The Anatomy of the Prefrontal Cortex

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The prefrontal cortex is an important part of your brain. It is at the front of the frontal lobe, which is immediately behind the forehead. It affects your behavior, personality, and ability to plan. This article will explain more about the anatomy, location, and function of the prefrontal cortex.

View of forehead, the brain's prefrontal cortex lies at the front of the skull

Eric Raptosh Photography / Getty Images


The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is connected to many other parts of the brain and is able to send and receive information. The prefrontal cortex is divided into these two parts:

  • Medial PFC (mPFC): It is involved in self-reflection, memory, and emotional processing.
  • Lateral PFC (lPFC): It is involved in sensory processing, motor control, and performance monitoring.


The prefrontal cortex is involved in many brain functions. One of the most important is executive function, or the ability to self-regulate and plan ahead. Examples of executive function include:

  • Controlling your behavior and impulses 
  • Delaying instant gratification 
  • Regulating your emotions 
  • Planning
  • Making decisions 
  • Solving problems 
  • Making long-term goals 
  • Balancing short-term rewards with future goals 
  • Changing your behavior when situations change 
  • Seeing and predicting the consequences of your behavior 
  • Being able to consider many streams of information 
  • Being able to focus your attention 

The prefrontal cortex also affects your personality. A historical example of what happens when a person’s prefrontal cortex is damaged occurred in the mid-1800s. When railroad worker Phineas Gage’s prefrontal cortex was damaged by a metal rod going through his skull, he survived, but his personality changed. He became impulsive and lost the ability to plan. 

Associated Conditions

Damage to the prefrontal cortex can happen from: 

  • Brain trauma: Accidents, falls, sports injuries, and physical altercations can cause a traumatic brain injury.
  • Cancer: Cancer originating in the brain (primary tumors) or spreading to the brain from other original sites (metastatic brain tumors) can cause damage.
  • Tumors: In addition to cancerous tumors, benign (noncancerous) brain tumors can harm the prefrontal cortex.
  • Stroke: A blocked blood vessel or bleed in the brain can damage the prefrontal cortex.

When the prefrontal cortex is damaged, it may cause the following conditions:  

  • Changes in personality and behavior 
  • Problems with social behavior and an increase in antisocial behavior
  • Higher chance of committing violence or stealing 
  • Problems regulating emotions and impulses 
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A neurodevelopmental condition that affects attention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): A mental health disorder that affects people after traumatic events  
  • Schizophrenia: A mental health condition that affects a person’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings
  • Bipolar disorder: A condition that causes extreme mood swings 


If you have damage to the prefrontal cortex or another condition that is affecting it, your healthcare provider may start with a physical exam and a mental status exam. These tests will help them evaluate your thinking and rule out other conditions. 

To check your brain, a healthcare provider may order the following tests: 


The prefrontal cortex is found in front of the frontal lobe of the brain. It affects your behavior, personality, and executive function. When the prefrontal cortex is damaged, it can cause changes to how you think and behave. 

A Word From Verywell

It is important to remember that you may not always notice changes in your behavior or thinking. Your friends and loved ones are more likely to point out that something is wrong.

Even if you think everything is fine, it is worth having a conversation with your healthcare provider and checking on your brain health. It is better to catch problems earlier and get treatment. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does the prefrontal cortex grow?

    Yes, the prefrontal cortex grows as a person matures from childhood to early adulthood. It is one of the last parts of the brain to develop completely.

  • At what age does the prefrontal cortex stop developing?

    In general, the prefrontal cortex is considered fully developed by the age of 25. This is why car insurance companies charge higher rates until a person turns 25 because they are high-risk drivers. They explain that the prefrontal cortex is involved in risk-taking and decision-making, which are both important for driving.

  • What happens if the prefrontal cortex is damaged?

    A person may lose executive function if the prefrontal cortex is damaged. They may still be able to do some tasks and even work, but they will have trouble planning and controlling their behavior.

  • Can a person live without a prefrontal cortex?

    Yes, it is possible for a person to survive without a prefrontal cortex. However, not having this portion of the brain will have an enormous impact on their ability to reason, plan ahead, control behavior, and solve problems. A person’s ability to have social relationships would also be affected severely.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Grossmann T. The role of medial prefrontal cortex in early social cognition. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013;7:340. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00340

  2. Arain M, Haque M, Johal L, et al. Maturation of the adolescent brain. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2013;9:449-461. doi:10.2147/NDT.S39776

  3. Teles RV. Phineas Gage's great legacy. Dement Neuropsychol. 2020;14(4):419-421. doi:10.1590/1980-57642020dn14-040013

  4. Barrash J, Bruss J, Anderson SW, et al. Lesions in different prefrontal sectors are associated with different types of acquired personality disturbances. Cortex. 2022;147:169-184. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2021.12.004

By Lana Bandoim
Lana Bandoim is a science writer and editor with more than a decade of experience covering complex health topics.