What is my Prefrontal Cortex? Why Does it Matter?


Meghan Moody, Psy.D


            Prefrontal Cortex –The “Boss” of the brain (shown in red)


The prefrontal cortex takes in information from all of the senses and orchestrates thoughts and actions to achieve specific goals.” It is one of the last areas of the brain to develop or “finish growing up.” Scientists estimate that it is not fully developed until the age of 25.

The duties of the prefrontal cortex are called executive functions. In other words, think of this part of the brain as the manager or the boss of your brain – the part responsible for making the decisions.

Put your brain to work! Here’s what’s going on inside the boss of your brain:

  • Focusing your attention
  • Organizing your thoughts
  • Problem solving
  • Thinking through
  • Weighing the possible consequences of your behavior
  • Considering the future and making predictions
  • Forming strategies and planning
  • Balancing short-term rewards with long term goals
  • Shifting/adjusting behavior when situations change
  • Impulse control and delaying gratification
  • Regulation/control of intense emotions
  • Inhibiting (holding back) inappropriate behavior
  • Initiating (starting) appropriate behavior
  • Considering multiple streams of information at the same time
  • Regulation/control of “correct” behavior in social situations

Information adapted from: http://www.hhs.gov/opa/familylife/tech_assistance/etraining/adolescent_brain/Development/prefrontal_cortex/

The Effects of Video Games on the Brain

Children who have difficulty with impulse control and regulating emotional responses often feel a sense of calmness when playing video games. It’s as if all their troubles and worries, excessive energy, fast-moving thoughts, and sense of boredom disappear. So, we can understand why kids are drawn to video games. However, there is a lot going on behind the scenes that’s not so helpful.

Electronic Pollution: What’s happening to my brain?   

  • Hormonal disturbance (melatonin, and fight or flight hormones – Amygdala)
  • Neurochemical dysfunction (release and then depletion and withdrawal of dopamine – Basal Ganglia)
  • Disorganization of circadian rhythms (sleep-wake cycle)
  • Electromagnetic radiation due to screens, downloading, and electricity
  • Movement of blood flow away from the frontal lobe and cortex, which govern executive functioning and higher order thought processes.

Excerpted from http://drdunckley.com/tag/video-games-adhd/

Typical Responses

  • Time management problems
  • Complaints of being “bored”
  • Decreased interest in other activities
  • Agitated/irritable mood when asked to stop playing
  • Resistance to authority due to feeling deprived of video games
  • Cravings for more video games

From Pollution to Solution: How to manage screen time

  • Provide structure – keep organized and consistent time frames for use
  • Screen time comes after daily tasks are accomplished
  • Incorporate educational games into screen time to reduce the repetitive and over-stimulating influence of other games Increase outdoor activity
  • Have a variety of engaging activities available
  • Join your child in starting these activities, if he/she is having trouble getting started independently