What is the “Executive Center” of the Brain?

executive center of the brain

What part of the brain makes up about 30 percent of the total human brain – compared with just 11 percent for chimpanzees, 7 percent for dogs, 3 percent for cats (perhaps why they need nine lives), and 1 percent for mice (perhaps why they’re eaten by cats)? If you guessed the prefrontal cortex (PFC), you’re right.

What Is the PFC?

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the most evolved part of the brain. It occupies the front third of the brain, behind the forehead. It’s divided into three sections: the dorsal lateral section (on the outside surface of the PFC), the inferior orbital section, (on the front undersurface of the brain), and the anterior cingulate gyrus, (which runs through the middle of the frontal lobes).

The PFC is involved with:

• Empathy
• Judgment
• Organization
• Impulse control
• Learning from mistakes

Our ability as a species to think, plan ahead, use time wisely, and communicate with others is heavily influenced by this part of the brain. The PFC is responsible for helping you be goal-oriented, socially responsible, and productive in every area of your life. The PFC continues to develop beyond puberty into late adolescence and even into the mid-20’s.

The brain systems that drive you to seek out things that bring you pleasure and the PFC, which puts on the brakes when you’re about to engage in risky behavior, work in concert to create your self-control circuit. In a healthy self-control circuit, an effective PFC provides impulse control and good judgment while the deep limbic system offers an adequate dose of motivation so you can plan and follow through on your goals. You can say no to alcohol, hot fudge sundaes, cigarettes, gambling, and many other bad behaviors. But what happens when the PFC isn’t working well?

Problems in the PFC

Think of the PFC as your boss at work. When the PFC is low in activity, it’s as if the boss is gone, so there’s little to no supervision and nothing gets done. On the other end of the spectrum, when the PFC works too hard, it’s as if the boss is micromanaging everyone and people are left with anxiety and worry.

Decreased activity in the PFC has been associated with lack of forethought, poor judgment, impulse control problems and poor internal supervision. When the PFC is underactive, it can create an imbalance in the reward system and cause you to lose control over your behavior. When this is the case, you’re more likely to fall victim to your cravings.

Head Injuries and the PFC

Due to its location, the PFC is especially susceptible to head injury. Unfortunately, much of the PFC sits on top of several sharp, bony ridges inside the skull, and lies just behind the area where many blows to the head occur.

Your brain wasn’t made to endure the punishment of soccer headers, tackle football, or boxing. Even mild TBI’s can have far-reaching health consequences and can alter a person’s personality and ability to learn. Head injuries are a major cause of psychiatric disorders including anxiety, depression, substance abuse and even memory issues and Alzheimer’s disease.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and the PFC

ADD, also referred to as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), typically occurs as a result of neurological dysfunction in the PFC. When people with ADD try to concentrate, PFC activity tends to decrease.

Normally, the PFC sends inhibitory signals to certain areas of the brain, quieting stimulation from the environment so that you can concentrate. When the PFC is underactive, it doesn’t adequately dampen the sensory parts of the brain, and too many stimuli bombard the brain as a result. For those who struggle with ADD, distractibility is evident in many different settings.

Common symptoms of ADD are:

• Poor internal supervision
Short attention span
• Disorganization
• Hyperactivity (although only half the people with ADD are hyperactive)
• Difficulty learning from past errors
• Lack of forethought
• Procrastination

Without proper PFC function, it’s difficult to act in consistent, thoughtful ways, and impulses can take over. Impulse control problems may lead to behaviors such as lying, stealing, having affairs, and excessive spending.

Increased death rates have been associated with impulsive behaviors, such as: tobacco use, poor diet, excessive alcohol use, violence, risky sexual behavior, aggressive driving, suicide, and drug use. These factors can have a huge impact on a person’s longevity.

4 Ways to Strengthen the Executive Center of Your Brain

1. Exercise is literally the fountain of youth because it boosts blood flow to the brain and increases chemicals that are important for learning, memory and stimulating the growth of new brain cells. Exercise boosts blood flow to the PFC, which can help you be more productive. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes every day.

2. It’s easy to develop bad sleep habits when leading a busy life. Missing out on sleep can affect your health in more ways than you might imagine. Less sleep can lead to slower reaction times in tasks, brain fog, and poor decision-making. It’s recommended that you get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.

3. Keep your blood sugar balanced throughout the day with healthy snacks. Also, supplements, green tea, and Rhodiola can increase blood flow to the PFC which can help you make better decisions. Low blood sugar levels are associated with lower overall blood flow to the brain, poor impulse control, irritability, and bad decisions.

4. Always ask “Then what?” When it comes to your health, these are the two most important words in the English language. Think about the consequences of your behavior before you act. Exercising self-control is one of the best ways to strengthen your PFC. To develop your PFC, you can practice saying no to the things that aren’t good for you and, over time, you’ll find it easier to do the right thing.

Taking care of your brain is the single most important thing you can do for your health, your life, and the lives of those around you. Having a PFC that works optimally also helps you be smarter, healthier, happier – and even wealthier – because you’ll develop the ability to think before acting and consider the consequences.

