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The frontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for higher order functions, such as conscious thought, voluntary actions, emotion, and some elements of motor control. This area undergoes rapid growth during infancy, as children explore their environments and begin to develop speech, motor skills, and a sense of themselves as separate human beings. Complete frontal cortex development takes many years, and new functions are added well beyond the childhood years. Development is a complex process involving changes in white matter and the establishment of neural connections in the brain, both of which are influenced by genetic and environmental factors.
The frontal cortex is located behind the forehead. It is the final area in the brain to fully mature and, since it controls many thoughts and emotional processes, may be the reason why adolescents act so differently from adults. Studies using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) demonstrate that the brain develops from the back to the front, and thus frontal cortex development occurs relatively late in the brain maturation process. These studies also show that youth have less white matter, also known as myelin, than adults. As the amount of myelin in the frontal cortex increases, so do the connections that facilitate the efficient transmission of signals between brain areas, making more complex decisions and mature behaviors possible.
The development of neural connections in the brain is a complex process that is not fully understood. To encourage the establishment of new neurons, the frontal lobe must be stimulated. While frontal cortex development is significantly influenced by genetics, environmental factors also play a pivotal role. Children who are exposed to varied environments; encouraged to solve problems; challenged to reason; and engaged in different games, songs and memory tasks will benefit from the increased stimulation that these activities facilitate in the frontal lobes. Conversely, children with sensory processing disorders often struggle with the reasoning and decision making tasks controlled by the frontal cortex.
Adequate and successful frontal cortex development is essential for the many skills required in adult life. This incredibly intricate area of the brain is responsible for the control of movement and speech as well as and the ability to plan detailed physical actions, such as negotiating obstacles or presenting verbal arguments. The frontal cortex also controls what a person pays attention to, and what is determined to be background information. It helps to control a person's impulses, aids in decision making, and helps to analyze the outcome of a decision after it has occurred. Finally, it influences the behaviors and inferences made in many different social situations.