Don’t listen to Dr TikTok: The truth behind the trending prefrontal cortex phenomenon
prefrontal cortex

If your ‘For You Page’ (FYP) looks anything like most of ours, you may be stuck in a loop watching video after video about the development of our brain’s prefrontal cortex. But, is there any truth in this emerging narrative that alleges we should all be reaching peak maturity at 25?

When a company name becomes a verb, you know it’s big. TikTok is no different. In the realm of trend making and content sharing, it stands alone. One week it will have you learning to line dance. Next, you’ll be running around ‘Big Tesco’ trying to find overpriced frozen mochi. However, the latest viral sensation appears to be a surge of creators claiming to have felt the moment their prefrontal cortexes fully developed after turning 25. 

Hundreds of thousands of people have been posting accounts of an unexplainable shift in their approach to life at 25. However, whilst possibly being affirming to those who can resonate, this content is alienating many who have passed this threshold and haven’t had this ‘awakening’. 

To cut the cr*p straight away, no – there isn’t a universal epiphany everyone is expected to experience in their mid-twenties. In reality, it’s actually quite complex.

Hang on, I’m no neuroscientist – what is your prefrontal cortex?

Let’s break it down. According to, and the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, our prefrontal cortex is located in our brain’s frontal lobe. It’s responsible for the majority of the vital functions we perform as part of everyday life, including carrying out complex tasks, our memory, regulating emotions and maintaining focus. Whenever we pause to find the right words before speaking, or try hard not to cry at a video of a cute puppy again, that is the work of our prefrontal cortex. 

Scientifically speaking, our brains develop back-to-front, meaning that our prefrontal cortexes are the last areas of our brain to mature. This is estimated to finish around the time a person turns 25, but that doesn’t mean we should expect to blow out the candles on our 25th birthday cake and instantly know the meaning of life. Many things such as genetics, environmental factors and where we land on the spectrum of neurodiversity impact the development of our prefrontal cortexes.

Well then, what is this magical awakening supposed to feel like?

“I would describe it as the dust starting to settle,” recalls Awa Cham, who amassed over one million views for her TikTok detailing the moment she reached 25 and things started to feel a bit different. The creative marketing specialist explained, “I started to realise I was having this sort of epiphany, where things were starting to make more sense. 

“I went through a horrible break-up a few months prior, but even before that, I felt like I was starting to experience an awakening where I was like, things are sh*t right now, but for some reason, I found a bit of comfort in that.

“I stopped worrying about a lot of things. Not fully obviously, I still have my worries, but I think I’m able to rationalise things a bit better and navigate my 20s in a healthier way.”

Awa, now 26, was unaware of this trending phenomenon when posting her video, saying “When I saw all of the comments, I was like, hold on a minute, is this a thing? 

“I’d completely forgotten about this frontal lobe thing. I did psychology for A level, so I do remember our teachers talking about it and thinking, this is nonsense! How can I stop developing at 25? It doesn’t make sense!”

“But, I feel like I reached a moment and maybe my brain just decided to switch-up a bit and was like it’s time to calm down.”

If you’re now panicking that you haven’t had this quarter-life epiphany, stop. Take a breath, and understand you’re not alone. 50-year-old Helen Neale never recalled experiencing such a distinct moment of realisation, never mind at 25. 

“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to or wasn’t trying hard enough,” she says. “It was that my brain hadn’t quite got to the level of the neurotypical brain within that working environment.”

Helen happens to have ADHD, a condition which causes slower development of areas of the brain that control executive function. However, beyond her neurodivergence, she grew up in a different environment with different experiences making her an entirely different person to Awa, therefore, naturally, their experiences are unique. 

“Everybody has a specific neurotype,” Helen explains. “It might be that you fall outside of what society considers is normative.

“And I think the most important thing here is to understand that it isn’t that the individual isn’t trying. You know, I try really hard to remember things, for example. I just haven’t quite got that working memory that someone in society is supposedly expected to have. But, in other areas, I’m incredibly creative, because I think in a different way. 

“So, there are challenges, but there are also areas where there are things to be celebrated.

“Just because someone had an epiphany at 25 doesn’t mean: A – I’m going to then have an epiphany at 25, because I’m not the same person, and B – If I don’t, it doesn’t matter because I am who I am.

“I think that’s the danger with this kind of thing. It can create that negative thought of ‘it didn’t happen to me, does that mean I’m broken?’ and that’s not healthy.”

And, it also isn’t true.

So, it’s all just lies then?

Well, sort of. As Awa explains, “Everyone’s experience is individual. I said that in the comments section, because I did get a few people telling me it’s a myth. 

“But, I explained this was just my experience, and I can say for sure that it happened to me.

“This whole thing with the frontal lobe, I think that’s just something that’s popular at the minute. If you haven’t had this awakening at 25, it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you. 

“I know this goes against my video going viral, but just take it with a pinch of salt, because everyone’s experience is different. Your 20s are meant for exploring, so be open to the possibility of things changing.

“Change is quite scary because I think we’re conditioned to routine like robots every day. It’s important to remember that we are supposed to evolve but it’s different for everyone.”

“I think the video did help people to understand what that feeling of change was like.”

And it isn’t just the stories of Awa and Helen that encapsulates this. Helen works as a counsellor, and every day hears stories of people from all walks of life who are all still trying to figure things out one day at a time. 

“To say your brain isn’t fully developed until 25 as an excuse for behaving a certain way isn’t right,” Helen says. “What’s more important is to try and understand someone’s behaviour, be compassionate and work with the individual, rather than make a blanket statement. 

“I think social media is always a double-edged sword. You can find your community, but if it’s a community giving out the wrong information, it can have a negative impact.”

So don’t fret; no matter what your FYP may say, you do not automatically unlock the key to life at the ripe old (or should I say young) age of 25. If you happen to mature a little, that’s great, but if you don’t, there’s no need to sound the alarm. 

Awa candidly recalls worrying she should feel more adult (whatever feeling more adult actually is), admitting, “I think I put pressure on myself to feel like I have to find like my first love or have like a high school sweetheart and stuff like that. Or, I would worry about my career at such a young age, especially when growing up with all these trends and comparing myself to other people.

“Now I actually just don’t care. I’ll do whatever I like. Obviously, I have my moments, but I’ve accepted that I think it’s more learning about accepting things, whereas before I was fighting them.”

Helen also preaches this mantra of acceptance, adding, “Something that I think it’s really important for 20 to 25-year-olds to learn is self compassion. 

“One of the things that I’ve come across as a counsellor within that age range is an incredibly harsh inner critic that will often speak to ourselves in a way that we wouldn’t dream of speaking to a friend.

For a lot of people, the default is, ‘I can’t do this’, and flipping the narrative to ‘let’s see if I can do this’ about yourself is actually really important, and can be quite empowering. 

“Think more about not what you haven’t been able to do, but what you have been able to do, and accept that life is full of ups and downs.

“It’s okay to be sad, and a little bit fed up at the same time, almost, as being happy about something, because life is not a straight line.”

So hopefully, with the understanding that the majority of people on TikTok don’t have PHDs in neuroscience, you can return to enjoying the offerings of your FYP in peace and feel reassured that, for most of us, there’s nothing inherently magical about turning 25. 

If you take anything away from these stories, let it be that there is no expiration date on your ability to grow.

For more advice on trending topics, click here.

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