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Brain Function and Parts

Brain Function and Parts

Brain Function and Parts

Brain Function, It’s a Team Sport

The brain is the most complex organ in the body. It is the organ that allows us to think, have emotions, move, and even dream. Given this complexity, it should not be surprising that there are many ways to separate the parts of the brain. Brain parts can be separated on the basis of what they look like to the naked eye, under a microscope, or by what certain brain parts do. The brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system and all of the nerves found in our body make up the peripheral nervous system.

When you see a picture of the brain you probably think of a wrinkled gray blob. Well, the wrinkles are called the cortex and it is where the majority of brain cells or neurons reside. The cortex can be divided into four main lobes. The frontal lobe, where you do your heavy thinking, pondering, and planning your actions; the temporal cortex, where you process sounds and form memories; the occipital cortex, where you process all the things that you see; and the parietal cortex, where you integrate or makes sense of all of the different bits of information that are bombarding your brain.

The Hindbrain

Having evolved hundreds of millions of years ago, the Hindbrain or the Reptilian Brain is the oldest part of the human brain. As you might guess from its name, it’s a piece of brain anatomy that we share with reptiles and is the most primitive. Likewise, it’s in charge of our primal instincts and most basic functions. Things like the instincts of survival, dominance, mating, and the basic functions of respiration, and heartbeat all come from this area of the brain. Located in the Hindbrain are:

    • The Spinal Cord

This is the information superhighway of the body. It carries information up to the brain and instructions back down.

    • The Medulla Oblongata

Helps control the body’s autonomic functions (things you don’t need to think about to perform) like respiration, digestion, and heart rate. Also acts as a relay station for nerve signals going to/from the brain

    • The Pons

Has roles in your level of arousal or consciousness and sleep. Relays sensory information to/from the brain. Also involved in controlling autonomic body functions.

    • The Cerebellum

Mostly deals with movement. It regulates and coordinates movement, posture, and balance. Also involved in learning movement.

The Limbic System

The Limbic System sometimes called the “emotional brain” or “Old Mammalian Brain” is the next part of the brain to have evolved in the more primitive mammals about 150 million years ago. This is where our emotions reside, where memory begins and where these two functions combine together to mark behaviors with positive or negative feelings. It’s where mostly unconscious value judgments are made. Information going through the Limbic System are filed under “agreeable or disagreeable”. It also plays a role in salience (what grabs your attention), spontaneity and creativity. Located in the Limbic System are:

    • The Amygdala

It’s name is Latin for almonds which relate to its shape. It helps in storing and classifying emotionally charged memories. It plays a large role in producing our emotions, especially fear. It’s been found to trigger responses to strong emotions such as sweaty palms, freezing, increased heart-beat/respiration, and stress hormone release.

    • The Hippocampus

This guy is all about memory and a little about learning. Its primary role is in memory formation, classifying information, and long-term memory. Like the RAM in your computer, it processes and stores new and temporary memory for long-term storage. It’s also involved in interpreting incoming nerve signals and spatial relationships.

    • The Hypothalamus

It should be called the Hypothalamus because it does so much. It’s linked closely with the pituitary gland to control many of the body’s functions. It monitors and controls your circadian rhythms (your daily sleep/wake cycle), homeostasis (making sure your body is running smoothly), appetite, thirst, and other bodily urges and also plays a role in emotions, autonomic functions, and motor functions.

    • The Thalamus

The Thalamus is THE relay station in the brain. Most of the sensory signals, auditory (sound), Visual, and Somatosensory (from your skin and internal organs), go through this organ on their way to other parts of the brain for processing. It also plays a function in motor control.

The Neocortex

The last and most advanced brain to evolve to date is called the Neocortex, neomammalian or rational brain. We share this part of our brain with other higher-level mammals like the primates and dolphins, although in humans the neocortex is the largest. It takes up two-thirds of the human brain. This is where we find the brainpower to develop language, abstract thought, consciousness, and imagination. Let there be no doubt, that this is what grants us our status on the food chain and allows us to be human.

The Neocortex is divided into two hemispheres, right and left. The right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and vice versa. Also, the hemispheres are divided in terms of what kind of thought they process or produce. The right is more concerned with the artistic, spatial, and musical. While the left is more concerned with the colder, linear, rational, and verbal aspects. Located in the Neocortex are:

    • The Frontal Lobe

This is the most recent evolutionary addition to the brain. If the brain had a White House it would be here. It is the true center for command and control in your body. The Frontal lobe is responsible for functions such as reasoning, problem-solving, judgment, and impulse control. This coupled with the fact that it’s the last to develop when we are young adults, probably answers a lot of questions for many parents out there. It also manages our higher emotions such as empathy and altruism. This lobe is also involved in motor control and memory.

    • The Parietal Lobe

The Parietal Lobe is involved in processing pain and touch sensation. It’s where the Somatosensory (from your skin and internal organs) Cortex resides. It’s also associated with cognition (including calculating location and speed of objects), movement, orientation, recognition and speech.

    • The Temporal Lobe

The Temporal Lobe is involved in auditory (sound) sensation and is where the Primary Auditory Cortex and on the left hemisphere, Wernicke’s Area (language recognition) are located. This lobe is also involved in emotion, memory, and speech.

    • The Occipital Lobe

The Occipital Lobe controls visual sensation and processing. The Visual Cortex is resides here.

    • Broca’s Area

This part of the cortex controls speech, language recognition, and facial nerves.

    • The Corpus Callosum

This is the neural bridge that connects the two hemispheres to each other, located centrally in the brain.

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