Down to the last hair follicle. Voluntary and involuntary. From catching a baseball to reading a book to pumping blood and breathing, your brain is the center of control for all of your bodily functions. It controls your movement through a system of complex nerves. It stores memories and annoys you with that song you just can’t stop humming all day.
When I hear the word “brain” I immediately picture a football-shaped mass of a spaghetti-like labyrinth, possibly sitting in a jar in some evil scientist’s laboratory, waiting to be put into the flat green head of a freakishly giant monster. The funny thing about the word is that is used both singularly and plural in the same context, depending on who is using it. You are just as likely to hear someone speaking of an accident and say “Yeah it was gross! His brains were hanging out!” as you are to hear “Yeah it was gross! His brain was hanging out!” They truth of the matter is that the brain is made of a number of different parts, all working together to operate our bodies.
These parts include the cerebral cortex, thalamus, hypothalamus, reticular formation, amygdale, pituitary gland, hippocampus, pons, medulla, cerebellum, and the spinal cord (Santrock, 2004). Each part is responsible for a number of different functions and activities. They work together in an uncanny way to enable us to do and think the things that we do every day.
The main part of the brain, and the part most commonly recognized as a brain, is called the cerebral cortex, or cerebrum for short. This is the pink wrinkly structure that has been represented by a bowl of boiled noodles at many elementary school Halloween parties. The wrinkles are a magnificent efficiency feature, allowing the cerebrum more surface area in its confined one bedroom skull apartment. The cerebrum is associated with higher brain functions such as thought and action (serendip, 2009). The cerebrum is split by design into two halves, or hemispheres, along with the cerebellum which is located below and behind the cerebrum and is credited for functions such as coordinating movement and balance. These two hemispheres are physically mirror images of each other, but research has shown that they perform their respective functions in different ways. A bit of civil war in your head, if you will.
Through the vague details given to us in our high school biology class most people know that the right side of the brain is most often given credit for creative thoughts and activities such as painting and writing; and that the left side of the brain is the Vulcan business side, all logic and numbers. You might even say that this is common knowledge. In reality this type of thinking is a general over-simplification of research that demonstrates differences between the ways that each half of the brain processes information. It is also common knowledge that the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and vice-versa. This is expressed in bumper stickers such as “Left-Handed People Are the Only Ones in Our Right Minds.”
What may not be common knowledge however is the brain’s ability to adapt. The case study of Brandi Binder (Santrock, 2004) proves this. Brandi had her right cerebral cortex removed to put an end to debilitating seizures. Over time her remaining brain was able to adapt and make up for the missing parts which had contained knowledge and memory that she had to relearn.
The structure that connects the two hemispheres of the brain is known as the corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is a large bundle of axons, or long nerve fibers (Dictionary.com, 2009), and carries information from one side of the brain to the other. Although this was long believed to be the function of the corpus callosum, it was proven in a series of experiments done by Roger Sperry where he disconnected the corpus callosum in cats and studied how the different sides of the brains functioned and learned independently through the eye on the opposite side of the head. This was also demonstrated in human subjects who, like Brandi Binder, suffered from seizures. Rather than having one half of their brain removed, their corpus callosum was disconnected and both halves of the brain left connected. As Sperry put it this seemed to leave the patient with “two separate minds” which learned and operated independently of each other (Santrock, 2004).
This type of research, known as split-brain research, has revealed much about the functions and processes of the two separate halves of the brain. It demonstrated that each separate half only receives information from the opposite side of the body, i.e. the right brain receives information from the left side, and the left brain from the right side. With an intact corpus callosum this information is shared between the halves after it is received.
This sharing of information is responsible for our unique take on incoming information. Each side of the brain typically handles different processes but the conglomerate thoughts and information stored is a product of both halves. For verbal information the left brain is more dominant and processes information such as language, speech, and grammar. The right brain processes components of the same information input such as metaphors, reading between the lines, and humor. Together we have our own unique perspective.
For non-verbal communication the right brain is more dominant, and processes things like emotions, and visual or audio stimuli. In contrast, the left brain is also utilized to process common functions of thinking such as math and order, while the right brain lends intuition and problem solving to the equation.
As any married individual will tell you (if their spouse is out of hearing range) that there are vast canyons filled deep with the books that record the differences between men and women. Not surprisingly there are also differences in the brains of men and women, and not just how information is processed (men: money=new binoculars; women: money=new shoes) but physical differences too.
The part of the brain responsible for sexual behavior is larger in men. Again, nothing too surprising here. Part of the corpus callosum that connects the two halves of the brains is bigger in women. Maybe that is why my wife can put thoughts together better and faster than I can. While men have a larger section for visuospacial processing women have better memory for words and objects, as well as function better at fine motor skills. Again this is demonstrated in my own marriage. I have been shooting guns for over 20 years and the first time I took my wife shooting she outshot me, and has ever since. If you think I’m going to tell her she has a better memory though you’re out of your cerebrum. Research has also shown differences in the way that male and female brains age.
The whole of these differences show to a point why people and different sexes act different ways. Research indicates that although men and women may have differences in their brains and although they may use their brains differently that is possible for them to use them to come to the same results. The brain, in all its parts, and all their halves, is an amazing control tower for our lives, not to mention reason enough to wear a helmet.
Santrock, J. (2004) Psychology essentials, 2nd edition. Retrieved August 13, 2010 from:
serendip (2009) Brain structures and their functions. Retrieved August 13, 2010 from:
Dictionary.com (2009) Definition of axon. Retrieved August 13, 2010 from: