in many functions throughout the brain, and these functions play a huge part in an adult’s life. However, the prefrontal cortex is best known for its executive functions as pointed out by Neuroscientifically Challenged in their article, “Know your brain: Prefrontal cortex.” The author goes on to explain what an executive function is: “In general, executive functions focus on controlling short-sighted, reflexive behaviors,” and these can include functions such as the ability for a person to make decisions, to plan, and to have self-control just to name a few. All in all, the prefrontal cortex offers logic and prohibits a person from behaving solely on impulse, it allows a person to act based on long-term goals instead of being rash which benefits greatly to an adult more so than to a teenager. Teenagers are not fully developed when compared to an adult as they are driven by desire rather than a goal they’d like to reach, whereas adults with a developed prefrontal cortex understand the logic behind acting with an end goal in mind.
With the prefrontal cortex consisting of many different functions, it can be divided into three sections depending on functionality. The website Good Therapy introduces the three parts as follows: the medial prefrontal cortex, the orbital prefrontal cortex, and the lateral prefrontal cortex. The medial section contributes to attention and motivation, and if this part receives some damage or interference from an outside substance, such as alcohol, a person can lose all focus and have trouble trying to concentrate on things. The orbital section helps in controlling impulses while ignoring distractions, and it also helps to keep strong emotions in check as to follow social norms/ques. An interference on this part may cause a person to act out of character, getting too riled up, becoming extremely moody, or just showing signs that are out the norm which again can be caused by the consumption of alcohol. Finally, the lateral section allows a person to not only create a plan, but to then execute it. This section is also important for following a specific sequence and when this part of the prefrontal cortex is interfered with, a person stops being able to properly follow step-by-step instructions and the process of making a plan and following through with such is thrown out the window. These sections are especially affected with the use of alcohol like previously mentioned, and although nothing is fully damaged or taken away, if something as dangerous as alcohol is used consistently enough, it can cause irreversible damage to the brain, especially to the prefrontal cortex.
When it comes down to it, the prefrontal cortex is of course the last to fully develop as the brain develops in a back to front motion. This can explain why teenagers have mood swings and have trouble controlling such strong emotions, their prefrontal cortex hasn’t fully developed yet, so their impulses aren’t being held back just yet. On the contrary, young adults start to behave more maturely: acting on logic rather than desires, thinking of future plans and then dictating their actions based around said plan, and understanding how to maintain self-control in terms of emotions and actions. Additionally, a website dedicated to medical and life sciences has an article titled, “ Human brain development does not stop at adolescence: Research” which provides further evidence that the brain does not come to a stop development wise until a person reaches their mid-twenties, around the age of twenty-five to be more specific. The author of this article also mentioned why the brain may not be fully developed until the mid-twenties: “this may be due to a plethora of life experiences in young adulthood such as pursuing post-secondary education, starting a career, independence and developing new social and family relationships.” When looking at this, it is clear that brain development also relies on the person themselves and what life experiences they go through, which may also explain why others mature faster compared to their peers. Every brain is different and every brain develops at a different speed, yet there is evidence and research that goes to show that relatively, brains don’t stop development until about age twenty-five, so one can conclude that max maturity, brain wise, can be chalked up to the mid-twenties.
2011, Sep 23. “Human Brain Development Does Not Stop at Adolescence: Research.” News, 19 June 2019, www.news-medical.net/news/20110923/human-brain-development-does-not-stop-at-adolescence-research.aspx.
Neurosci. “Know Your Brain: Prefrontal Cortex.” Neuroscientifically Challenged, Neuroscientifically Challenged, 18 May 2014, www.neuroscientificallychallenged.com/blog/2014/5/16/know-your-brain-prefrontal-cortex.
“Prefrontal Cortex.” GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog, 4 Sept. 2019, www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/prefrontal-cortex.