Why modeling is more important than explaining
We are not born with executive functioning or self-regulating skills.
We must have these modeled AND the right conditions to grow them.
Part of this has to do with the frontal areas of our brain, especially something called the prefrontal cortex. This area is related to executive functioning. Many of you have likely heard of executive functioning – these are the skills related to controlling our impulses, thinking of future consequences and weighing of pros and cons among other things.
The prefrontal areas also help us with self-regulating, with managing our stress levels and how our emotions affect us. Without those prefrontal features, we become ‘dysregulated’,
we become volatile in the storm of sensations and stimuli that bombard our senses at every moment.
Examples of dysregulation include throwing a tantrum, over-reacting to the smallest thing,
or collapsing in the face of a challenge.
The thing is, as babies, we are not born with those self-regulating or executive functioning skills.
We are only born with the potential to develop them and we need our experiences to help us do that.
In fact, some scientists would say that when we are born, we are ‘subcortical’,
meaning that we don’t have particularly high speed access to the features of the cortex
– and especially the prefrontal cortex.
Instead, our brain basically ‘triages’ what circuitry it should focus on first. Because, sure, it would be great to have impulse control but if we can’t even stand upright or move our hand to our mouth,those skills need to be taken care of first.
So the brain devotes its resources in waves, over time.
And it focuses first on the cortical areas towards the back of the brain
– the areas that take care of movement and coordination, for example.
The frontal areas, especially that prefrontal cortex, are the last to fully come online.
This means that when we are little, we do not have access to brain features that can help us self-regulate.
To deal with this, our brain does something very clever: it basically ‘outsources’ its executive functioning and emotion regulation to our caregivers.
Our caregivers act as stand-in for our prefrontal cortex.
That means we need the people around us to be ‘prefrontal cortex models’.
I call them “PFC models”.
We need them to be able to regulate their emotions, manager their stress and control their impulses,
in order to help us build those features in our brain.
Our earliest years are when this is most important, but our experiences shape these brain features for many years.
In fact, brain mapping indicates that the prefrontal areas are only fully developed in our mid twenties.
So, as humans, we actually need ‘pfc models’ around us for a huge portion of our life in order to develop our self-regulating abilities.
If you’d like to learn more about this, check out my TEDx talk here
Reflection / Review Questions
That’s it for the Mindset Neuroscience 101 course!
Thank you so much for joining me.
I hope you found it helpful!