The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is associated with many adaptive and behavioral abilities including executive functions (EF), social cognition, decision-making, and self-regulation. It undergoes a prolonged maturation process throughout childhood and adolescence with notable increases in interconnectivity with other cortical regions as well as limbic system structures, the diencephalon and basal ganglia. It has been implicated in several neural systems including the executive, social, attentional, salience and default mode networks. Mechanisms of the PFC exert increasing regulatory control over goal-directed behaviors, cognition, and social-emotional behaviors. In early childhood, building blocks of EF and social cognition typically emerge within supportive environments. These foundational processes can include inhibitory control, working memory, contextual rule learning, and formative theory of mind and goal-directed behaviors. In later childhood and adolescence, these and other PFC-related tasks begin to shift to greater self-regulation with increasing challenges for social-emotional processing as well. Social media behaviors evoke significant PFC activations, engaging social cognition, social emotions and reward processing. The knowledge system of the PFC is thought to provide greater associative complexity for temporal organization of behavior and planning. It also incorporates self and other social cognitive processing (including theory of mind and moral reasoning) as well as feeling and affective states in consideration of short and longer-term outcomes of actions (e.g., cost-benefit analysis of efforts and actions). There are atypical developmental conditions characteristic of PFC dysfunction including perinatal stroke, traumatic brain injury, toxic and chronic stress exposures, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism spectrum disorder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Behavioral Neuroscience
Subtitle of host publicationVolumes 1-3, Second edition
ISBN (Electronic)9780128196410
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine
  • General Neuroscience

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