Brains: How They Seem to Work

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When people talk about "gray matter" in the brain they are talking about this thin rind. The cortex is gray because nerves in this area lack the insulation that makes most other parts of the brain appear to be white. The folds in the brain add to its surface area and therefore increase the amount of gray matter and the quantity of information that can be processed.

Deep within the brain, hidden from view, lie structures that are the gatekeepers between the spinal cord and the cerebral hemispheres. These structures not only determine our emotional state, they also modify our perceptions and responses depending on that state, and allow us to initiate movements that you make without thinking about them. Like the lobes in the cerebral hemispheres, the structures described below come in pairs: each is duplicated in the opposite half of the brain.

It wakes you up in the morning, and gets the adrenaline flowing during a test or job interview. The hypothalamus is also an important emotional center, controlling the molecules that make you feel exhilarated, angry, or unhappy. This tiny nub acts as a memory indexer—sending memories out to the appropriate part of the cerebral hemisphere for long-term storage and retrieving them when necessary. They are responsible for initiating and integrating movements.

The brain and the rest of the nervous system are composed of many different types of cells, but the primary functional unit is a cell called the neuron. All sensations, movements, thoughts, memories, and feelings are the result of signals that pass through neurons. Neurons consist of three parts. The neuron is usually surrounded by many support cells. This sheath can include a fatty molecule called myelin, which provides insulation for the axon and helps nerve signals travel faster and farther.

Or axons may be very long, such as those that carry messages from the brain all the way down the spinal cord. Scientists have learned a great deal about neurons by studying the synapse—the place where a signal passes from the neuron to another cell.


These receptors can change the properties of the receiving cell. If the receiving cell is also a neuron, the signal can continue the transmission to the next cell. It governs muscle contractions and causes glands to secrete hormones. GABA gamma-aminobutyric acid is called an inhibitory neurotransmitter because it tends to make cells less excitable. It helps control muscle activity and is an important part of the visual system. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that constricts blood vessels and brings on sleep.

It is also involved in temperature regulation.

Differences in Male and Female Brain Structure

Dopamine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter involved in mood and the control of complex movements. Many medications used to treat behavioral disorders work by modifying the action of dopamine in the brain. When the brain is healthy it functions quickly and automatically. But when problems occur, the results can be devastating. Some 50 million people in this country—one in five—suffer from damage to the nervous system.

Most research funded by the NINDS is conducted by scientists in public and private institutions such as universities, medical schools, and hospitals. Government scientists also conduct a wide array of neurological research in the more than 20 laboratories and branches of the NINDS itself.

What Really Happens During A Brain Freeze

This research ranges from studies on the structure and function of single brain cells to tests of new diagnostic tools and treatments for those with neurological disorders. Box Bethesda, MD www. NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

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Skip to main content. Submit Search. Brain Basics: Know Your Brain. The Cerebral Cortex Coating the surface of the cerebrum and the cerebellum is a vital layer of tissue the thickness of a stack of two or three dimes. The Inner Brain Deep within the brain, hidden from view, lie structures that are the gatekeepers between the spinal cord and the cerebral hemispheres. Image 6 Scientists have learned a great deal about neurons by studying the synapse—the place where a signal passes from the neuron to another cell. Neurological Disorders When the brain is healthy it functions quickly and automatically.

We will delve more into the Gestalt effect later. Via New Optical Illusions. Look at the image on the left: Does the black line seem to line up with the blue line? In actuality, the black line is lined up with the red one, as revealed in the image on the right.

The brain regions tasked with 'timing'

Although so far no theories have satisfactorily explained this visual error, the prevailing belief is that our brain attempts to interpret a 2D image with 3D properties and distorts the depth between lines. When you look at the two tables above, do they appear very different in size and shape? Would you believe that the two tabletops are exactly the same?

If not, check out this animated illustration to see for yourself. First presented by American psychologist Roger Shepard in his book Mind Sights , this simple yet astonishing visual illusion is further proof that our vision system is largely influenced by our experiences with the outside world and therefore interferes with reality sometimes. The nonexistent triangle also appears to be brighter than the background, although they are of the same luminance. This illusion , popularized by Italian psychologist Gaetano Kanizsa, reveals how we tend to seek closure in our visual perception. Some of the best optical illusions are based on the principle that our brains are trained to fill in the gaps between shapes and lines and perceive blank space as objects even when there aren't any.

Look closely: The three prongs miraculously transform into two at the end of the fork. The more you look at it, the more improbable it becomes. How does this happen? The lines are joined at the end to create the illusion of a prong. And because our minds tend to reconstruct 3D imagery out of the flat 2D image, it creates the illusion of depth. Read more about how to become a better visual thinker here or effectively tell a visual story here. What are the best optical illusions you've found on the web? Do you have more amazing examples you don't see here? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

Lucia is fascinated by the intersection of communication and behavioral psychology. When not working, she can be found advocating for remote working, digital currency and circular economy. Its interesting finding out why these illusions work and how the brain reacts to them.

It actually down to how the brain makes many assumptions about what it see. How much does it have in common with what our mind imagines the world to be? I have seen the checker illusion before, and still it felt unreal. Your email address will not be published.

Our obsession with productivity is making it harder to solve simple problems

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We're trending there! Written by: Lucia Wang. Choose from dozens of professionally designed templates Create banner ads, social media graphics, and more Customize anything to fit your brand image and content needs Sign up. It's free. Make your design. Recommended content for you:. Speak Loudly. Speak Visually. Receive weekly practical tips on how to communicate visually, right in your inbox. Create yours. Your browser does not support HTML5 video. About the Author Lucia is fascinated by the intersection of communication and behavioral psychology. March 22, at pm.

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