Saturday, March 26

Fragile Frontal Lobes

Today, many work at a frantic rate. Its well known that we need to keep fit, eat well, avoid excessive alcohol and have a reasonable amount of sleep to cope with the stress and strain of the daily grind. Such common sense approaches are essential for "good living" and help prolong our life.

But the hardworking executive mechanisms of our brains also require rest and nutrition. It seems the most recent development of the brain, the frontal lobes, are quite fragile, and in need of even more tender loving care than was previously understood. A price to pay, you might say for our development, because this richness of an advanced consciousness made available through the operation of the frontal lobes, easily breaks down under extreme pressures.
The development of the frontal lobes occurred late in our evolutionary cycle, causing confusion amongst early communities.

When people died, the memories that persisted in the minds of those who were left were thought to be "ghosts" or assumed as evidence of life after death. And so this "consciousness" was understood within the context of early religious and magical beliefs.

Elkhonon Goldberg's quotes "A rich sensory memory of a deceased tribesperson would be interpreted as the tribesman's "ghost" or as evidence of the tribesman "life" after death". According to the scenario, some of the more literal religions and magical beliefs, which persisted for millennia are vestiges of early humans inability to distinguish between one own memories of other people (internal representations, parts of "self") and those actual people themselves ("nonselves".Others). According to Jaynes, this self-oneself confusion was not confined to prehistoric times. It extended well into the early history populated by individuals we assume to be neurobiological "modern''

Click on to visit his website.

To day it is understood that it is the frontal lobes that allow us to clearly identify our "consciousness" and make" executive decisions" when required, on any number of complex and abstract matters. Such development of the frontal lobes does however have a downside, the loss of control by the frontal lobes to the more primitive areas of the brain. As this occurs, initially the two are in "conflict" until such time as the lower brain takes control. When we lose this control of the frontal lobes it is similar to losing control of an "Executive Manager"of the brain.

That means you are operating at a much lower level, largely from an instinctive, survival mode, without the flexibility and higher level thinking provided by the frontal lobes.

I quote from Edward Hallowell -psychiatrist -an Article from Harvard Business Review -re published in the Work Space area of the Financial Review on Tuesday 15 March 2005.

You can visit his website by clicking on or the icon at the beginning of the article.

"As a specialist in learning disabilities, I have found that most dangerous disability is not any formally diagnosable condition like dyslexia or ADD (attention deficit disorder). Its fear. When the frontal lobes approach capacity and we begin to fear that we can't keep up, 'the relationship between their higher and lower regions of the brain take an ominous turn. In survival mode, the deep areas of the brain assume control and began to direct the higher regions.
As a result the whole brain gets caught in a neurological Catch 22. The deep regions interpret the messages of overload they receive from the frontal lobes in the same way they interpret everything. They furiously fire signals of fear, anxiety, impatience, irritability anger or panic. In a futile attempt to do more than is possible, the brain paradoxically reduces its ability to think clearly."

This can happen a lot easier than we can imagine. Try depriving your self of sleep, become unfit and put yourself in a stressful, hardworking environment when you become "fearful" of not meeting those deadlines.

Under such circumstances there is a good chance your frontal lobes will become overworked to the extent they surrender to the more primitive areas of the brain. We see it all the time don't we? Highly charged emotional decisions, deprived of any creativity, and viewed in purely simplistic terms of who's to blame. Rage is a common reaction. It is also interesting to consider what happens when we are no longer "in control" caused by the temporary or permanent loss of functionality provided by frontal lobe control. We are greatly diminished and lose our perspective to the extent that our "consciousness"is diminished, as we become reliant on instinctive type responses.

Fortunately the solution is simple. Look after those fragile frontal lobes with adequate sleep, a sensible diet and a regular exercise programme. Plan ahead and don't become "fearful" of deadlines, for it is far better to negotiate a postponement, then to risk the "disaster"
of a frontal lobe overload. Make sure you take short breaks at work and wherever possible, discuss matters, rather than e-mail

When you are talking to someone, your brain begins to buzz, releasing pleasurable feelings similar to endorphins when you exercise. This will happen even when you are in a confrontation situation. Providing you don't allow your emotions to "take over" you will feel better afterwards? It is preferable to sending an e mail.

Have you ever noticed, when making presentations to smaller groups, in an interactive mode, how you always feel better than addressing large groups of people when you are in "remote" mode?

When giving presentations I had wondered why those to small groups seemed more successful. Was it the material? Was I more relaxed? Were those present more receptive when in a smaller group, or could it be that the interactive format meant that we were all receiving pleasurable stimuli, similar to endorphins, that made us feel appreciative afterwards.

So I am concerned for you all if you are caught up in a frenetic work pattern. I would like to hear how you plan to avoid a frontal lobe crash. In the meantime, can I send out a "Red Alert"? Be kind to those fragile frontal lobes.

They depend on your tender, loving care much more than you imagine.


a said...

This is fascinating stuff! I've read several articles recently that multi-tasking is not benefificial - that single focus is much more efficient. I suppose this is likely caused by overloading the frontal lobes.

I also find the idea that the evolution of the frontal lobes created such a tremendous shift. It seems obvious after reading about it, but is not something I would have thought about.

Many people say we are in for another shift in consciousness. I never stopped to think that this shift would have physical implications as well. But it makes a lot of sense. We've been through such shifts before so why shouldn't we expect to under go more?

That's as long as we protect what we have.

Thank you so much for this post. Very helpful.

Credit Risk Consultant said...

Very trueful. I find that yoga and meditation are an excellent lobal stress reliever. But of course, at times I am too stressed to even do them.

thanks for the article, Leigh

Wanderer said...

The conflict between instinct and intellect seems to be the frontline of evolutionary struggle.

Most people are trotaly absorbed and controlled by the primordial inner forces of instinct and only use intellect to justify their actions or explain their irrational beheviors but there is a growing population of individuals that rationalize their actions beforehand and stuggle to maintain a connection to their instinctive drives.

The forntal lobes, as you put it, are not only a benefit but a surprising threat to life. Freed from the demands of survival, the mind questions the very things that have madeit possible.

breakerslion said...

As one who works in a high-stress job, I can honestly say that the concept of frontal lobe overload explains a lot of recent emotional control problems I have experienced. It is ironic that the more conscientious you are about deadlines, the more problems you encounter when conflicting goals make those deadlines unrealistic.

I have read the studies on multi-tasking, and I must note some exceptions. I would spend lots of time sitting and watching software install (like watching paint dry) if I did not multi-task. The loss in efficiency in multi-tasking comes in large part from the analysis/paralysis one gets when trying to figure out what other task will "fit" into an available time slice. There is also a problem with worrying about "A" when working on "B". Then there is taking up the "slack", or figuring out where one left off. To solve these problems, I lay out my tasks in a specific order before I start, proceed from one to another in order, and do not break off of any one task until a logical stopping point has been reached. I learned these lessons the hard way.