The brain is not just one giant lump, but actually has a lot of different parts underneath the surface. The different parts of the brain all have important jobs that help our brain and body function.
The cerebral cortex is the folded surface that covers most of the brain. From the outside it looks like the brain is entirely made out fo this pink squishy material, but the cortex is actually covering a lot of other important brain structures.
The cerebral cortex is responsible for all sorts of things. Its duties depend on which brain lobe that part of the cortex is located in. The cerebral cortex is very important for thinking. When we have concious thoughts, it usually means that our cerebral cortex is doing some work.
The size of the cerebral cortex is very interesting... The actual cortex is a thin layer of brain cells that is about 2 - 4 millimeters thick. That's thinner than a finger! If you were to unfold the cerebral cortex and lay it out flat, it could have a surface area of up to 2500 cm². That is about as large as four sheets of paper side by side!
Pretty impressive that something so big can fit in our heads right? Well, that is why the cerebral cortex is so folded! When you fold something over and over again, it becomes smaller. Try it yourself: take a piece of paper and fold it as many times as you can. Did it get a lot smaller?
The corpus callosum is a long brain structure that is located right in the middle of the brain. It is sort of shaped like a sideways C.
The corpus callosum has one very important job. The brain is seperated into two different hemispheres that each control a different side of the body. The corpus callosum lies right in between the two hemispheres and allows them to communicate.
The thalamus is another important communication tool for the brain. The thalamus combines incoming information from all over the rest of the brain or body and sends the information to the right place in the brain.
The thalamus is sort of like the middle runner in a relay racing team, it takes the baton from the first runner and runs the baton to the next runner. That is why its job is so important! If the thalamus were to make a mistake in relaying information to the rest of the brain, the brain wouldn't be able to process the information.
For example, when our skin cells feel somethign cold they send information to the brain. The first stop is the thalamus, which takes that sensory information and sends it to the appropriate location in the cortex (the parietal lobe).
The hypothalamus is a very small brain structure underneath the thalamus.
The hypothalamus does a lot of behind-the-scenes things to make sure our body is functioning properly. It helps balance and control our hunger, thirst, temperature, and more!
The hippocampus's main job is to help with our memory. It is important for the formation of long-term memories. Basically, our hippocampus lets us remember things for a long time (hours, days, months, years, and even longer!). Without our hippocampus we wouldn't really be able to remember new things for longer than 20 seconds.
The hippocampus is also responsible for another important part of our memory, our spatial memory. This means that our hippocampus is responsible for remembering where things are, like our house or school!
The cerebellum looks like a tiny brain hanging off the back of the brain, which is why it is sometimes called the "little brain".
Our cerebellum helps our body perform basic movements like walking! It is also responsible for our muscle memory. Muscle memory is when you practice a movement so many times, that it seems like you can do that movement without even thinking. Muscle memory is important for learning how to play sports or musical instruments.
The brain stem is very important! It is the part that connects the brain to the spinal cord and the rest of the body.
The brain stem is also important for some basic body functions such as our heart beat, breathing. It also helps us fall asleep and wake up.
Goldstein, E.B. (2019). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (5th ed.). Cengage.
Kolb, B., Whishaw, I. Q., Campbell Teskey, G. (2000). An introduction to brain and behaviour (6th ed.). Worth Publishers.
Try these activities to go along with what you've learned: