I just attended an interesting course regarding emotional regulation in children with anger, anxiety, and ADHD. One of the first things we did was review the basic neuroanatomy of the brain and I often wonder how much people ever think about their own brain. It seems to me that the average person knows much more about their own knee or ankle than their brain.
So, I think one of the easiest and simplest ways to think about the brain is 1, 2, 3. This is a rather oversimplified version of the brain, but it could be useful for a quick grasp regarding brain. We must always remember that the brain is part of the nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord together make up the Central Nervous System) and that the basic unit of the nervous system is a neuron. On to 1, 2, 3!
1 – If you bend your fingers at the knuckles and cup your hands together, that is about the size of the average adult brain. The brain weighs about three pounds and contains an entire universe between your ears! The surface of the brain has sulci (the depressions) and gyri (the raised bumps).
2 – There are two hemispheres of the brain, connected by a corpus callosum to communicate between hemispheres. Generally, myelination of the corpus callosum occurs around the third or fourth grade and generally occurs later in boys.
3 – We can think of three simplified levels of the brain – in reality, all these levels work together, but basically we can think of
a – the “primitive” brain – often called this because it includes the brain stem which controls vital functions, and reacts to stress through autonomic functions. However, it also contains the cerebellum (DaVinci’s term which means “the little brain”). The cerebellum contains 10 percent of the brain’s volume but 50 percent of the brain’s neurons and we know the cerebellum affects timing, coordination, motor control, attention, language, emotional behavior and affection.
b – the “limbic” system or the emotional system of the brain – often called this because it contains centers associated with emotions, sleep, attention, body regulation and memory. The emotional center of the brain provides the interpretation of what is coming in through the sensory world and releases hormones in response. It also combines parts of the frontal, temporal and parietal lobes we often include in the cortex.
c- the cortex. Also seen as the “thinking” brain (again, this is very over-simplified!), this contains the occipital lobe (processes visual stimulation), the temporal lobes (most often associated with hearing auditory stimulation but also is involved in memory , learning, and language), parietal lobes (associated with pleasure and pain) , the frontal lobe associated with judgment, creativity, problem solving, planning and lastly, the motor cortex which is involved with movement. The frontal lobe develops last, and total brain maturity may not occur until around age 25.