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The cingulate gyrus is an arc-shaped structure in the center of the brain, which is known as the cingulate cortex. This structure also is referred to as the callosal gyrus in some texts because of its position directly above the corpus callosum. Commonly associated with cognitive flexibility, stimulation studies have found this structure to be responsible for emotional sensations such as fear, anxiety or pleasure and the associated physical responses to those emotions.
Animal studies show variation in the thickness and presence of the cingulate gyrus across the animal kingdom. It is associated with communication, sociability and maternal behavior. The more highly developed this structure is in an animal, the more clearly it expresses language and attachment. Notably, reptiles and amphibians, which are likely to eat their young, completely lack this neurological structure.
This part of the brain's primary function is in facilitating cognitive adaptability in humans. The cingulate gyrus helps people to be flexible in learning and processing new situations. Signals from this structure help people to understand how to alter behavior in a variety of situations or among different social milieu. For example, people tend to behave differently when demonstrating their professionalism at job interviews than they do as spectators at a hockey game.
Adaptability, as influenced by this part of the brain, is an invaluable tool for successfully navigating an unpredictable social world. A properly functioning cingulate gyrus helps people to recognize their alternatives, such as selecting a menu item from a wide range of choices or determining the pros and cons of taking on a new job. This promotes life-long learning and helps a person to grow throughout life. This structure, when functioning properly, helps people to organize realistic goals and promotes future oriented thinking.
Improper functioning in the cingulate gyrus can cause a number of disorders related to cognitive inflexibility. Worrying, argumentativeness and road rage are among problems linked to this area of the brain. Instead of learning from an embarrassing, frustrating or hurtful life experience, those who have functional problems in this part of the brain are likely to dwell on the negative feelings. Similarly, if this structure is overactive, a person might tend toward saying “no” without listening to the question. Abnormal functioning in the cingulate gyrus and its related structures maight be brought on by stress or brain trauma.
Cingulate gyrus dysfunction is not a medical diagnosis but presents itself in other recognized disorders. This area of the brain deals with thought patterns, so cognitive issues such as obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders and addictions are linked to this neurological component. These diagnoses share a common “stuck” quality that is indicative of overactivity in this brain structure. Some research has indicated that this area of the brain is abnormally stimulated in cases of autism. Problems related to the cingulate gyrus are often treated with antidepressant drugs.
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