E-360 Edition 16: The Brain: Frontal Lobes

Home > E-360 Edition 16: The Brain: Frontal Lobes

The frontal lobes are one of four paired lobes in the brain’s cerebral cortex (grey matter), and they play vital roles in higher mental processes such as thinking, decision making, judgement and planning.

As the name implies, the frontal lobe is located at the front of the head, near the forehead. It was the last region of the brain to evolve.

What are the functions of the frontal lobe?

The frontal lobes:

  • Are used to make day to day decisions and judgements.
  • Is where we can carry out higher mental processes such as planning, problem solving, memory, language, initiation, and judgement.
  • Controls our emotional responses, expressive language and is home to our personality.
  • Are involved in spontaneity, impulse control, and social and sexual behaviour.
  • Play a key role in future planning, including self-management and decision-making.
  • How we initiate activity in response to our environment

Some of the many other functions the frontal lobe plays in daily functions include:

  • Speech and language production:  the frontal lobe helps us put thoughts into words – to being able to speak fluently(without fault) and meaningfully.
  • Some motor skills: the frontal lobe helps coordinate voluntary movements, including walking and running.
  • Comparing objects: the frontal lobe helps categorise and classify objects, in addition to distinguishing one item from another.
  • Forming memories: virtually every brain region plays a role in memory, including the frontal lobe. However, research suggests it plays a key role in forming long-term memories.
  • Understanding and reacting to the feelings of others: the frontal lobe is vital for empathy.
  • Forming personality: the complex interplay of impulse control, memory, and other tasks helps form a person’s key characteristics.
  • Managing attention, including selective attention

When the frontal lobes aren’t working as they should:

When the frontal lobes are not functioning properly, you may see some of the following symptoms:

  • speech problems, inability to express language
  • changes in personality, social behaviour and mood changes
  • poor coordination
  • difficulties with impulse control, loss of spontaneity
  • trouble planning, sticking to a schedule or focus and complete multi-stepped tasks
  • difficulty with problem solving
  • not flexible with thinking
  • persistence of a single thought (perseveration)

One of the most noticeable effects of frontal damage can be a dramatic change in social behaviour. A person’s personality can undergo significant changes after an injury to the frontal lobes, especially when both lobes are involved. Sometimes someone with frontal lobe dysfunction may do or say something that others deem inappropriate. Sexual behaviour and inhibition can also be affected.

Seizures from the frontal lobes

There is no other part of the brain where seizures can cause such a wide variety of symptoms.

Because the frontal lobe is large and has many important functions, frontal lobe seizures may produce many unusual symptoms that can mistaken for other events such as a sleep disorder, behaviour or a psychiatric problem.

Frontal lobe seizures often occur during sleep and may feature bicycle pedalling motions and pelvic thrusting. Some people scream profanities or laugh during frontal lobe seizures.


Frontal lobe seizures are often brief, usually less than 30 seconds, and can have prominent vocalisation (verbal sounds), unusual behaviour, bed wetting, and head and eye deviation. Frontal lobe seizures may be exclusively nocturnal and often occur in clusters. Recovery is very quick, in some cases, recovery may be immediate.

Signs and symptoms of frontal lobe seizures can include:

  • Head and eye movement to one side
  • Complete or partial unresponsiveness, the person may seem aware
  • Difficulty speaking, but can have vocalisation like explosive screams, including profanities, or laughter
  • Abnormal body posturing, such as one arm extending while the other flexes, as if the person is posing like a fencer
  • Repetitive movements, such as rocking, bicycle pedalling or pelvic thrusting