If you feel like you keep making bad decisions repeatedly, don’t blame yourself, blame your brain! More specifically, blame your underdeveloped frontal lobe.
Gen-Z has recently developed a fixation on the frontal lobe, also known as the prefrontal cortex, and how it is only fully developed once you’re 25. At this age, your ability to plan, remember things, and exert impulse control improves significantly.
This fact has people convinced that once you turn 25, you magically become better at making good decisions. But just how true is this and is your frontal lobe really to blame?
It’s not surprising that the frontal lobe is trending on TikTok right now; the oldest zoomers are turning 25 this year. On TikTok, #frontallobe currently has 29.3 million views. Countless TikTok videos claim that the frontal lobe is only fully developed once you’re 25.
The frontal lobe is responsible for essential cognitive skills, which improve once it is fully matured. But will you magically become a responsible and functioning person once your frontal lobe matures? Although this sounds like some TikTok logic, it is somewhat true.
Left brain, right brain? More like higher brain, lower brain!
Although all the TikToks about frontal lobe development mind seem a little far-fetched, they are grounded in psychological fact. The human brain is divided roughly into two sections, the higher and the lower brain. The higher brain consists of the cerebral cortex and its various parts, including the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for higher-order thinking and planning. It enables us to emotionally regulate and have control over our bodies. The lower brain consists of many parts, all of which are responsible for regulating bodily functions that are involuntary.
The lower brain is also the ‘animal’ part of the brain. Fight or flight, sexual desire, and cravings for food are all generated by the lower brain. Many bad habits can be linked back to the lower brain. However, the lower brain can’t make you do anything without the higher brain rationalizing the decision and acting on it. So, unfortunately, you can’t blame all your bad habits on the lower brain!
Additionally, the fact about the brain only being fully developed by age 25 is also grounded in truth. Countless studies have discovered that the brain continues developing into a person’s mid-20s. In fact, the National Center for Biotechnology Information stated in a study on teenage brain development:
“The development and maturation of the prefrontal cortex occurs primarily during adolescence and is fully accomplished at the age of 25 years.”
25 isn’t a magic number
Even though the brain is fully developed at 25, this doesn’t mean you will magically morph into a responsible and disciplined person on your 25th birthday. Brain changes don’t happen overnight. Instead, there is a continuous increase in the development of higher brain cognitive skills throughout adolescence which relies on learning how to behave. Basically, you can’t blame all your bad teenage decisions on an underdeveloped frontal lobe. Whilst having a developed brain helps with being more disciplined and making better decisions, you still need to actively work on these skills to get better at them.
The pandemic greatly impacted brain development
It’s generally accepted that the pandemic resulted in many people developing mental health issues however there is emerging evidence that the pandemic stunted brain development in teenagers and young adults.
A study published in the Social, Psychological, and Personality Science journal found that the social development of teenagers and young adults during 2020 was significantly stunted. Those who were part of the study were less satisfied with their relationships and struggled more with anxiety or depression.
Another study found that the chronic stress felt during the pandemic led to reduced prefrontal cortex growth, resulting in poorer attention spans, emotional dysregulation, and a reduced ability to handle stress in the future.
All this evidence indicates that if you were a teen during the pandemic and are now an adult, you likely have an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. This could explain the post-pandemic mental health crisis in young adults. It’s uncertain how long the effects of chronic pandemic stress on the prefrontal cortex will last.
If anything, knowing how severely the pandemic impacted prefrontal cortex development should make people be kinder to themselves about making mistakes. However, take responsibility for your mistakes and learn from them so that you develop the cognitive skills that’ll make your life much easier.