Jon Horvitz

Brain Tutorial Page

Jon Horvitz
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The goal for this Tutorial page is to provide beginning learners the information they need to benefit from the Advanced page about the Neurobiology of Motivation and Learning. For a more complete background in the relation between Brain, Mind, and Behavior, see our textbook.

The Brainstem: Functions critical for life

The brainstem is comprised of the medulla, pons, and midbrain - in that order as you climb above the spinal cord and ascend into the brain. The cerebellum is connected to the back of the pons.

To get a sense of the position of the brainstem structures, take a look here: , and notice the three brainstem areas labeled to the left.

Question 1

Which brainstem structure is directly on top of the spinal cord?

the pons

the cerebellum


Question 2

What brain area is just above the medulla?

the pons

the midbrain

the hypothalamus

Question 3

What brain area lies just behind the pons?

the medulla

the midbrain

the cerebellum

Try to answer questions 1-3 without looking at a brain image. If you haven't done this yet refresh the page and answer them again.

Subcortical Brain Regions: Motivation, emotion, memory and other functions

If you think of the brainstem as the basement of the brain and the cerebral cortex as the penthouse (we'll get to the cortex), there are a number of important brain structures between the two. For now, we'll consider just five of the most important ones: the hypothalamus, thalamus, hippocampus, amygdala, and basal ganglia.

Now take a look in Google to find images that include these brain regions. It's possible that you'll have to look at multiple images, for some brain illustrations will only show a subset of them. The idea is not to become a neuroanatomist today -- but to get a feel for where they lie with respect to one another.

Because these five areas are below the cortex, they are called "subcortical areas". when we talk of subcortical areas, we don't usually include the brainstem, even thoughit is below the cortex. When you feel comfortable with the descriptions of these subcortical areas, try the questions below. They're straightforward.

Question 4

Damage to this area can abolish the motivation to eat and drink.

the hypothalamus

the amygdala

the midbrain

Question 5

As you recall what you ate for dinner last night, you are activating your _____.


basal ganglia


Question 6

This collection of brain structures is needed in order for actions that you repeat many times to become automatized habits.

the thalamus

the basal ganglia

the hippocampus

Cerebral Cortex: Perception, Action, and Cognition

The cerebral cortex is comprised of lobes that are critical for vision (occipital lobe), audition (temporal lobe), touch or 'somatosensation' (parietal lobe), actions (frontal lobe) and cognition (various lobes, but perhaps the frontal lobe especially). In this drawing,

Cerebral Cortex

you'll notice that in addition to the four lobes, there are pointers to grooves 1) between the left and right hemispheres of the brain (longitudinal fissure), 2) behind the frontal lobe (central sulcus), and 3) above the temporal lobe (lateral sulcus). As you might have guessed from the drawing, the word we use for a groove within the cortical surface is sulcus (sulci, pl.) or fissure. The terms sulcus and fissure are sometimes used interchangeably. For instance the lateral sulcus is sometimes called the Sylvian fissure.

I wouldn't worry about remembering the names of these sulci/fissures at this point. But you should remember that the term sulci (or fissure) refers to grooves in the cortex. You'll notice that the illustration shows many sulci in the cortical surface, with only a few labeled. Also, notice that between sulci, the cortex bulges outward. Each of the bulges between sulci is called a gyrus (gyri, pl.). Take a moment to Google some images for 'sulcus' and 'gyrus' and point to some of the sulci and gyri so you become accustomed to their appearance.

Finally, notice that a few paragraphs above, I said that the central sulcus is behind the frontal lobe. Neuroscientists rarely use the terms 'in front of' or 'behind', but instead say anterior (toward the nose) or posterior (toward the back of the head). So, as you can see in the Cortex illustration, the frontal lobe is anterior to the parietal lobe. The central sulcus and the parietal lobe are posterior to the frontal lobe. Sometimes, instead of anterior vs posterior, you'll see rostral vs caudal. Finally, instead of saying above vs below, we say dorsal vs ventral. So, if you look at the illustration of the cortex, you'll see that the lateral sulcus is dorsal to the temporal lobe, and the temporal lobe is ventral to the lateral sulcus