To help you better understand your brain and create a treatment plan that’s targeted to your unique needs, call us today at 888-288-9834 or visit us online to schedule a visit.


  1. Thank you, Dr. Amen, for this easily understood part of the brain function. I think you might appreciate the findings of a famous colleague of yours, who (re)discovered the causes and the cures of all diseases, which can be ascertained through brain CT scans. He calls these “lesions” DHSs, in memory of his murdered son. They are “Hamersche Herde” and are caused by the appropriate relays in the brain going into “fermentation mode” following a command of the Psyche in order to help the individual over a perceived crisis, also known as Cancer. The reason for this is, that the normal energy production of the brain cells is insufficient and the fermentation has a greater capacity to be adequate.

    Comment by ROLAND — January 11, 2017 @ 1:09 PM

  2. i was curious about modafanil if u like n recommend it

    Comment by Michelle Frankie — January 11, 2017 @ 2:50 PM

  3. Does both methylphenidate and amphetamines stimulate the temporal lobes?

    Comment by P.F. — January 14, 2017 @ 11:19 PM

  4. Thank you for this instructive, insightful article about the prefrontal cortex – the executive, the boss, and the tips for strengthening the prefrontal cortex. Your article brings together so many connections that could give us new answers.

    Comment by Susan Gorman, M.A., SEP — February 2, 2018 @ 8:58 AM

  5. Does COQ10 supplement help with strengthening memory and brain health
    for those who take statins over an extended period of time?

    Comment by Susan Gorman, M.A., SEP — February 2, 2018 @ 9:00 AM

  6. I don’t take any medication but would like to know if coq10 is good to take….

    Comment by I.Corona — September 14, 2018 @ 4:43 AM

  7. Your analysis of:
    “Impulse control problems may lead to behaviors such as lying, stealing, having affairs, and excessive spending.”
    Is not true. Lying, stealing, cheating are cognitive actions. Rationalised and then pushed into the mode of opportunism. I know this because of my spiritual beliefs.
    Furthermore when we make judgements, it also this area that justifies according to how the outcome will benefit it. It. Yes, it thinks. It is the seat of the Ego. When we live through the ego, we become arrogant, controlling, judgemental, moralistic, selfish, and we justify lying. It is the seat of greed, power, cruelty, grandiosity and delusion.
    It thinks it is God, and it probably is. Indeed it is where all perception of good and evil is used to moralise a pursuit of happiness as ‘Right’.
    You say ‘Empathy’ but this is a lie. Empathy is almost meaningless. Insincerity. Acting. Do you know why? Only God can know that persons direct experience. The PFC I’m sure believes it is God.
    The PFC however has no room for ‘ ‘Compassion’ because compassion always has a cost.. a sacrifice. It is known intuitively as the Way to go because it is fulfilling Truth. The PFC as you say is engaged actively in suppressing this activity. There is no benefit to the PFC in talking a less efficient route via ‘compassion’. Sympathy? Yeah, sure.. terrible misfortune. Awful.

    Do you see..? For those who have ears to hear, may you hear!
    Verily I tell you: if you bring forth from what is inside you, what is inside will save you. If you do not bring forth from what is inside you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

    Comment by James — August 21, 2019 @ 2:47 AM

  8. Thank you, Dr. Amen, for your education on the PFC. I am one of your trained Certified Brain Health Coaches. You have taught others and myself so much about taking good care of our brains. I am troubled by James' subjective comments above. His subjective views could be harmful for some individuals. He has a right to think about the PFC and the brain as he chooses, but I wonder why you allowed it to be posted. Everything I have both experienced and studied, including a TBI and subsequent coma I experienced, proves that you are 100% correct in your analysis of the brain and how it affects our motivation and actions. Thank you. – Dee

    Comment by Dee M Schwartz — July 9, 2022 @ 11:37 AM

  9. excellent article!

    Comment by Douglas Morris — May 26, 2023 @ 11:19 PM

  10. James, you're relating this article to those people who intentionally manipulate, scheme and do what they can to take the upper hand over someone else. You are describing someone who organizes their lies, tactics of manipulation and carries them out while relating to specific people, or while in the public eye. You are describing someone who is all about trying to manage what others think and feel about them, which takes a lot of self regulation. This article is really getting at the physiological functioning of the brain and how problems with the PFC create behaviors that are lacking in self regulation. You are talking about having enough self regulation that's coupled with a lack of boundaries, entitlement to get what you want even if you don't deserve it or work for it, grandiosity and self esteem but with little self respect. You are describing a personality disorder with a good amount of self control enough to try and control others. This article is about problems with brain physiology that can have personal and social consequences but not contrived ways of relating. The liars you speak of would not admit to lying even if it got them out of trouble because they don't care what others think and punishment doesn't necessarily work for these people. They would rather get in trouble and continue lying to your face to at least win that game and have some power despite losing to other consequences. You define God as trying to control others. I see something that's beyond me through inspiration that makes life new and fun again!

    Comment by Damien — May 31, 2023 @ 12:16 AM

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