The Human Body

Brain

Brain, portion of the central nervous system contained within the skull. The brain is the control center for movement, sleep, hunger, thirst, and virtually every other vital activity necessary to survival. All human emotions—including love, hate, fear, anger, elation, and sadness—are controlled by the brain. It also receives and interprets the countless signals that are sent to it from other parts of the body and from the external environment. The brain makes us conscious, emotional, and intelligent.

THE HUMAN BRAIN

The human brain has three major structural components: the large dome-shaped cerebrum (top), the smaller somewhat spherical cerebellum (lower right), and the brainstem (center). Prominent in the brainstem are the medulla oblongata (the egg-shaped enlargement at center) and the thalamus (between the medulla and the cerebrum). The cerebrum is responsible for intelligence and reasoning. The cerebellum helps to maintain balance and posture. The medulla is involved in maintaining involuntary functions such as respiration, and the thalamus acts as a relay center for electrical impulses traveling to and from the cerebral cortex.

Functions of the Cerebral Cortex

Many motor and sensory functions have been “mapped” to specific areas of the cerebral cortex, some of which are indicated here. In general, these areas exist in both hemispheres of the cerebrum, each serving the opposite side of the body. Less well defined are the areas of association, located mainly in the frontal cortex, operative in functions of thought and emotion and responsible for linking input from different senses. The areas of language are an exception: both Wernicke’s area, concerned with the comprehension of spoken language, and Broca’s area, governing the production of speech, have been pinpointed on the cortex.

Left and Right Brain Functions

Although the cerebrum is symmetrical in structure, with two lobes emerging from the brain stem and matching motor and sensory areas in each, certain intellectual functions are restricted to one hemisphere. A person’s dominant hemisphere is usually occupied with language and logical operations, while the other hemisphere controls emotion and artistic and spatial skills. In nearly all right-handed and many left-handed people, the left hemisphere is dominant.

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