Brain Anatomy - A Short Course: The Cortex


Cerebral Cortex: covers the cerebrum; six layers of cells; different areas (lobes) of the cerebral cortex have separate functions.

  1. Occipital Lobes - lower central back of the brain; processes visual stimuli. Receives visual stimuli, compares the information to what you've seen before and lets you know what it is that you see; communicates with other brain systems to determine what visual information you have stored previously. Only meaningful when the sensory perceptions are matched with previously stored cognitive associations.
  2. Temporal Lobes - on either side of the brain, just above the ears; processes auditory stimuli. Receives auditory stimuli, compares to information about sounds heard before and determines what you are listening to. Interesting: Wernicke's Area - critical for speech -allows us to comprehend or interpret speech and to put words together in correct syntax. Broca's Area also necessary for speech.
  3. Parietal Lobes - flat plate-like area at the top of the brain; has two parts - anterior and posterior. Anterior parietal lobe helps us send information to the muscles in the body about when and how to move. Somatosensory cortex (part of anterior parietal lobe) receives information/incoming sensory stimuli. Posterior parietal lobes analyzes and integrates all information received to provide a sense of spatial awareness. Also maintains focus or spatial attention.
  4. Frontal Lobes - largest part of cortex; perform most complex functions; abilities to move body parts at will, think about the past, plan for the future, focus attention, reflect, make decisions, solve problems, engage in conversation. Frontal lobes allow you to be consciously aware of all your thoughts and actions. Two parts: Motor Cortex - neural activity directing muscular movement starts here. AHA Moment: Broca's Area - allows speech; connected to Wernicke's Area by a bundle of nerve fibers. Words must be formed/assembled in Wernicke's Area and then relayed to Broca's Area to be translated into proper sounds. Second Part - Prefrontal Cortex - association cortex; information is synthesized from both the inner and outer sensory worlds. Associations between objects and their names made here; this is where the highest forms of mental activities. Critical for emotional self-regulation. So, could issues with the prefrontal lobe explain why kids have temper tantrum or inappropriate emotional reactions to things?

Right Brained vs. Left Brained?

  • left side of brain governs the right side of the body and vice versa
  • both hemispheres are joined by commissures (bundles of nerves)
  • both sides of the brain must work together to complete complex activities like naming an object or remembering things
  • hemisphere specializations: melodies better perceived in left ear/right hemisphere; negative emotions processed by the right hemisphere; positive emotions processed by left hemisphere; left hemisphere processes most speech things; left hemisphere recognizing faces; right hemisphere recognizing locations; right hemisphere decodes the external information to create an overall understanding of what we see or read; right hemisphere gives us an overall view of the world
  • "We need to teach to both halves of the brain because they work together all the time instead of teaching to the right side of the brain". We need to teach content within a context that is meaningful to students, and that connects to their own lives and experiences. This is teaching to both halves of the brain. Don't teach in isolation. Help students see how the information is, or could be used in their lives."