Friday, December 24, 2010

Pre-Frontal Cortex Functions

According to Daniel J. Siegel in "The Mindful Brain", the pre-frontal cortex has nine major functions. This part of the brain does not fully develop until around 25 years of age. It also depends upon how much time we spend working to develop this part of our brain. Like any muscle in our body, if we don't use it, it does not develop fully. While many people do develop and utilize the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) of their brain, there are many who do not and like any muscle in the body, if you don't use it, it doesn't fully reach full capacity.

The ten functions of the pre-frontal cortex according to Daniel Siegel are as follows:

  1. Body Regulation
  2. Attunement
  3. Emotional Balance
  4. Response Flexibility
  5. Empathy
  6. Self-knowing
  7. Awareness
  8. Fear Extinction
  9. Intuition
  10. Morality

  • Body Regulation - Functions of the body such as heart rate, respiration, and digestion that are controlled by the nervous system.
  • Attunement - When we attune to others we allow our own internal state to shift, to come to resonate with the inner world of another.
  • Emotional Balance - Even the healthiest person may be temporarily thrown off and feel out of balance but the middle pre-frontal region functions to bring us back to equilibrium. The ability to stay focused on the inside when the storms of life are raging on the outside.
  • Response Flexibility - This ability to pause before responding is an important part of emotional and social intelligence.
  • Empathy - is the capacity to create mindsight images of other people's minds. These you-maps enable us to sense the internal mental stance of another person, not just to attune to their state of mind.
  • Self-Knowing - creates mental time travel in which we connect the past to the present and the anticipated future.
  • Fear Extinction - After experiencing a frightening event, we may come to feel fear in the face of a similar situation. But the middle prefrontal region has direct connections that pass down into the limbic area and make it possible to inhibit and modulate the firing of the fear-create amygdala.
  • Intuition - Can be seen as how the pre-frontal cortex gives us access to the wisdom of the body. This region receives information from throughout the interior of the body, including the viscera (heart, intestines) and uses this input to give us a "heartfelt sense" of what to do or a "gut feeling" about the right choice.
  • Morality - Moral reasoning seems to require the integrative capacity of the pre-frontal cortex to sense the emotional meaning of present challenges and to override immediate impulses in order to create moral action in response to challenges.
I really enjoy reading and learning about the pre-frontal cortex because it is where the new wave of learning is taking place. The more we understand about how this area of our brain affects us, the more we become human. Just because we appear to be human and take the form of a human body, it does not truly mean we are human.

The development of the pre-frontal cortex is at the forefront of becoming a more conscious and aware human being. Through developing our felt sense and our connection to the body, we begin to connect with this portion of our brain and strengthen as well as develop its functions. As we begin to do that, our world which was once filled with turmoil, pain, despair and an overabundance of challenges begins to change. Through the development of the pre-frontal cortex, we become acquainted with areas of life that we were not able to see and a brand new set of experiences begin to open up before our very eyes.

Note: Special thanks goes to Dr. Paul Canali and Evolutionary Healing for the development of some of my understanding in this area and to Daniel Siegel in his book, The Mindful Brain .

Blog Post & Images (c) 12/24/10 Don Shetterly - use by permission only

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