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Cerebral cortex

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The cerebral cortex is a brain structure in vertebrates, including humans. It is the outermost layer of the cerebrum and has a grey color. The human cerebral cortex is 2-4 mm (0.08-0.16 inches) thick and is highly folded.

In the "higher" animals (especially the higher mammals), the surface of the cerebral cortex becomes folded. This creates grooves on the surface of the brain called "sulci" (singular = "sulcus"). The bumps or ridges on the surface of the brain are called "gyri" (singular = "gyrus"). The folding of the cortex increases the cortical surface area. The cerebral cortex, made up of four lobes, is involved in many complex brain functions including memory, perceptual awareness, "thinking", language and consciousness.

The cerebral cortex receives sensory information from many different sensory organs eg: eyes, ears etc and processes the information. Areas that receive that particular information are called sensory areas. The two hemispheres receive the information from the opposite sides of the body. Parts of the cortex that receive this information are called primary sensory areas. Other areas receive impulses from the primary sensory areas and integrate the information coming in from different types of receptors. These are known as association areas and make up a great deal of the cortex in all primates, humans included. The cortex is comprised of the motor areas and the association areas.

There are three association areas:

  1. in the parietal, temporal and occipital lobes. It is involved in producing our perceptions resulting from what our eyes see, ears hear and other sensory organs tell us about the position of different parts of our body
  2. in the frontal lobe. Called prefrontal association complex and involved in planning actions and movement
  3. in the limbic association area. Involved in emotion and memory

The association areas of the left hemisphere, especially the parietal-temporal-occipital complex are also responsible for our understanding and use of language.

The motor areas connect the two halves of the cerebrum. They are shaped like a pair of headphones stretching from ear to ear. The motor areas control your voluntary muscles such as your biceps, hamstring, & gastrocnemius. The right half of the motor area controls the left side of your body and vice versa.

Function of four motor areas:

  • Posterior Parietal Cortex: Guiding voluntary movements in space
  • Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex: Deciding which voluntary movements to make
  • Secondary motor areas: Selecting voluntary movements
  • Primary motor cortex: Executing voluntary movements


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