What Are the Functions of the Cerebral Cortex?

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  • Written By: T. Broderick
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2019
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The functions of the cerebral cortex are to receive sensory input, interpret the senses and coordinate motor control. The cerebral cortex is made of grey matter, and covers the cerebrum and cerebellum. The different lobes of the cerebral cortex subdivide processing responsibilities based on sensory input or motor function. Brain damage can impair the functions of the cerebral cortex, reducing an individual's cognitive capability.

The cerebral cortex covers the outside of the brain and creates a pattern of deep furrows along the top of the cerebrum and cerebellum. Thickness of the cerebral cortex varies from 2 to 5 mm deep, and is thinnest on the cerebellum. The cerebral cortex is the brain's gray matter. The gray matter's neurons have a myelin sheath which acts as insulation, allowing an increase in the rate of neural transmission.

Receiving sensory input is one of the main functions of the cerebral cortex. Vision is received at the rear of the cerebral cortex, a part of the brain known as the occipital lobe. As with all sensory information, the side of the brain that interprets sensory input is opposite to where the input is perceived by the person. The auditory cortex is located next to each ear. The somatosensory cortex receives all sensory input from touch.


After the various portions of the cerebral cortex receive sensory input, they must interpret it. Interpretation turns electrical signals into a sensation. As the brain has a different area for each sense, the brain can simultaneously interpret signals from every sense. The ability to quickly process information is one of the main reasons for the overall success of the human race.

Coordinating motor control is the last primary function of the cerebral cortex. This portion of the cerebral cortex is shaped like a headband stretching between the ears. In this area, the brain controls all voluntary movements from the planning stages to actual execution.

Brain damage can directly affect the functions of the cerebral cortex. The specific effects of brain damage depend on where the damage occurs. For example, damage to the motor cortex can severely impede one's ability to perform what were once simple tasks. In many cases, brain damage causes cognitive impairment; one has difficulty remembering past events or focusing on a single task. Depending on the severity of brain damage, physical therapy may be able to restore some lost function.


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