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Where It All Begins: The Healthy Functioning of Your Prefrontal Cortex

medium_1971827663The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that gives you your higher cognitive functions (language, logic, and planning). It modulates the primitive emotional responses of your limbic system, including those of your brain’s fear center, the amygdala, and your reptilian complex, which regulates fight or flight. Your cerebral cortex also monitors and influences the neural network in the rest of your body.

The middle prefrontal cortex, located behind the forehead, is crucial in providing these abilities. Summarizing research on this region of the brain, Daniel Siegel, M.D., explains that the prefron­tal cortex has long neurons that extend to different parts of the brain and the entire body, and this enables the process of integra­tion, which he says is “the underlying common mechanism beneath various pathways leading to well-being.”2 He lists nine “executive functions” that the middle prefrontal cortex participates in.3 As you read this list, think about how you are functioning in these areas and whether you would like to improve in one or more of them.


  1. Regulating your body (vital organs such as your heart and other bodily systems to keep them in balance)
  2. Attuned communication with other people
  3. Emotional balance (monitoring and influencing the limbic system, including the amygdala and reptilian complex, and also monitoring the body, so that you experience your life as emotionally stimulating but not so much so that it’s over­whelming or that you close down emotionally)
  4. Response flexibility (taking in information, stopping, and reflecting before you act)
  5. Insight (seeing the workings of your own mind, the ability to reflect on the past and connect it in a productive way to the present and with your projections of the future)
  6. Empathy (“seeing” and resonating with the minds of others by imagining what it’s like to experience the world from their point of view)
  7. Modulating fear (the capacity to soothe the amygdala to quiet the machinery when fear is not the appropriate response)
  8. Being in touch with intuition (openness to the wisdom that your body and “being” can communicate to you about what is happening inside you and what your nervous system picks up from resonating with others)
  9. Morality (feeling deep compassion for and connectedness to others and wanting to act for the higher good).4


Now that you’ve read this list, you see why healthy function­ing of your middle prefrontal cortex is necessary for a sense of well-being. These nine functions enable you to modulate yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically. If you believe that your func­tioning is less than optimal in any of these areas, you now know that part of remodeling your brain means that you’ll be remodeling your middle prefrontal cortex.


An excerpt from my recent book, Your Mind Is What Your Brain Does for a Living, now available at Amazon.


photo credit: EUSKALANATO via photopin cc

  • 1 Dec, 2014
  • Posted by Steve Fogel
  • 7 Tags

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