Brain Anatomy 101
Our brains do so much—they determine how we see, feel, taste, smell, and hear. They define our personalities. And they allow us to go from crying to laughing—sometimes in the blink of an eye.
In this course, we’re going to learn about the brain and how it works. And we’ll explore several strategies to make our brains more efficient and more effective.
Let’s start by taking a quick tour of the brain. We’ll highlight each brain section and discuss its primary function. That said, it’s important to realize that the brain is interconnected with a lot of shared responsibility across the different sections.
To begin, the brain is divided into two hemispheres: the left and the right. The right controls the left side of our body, and the left controls the right. It’s an oversimplification to say the right side controls creativity and the left side controls logical thought, but the different sides do manage different tasks for us.
At the front of the brain is the aptly named frontal lobe. It houses the prefrontal cortex and the primary motor cortex. The prefrontal cortex supports planning, attention, decision-making, and managing social behavior. The primary motor cortex is responsible for body movement.
Next is the parietal lobe, where we process sensory information like taste, temperature, and touch.
Just below the parietal lobe at the back of the head, we’ve got the occipital lobe. This part of the brain allows us to see; damage here can cause blindness.
Below the occipital lobe is a cauliflower-shaped structure called the cerebellum. It’s responsible for fine motor skills like writing, sewing, or hitting a ball.
On the bottom of the brain, we find the medulla oblongata. It’s part of the brain stem and connects the upper brain to the spinal cord. It’s responsible for crucial non-voluntary functions like breathing and blood circulation.
On the side of the brain, we have the temporal lobe. Fun fact: the word “temporal” means “of or relating to the passage of time.” And this part of your head is where your own personal passage of time shows first—it’s where your first gray hairs start sprouting.
The upper part of the temporal lobe is primarily responsible for hearing and helping us differentiate between sounds. The lower portion helps us discern complex visual objects like faces. Damage to this part of the brain can result in a condition known as prosopagnosia, or as it is more commonly called, face blindness.
Finally, located deep inside the temporal lobe are a few critical structures: the hippocampus and the amygdala. The hippocampus is essential for forming new memories. And when memory decline starts, as it does with conditions like Alzheimer’s, the problem begins in and around the hippocampus. In front of the hippocampus is the amygdala, which helps us process emotions like anger, sadness, and especially fear. It also helps store emotional memories for recall.
That was a pretty basic tour of the brain, but this is important information to understand as we move forward. Tomorrow, we’ll learn about brain plasticity.
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