What each part of the brain does?

The major exterior regions of the brain

6 Major Parts of the Brain and How they Work

I always like to say that teachers are brain changers. They work every day to change their students’ brains. If that is the case then it would be logical to conclude that the more teachers knows about the brain, the better equipped they will be to change their students’ brains. This post looks at six parts of the brain and what they do.

1. Lobes of the Brain

Although the minor wrinkles are unique in each brain, several major wrinkles and folds are common to all brains. These folds form a set of four lobes in each hemisphere. Each lobe tends to specialize for certain functions.

Frontal Lobes. At the front of the brain are the frontal lobes, and the part lying just behind the forehead is called the prefrontal cortex. Often called the executive control center, these lobes deal with planning and thinking. They comprise the rational and executive control center of the brain, monitoring higher-order thinking, directing problem solving, and regulating the excesses of the emotional system. The frontal lobe also contains our self-will area—what some might call our personality. Trauma to the frontal lobe can cause dramatic—and sometimes permanent—behavior and personality changes. Because most of the working memory is located here, it is the area where focus occurs (Geday & Gjedde, 2009; Smith & Jonides, 1999). The frontal lobe matures slowly. MRI studies of post-adolescents reveal that the frontal lobe continues to mature into early adulthood. Thus, the capability of the frontal lobe to control the excesses of the emotional system is not fully operational during adolescence ( Dosenbach et al., 2010; Goldberg, 2001). This is one important reason why adolescents are more likely than adults to submit to their emotions and resort to high-risk behavior.

A cross section of the human brainTemporal Lobes. Above the ears rest the temporal lobes, which deal with sound, music, face and object recognition, and some parts of long-term memory. They also house the speech centers, although this is usually on the left side only.

Occipital Lobes. At the back are the paired occipital lobes, which are used almost exclusively for visual processing.

Parietal Lobes. Near the top are the parietal lobes, which deal mainly with spatial orientation, calculation, and certain types of recognition.

2. Motor Cortex and Somatosensory Cortex

Between the parietal and frontal lobes are two bands across the top of the brain from ear to ear. The band closer to the front is the motor cortex. This strip controls body movement and, as we will learn later, works with the cerebellum to coordinate the learning of motor skills. Just behind the motor cortex, at the beginning of the parietal lobe, is the somatosensory cortex, which processes touch signals received from various parts of the body.

3. Brain Stem

The brain stem is the oldest and deepest area of the brain. It is often referred to as the reptilian brain because it resembles the entire brain of a reptile. Of the 12 body nerves that go to the brain, 11 end in the brain stem (the olfactory nerve—for smell—goes directly to the limbic system, an evolutionary artifact). Here is where vital body functions, such as heartbeat, respiration, body tem¬perature, and digestion, are monitored and controlled. The brain stem also houses the reticular activating system (RAS), responsible for the brain’s alertness.

4. The Limbic System

Nestled above the brain stem and below the cerebrum lies a collection of structures commonly referred to as the limbic system and sometimes called the old mammalian brain. Many researchers now caution that viewing the limbic system as a separate functional entity is outdated because all of its components interact with many other areas of the brain.

Most of the structures in the limbic system are duplicated in each hemisphere of the brain. These structures carry out a number of different functions including the generation of emotions and processing emotional memories. Its placement between the cerebrum and the brain stem permits the interplay of emotion and reason.

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