Prefrontal Cortex And Other Parts Of The Brain

. It involves

- understanding (the information),

- deciding (if information is already in the brain or not),

- recalling (if information already in brain then finding it),

- memorising (storing new information and/or modifying held information)

- inhibiting (stopping distractions from recovering held information and storing new)

. This conscious mental activity significantly needs more metabolic resources, such as energy, than the automatic brain functions like breathing, heart beating, etc. and routine functions, ie doing familiar activities e.g. an experienced driver driving a car on known roads. That is why conscious mental activity is exhausting and you need to constantly recharge your energy supply (glucose) and oxygen. In fact we have limited resources for continuous use of our conscious mental activities. The more of these activities, the more difficult it is to do them as those first in the queue use most of the available resources. Thus the suggestion to try harder is futile as your resources to handle these activities are dwindling. This highlights the need to prioritise and to do the more important and difficult tasks first when adequate resources are available and the more routine tasks later. Remember that prioritizing is a very high-energy activity.

. The basal ganglia is the part of the brain that handles routine activities. As soon as any activity is repeated several times, it takes over. It functions beneath conscious awareness and is highly energy efficient when compared to the prefrontal cortex

. Its major limitation:

"...It has to have everything right or it doesn't function well..."

Amy Arnsten as quoted by David Rock, 2009

. When new information comes in to the brain, it tries to link this to the information already stored there. It will try to recall information already in the brain (memory), or if it is new information, it will try to memorise it. The latter uses more energy.

. It is very easy for the brain to be overwhelmed.

. The prefrontal cortex can handle several of these energy-hungry processes at once, ie short-term memory (inflow of visual and auditory information that will be held in storage for a short time) and long-term memory (which is reviewing data already held for comparison with new data). The latter involves recalling earlier memories, ie requires tracing back in time, recalling events in chronological order between now and when first formed. The further back a memory is, the more attention and energy required.

"...The brain likes to minimize energy usage because the brain developed at a time when metabolic resources were scarce..."

David Rock, 2009

It is very hard to change habits as they are engrained in the routine part of the brain. To change habits requires the executive function of the brain to be engaged. The brain will resist going there, ie it will require a greater effort & use more energy

US scientists have found that opioids can cause long-term changes in the brain even after the person goes through severe nausea and other withdrawal symptoms typically associated with quitting. There are 2 m. Americans who are addicted to prescription opioids; 1m,. are addicted to heroin (Faye Flam, 2017). Addictive drugs can alter the brain circuitry that controls motivation and reward plus wreck havoc on the brain's decision-making centre, ie prefrontal cortex.

Addiction is a long-term brain disease with environmental factors triggering relapses, eg low social status increases the risk of addiction and overeating. Also, age is important, ie people in their teens and early 20s are more likely become addictive because their prefrontal cortex is still developing.

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