AP Psychology: Parts of the Brain

Since psychology first grew out of biology and philosophy, advances in understanding of biology, and especially the brain, have contributed more and more to the field of psychology. For preparation for the AP psychology exam, in-depth knowledge of neurobiology won’t be necessary, but any study of psychology involves the brain.

Perhaps the most basic way to think of the brain is dividing it into parts. There is more than one way to conceptualize this.

We can think of the brain as having three parts—reptilian, animal, and human. Each of these is made up of many smaller parts with specific functions.

Reptilian brain: reptiles, animals, and humans all have this, most basic, part. Predictably, it regulates the functions most basic to life.

-Brain stem—responsible for automatic functions
-Spinal cord
-Medulla—breathing and heartbeat
-Reticular formation—arousal
-Pons—sleeping and waking
-Cerebellum—movement and balance

Animal brain: reptiles don’t have this, but both humans and animals do. As you review the functions of regions of the animal brain, you may notice that it explains why animals respond to more complex sets of stimuli than reptiles.

-Limbic system—responsible for mood and emotions, experience of pain and fear
-Amygdala—aggression and fear
-Hippocampus—working and short-term memory
-Hypothalamus—regulating needs, including eating, drinking, sleep, reproduction, and body temperature.
-Thalamus—relay sensory and motor signals

Human Brain: features unique to humans and primates. These areas allow more complex tasks of intellect, memory, and abstraction.

-Cerebrum—responsible for intellectual powers
-Corpus callosum—connects the two hemispheres
-Cerebral cortex—the outer layer of the human brain

The cerebral cortex is divided into four lobes. Although communication between areas is an important part of brain function, the lobes can be defined by their major functions.

-Frontal lobe: intellectual abilities, reasoning, and abstract thought.
-Parietal lobe: motor/tactile sensory processing
-Occipital lobe: visual stimuli processing
-Temporal lobe: auditory processing

Thinking about the parts of the brain within their different areas of the brain should give you an idea of the big picture of brain functions and regions. Hopefully, it will also help you remember what you need to know for the AP psychology exam, too.

Good luck on the AP Psychology exam!

Image credit: Liz Henry

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