Cerebral Cortex Lobes

Lobes of the Brain
This image shows the lobes of the brain: frontal lobes (blue), the parietal lobes (green), occipital lobes (yellow) and the temporal lobes (purple). Credit: MedicalRF.com/Getty Images

Cerebral Cortex Lobes

The cerebral cortex is the layer of the brain often referred to as gray matter. The cortex (thin layer of tissue) is gray because nerves in this area lack the insulation that makes most other parts of the brain appear to be white. The cortex covers the outer portion (1.5mm to 5mm) of the cerebrum and cerebellum.

The cerebral cortex is divided into four lobes. Each of these lobes are found in both the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

The cortex encompasses about two-thirds of the brain mass and lies over and around most of the structures of the brain. It is the most highly developed part of the human brain and is responsible for thinking, perceiving, producing and understanding language. The cerebral cortex is also the most recent structure in the history of brain evolution.

Cerebral Cortex Lobes Function

Most of the actual information processing in the brain takes place in the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is located in the division of the brain known as the forebrain. It is divided into four lobes that each have a specific function. For example, there are specific areas involved in movement and sensory processes (vision, hearing, somatosensory perception (touch), and olfaction). Other areas are critical for thinking and reasoning. Although many functions, such as touch perception, are found in both the right and left cerebral hemispheres, some functions are found in only one cerebral hemisphere.

For example, in most people, language processing abilities are found in the left hemisphere.

Four Cerebral Cortex Lobes

  • Parietal Lobes: These lobes are positioned posteriorly to the frontal lobes and above the occipital lobes. They are involved in receiving and processing of sensory information. The somatosensory cortex is found within the parietal lobes and is essential for processing touch sensations.
  • Frontal Lobes: These lobes are positioned at the front-most region of the cerebral cortex. They are involved with movement, decision-making, problem solving, and planning. The right frontal lobe controls activity on the left side of the body and the left frontal lobe controls activity on the right side.
  • Occipital Lobes: Located just below the parietal lobes, the occipital lobes are the main center for visual processing. The visual information is sent to the parietal lobes and temporal lobes for further processing.
  • Temporal Lobes: These lobes are located directly below the frontal and parietal lobes. They are involved with memory, emotion, hearing, and language. Structures of the limbic system, including the olfactory cortex, amygdala, and the hippocampus are located within the temporal lobes.

In summary, the cerebral cortex is divided into four lobes that are responsible for processing and interpreting input from various sources and maintaining cognitive function. Sensory functions interpreted by the cerebral cortex include hearing, touch, and vision. Cognitive functions include thinking, perceiving, and understanding language.

Divisions of the Brain

  • Forebrain - encompasses the cerebral cortex and brain lobes.
  • Midbrain - connects the forebrain to the hindbrain.
  • Hindbrain - regulates autonomic functions and coordinates movement.

*Portions of this material adapted from NIH Publication No.01-3440a and "Mind Over Matter" NIH Publication No. 00-3592.