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What is Localisation of Function of the brain?

Localisation of brain refers to the theory that the human brain is capable of carrying out different functions such as vision movement, comprehension, speech, hearing and overall body control. Unlike other organs of the human body, such as lungs or kidneys that perform the same function, different parts of the brain execute different functions. Therefore, localisation of function is evident only in the human brain.

Overview of research

There was a growing interest in the localisation of the brain functions in the early nineteenth century. Franz Joseph Galls theory of phrenology attracted attention of many scientists event though it was based on inference. Gal submitted his research to the French Academy of Sciences who then asked a leading brain physiologist, Pierre Floures, to undertake extensive experimentation to evaluate the credibility of Gals claims. Despite the fact that Gal did not agree to this offer by the Academy, Floures, appreciating the idea, started experimental research line of his own. In 1825, Floures and his colleagues developed new experimental methods to intervene directly into the brain and witnessed the results of such interventions on animal behavior:
Selective surgical ablation of the parts of animal brains; ablation of parts of the brain of animals; Faradic and galvanic stimulation of human and animal brainsteady or pulsed electrical; clinical studies of patients with neurological or mental deficit after their death were used to correlate them with detectable alterations of the brain tissue.

When Floures used localized lesions on rabbits and pigeon, he was able to show for the first time that divisions of the brain were responsible for different functions. He discovered that perception, motor movement and judgment were diminished when cerebral hemispheres were removed from these animals and removal of cerebellum caused irregulation in motor coordination while destruction of the brain stem led to death. These experiments also suggested that cerebral hemispheres were responsible for higher cognitive functions, the cerebellum regulates and integrates movement and medulla controls vital functions such as blood circulations etc. This remained a predominant view until the next 30 years when a series of discoveries in France and Germany pertaining to pathology of language, provided the view that higher mental functions had a specific localization of function in the cortex. New experiments in England and Germany that had used more precise techniques involving electrical stimulation of the surface of the cortex in dogs and primates strengthened the case for localization of function. Theories of localization of the brain gained currency in the 1860s through a French physician, Paul Brocas (1824 1880) discovery. He was best known for his research on the left frontal lobe, which was later named after him as Brocas area or convolution of Broca and its destruction as Brocas aphasiathe inability to form or articulate words. Gall suggested that damage to a specific part of the left frontal lobe, was associated with human speech impairment. He studies several patients with speech impairment.
Patricia George/Ardingly College / IB Psychology / Core /BLOA: Localisation of brain function

One of Brocas patients named Tan, who could not speak any words clearly other than tan. In 1861, though post mortem autopsy, Broca discovered that a lesion resulted by syphilis in his cerebral hemisphere caused his inability to articulate words.

Evaluation Points (AO2) Weaknesses

Localization is not always clear-cut:
Neuropsychologist that support the theory of holism or organism do not support the localization of the function of brain. Kurt Goldstein, during the course of his studies of brain-damaged soldiers during World War I, became aware of the inability of contemporary biology and medicine to explain both the impact of such injuries and the astonishing adjustments that patients made to them. He began to challenge atomistic approaches that dealt with "localized" symptoms, insisting instead that an organism must be analyzed in terms of the totality of its behavior and interaction with its surroundings.

Hemispheric asymmetry:
The corpus callosum connects the two cerebral hemispheres which are separated by a longitudinal fissure. Both sides of the brain resemble each other but the function performed by the cortical hemisphere are different. Even though some generalizations are made about certain functions being lateral, researchers criticize this popular view, because the popular lateralizations often are distributed across both hemispheres, although mental processing is divided in between them. Many differences have been observed in the anatomical structure of both hemispheres, for example the lateral sulcus - divides the frontal and parental lobes above from the temporal lobe below - is longer than the right hemisphere. However, there is little evidence of correlation between these structural and functional differences. Thus, the extent of localization is still under investigation because it has been noticed that if a specific part of the brain is damaged the neighboring region compensate for the damaged area and is able to perform the required function successfully depending upon the extent of damage in the brain and patients age. In addition, if an injury occurs to a pathway that connects one area of the brain to another alternative/indirect pathways may transmit the information to the target area even though these pathways may not be as efficient as the original one.

Patricia George/Ardingly College / IB Psychology / Core /BLOA: Localisation of brain function

The brain is hugely integrated:

This means that different brain areas are involved in abilities such as vision, smell and hearing. Maunsell & Newsome (1987) proposed that there were 19 visual areas in macaque monkeys. Their study is available at: Research needs to focus on how different areas of the brain interact. Karl Lashlehy (1929), a behaviorist, who believed in holism experimented on, destroying all parts of his lab rats' brains in varying amounts to find the location of memory and concluded that there was a law of mass action applied. Law of mass action explains that the learnt habits deteriorate in response to the damage received by the cortex nerve fibers, the law of equi-potentiality comes into play, which means that every point of cortex has equal potential. T his means memory loss is related to the extent of damage caused to the rats brain rather than the location of the damage. Lack of appreciation of the fact that the brain is a highly complex, heavily interconnected system that displays non-linear properties and can prelude its simple analysis into independent functional units, is clearly a short fall of localization of function.

