A couple of years ago, while teaching my 17 year old son to drive, I was able to have probably one of the best opportunities to observe the pre-frontal cortex (known as PFC) in action.
The PFC is the part of the brain that sits just behind the forehead. As a car was approaching us at slow speed, he engaged the wrong gear. Our car stalled in the middle of the street and almost caused an accident with the car coming from the opposite direction.
Perturbed by this event, and, as he turned on the engine, he did not know what to do or what direction to take. I could see his puzzled face, looking for a solution. The stress of the moment had taken over his decision making process. From where I was sitting, he only needed to turn right and he was ready to go. He did not see it.
While I was trying to remain calm during this 10 to 20 seconds (biting my tongue), he turned to me and asked for my advice about what to do. It was clear that his judgment had disappeared for a few moments despite having practiced for 6 months.
Learning that the PFC develops fully around 25 years of age makes me wonder why we allow youngsters to get on the street to drive at such an early age. In some countries going to a pub is not permitted until 21, however it seems acceptable to be driving under this age limit.
Giving an update to the Roads Authority on how this part of the brain functions would be a great application of neuroscience findings in order to avoid so many car accidents in this age group.
In terms of PFC function and its impact in the workplace, similar behaviours to the ones experienced by my son are of a frequent occurrence.
Poor judgment, lack of imagination and conceptual thinking and even inappropriate behaviour such as bullying, micromanagement and excessive perfectionism would seem to indicate that this part of the brain gets affected significantly when leaders become overwhelmed with excessive information, and the demands to meet deadlines and targets and stress in general.
I can certainly say that when I am tired or upset, there is a decrease in my capacity to focus on the task at hand. The amount of effort required to concentrate is much higher and I lose interest in talking about future goals or organize what I am going to do the following day.
My PFC seems to have reached its daily limit!!!!