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What Is the Difference Between the Forebrain and Midbrain?

Intelligence, memory and voluntary movement are controlled by the forebrain.
The midbrain is the smallest of the three main brain sections.
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  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2014
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The forebrain and midbrain are both a part of the central nervous system, along with the spinal cord. In this system, there are different parts that serve a variety of specific functions, and that is probably the biggest difference between the forebrain and the midbrain. The forebrain, in general, is responsible for many functions such as intelligence, memory and voluntary movement. The midbrain, while responsible for other functions as well, coordinates the communication that passes between the brain and the spinal cord. Besides being responsible for specific functions, other differences between the forebrain and midbrain include the variation in size, how many structures each part contains within, and the separate physical locations in the brain.

Two of three main sections of the brain are the forebrain and midbrain, with the third one being the hindbrain. The forebrain is the largest of the three sections and the midbrain is the smallest. The main part of the forebrain, and the brain in general, is the cerebrum, which is divided into two hemispheres and also contains the four lobes of the brain. In addition, the forebrain also consists of deeper structures such as the hypothalamus and the amygdala. The midbrain, on the other hand, is very small in comparison and sits at the top part of the brain stem, underneath the forebrain.

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As there is a considerable size difference between the forebrain and midbrain, it is understandable that the forebrain is comprised of a greater amount of structures. The midbrain though, is just that — the midbrain. So as the structures of the forebrain each perform specific functions that together make up what the forebrain is responsible for, the midbrain, in comparison, performs fewer. This does not mean that the midbrain is useless, however. Considering the relationship between the forebrain and midbrain, without the midbrain, the forebrain would not be able to communicate with the spinal cord.

The midbrain’s function in aiding the communication between the brain and the spinal cord is made easier by its location because it is a part of the brain stem. While the midbrain sits at the top of the brain stem, the uppermost part of the spinal cord is at the bottom of the brain stem. In between the two lies the pons and medulla. As the top of the brainstem, the midbrain connects the brainstem with the forebrain. The midbrain does serve other functions other than relaying communication; it also controls some reflexes and helps control voluntary movements as well.

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indigomoth
Post 4

@irontoenail - It is quite difficult to dissect a brain, and to some extent it is a bit of guess work as a lot of the time the different areas don't look all that different from each other.

Although if you had had a chance to pick one up and look at it properly, instead of in a jar, and compare it to some diagrams, you might have been able to make out some things.

It's pretty easy to learn which parts are the forebrain and which are the midbrain, even though they are all roughly the same color. Although the midbrain is underneath the forebrain, so you'd need to look at a specimen that had already been dissected in order to really see it.

Although if you're curious, you might be better off looking in a textbook.

irontoenail
Post 3

@croydon - I took a dissection class at one point too, but I had to drop out because I couldn't take it. I don't know why it bothered me so much, but it did. I just would start feeling sick and would have to rush out of the room.

We never did brains though. We could see quite a few of them in jars in the room, but they all pretty much looked the same to me, just in different sizes.

I have no idea how people can tell the difference between the forebrain, the midbrain and the hindbrain either. From what I could tell, they all just looked like one piece, without any kind of different shapes or colors that could tell you where one thing starts and another ends.

But again, I was terrible at that class, so maybe I just didn't get it.

croydon
Post 2

I took a dissection class as part of my science degree and at one point we were allowed to handle brains, I think the pickled brains of sheep.

They were quite small, smaller than you might expect. We weren't allowed to cut into them or damage them in any way, as at that point we wouldn't have had a clue what we were doing. But, they wanted us to be able to identify the different structures of the brain, including parts of the forebrain and the midbrain and so on.

One of the things that really surprised me was how firm it was. I guess I had always expected brains to be kind of goopy, but it was as firm as, say a peach. Some give, but generally all of a piece and I'd say even more firm than other parts of the body.

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