The prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain located at the front of the frontal lobe. It is implicated in a variety of complex behaviors, including planning, and greatly contributes to personality development.
Role of the prefrontal cortex
The prefrontal cortex helps people set and achieve goals. It receives input from multiple regions of the brain to process information and adapts accordingly. The prefrontal cortex contributes to a wide variety of executive functions, including:
- focusing one’s attention
- predicting the consequences of one’s actions; anticipating events in the environment
- impulse control; managing emotional reactions
- planning for the future
- coordinating and adjusting complex behaviors (“i can’t do a until b happens”)
For an example of how these functions are tied together, let’s look at a man in a job interview. During the conversation, he has to focus on the interviewer and keep track of details the interviewer mentions. If the interviewer asks him a tough question, the man may get nervous. But the man can predict that running away will not get him the job, so he rejects that fearful impulse and asks for clarification around the question. The man can plan out his answers as he gets more information. Hopefully he can then ace the interview and get the job.
The prefrontal cortex also plays a big role in personality development. It helps people make conscious decisions according to their motivations. Over time, this can lead to certain tendencies in behavior, such as a person acting friendly toward others because they want to be popular. While the prefrontal cortex does not house a person’s entire self, it does contribute to the complex attitudes and choices that form a personality.
Development of the prefrontal cortex
The brain develops in a back-to-front pattern, and the prefrontal cortex is the last portion of the brain to fully develop. This does not mean that children do not have functional prefrontal cortices. Rather, they do not develop the complex decision-making and planning skills adults have until they are older.
During adolescence, the brain’s network of neurons develops many more synapses. These connections increase communication between parts of the brain and allow the individual to learn complex skills. However, this growth may happen unevenly.
For example, most fifteen-year-olds can assess hypothetical risk as well as adults. However, a teen’s prefrontal cortex has not grown many connections with the limbic system yet. In other words, the part of the brain that provides self-control can’t communicate well with the part of the brain that controls the fight or flight response. Thus, the same fifteen-year-old may act rashly under stress, even if they technically “know better.”
experience plays a role in the development of the prefrontal cortex. Teens exposed to a variety of stimuli and challenges may “mature” more quickly. However, most neurologists agree that the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until around the age of 25.
Parts of prefrontal cortex
The prefrontal cortex is located at the very front of the brain. It is part of the brain’s wrinkled outer layer called the cortex. In adults, the prefrontal cortex takes up nearly a third of this outer layer.
There are competing theories about how best to categorize the parts of the prefrontal cortex. The brain is very interconnected, both physically and functionally. It is difficult to point to a specific part of the brain and say that this section alone controls a certain ability.
In general, though, the prefrontal cortex can be divided into three parts according to which functions they serve.
- The medial prefrontal cortex: Contributes to attention and motivation. It can be thought of as a metaphorical start button, allowing people to begin an activity when it is time to do so. Lesions (i.e. Injuries) in this area cause people to become apathetic and unfocused. They may have trouble acting spontaneously or initiating speech. They could also have trouble concentrating on a task once it has started.
- The orbital prefrontal cortex: Helps people control their impulses and ignore distractions. It helps them keep strong emotions in check in order to follow social rules. In one famous case, a man named phineas gage got an iron rod blown through his skull, injuring this area. Gage survived but displayed significant changes to his personality. He became irritable and reckless, growing prone to inappropriately crude humor. Research shows such changes are common when the orbital prefrontal cortex is injured.
The lateral prefrontal cortex: Allows people to create and execute plans. This region also helps individuals organize actions in a certain sequence, such as when a person needs to follow a recipe. Injuries to this region can interfere with people’s abilities to switch between tasks, recall where an instruction came from, or adapt to changes in rules.
arain, m., haque, m., johal, l. Mathur, p. Nel, w. Rais, a., sandhu, r., & sharma, s. (2013). Maturation of the adolescent brain. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 9(1), 449-461. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc3621648
fuster, j. M. (2001, may 1). The prefrontal cortex—an update. Neuron, 30(2), 319-333. Retrieved from https://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/s0896-6273(01)00285-9
hathaway, w. R., & newton, b. W. (2019, april 8). Neuroanatomy, prefrontal cortex. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/nbk499919
twomey, s. (2010). Phineas gage: neuroscience’s most famous patient. Smithsonian magazine. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/phineas-gage-neurosciences-most-famous-patient-11390067
last updated: 09-4-2019
Last Updated: 09-12-2023
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Wailam YauFebruary 5th, 2014 at 11:04 PM
That really helped me on my project about the roles
TeslaOctober 24th, 2019 at 6:32 AM
Thanks a lot, this really helped with my project.
raydenOctober 25th, 2019 at 11:21 AM
it was good.
