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Neuroscience For Kids

The Brain: Right Down the Middle

sagittal Although some people may think that the brain is like a bowl of Jell-O, the brain is NOT a bowl of jell-O. Unlike a bowl of Jell-O, the brain is not a uniform material. Rather, the brain is made up of many different areas, each having a particular structure and function. The "midsagittal plane" separates the brain into right and left hemispheres.

Midsaggital Plane
sagittal

Brain Structures
Cerebral Cortex
Functions:
  • Thought
  • Voluntary movement
  • Language
  • Reasoning
  • Perception
The word "cortex" comes from the Latin word for "bark" (of a tree). This is because the cortex is a sheet of tissue that makes up the outer layer of the brain. The thickness of the cerebral cortex varies from 2 to 6 mm. The right and left sides of the cerebral cortex are connected by a thick band of nerve fibers called the "corpus callosum". In higher mammals like humans, the cerebral cortex looks like it has many bumps and grooves. A bump or bulge on the cortex is called a gyrus (the plural of the word gyrus is "gyri") and a groove is called a sulcus (the plural of the word sulcus is "sulci"). Lower mammals like rats and mice have very few gyri and sulci.
Cerebellum Functions:
  • Movement
  • Balance
  • Posture
The word "cerebellum" comes from the Latin word for "little brain." The cerebellum is located behind the brain stem. In some ways, the cerebellum is a bit like the cerebral cortex: the cerebellum is divided into hemispheres and has a cortex that surrounds these hemispheres.
Brain stem Functions:
  • Breathing
  • Heart Rate
  • Blood Pressure
The brain stem is a general term for the area of the brain between the thalamus and spinal cord. Structures within the brain stem include the medulla, pons, tectum, reticular formation and tegmentum. Some of these areas are responsible for the most basic functions of life such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure.
Hypothalamus Functions:
  • Body Temperature
  • Emotions
  • Hunger
  • Thirst
  • Circadian Rhythms
The hypothalamus is composed of several different areas and is located at the base of the brain. It is only the size of a pea (about 1/300 of the total brain weight), but it is responsible for some very important behaviors. One important function of the hypothalamus is the control of body temperature. The hypothalamus acts as like a "thermostat" by sensing changes in body temperature and then sending out signals to adjust the temperature. For example, if you are too hot, the hypothalamus detects this and then sends out a signal to expand the capillaries in your skin. This causes blood to be cooled faster. The hypothalamus also controls the pituitary.
Thalamus Functions:
  • Sensory Integration
  • Motor Integration
The thalamus receives sensory information and relays this information to the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex also sends information to the thalamus which then transmits this information to other areas of the brain and spinal cord.
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Cerebellum | Corpus Callosum | Cortex | Hypothalamus | Thalamus

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