by Angela Reed-Fox
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the area of our brains concerned with balancing and analysing concepts, abstract thinking, and making choices. The PFC is the origin of decisions regarding what we do, how we feel, and what we pay attention to. This part of our brain is highly developed – particularly when compared with brains of different animals.
The PFC matures later than other parts of the brain – and can take 25 years to reach full maturity in humans. This may explain why peer pressure is harder to resist for younger people, particularly when associated with risky behaviour.
The conflict comes when the primitive part of our brain, that including the amygdala, the hippocampus and the hypothalamus (concerned with emotion, long-term memory, immediate desires and behaviour) wants something. The urge is for immediate gratification – like a two-year-old! The pre-frontal cortex then wades in with willpower, and reasoning. “Well if I eat that now, I might need to forego dessert later,” or “if I eat that, it will take me longer to reach my weight loss goal.”
What does this mean? It means that there is conflict built into our every decision. Sometimes the PFC will be stronger, and sometimes our primitive brain will have the upper hand. The challenge is that we need to find ways either to strengthen the power of the PFC, or to find ways of circumventing the demands of our primitive brain.
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