The Brain exhibits Neural Plasticity:

Neuroplasticity can be defined as the changing of the structure, function and organization of the neurons, present in the brain, in response to new external experiences. This also shows that the brain shows neural plasticity which means the brain can be very flexible and adjust physically to the location of function if it is damaged. An example of such an adjustment are children with damage to their left cerebral hemisphere and yet they are able to recover their language abilities.

Initiation of study of brain damage:
Before the initiation of study and research about brain damage in patients irregular behavior in humans was considered to be evil and religious practices were conducted to cure the patient. The theory of localization of brain function provided a new perspective on the causal relationship between brain damage and behavioral disorders. This means that the study of anatomy of the brain enhanced the understanding that human behavior is largely controlled and impacted by the functions of brain.

Enhancement of research possibilities of localized areas of brain:

This discovery encouraged and made room for further research in the study of different parts of the brain so that the function of each part could be determined. Even though it is evident that the correlation and causalities of the performance of the brain could not be studied due to this theory, it is realized that this theory provided a beginning to the studies undertaken by researchers on localized areas of brain have provided a firm ground for further research to concentrate on the interconnection and causality of the brain function. In this way, this theory has been the first step towards a larger goal.

Patricia George/Ardingly College / IB Psychology / Core /BLOA: Localisation of brain function

The structure and functions of the brain with reference to localisation:

The brain is an astonishing and complex organ. It is composed of millions of cells of the nervous system (10 billion). The basic structural units of the brain are cells named Neurons. This organ is divided into two parts: left and the right hemisphere. Each part of the brain is responsible for specific function in the body. The function a specific part performs will be disrupted in case of a damage of that area of the brain. The following is a brief summary of the structure of the brain and suggested function:

Brain Structure
Cerebral Cortex

Suggested Function The outermost layer of the cerebral hemisphere which is composed of grey matter. Cortices are asymmetrical. Both hemispheres are able to analyse sensory data, perform memory functions, learn new information, form thoughts and make decisions.

Left Hemisphere

Sequential Analysis: systematic logical interpretation of information. Interpretations and production of symbolic information: language, mathematics, abstraction and reasoning. Memory stored in a language format.

Right Hemisphere

Holistic functioning: processing multi-sensory input simultaneously to provide holistic picture. Visual spatial skills. Holistic functions such as dancing and gymnastics are coordinated by the right hemisphere. Memory is stored in auditory, visual and spatial modalities. Connects right and left hemisphere to allow for communications between the hemispheres. Forms roof of the lateraland third ventricles. Symptoms/Injury: Damage to the Corpos Callosum may result in split brain syndrome.

Corpus Collosum

Patricia George/Ardingly College / IB Psychology / Core /BLOA: Localisation of brain function

Frontal Lobes

Cognition and memory. Prefrontal area: the ability to concentrate and attend elaboration of thought. The gatekeeper (judgement and inhibition). Personality and emotional traits. Movement: Motor Cortex: voluntary motor activity. Premotor Cortex: storage of motor patterns and vulunary activities. Language: motor speech.

Occipital Lobes

Parietal Lobes

Temporal Lobes

Impairment of recent memory, inattentiveness, inability to concentrate, behaviour disorders, difficulty in learning new information. Lack of inhibition (inappropriate social and/or sexual behaviour). Emotion- ability. Flat affect. Expressive/motor aphasia. Primary visual reception area. Primary visual Primary visual cortex: loss of association area. Allows for visual vision opposite field. Visual interpretation. association cortex: loss of ability to recnoze objects seen in opposite field of vision, flash of light, stars. Processing of sensory input, sensory Inabiity to discriminate and discrimination. Body orientation. recognize parts of the body Primary/secondary somatic area. (neglect). Severe injury: inability to recognise self. Disorientation of environmental space. Inabiity to write. Auditory receptive area and association areas. Hearing deficits. Agitation, Expressed behaviour. Language: Receptive irritability, childish behaviour. speech. Memory: Information retrieved. Receptive/sensory aphasia. Olfactory pathways: Amygdala Loss of sense of smell. and their different pathways. Agitation, loss of control of Hippocampi and their different emotion. Loss of recent memory. pathways. Limbic lobes: Sex, rage fear emotions. Integration of recent memory,biological rhythms. Hypothalamus. Subcortical gray matter nuclei. Processing link between thalamus and motor cortex. Inititation and direction of voluntary movement. Balance. Postural reflexes. Part of the extrapyramidal system: regulation of automatic movement. Movement disorders: chorea, tremors at rest with initiation of movement, abnormal increase in muscle tone, difficulty inititation movement. Parkinsons Disease.

Limbic System

Basal Ganglia

Patricia George/Ardingly College / IB Psychology / Core /BLOA: Localisation of brain function