December 10th, 2015 at
I like your website. Nice info, and it was really helpful in my brain project. :)
StevenJuly 10th, 2017 at 2:15 AM
I’d like to do your prefrontal cortex
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JanApril 28th, 2019 at 11:20 PM
Tanks. I have been on seratide aka prednisone puffer for years for allergic asthma. Clearly wrong. I ave many effects from it, eats away the prefrontal cortex and memory. It suppresses neurogenesis.
JenJenNovember 26th, 2019 at 5:32 PM
Cynthia KJanuary 11th, 2016 at 9:39 PM
At what age does the prefrontal cortex START to develop? age 2?
danny zFebruary 12th, 2017 at 7:18 PM
JenJenNovember 26th, 2019 at 5:37 PM
That’s interesting. I’m just curious, what information lead you to (age 3)?
AmelieMarch 1st, 2016 at 1:43 AM
I like this website. Can you try to put it in easier words though?
poorpleNovember 13th, 2016 at 7:27 PM
starts when your born
'DenikeApril 11th, 2016 at 4:33 AM
This is really helpful. can you write more on histology of the prefrontal cortex
MyraSeptember 25th, 2016 at 12:11 PM
Great information. Thank you.
Jennifer M COctober 7th, 2016 at 8:42 AM
I was doing some research on Bi-Polar disorder, where I read that adults with Bi-Polar disorder have a smaller prefrontal cortex than adults who do not have the disorder. I read not only is the prefrontal cortex smaller, but it also works at a lower capacity, than an adult who does not have Bi-Polar disorder. I found that interesting and wanted to know more about the prefrontal cortex and it’s functions.
Mayling Z.August 10th, 2017 at 1:23 PM
Where did you find this information out? I am also doing a project on Bipolar disorder and would like to know more about your research.
leahOctober 23rd, 2016 at 6:57 PM
does anyone know some facts about prefrontal cortex???
feqiufewqhkubweOctober 30th, 2017 at 4:39 AM
TimmyDecember 18th, 2016 at 11:33 AM
this helped so much and i got an A
JakeJanuary 6th, 2017 at 10:53 AM
this helped me so much on my project thx so much :)
SusanFebruary 20th, 2017 at 6:41 AM
Is there any way to develop the function of PFC ?
Dona M.April 28th, 2018 at 7:43 PM
I sustained a TBI in Aug. Of 2013. I still have PCS, PTSD, PCA. I want to know what I can do to re gain short term memory. I have had every treatment recommended for Tbi. INclouding HBO
ChelseaApril 10th, 2017 at 1:50 AM
This really helped me with my homework it told me more info than my teacher me !
YosemiteMay 14th, 2017 at 5:37 PM
Who is the author of this article?
If there is an author.
The GoodTherapy.org TeamMay 15th, 2017 at 10:16 AM
Our pages are written by freelancers or by members of our Editorial team. If you have any other questions, please feel free to reach out.
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MjJune 15th, 2017 at 9:16 PM
My son has sever TBI at age 4mths and now he is 12yrs, i am finding big changes in hos emotional-anger out bursting ,possessing behaviour that only focused on outcomes of incident no initiative finding errors of whole picture and like 3 to 5yrs temper tantrum. I was doing a research and got to the area of frontlobe lesion= blPFC, vmPFT.
Need a help on explaining what that findings have related with prefrontal lesion and expected behaviour outcomes…
recently conducted Neuropsychological assessment done and foundings are, intellectual functioning is borderline range,measured by WISC-V
A significant discrepancy was noted between performance on measures of general comprehension skill and on tasks assessing working memory. A pairwise difference comparison analysis revealed that a discrepancy of this magnitude between indices is unusual, occurring in only 4.9% of the original standardisation sample of the measure.
