What does the brain frontal lobe control?
The frontal lobe is one of the most studied and most interesting parts of the brain from the point of view of psychology, neuropsychology and neuroscience in general. It is not only known for being the largest lobe in the human brain, but also for the very important functions and capacities whose existence we owe to this structure. What capabilities are these?
In this brief guide we are going to answer the question ‘’What does the brain frontal lobe control?’’ We will define what the frontal lobe is, how it is divided and we will introduce you to the main functions of the frontal lobe, a region of the brain of great importance.
What does the brain frontal lobe control?
The frontal lobe is functionally involved in the aspects of motor control and programming, it controls the expressive function of language, and is also responsible for other much higher cognitive functions such as discernment, prediction and planning of behavior.
The nervous system (SN) is a network of neurons and glial cells of enormous complexity that will ultimately determine our behaviors, thoughts and emotions. These nervous units, in order to fulfill their function, will be grouped into larger structures; and each one of these groups will contribute their grain of sand to this complex machinery.
One of the most notable structures of the SN is the brain, which is divided into a series of substructures called lobes; among them the frontal lobe, which will be the protagonist of this article.
First of all, it must be understood that the lobes are defined from a division of the cerebral cortex. A division that is made based on the role they play in the different processes and their location. So if the brain were the earth, the lobes would be something like the continents.
This classification is very functional, since it serves as a map to easily locate certain points throughout the brain. The cerebral cortex is composed of 6 functional lobes: frontal, parietal, occipital, temporal, insula, and limbic.
In this article we are going to focus on possibly the most relevant of them, the frontal lobe. We will start by highlighting the area it occupies, since it is one third of our cerebral cortex.
Structure and functions of the frontal lobe
The frontal lobe is located in the most anterior part of the brain, specifically the entire cerebral cortex starting from the central sulcus. It is considered a very important lobe because it fulfills central functions in information processing, especially relevant are those that have an executive nature.
However, the frontal lobe is divided into multiple regions that provide it with a great variety of functions.
When it comes to grouping the different functional structures of the lobe, we can speak of two large territories. One of them would be the territory corresponding to the motor cortex, which would fulfill motor functions.
The other territory would be the prefrontal cortex, the one in charge of executive processes, decision-making and different aspects related to the regulation of emotions.
The motor cortex of the frontal lobe is the manager of the body’s effector systems. Thanks to him, we will be able to carry out all kinds of voluntary motor acts. This structure will be in charge of both the planning of the movement and of transmitting the orders to the muscles to get them going.
It is important to clarify that this cortex is only responsible for voluntary movements; the involuntary motor system is present in other structures, such as the basal ganglia and the cerebellum.
We can find three areas of relevant mention within the motor cortex:
- The premotor area. It is in charge of planning and scheduling movements. Before carrying out any movement, these neurons are responsible for establishing the muscles and steps necessary for it to be resolved correctly.
- The primary motor area. It is the cortex that is responsible for executing the scripts prepared by the premotor cortex. That is, it is in charge of firing the movement action, sending the orders to the muscles.
- Broca’s area. It is in charge of the production of language. Its function is to coordinate the phonological muscles so that the subject can speak and pronounce. It is also involved in the production of writing. To learn more about her, click on the following link.
In this region we find the executive system and the information processor of the human brain. The frontal lobe prefrontal cortex is ultimately responsible for the cognition, behavior and emotional response of subjects. It is the mediator between many other structures throughout the brain, taking its key role in decision-making.
It is worth clarifying that executive functions are a set of higher-order cognitive abilities, which control our behavior and emotions. That is, all those processes that are in charge of managing, organizing, coordinating and directing; it could be described as the processor of a computer following a computational metaphor.
Three major regions of the prefrontal cortex
Although the prefrontal cortex is a part of the frontal lobe, it has frequently been divided into various structures, all of them of great importance. Three of the most important circuits that are part of the prefrontal are the following.
