Frontal Lobe: The Executive of Our Brain

When you think of the brain’s internal structure, what comes to mind? The cerebellum, the brainstem, or perhaps the amygdala? But what about the frontal lobe?

The frontal lobe is one of the most critical components of our brain. It not only forms the bulk of our cerebral hemispheres but also controls various functions like voluntary movement, problem-solving, decision making, and social behavior. Given its importance, it’s crucial that we understand the frontal lobe’s role in our daily lives, the consequences of damage, and how to protect its functions.

Frontal Lobe Parts and Location

Before diving into its functions, let’s make sense of the frontal lobe and its location in the cerebral cortex.

The frontal lobe is present in the anterior (front) part of our brain. It extends posteriorly from the central sulcus (a fissure dividing the brain into anterior and posterior halves) to the frontal pole in front of the temporal lobes. The frontal lobe is comprised of several sub-parts, each associated with specific functions. These sub-parts include:

  • Motor Cortex: This part of the frontal lobe is the primary motor area that controls voluntary movement and holds the spatial representation of our body and its movements.

  • Prefrontal Cortex: The prefrontal cortex is the part of the frontal lobe right behind the forehead. It’s responsible for planning, decision-making, problem-solving, working memory, and attention span.

  • Broca’s Area: Located in the left hemisphere of the frontal lobe, Broca’s area is responsible for speech production.

  • Supplementary Motor Cortex: This frontal lobe region is responsible for coordinating movements that require more than one body part to work together.
  • Orbitofrontal Cortex: This area is responsible for emotional processing and decision-making connected to emotion-based learning.

Frontal Lobe Development

Humans’ frontal lobe development undergoes a prolonged process that starts in utero and continues through early adulthood. During this developmental process, the frontal lobe’s circuits undergo changes that facilitate increased cognitive control, emotional regulation, and higher-order thinking skills. This growth depends on external factors such as social and environmental influences and genetic factors.

Any negative influence or damage to the frontal lobe during development can lead to a wide range of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral problems. For example, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) seem to have underactive frontal lobes, impeding their ability to control impulses and focus attention on specific tasks.

Frontal Lobe Function Psychology

The frontal lobe’s functions are broad and complex, making it the most critical area for higher-order thinking. As such, it influences numerous psychological phenomena like perception, emotion, and cognitive processing. Here are some of the primary functions of the frontal lobe:

Executive Functioning

The prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobe is the center for executive functions. It’s responsible for crucial processes like planning, organizing, prioritizing tasks, and generally making decisions that ensure our goals are achieved.

People who exhibit weakened executive functioning may display impulsive behavior, disorganization, poor attention span, and difficulty with abstract reasoning tasks.

Motor Functions

The motor cortex in the frontal lobe plays a vital role in initiating and coordinating voluntary movement and managing the body’s spatial awareness.

Damage to this part of the frontal lobe might result in the loss of control over one’s body, including paralysis and compromised spatial awareness.

Speech and Language

The Broca’s area, situated in the left hemisphere, is the center of speech and language production.

Damage to this region results in Broca’s aphasia, a condition where the person understands language but has difficulty speaking fluently and with appropriate levels of inflection.

Social Behavior

The frontal lobe is also responsible for regulating our social behavior and emotional processing. It helps us understand social cues, empathize with others, and control our emotional responses.

Damage to the frontal lobe may cause a range of social behavior problems like lack of empathy, inappropriate social interactions, alterations in sexual behavior, and absent social inhibitions, among others.

What Happens If the Frontal Lobe is Damaged?

Damage to the frontal lobe can have a variety of impacts on individual abilities and may result from genetics, infections, accidents, or tumors. Here are some common outcomes of frontal lobe damage:

Frontal Lobe Dementia

Frontal lobe dementia is a neurological disorder that occurs when the frontal lobe is damaged. It’s caused by several underlying conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, prior brain damage, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease, among others.

People with frontal lobe dementia may experience changes in behavior, personality, and language. They may become emotionally detached, display impulsive or aggressive behavior, and develop difficulty with organization and planning.

Reduced Executive Functioning

Damage to the prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobe often results in patients losing some or all of their executive functioning. This means increased impulsivity, lack of focus, and inability to prioritize tasks.

Social Problems

Frontal lobe damage can also cause significant social problems by impairing empathy, social judgment, and decision-making ability. Patients may become unresponsive to other people’s emotions, demonstrate socially inappropriate behavior, and may experience apathy.

Motor and Speech Difficulties

The frontal lobe plays a crucial role in the initiation and coordination of movement, so damage can lead to motor difficulties such as paralysis or speech difficulties like aphasia.

Studies have shown that a damaged frontal lobe often results in reduced employment opportunities, social isolation, and overall lower quality of life.

What Side of the Body Does the Frontal Lobe Control?

The frontal lobe controls both sides of the body, with each hemisphere controlling the opposite sides. This means that the left side of the frontal lobe controls the right side of the body, while the right side of the frontal lobe controls the left side of the body.

Parietal Lobe Function

The parietal lobe is located behind the frontal lobes and above the temporal lobe. It’s primarily responsible for processing sensory information, including from touch, hearing, and vision. The parietal lobe also plays a crucial role in spatial awareness and object manipulation.

Final Thoughts

The frontal lobe is undoubtedly one of the most critical components of the human brain as it facilitates our cognitive, social, motor, and emotional abilities. It’s responsible for our decision making, social behavior, and motor control. However, damage to this area of the brain can occur through various means, resulting in a range of disabilities and cognitive impairments.

Knowing this, it’s essential to take care of our frontal lobe by staying safe, wearing helmets, engaging in mentally stimulating activities, and leading a healthy lifestyle. Meanwhile, if you notice any signs of frontal lobe damage, early intervention is vital for preventing the damage from spreading to other areas of the brain.