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Our Brains Control Our Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior

16 February, 2016 - 09:24

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe the structures and function of the “old brain” and its influence on behavior.
  2. Explain the structure of the cerebral cortex (its hemispheres and lobes) and the function of each area of the cortex.
  3. Define the concepts of brain plasticity, neurogenesis, and brain lateralization.

If you were someone who understood brain anatomy and were to look at the brain of an animal that you had never seen before, you would nevertheless be able to deduce the likely capacities of the animal. This is because the brains of all animals are very similar in overall form. In each animal the brain is layered, and the basic structures of the brain are similar (see Figure 3.4). The innermost structures of the brain—the parts nearest the spinal cord—are the oldest part of the brain, and these areas carry out the same the functions they did for our distant ancestors. The “old brain” regulates basic survival functions, such as breathing, moving, resting, and feeding, and creates our experiences of emotion. Mammals, including humans, have developed further brain layers that provide more advanced functions— for instance, better memory, more sophisticated social interactions, and the ability to experience emotions. Humans have a very large and highly developed outer layer known as the cerebral cortex (see Figure 3.5), which makes us particularly adept at these processes.

Figure 3.4 The Major Structures in the Human Brain 
The major brain parts are colored and labeled. 
Figure 3.5 Cerebral Cortex 
Humans have a very large and highly developed outer brain layer known as the cerebral cortex. The cortex provides humans with excellent memory, outstanding cognitive skills, and the ability to experience complex emotions.