In 2007, the pre-frontal cortex emerged, from the cinder-strewn hearth of neuro-anatomical and behavioral research, to the dazzling ballroom of the chattering classes–conveyed thither by a New Yorker cartoon. Parents, to their fashionably disheveled adolescent son: “Young man, go to your room and stay there until your cerebral cortex matures.”
Who knew? Turns out Disney was right. There’s a Jiminy Cricket area of the cerebral cortex, that acts like a Hollywood producer–red-lighting or green-lighting various hare-brained scenarios the amygdala pitches to it: “Too risky! Have to run that by legal. Too controversial! We’ll alienate our demographic. Will it be banned in Boston? Condemned in Cleveland? Banished in Baltimore? Better lose some of the obscenity, but keep the gratuitous violence.”
One slight glitch. As the New Yorker cartoon implies, you can’t hurry “Good Taste, Good Judgement, and Self-Control.” [Anyone who recognizes that phrase went to Duke before 1968.] The pre-frontal cortex doesn’t reliably begin to exercise Exective Function until one’s mid-2os. [Results may vary, depending on Nature, Nurture, and Proximal Events.] For the purpose of mounting a legal defense, “Proximal Events” have been known to include temporary insanity, due to jealousy [la crime passionel], circadian rhythm disruption, and/or Twinky toxicity.
Incidentally, in the 1980s neuro-anatomical researchers were publishing articles tracing the pathways of the dog’s pre-frontal cortex to various other brain areas, thereby scandalizing the ethological community, who had insisted a priori, that one had to be at least a primate, dear, to have impulse control. How old were the dogs in the research study, I wonder? Had they matured past that harum-scarum phase, where all rabbits are fair game…well, let’s face it, where all game is fair game? Here’s a fun fact: predator [carnivore] animals have a relatively larger cerebral cortex [and a relatively shorter gut], than prey [herbivore] animals. Not to get too anthropomorphic about it, it takes alot more Executive Function [not to mention Therbligs], to find, select, and pounce on a sentient, mobile animal, than on a stationary plant [pace Prince Charles…who talks to plants…but hunts foxes…oh, never mind].
My favorite nemesis, Big Pharma, is even now working on a drug to hasten the growth of the pre-frontal cortex. There should be a contest, to predict what the adverse side-effects [or unintended consequences] of such a drug will be. Those of us who studied psychology in the 60s recall that in the 1950s the panacea for all manner of “insanity”[ranging from schizophrenia, to mood disorders, to antisocial behavior] was the Pre-frontal Lobotomy, wherein all connections between the pre-frontal cortex and the rest of the brain were surgically severed. Those who studied Filmography, instead, will tell you that Frankenstein was the research scientist, not the monster.
Before that Brave New World comes to pass, the best course of action, for enhancing the self-control of dogs, young people, and those of us with Overactive Amygdala Syndrome, is the daily exercise of what pre-frontal cortex we do have. First of all, make sure it gets enough blood flow [by identifying what is getting Up the Nose of the amygdala].
For what is second of all, readers will have to “Chotto Matte” [Japanese for wait a little while], for the next post.