1. Orbitofrontal cortex
The orbitofrontal cortex is probably one of the best-known regions of the prefrontal cortex. This area is especially important in order to control the responses we give socially, as well as to inhibit unacceptable behaviors and to control aggressiveness.
2. Dorsolateral cortex
This part of the brain is one of the most developed in humans. It is mainly responsible for processing cognitive information and is one of the main prefrontal regions that are linked to the executive functions that allow us to plan, solve problems, memorize or form ideas. It is considered that it also has a great link with the capacity for self-awareness.
3. Ventromedial cortex
The ventromedial part of the prefrontal cortex is especially linked to the perception and expression of emotions, as well as to the motivation capacity of the human being (the anterior cingulate is especially responsible for this), the control or inhibition of the responses given to the environment and creative ability.
Some basic functions of the frontal lobe
Among the executive functions and processes that we associate with the frontal lobe we can find the following:
That is, the ability to think in the abstract about things that are only present in our imagination, since we do not evoke by the fact of being registered by our senses at that specific moment.
It is also important to note that this type of thinking can have various degrees of abstraction, which includes the possibility of thinking about how we think. It is in this type of process that Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies intervene.
Working memory management
Injuries to certain parts of the frontal lobe affect working memory. This means that the frontal lobe has a role when it comes to keeping in a “temporary” type of memory information related to a problem that must be solved in real time and that once it is solved, they will lose their value.
Thanks to this cognitive ability, we can carry out complex tasks in real time, tasks that require taking into account different variables and pieces of information.
Currently it is believed that the frontal lobe allows projecting past experiences in future situations, all based on the rules and dynamics that have been learned along the way. In turn, this allows us to place objectives, goals and even needs at a point far removed from the present, months or years ahead.
Thinking ahead allows you to imagine plans and strategies, as well as their possible results and consequences. The prefrontal lobe not only “creates” possible future scenes in our minds, but also helps us navigate them for our own goals.
Thus, while other parts of the brain are designed to orient us towards more short-term goals, the frontal lobes allow us to aspire to goals of a more abstract nature, thanks to which we are able to cooperate since the chains of actions that they lead to getting them are long and complex enough to accommodate more people.
Control of own behavior
The orbital area of the frontal lobe (that is, the lower area of the frontal lobe, which is close to the orbits of the eyes) is in constant relationship with the impulses that come from the area of the limbic system, the structure in which the cells originate emotions.
That is why one of its functions is to cushion the effects of these signals, to prevent certain emotional outbursts and impulses that need to be satisfied as soon as possible from interfering with plans whose goal is located in the long term. Ultimately, all of this facilitates self-control.
The frontal lobes allow us to attribute mental and emotional states to others, and this influences our behavior. In this way, we internalize possible mental states of the people around us.
This, together with the fact that, as we have seen, the frontal lobes allow us to plan taking other people into account, makes these areas of the cerebral cortex predispose us to create complex social tissues.
Why are the frontal lobes important?
It is often said that the frontal lobe is the part of the brain that most differentiates us from other animals. While it is true that the brain of our species is different from those of the rest in many more respects that affect its globality, this statement is, in part, true.
Why? Because our brain lobes are not only the largest proportionally, but also the only ones that make possible a wide variety of unique functions and capabilities.
The frontal lobes of the brain stand out especially for being very involved in the so-called executive functions. These functions are those that we associate with cognition and decision-making: the use of memory, planning, the selection of objectives, and the resolution of specific problems that have to be addressed by focusing attention on specific aspects.
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In this brief guide we answered the question ‘’What does the brain frontal lobe control?’’ We defined what the frontal lobe is, how it is divided and we introduced you to the main functions of the frontal lobe, a region of the brain of great importance.
What do you think?
Shammi P, Stuss DT. (1999). Humour appreciation: a role of the right frontal lobe. Brain.
Zalla T, Pradat-Diehl y P, Sirigu A. (2003). Perception of action boundaries in patients with frontal lobe damage. Neuropsychologia.
Goldberg, E. (2009). The new executive brain: Frontal lobes in a complex world. Oxford University Press.