What is the frontal lobe and how does it work?

the frontal lobe it is one of the most studied and interesting parts of the brain from the point of view of psychology, neuropsychology and neuroscience in general. It is not only known to be the largest lobe of the human brain, but also for the very important functions and capacities the existence we owe to this structure. What capacities are these?

    Basically, the functions of the frontal lobe are all those that we attribute exclusively to rational beings, With its own criteria, with the possibility of acting according to complex strategies and well prepared to live in very large companies.

    The importance of the frontal lobe

    The difference between having a frontal lobe like that of healthy, adult human beings and not having one is the difference between being an organism guided primarily by impulses and emotions or one which, although it is primarily motivated by emotional states generated by the limbic system, is able to defer these impulses to follow elaborate plans and choose to achieve goals that are abstract or located at a very distant moment in time.

    However, the role of the frontal lobe goes beyond being a set of neurons and glia that allows for long-term thinking. We will explore its potential in the following lines.

    What does the frontal lobe look like?

    The frontal lobe is an anatomical structure located in the most frontal part of the brain, that is, closest to the face. It is separated from the parietal lobe by the Roland ** or fissure (or central fissure) and from the temporal lobe by the Silvio fissure (or lateral fissure). In addition, in the human brain, the frontal lobes are the largest of all, because they occupy about a third of the entire cerebral cortex.

    While it can be considered one of the many parts of the brain, it should be noted that the frontal lobes do not function on their own and only make sense as a brain structure when working in coordination with the rest. of the brain.

    Dig into the details

    We often say 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 the rest in many other aspects that affect its integrity, this statement is, in part, true.

    Because? Because our brain lobes are not only the largest proportionately, but also the only ones that allow the existence of a wide variety of unique functions and abilities.

    The importance of executive functions

    The frontal lobes of the brain are distinguished above all for being very involved in the calls executive functions. These functions are those that we associate with cognition and decision-making: the use of memory, planning, selecting goals, and solving specific problems that need to be addressed by focusing attention on specific aspects. .

    In general, it can be said that the frontal lobe of each hemisphere serves to transform information about the environment into matter from which to decide what to do and design a plan of action to intervene in what surrounds us. In a way, it is the part of the brain through which we stop becoming passive subjects and become active agents, with the ability to change things in response to specific goals chosen by us from what we learned.

    The frontal lobe does not function in isolation

    Of course, all of this doesn’t do it on its own. It is impossible to understand how the frontal lobe works without also knowing how other structures in the brain work., Which not only receives information, but also works in coordination with it in real time and at breakneck speed. So, for example, to initiate a sequence of voluntary movements, the frontal lobe needs the basal ganglia to be activated, linked to performing automated movements resulting from past experiences and continuous repetitions.

    Some basic functions of the frontal lobe

    between the executive functions and processes that we associate with the frontal lobe, we can find the following:


    In other words, that is to say the ability to think abstractly about things that are only present in our imagination, Since we are not evoking by being registered by our senses at this particular moment. It’s also important to note that this type of thinking can have varying degrees of abstraction, which includes the ability to think about how we think. It is in this type of process that cognitive behavioral therapies intervene.

    Management of working memory

    Injury to parts of the frontal lobe they affect working memory. This means that the frontal lobe plays a holding role in a type of “transient” memory information relating to a problem that must be solved in real time, and that once solved, it will lose its value. Thanks to this cognitive ability, we can perform complex tasks in real time, tasks that require taking into account different variables and information.

    Long-term ideation

    It is currently believed to be the frontal lobe allows you to project past experiences into future situationsAll this from the rules and dynamics learned along the way. In turn, this allows you to place goals, objectives, and even needs at a time distant from the present, months, or years to come.


    Think about the future allows you to imagine plans and strategies, In addition to its possible results and consequences. The prefrontal lobe not only “creates” possible future scenes in our mind, but also helps us navigate them in search of our own goals.

    So, while other parts of the brain are designed to steer us toward shorter-term goals, the frontal lobes allow us to aspire to goals of a more abstract nature, through which we can cooperate, such as chains of actions that lead to their realization is long and complex enough that more people can integrate.

    Behavior control

    the orbital zone frontal lobe (i.e. the lower area of ​​the lobe, which is close to the eye sockets) is constantly linked to impulses from the area of ​​the limbic system, the structure in which they are the source of emotions . that’s why one of its functions is to attenuate the effects of these signalsTo avoid certain cramps and emotional impulses that need to be met as soon as possible get in the way of plans, the goal is long term. In short, all of this facilitates self-control.

    social cognition

    The frontal lobes they allow us to attribute mental and emotional states to others, And that this influences our behavior. In this way, we internalize the possible mental states of the people around us. This, added to the fact that, as we have seen, the frontal lobes allow us to plan with other people in mind, these areas of the cerebral cortex predispose us to create complex social tissues.

    Parts of the frontal lobe

    We could spend days, weeks, and even months recapitulating all of the substructures that can be found in a common and common frontal lobe, because it is always possible to shell part of it ad infinitum into smaller. However, we can say that the main areas of the frontal lobe are as follows:

    1. Motor cortex

    the motor cortex this is the part of the frontal lobe involved in planning, execution and movement control processes volunteers. We understand that it is in this part of the brain that information about the environment and about the information itself that is processed in the brain become actions, that is, electrical signals intended to activate the muscles of the body.

    The motor cortex is located just on the side of Rolando’s fissure, and therefore receives a lot of information from the somatosensory area that is just across this “border” in the parietal lobe.

    The motor cortex is divided into the primary motor cortex, pre-motor cortex, and motor area. additional.

    Primary motor cortex (M1)

    It is in this area that a large part of the nerve impulses come, which will descend along the spine to activate specific muscles.

    Pre-motor cortex (APM)

    The pre-motor cortex is the part of the frontal lobe responsible for influencing the learning of past experiences the technique of movement. Therefore, it plays a very important role in the movements that we constantly perform and of which we are ‘experts’, such as those associated with postural control and proximal movements (i.e. those performed with parts of the body. trunk) or areas very close to it). It works by receiving information from the basal ganglia and the thalamus, in particular.

    Additional motor zone (AMS)

    It is involved in performing very precise movements, such as those that require the use of the fingers in a coordinated fashion.

    2. Prefrontal cortex

    Many of the characteristics and traits that we attribute exclusively to our species have their neural base in this region of the frontal lobe: the ability to suppress impulses and think about abstract ideas, The imagination of possible future situations from what we have seen in the past and the internalization of social norms. Indeed, certain faculties and cognitive functions normally attributed to the frontal lobes in general exist, in particular, thanks to the prefrontal cortex, which is the region of the cortex which has evolved most recently.

    3. Drill area

    This area is involved in performing specific movements to articulate speech. Therefore, signals are emitted from here which will end up in the tongue, larynx and mouth.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Goldberg E. (2001). The executive brain.
    • Shammi P, Stuss DT. (1999). Humor assessment: a role of the right frontal lobe. Brain.
    • Zalla T, Pradat-Diehl and P, Sirigu A. (2003). Perception of action limits in patients with frontal lobe lesions. Neuropsychology.

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