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What is the Brain Cortex?

Mary McMahon
Updated: Feb 24, 2024

The brain cortex or cerebral cortex is the part of the brain which is responsible for higher thought and function. When people think of the brain, they usually visualize images they have seen of the cerebral cortex, since it is the largest part of the brain, and it is the area of the brain which differentiates humans from other animals. Although many animals have a brain cortex, it is most developed in humans, allowing a greater capacity for thought, reason, and other processes.

This area of the brain is the uppermost part of the cerebrum or forebrain. It can be divided into four sections: the temporal, occipital, parietal, and frontal lobes. The brain cortex is also broken into two hemispheres connected by a group of nerve fibers known as the corpus callosum. Each area of the cortex performs different, specialized functions, and using neurological research, doctors have been able to pin down the precise areas of the brain where particular activities occur.

The temporal lobes on either side of the head are responsible for processing auditory stimuli and allowing people to form and understand speech. The frontal lobe at the front of the brain handles problem solving, reasoning, planning, and other higher-order thinking, while the occipital lobe at the back of the brain deals with vision processing. The parietal lobe, located between the frontal and occipital lobes, processes movement and the perception of many stimuli.

The surface of the brain cortex is covered in a network of deep grooves called sulci. The grooves are designed to increase the surface area of the brain, allowing more neurons to be present and increasing the processing capacity of the brain and its parts. In addition to processing a lot of information independently, the cerebral cortex also includes a complicated network of connections so that it functions as a whole. The experience of almost any activity, from cooking to going to the opera, involves input from many areas of the cortex.

This is the part of the brain which deals with sensory information, motor skills, and thought. It works together with other parts of the brain as well, utilizing various lines of communication to process information. Damage to the brain cortex can cause serious problems, depending on where the damage occurs, as the damage can cause interruption in sensory perception, motor control, and thought. Intriguingly, some areas of the brain cortex appear to be able to take over for each other in a time of need, and the brain can also function when the corpus callosum which connects the hemispheres is severed.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By heath925 — On Feb 07, 2011

I've always wondered why the brain looks the way it does, with so many grooves all over it. How interesting that it is to increase the surface area, which then, in turn, increases the processing capacity of the brain. I am constantly impressed by how perfectly our brains are constructed.

By claire24 — On Feb 04, 2011

Isn't it crazy that the cerebral cortex is part of the brain that changes itself to function differently when needed?

I had never heard that there are parts of the brain that can take over for each other. It's very intriguing, and make me wonder if this happens in other areas of the brain too, or if it is limited to the brain cortex.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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