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What Is the Forebrain?

The forebrain is the foremost part of the brain.
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  • Written By: Devin Ruiz
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 25 March 2014
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The forebrain, also known as the prosencephalon, is the largest section of the brain. It is separated into two hemispheres, called the lower diencephalon and the upper telencephalon, that are each split into four lobes: parietal, temporal, occipital and frontal. Most sensory and associative processing occurs in the forebrain, including voluntary and involuntary motor control, emotion, cognition and language.

In the forebrain, the lower diencephalon includes the pretectum, prethalamus, epithalamus, hypothalamus, thalamus and subthalamus. This section of the brain serves as a central sensory processing area and controls the autonomic nervous system, which regulates body temperature, and sleep states, among other things. This area also controls the hormones released to the pituitary gland that regulate metabolism as well as other autonomic functions, such as equilibrium, controlling eye-movement, sensing facial movement or sensation and controlling respiration. Salivating, swallowing and chewing food also are controlled in this area of the brain, as are hearing and speech processing.

The upper telencephalon includes the cerebrum, or cerebral cortex — making the forebrain the most complex part of the central nervous system (CNS). This area of the brain mainly controls personality, memory and cognitive function. It is this part of the brain that affords humans the ability to think abstractly, reason and concentrate. The telencephalon also includes the basal ganglia, which is responsible for controlling motor functions. Defects in this area of the brain are closely connected with such conditions as Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease.

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Other parts that make up the forebrain include the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, temporal lobe, amygdala and hippocampus. The amygdala and hippocampus form the part of the brain called the limbic system. This area is often referred to as the "emotional brain" because it controls such things as the fight-or-flight response, sexual behavior, emotional expression and long-term memory development. This area of the brain may also be linked to depression, but scientists aren't sure if problems in the forebrain cause depression or if depression has an affect on the forebrain.

Other functions of the forebrain are sensory in nature and tie into associative processes. It sends sensory signals throughout the body, for example, and as the information is received, it connects the new data with previously acquired memories. This is why the smell of something baking may produce a sudden memory of mom or grandma in the kitchen, or the smell of flowers might remind one of a past bee sting.

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Discuss this Article

burtabulous
Post 4

@ListMeister - In some cases, such as synesthesia, one cognitive pathway can be involuntarily stimulated by another.

This happens in an overlapping sort of way and tends to make people associate things in different ways from others. (i.e. always seeing the number 3 as blue and so on).

ListMeister
Post 3

It's interesting learning how the different parts of the brain work with one another to create a person's individual perception of reality. I wonder if each individual section melds into other sections when processing certain stimuli.

Has anyone heard of such things?

oasis11
Post 2

@BrickBack -I was reading that frontal lobe injury really changes a person’s emotions as well as their reasoning ability. I think that this is why doctors always tell you that if bumped your head you should have it checked out my a doctor to make sure that there is no internal bleeding or further injury to the brain.

I also read that the brainstem contains the midbrain that is responsible for voluntary movement, hearing and vision so this area is also important.

BrickBack
Post 1

I just have to say that neuroscience is really fascinating. It is amazing how different parts of the human brain control various feelings and emotions as well as different thought processes. I remember seeing a story about a man that developed a brain injury as a result of being mugged and he had no short term or long term memory.

He had complete amnesia, and because they had stolen his wallet he also had no memory of who he was. I couldn’t believe that something like that could happen to someone.

They also say that people that suffer brain injuries have a change in personality. A person that was extremely reserved might not have any inhibitions while a person that was happy all of the time might develop higher levels of anger.

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