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What Are the Functions of the Forebrain?

Sleep and waking patterns are controlled in the forebrain.
The forebrain controls many functions, including smelling.
The largest part of the brain, the forebrain processes cognitive, auditory, visual and sensory information.
The forebrain, the forward-most portion of the brain, has a wide range of functions.
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  • Written By: H. Lo
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 06 July 2014
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The functions of the forebrain are wide-ranging, as the area is the largest part of the brain. Also known as the prosencephalon, the forebrain is mostly comprised of the cerebrum, which is divided into two hemispheres. The two main sections of the forebrain, however, are the telencephalon and the diencephalon. The telecephalon includes the cerebral cortex, the subcortical structures, and the corpus callosum, while the diencephalon includes the thalamus and the hypothalamus. Considering the many different parts of the forebrain and how each part is responsible for certain functions, it is understandable that its functions are extensive. In general, the forebrain processes cognitive, auditory, sensory, and visual information, as well as being involved in the forming and storage of memory and emotion.

Much of what the forebrain does is linked to the cerebrum. The cerebrum includes the cerebral cortex, which is made up of four lobes: frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital. Imagining, planning and reasoning are some of the functions of the frontal lobe. Hearing and smelling, as well as forming memories and retrieving them later, are functions of the temporal lobes. The parietal lobes handle senses such as taste, temperature and touch, and processing images and linking those images to the ones stored in the memory are functions of the occipital lobes.

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The subcortical structures of the forebrain are located deeper in the brain and include the basal ganglia, hippocampus and amygdala. The basal ganglia, groups of nerve cells, are responsible for the coordination of movement. Both the hippocampus and amygdala are parts of the limbic system. The function of the hippocampus is the formation and retrieval of long-term memory, while the amygdala is the part of the forebrain responsible for the processing of emotions as well as autonomic and sexual behavior. The last part of the telencephalon is the corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres of the brain together.

The thalamus and hypothalamus make up the rest of the forebrain. The function of the thalamus is to distribute information to the cerebrum from the spinal cord. The thalamus controls what, as well as how much, information is sent and where in the cerebrum that information is sent, as well. The hypothalamus is responsible for metabolism and the regulation of sleeping and waking states. In addition, it also serves an important role in emotions, as it controls the molecules that make a person feel certain things.

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Discuss this Article

anon339040
Post 5

Artsy people are right-brained. Logical, mathematical, verbal people are left-brained. The forebrain is in the front, protected by the cranium (skull).

geekish
Post 4

@Tomislav - I'm with you. Our brain is complex and incredible. So many functions, and each side seems to have its own characteristics and personality which I guess is why people are always saying that artsy people are more "left-brained" and more logical thinkers such as scientists are "right-brained".

As far as the brain stem is concerned, the brain stem is *not* part of the forebrain. It is actually considered the hindbrain. I always remembered this because the word hind always made me think of bottom, and the brain stem is at the bottom of the brain.

If I remember right, the brain stem itself can be broken into 3 parts... I wonder if I can pull out the names of those parts from my distant memory! Let's see... what were they are called... the pons... the medulla... and the midbrain. Yes, PMM (that's the acronym I used to remember the parts).

I always thought that the brain stem was interesting because the brain stem's function was to do many of the important "keeping us alive" functions that we don't even have to think about such as breathing and heartbeat whereas the rest of the brain seemed to be what made each person unique such as how creative, organized, or musical they were.

Tomislav
Post 3

The human brain and all of its functions are just incredible. And the brain is only a part of the nervous system!

I'm also learning about the brain stem. But I get confused with what part of the brain it is a part of. Is the brain stem also a part of the forebrain? And if it is not, how does it interact with the forebrain?

BabaB
Post 2

Wow, I had no idea that the forebrain did so many things -- it makes me wonder how people could even survive after getting a serious injury to the area, or a lobotomy, for that matter.

How exactly does that work? I mean, if you mess with the part of the brain that controls emotions, coordination, memory, and image processing (plus more!), how can a person even function?

BoniJ
Post 1

It's unbelievable the range of functions that the different sections of the forebrain control. It's a very important part of the brain to injure. The forebrain must be fairly deep and well protected, so it probably takes a severe assault to the head to damage this part of the brain enough to affect functioning. But it happens everyday.

Protecting people against brain injury has come a long way. We have laws requiring motorcyclists and bicyclists to wear helmets. Most parents insist that their children wear helmets while riding any bike, trike, or scooter.

Safer child car seats are continually being developed. And auto manufacturers install safe seat belts and air bag.

All these safety features are the best we have right now to prevent brain damage to the parts of the brain that give us humanness - like memory, emotion, and the processing of visual, auditory, cognitive, and sensory information.

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