Borderline to extremely low from the tests,
-●attention and processing speed
:○ability to transcribe symbols that correspond with simple geometric shapes( borderline.wisc-v, coding)
○ability to scan simple visual iinformation and make a gross motor response.(Borderline)
○ ability to hold and manipulate verbal information in immediate memory.
-●visual learning and memory,
○recall of geometric shapes and spatial location(borderline)
○incidental memory for a previously copied complex figure(extremely low, RCFT – immediate recall,delayed recall)
○recognition of items of the complex figure(extremely low, RCFT Recognition)
○mental flexibility on visuomotor switching task(extremely low, D-KEFT:trail making, number, letter sequencing)
○ability to logically plan and execute a copy of a ccomplex figure.
JazmineOctober 23rd, 2017 at 4:46 PM
thank you for the article, it helped SO much for my psych project!
Ian millerOctober 27th, 2017 at 2:17 PM
I have ADHD which makes it so the prefrontal cortex developed much slower than normal so most symptoms like forgetfulness and sensitive emotions like an extreme reaction to disappointment match up although It does not affect my cognitive ability or much of my organization skills which is strange
noopeNovember 8th, 2017 at 12:11 PM
i hate meself
Kristopher ANovember 20th, 2017 at 6:16 PM
This really helped me thank you. Because of you I got an A
Jake P.January 25th, 2018 at 11:48 AM
Dab on the haters.
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OH MY GOD JAKE IS IT REALLY YOU?? I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!!!!!!!!
jhgfnrjhgvbcwuynwiyiwicywnticryweiyrgtnewycwerfvewriyvgcnfyrgcyuewigyervigvrcgyMarch 7th, 2018 at 9:36 AM
nice article really helped with my essay
Lucy H.March 19th, 2018 at 5:50 AM
Is Donald Trump’s Prefrontal Cortex fully functioning?
OOctober 15th, 2018 at 7:06 PM
joDecember 21st, 2018 at 7:38 PM
BeckyJune 6th, 2018 at 7:14 AM
This really helped me at 2 am trying to finish my 8 page psych paper on cults. Thanks
JarolMay 8th, 2019 at 6:16 PM
Who is the author of this article?
The GoodTherapy.org TeamMay 9th, 2019 at 2:26 PM
Thanks for visiting our Blog. There is no named author of this article. You can cite it simply as “GoodTherapy.” I hope this is helpful!
The GoodTherapy Team
raydenSeptember 27th, 2019 at 2:01 PM
it was really helpful thx
raydenSeptember 27th, 2019 at 2:02 PM
who is the author give them a star and a cookie
megan s.November 9th, 2019 at 6:52 PM
i really need to find me somebody that could help me out i have no clue where to go get my head checked at….
The GoodTherapy.org TeamNovember 10th, 2019 at 9:40 AM
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JesusDecember 2nd, 2019 at 10:42 AM
This was very helpful for my psych slide presentation
ImaDecember 5th, 2019 at 11:27 AM
Why is there no author listed
cityJanuary 8th, 2020 at 9:23 PM
JayNovember 22nd, 2020 at 5:49 AM
What day was this published and by whom?
LaurenGTNovember 23rd, 2020 at 7:11 AM
I’m happy to hear you’re finding our site to be a helpful resource! There is no named author — the author of this page is simply “GoodTherapy.” It was published on February 6, 2013. I would recommend asking your professor or faculty how they would like you to cite a website with no named author.
ikeJanuary 12th, 2021 at 4:45 AM
Very informative and encourages more reading.
My middle don has a bicranial op and can be very moody and temperamental but very kind, his mom very moody many in a day. My daughter has been using prednisone but has outgrown the asthma symptoms…her maths has improved.
THANK YOU FOR SHARING….GoodTherapy
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CATHBERTApril 1st, 2022 at 10:09 AM
Thank you this has aided my workshop presentation…
MikeNovember 27th, 2022 at 1:27 PM
This helped a lot with my science project, thank you!
DonJuly 7th, 2023 at 9:31 PM
Sent this info to our 20 yr old Michigan State granddaughter who just showed us her 2nd tattoo (both are so big). Great kid and we love her dearly. Thanks for the facts.
Concerned Grandma & Grandpa.
MiguelSeptember 23rd, 2023 at 8:00 AM
I have started changing my Behavior, like my mouth, I think before what I speak now.
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