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What is the frontal lobe and how does it work?

What is the frontal lobe and how does it work?

February 20, 2024

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 neurosciences 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?

  • You may be interested in this post: "The lobes of the brain and its various functions"

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

The importance of the frontal lobe

The difference between having a frontal lobe as that of adult and healthy human beings and not having them is the difference between being an organism guided basically by impulses and emotions or another that, in spite of being motivated fundamentally by emotional states generated by the limbic system, is able to postpone these impulses to follow elaborate plans and opt to achieve abstract objectives or located at a point very far in time.

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

How is the frontal lobe?

The frontal lobe is an anatomical structure located in the most frontal part of the brain, that is, closer to the face. It is separated from the parietal lobe by the Fissure of Rolandor (or Central Fissure) and the temporal lobe by the Fissure of Silvio (or Lateral Fissure). In addition, in the human brain the frontal lobes are the largest of all, since occupy approximately one third of the entire cerebral cortex .

Although it can be considered one of the many parts of the brain, we must bear in mind that the frontal lobes do not work on their own, and that they only take on meaning as a brain structure when they work in coordination with the rest of the brain.

Delving into details

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 brains of our species are different from those of the rest in many more aspects that affect their globality, this affirmation is, in part, true.

Why? Because our brain lobes are not only the largest proportionally, but also the only ones that make possible the existence of a great variety of unique functions and capabilities.

The importance of executive functions

The frontal lobes of the brain stand out especially for the fact of 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, the selection of objectives, and the resolution of specific problems that have to be addressed by focusing attention on specific aspects.

In general terms, it can be said that the frontal lobe of each hemisphere s go to convert the information about the environment in matter from which to decide what is done and design an action plan to intervene on what surrounds us. In some way, it is the part of the brain thanks to which we stop becoming passive subjects to become active agents, with the ability to change things by responding to specific objectives chosen by us from what we have been learning.

The frontal lobe does not operate in isolation

Of course, all this does not do it alone. It is impossible to understand how the frontal lobe works without also knowing how other brain structures work , of which not only receives information but also work coordinating with it in real time and at a dizzying speed. Thus, for example, to initiate a sequence of voluntary movements, the frontal lobe requires that the basal ganglia are activated, related to the execution of automated movements resulting from past experiences and continuous repetition.

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:


That is to say, the ability to think in the abstract about things that are only present in our imagination , since we do not evoke the fact of being registered by our senses at that particular moment. It is also important to note that this type of thinking can have several degrees of abstraction, which includes the possibility of thinking about how we think. It is in this type of processes that Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies intervene.

Management of working memory

Lesions in certain parts of the frontal lobe they cause the working memory to be affected . This means that the frontal lobe has a role in keeping a type of "transient" memory information related to a problem that must be solved in real time, and once solved it will lose their value. Thanks to this cognitive capacity, we can carry out complex tasks in real time, tasks that require taking into account different variables and pieces of information.

Long-term ideation

Currently it is believed that the frontal lobe allows to project past experiences in future situations , all from the rules and dynamics that have been learned along the way. At the same time, this allows to place objectives, goals and even needs at a point very far from the present, months or years away.


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 through them looking for our own goals.

Thus, while other parts of the brain are designed to guide 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 are long enough and complex enough to accommodate more people.

Control of one's behavior

The orbital zone of the frontal lobe (that is, the lower part of this, which is close to the orbits of the eyes) is in constant relation with the impulses that come from the zone of the limbic system, the structure in which the emotions originate. That is why one of its functions is to cushion the effects of these signals , to avoid that certain emotional outbursts and impulses that need to be satisfied as soon as possible hinder the plans whose goal is located in the long term. In short, all this facilitates the self-control.

Social cognition

The frontal lobes allow us to attribute mental and emotional states to others , and that this influences our behavior. In this way, we internalize possible mental states of the people around us. This, together with that as we have seen the frontal lobes allow us to plan taking into account other people, makes 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 the sub-structures that can be found in a common frontal lobe, since it is always possible to go to infinity one part into smaller ones. However, it can be said that The main areas of the frontal lobe are the following :

1. Motor cortex

The motor cortex is the part of the frontal lobe involved in the processes of planning, execution and control of movements volunteers. It can be understood that it is in this part of the brain where the information about the environment and about the information that is processed in the brain is converted into action, that is, into electrical signals designed to activate the muscles of the body.

The motor cortex is located right next to Rolando's fissure, and therefore receives a lot of information from the somatosensory area that is just on the other side of this "boundary", in the parietal lobe.

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

Primary motor cortex (M1)

It is in this area where a large part of the nerve impulses that will go down the spine to activate specific muscles originate.

Pre-motor cortex (APM)

The pre-motor cortex is the part of the frontal lobe responsible for making the learning of past experiences influence the movement technique. For this reason, it has a very important role in the movements that we constantly carry out and of which we are "experts", such as those associated with postural control and proximal movements (that is, those performed with parts of the trunk or areas). very close to him). It works by receiving information from the basal ganglia and the thalamus, especially.

Supplementary motor area (AMS)

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

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 repress impulses and to think about abstract ideas , the imagination of possible future situations based on what we have seen in the past and the internalization of social norms. In fact, some faculties and cognitive functions that are normally attributed to the frontal lobes in general, exist, specifically, thanks to the prefrontal cortex, which is the region of the cortex that has evolved most recently.

3. Broca's area

This area is involved in the realization of concrete movements to articulate speech . Therefore, from here signals are issued that will go to the tongue, larynx and mouth.

Bibliographic references:

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

065 The Anatomy and Functions of the Frontal Lobe (February 2024).

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