Parts of the Brain and Cognitive Function

Written by Pam MS, NCSP | Fact checked by Psychology Dictionary staff 

The brain is a complex organ that is responsible for cognitive function. How it does this is complicated, as there are many different layers to each part of the brain, each of which is responsible for performing certain functions. Here is a look, from big to small, on how the brain functions:

The Three Main Parts of the Brain
The brain is first divided into three main sections. These are the cerebrum, the cerebellum and the brain stem. Though some have simplified thought into belonging only to the cerebrum, this is not completely the case. The cerebellum is responsible for attention and language and the brainstem has to do with fight or flight emotional control. Both of these can play a major part in our ability to process ideas clearly and make new neural connections. The cerebrum is considered to be the main portion of the brain regulating thought, but this is further subdivided into more sections.

Parts of the Cerebrum
The cerebrum has three main sections, the left and right hemisphere and the corpus callosum between them. The right and left hemispheres have slightly different functions, with the right being more responsible for art, music and creativity and the left being responsible for language and logic. The corpus callosum is the membrane that allows the two halves of the brain to talk to one another. Within each cerebrum, there are different sections that are responsible for different thoughts and memories. The prefrontal cortex, for example, is known for helping to question the reality of different actions. This region is not well connected to the rest of the brain during puberty, but reconnects around the age of 26.

White vs Gray matter
The brain tissue in each brain has two different types and colors of matter. Grey matter and white matter are two different kinds of tissue with different purposes. Grey matter has neurons with small axons. They don't communicate well long distance, and are used for processing information and making decisions. White matter is used for allowing different parts of the brain to communicate with one another. Both parts are equally important. A good network of white matter allows us to access very different parts of the brain and to use everything we know to come up with creative solutions. Grey matter allows the brain to process thoughtful ideas with everything that the white matter brings to it.

Neural Pathways
There is a saying that neurons who fire together wire together. This has become an important part of cognitive therapy, as the importance of forcing grateful and positive thoughts can turn a negative thought process into a habitually positive one. If you can't get past certain thoughts, countering them with logic each time they arrive will help weaken these habitual thoughts and feelings.

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