Executive Function: The Brain’s Control Center

Executive Function: The Brain’s Control Center

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Executive functions are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. We can distinguish between three components: 1. Working memory, 2. Inhibitory control and 3.Cognitive flexibility. All 3 are interlinked and influence each other. Psychologist Deborah Phillips from Georgetown University, calls it the “air traffic control system” of our brain. Like an air traffic control system has to
manage lots of airplanes departing and landing with perfect timing, we have to manage a lot of information and distractions simultaneously. Without good executive functions, disaster strikes. Let’s look at three different components: The Working memory is responsible for processing information. If well developed, it allows us to manage multiple chunks of information at the same time. Complex tasks can be solved and deep ideas understood. Without much of it, our intelligence is limited. Inhibitory control describes our capability
to concentrate, regulates our emotions and controls our behaviour during stressful situations. It’s an essential skill if we want to change
a childhood habit. Without it, we might have trouble to control our behavior and can come across as “weird.” Cognitive flexibility is the ability to adapt new tasks quickly and to change our perspective. If we have little of it, we can’t adapt, get stuck in old thoughts and have tunnel vision. We come across as stubborn and uncooperative. To demonstrate their roles, let’s compare two imaginary teenagers: Ann and Jay. Ann is a working memory monster. She can keep lots of ideas in her mind at
the given time and mentally buffers digits to calculate them
in her head. Even if she gets interrupted or feels a change of emotions, she realizes, but is still able to continue
what she had started. Jay’s working memory is tiny. What Ann solves in her head, he has to write down. It’s hard for him to read complex sentences or follow a longer train of thought. He gets distracted easily and starts thinking
about something else. At school, Ann is an Inhibitory Control Genius. She is fully in charge of her emotions and how they are expressed in her behavior. If a teacher loses his temper, she remains calm and friendly. It’s easy for her to focus for long periods of time. As a result, her work is good and the feedback
on it is positive. Jay’s emotions instantly express themselves
in his behavior, which he often fails to control. He can get distracted easily and hence he has difficulties to finish what he started. His work remains mediocre. This can lead to negative feedback and
a lower self esteem. Ann’s cognitive flexibility is great. She can change her perspective and find ways around roadblocks. At school she adjusts from one subject to
the other in the speed of light. Jay has problems to solve problems, because his thinking is inflexible. To change his perspective in response to
constructive criticism, takes a lot of his mental energy. Even simple tasks, like switching from talking
to listening is hard for him. Others can find this annoying. Executive function develops mainly during
the first 5 years of our lives. A caring, playful and nourishing childhood is our best bet to increase them. Free play trains our inhibitory control and games practice our working memory. Playing an instrument trains our brain to
process the notes, and to coordinate the right and the left hand simultaneously. If others are listening, we learn to control
our emotions. Movement is great as well [P]. In football each situation is new, ball possession requires quick decisions and builds cognitive flexibility. One study showed that kids that walked barefoot
each day for just 16 minutes, improved their working memory. Because when they do, they need to keep many
things in mind. With a lot of practise as kids, we become real executives of our own mind. This then allows us to excel in teams and help solve some of the world’s more

51 thoughts on “Executive Function: The Brain’s Control Center”

  1. Summary: Executive function is a complex interlinking of inhibitory control, working memory and cognitive flexibility. Inhibitory control is your ability to be in charge of your emotions even during stressful situations. Working memory is your ability to juggle multiple information simultaneously and mentally, without getting distracted easily. Cognitive flexibility is your ability to switch between different ideas and tasks easily. Executive functions develop the most during first five years of childhood, when the child has nourishing parenting and playful years. It is essential to have good executive functions to succeed in both teams and individual endeavors, otherwise we will crash like badly managed air traffic controllers.

  2. Executive function in your own mind
    -Switch mode quickly : subjectA to B,speaking to listening
    -emotions control
    This is all I got from watching the video 1 time. Thanks to your video, I still need to work harder to control myself

  3. Hm. I don't see how this will help me if I have a problem with one of these abilties. How do I practise them? The video only showed me a term and what it meant. Not a way to become better.

  4. My Executive function is almost none existent, I can barely get things done on time and I lose my train of thought easily especially when there is allot going on.

  5. Are you saying that if you didn't get that kind of childhood treatment then you are kinda f*cked? The insane coddling of the millennial and post generations (born in 1984 and after) is doing the opposite of what you say is supposed to help the most early on in life. Is there a way to get out of that state of mind?
    I find myself being able to do the memory part and the being flexible part, but I struggle with long and complex sentences when reading (maybe because I barely read anything all my life).
    I'm close to being 23. Do you think there is a way to improve all those aspects for me or anybody else if we failed to get the proper childhood treatment? If so, can you make a video on the subject?

  6. Awesome video, gonna close this now and take out my pen and paper for the exercise. Keep up the good work.

  7. So if I was having a panic attack…and my amigdilla was taking over my brain I could control it?

  8. I used this as an informative video to introduce my students to EF and the 3 areas mentioned. Thank you.

    For everyone else: This is a starter video, not a cure.

  9. Oh, well done Anne!!! You'll go far, my girl. Jaye – you should be ashamed of yourself……… (I'm joking, in case it wasn't obvious).

  10. I've always had a huge executive function problem, mostly what was described as the cognitive inflexibility part. Its caused me to not do well enough in life, to get the help I need or medication maybe, to fix it. Im now hopeless, I can't make enough to better myself to make money to better my life. I'm stuck, as a seemingly lazy burden to other people, who shouldn't have to help me, and aren't responsible.
    A magical handout of help is all I can hope for. I can't even fully do or complete things I like.

  11. I disagree with a lot of points in this video. Specially the end of the clip. The girl will probably never get unusual problems solved with executive function. The good thing about executive disfunction is, to fall into your imagination and bring sooner or later ideas people with conditioned behaviors would never come up with. The reason is simple. Executive function is setting up working rules and while normal people are developing a lot functions, disfunctioning people have a much smaller developed routine. Their perception is much higher and their heads are spinning the little information they where able to catch again and again. A favored function by lack of executive function is the highly developed imagination. People who have an executive disfunction loose the task and solve a long existing problem. I'm a executive disfunctioning guy. Many of my friends say I'm the most hard working and productive guy they know, but they also know, that I say 2 days and work 8(or worse). Once I was working with my game developer friends and had to do some cinematics for them. I had no idea of the tool we had to use and nobody there had experience with the cinematic area of the program. I encountered some bugs and reached out for help. They told me, that this is a problem they are facing for two years and have no idea how to fix it. But I had to fix it because otherwise I had no idea how to finish my job. One thing I always do when facing problems is, to try out a lot things and slowly localize the problem. In just 30 minutes, I had fixed it. Later on that day I had another big problem and both programmers tried to help but failed. While I was watching what they where doing, I started feeling what might cause the problem. I was saying it multiple times but both of them responded, that they would not know why this step would fix it but then they just let me do it and it worked. Explaining was hard and I dont know if they have understood what I was talking about. One thing people should know about executive disfunctioning people is, that they can not think on rails. They take every piece. There is no important and not important stuff. Everything they learn and know is relative. I believe that a good working group always needs some executive disfunctioners who are allowed to do their dumb looking magic and some champions, others call ADHD, who are listening to the ASD's and understanding them, to proof the idea and implement it to the rest of the system where the normal people are working. All of them are important and I believe, that humanity is build on this "system"

  12. I’ve never realized that almost everyone else is able to think like this. What!!! What do you do if you have never been able to control this kind of stuff?!?

  13. I have aspect of Executive function and I practice it when I was in college. But now it's not anymore functioning.

  14. Engaging video. However I wish the information had been expressed in such a way that those who struggle with Executive Function weren't portrayed as failures or losers. It's not like anyone chooses to have poor EF and it would help to consider your audience.

  15. I'm someone with ADHD (a executive function disorder to put it simply), and a big issue I have with this video is that there are no solutions offered to those with lower executive function. It felt as if there was no hope for people like me to improve or better ourselves. Would you be open to making a video exploring that possibility? Or maybe you have one I haven't found yet. Either way, this doesn't give me many answers on HOW to combat these issues.

  16. THIS WAS GREAT!!! layman's terms. easy to absorb info with the use of cartoons. i was taking notes!

  17. Finally a nice simple explanation of what executive functioning is and now I can show it to my study support teacher and get it written in my I.E.P! Thanks dude for existing to making this video! 🥳😂😄

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