AP Psychology Study Resource: About Somatosensory Cortex

Have you ever stopped to think about how we all feel or experience certain things in the same way as others?

How do you know the color you perceive as being “red” is the same “red” as the person next to you?

What if their red is your green?

While we can’t answer these mind-boggling questions completely, we can explore the brain’s role in processing external stimuli, like colors, textures, sounds, and so on.

This is where your samatosensory cortex (sometimes referred to as the somatosensory cortex, instead) comes into play.

Responsible for processing external stimuli (or sensations), it plays an integral role in our day-to-day lives.

Below, we will explore this cortex in more detail, including how it works and what role it potentially plays in prosocial behavior.

The Location of the Somatosensory Cortex

Before we dive into the important role of the samatosensory cortex, it’s important to understand where it is in your brain and how it contributes toward your brain’s overall anatomy.

It goes without saying that your brain is the central hub of your body. And in order to provide so many different functions, it is a complex structure.

Made up of two sides (or lobes), your brain can be divided into the left- and right-hand side, both of which are connected by the corpus callosum. A different function is performed by each lobe.

The cerebral cortex makes up the outer layer of your brain, acting almost like the skin on a piece of fruit. Its role is to help with processing and more complex thinking skills, like interpreting the environment, language, and reasoning.

Making up part of this cerebral cortex is the somatosensory cortex, which you’ll find in the middle of your brain.

What’s the Role of the Somatosensory Cortex?

parts of the brain

The samatosensory cortex receives all of your body’s sensory input. And the cells (or nerves) that extend around your body from the brain are known as neurons.

These neurons sense many different things, including audio, visual, pain, and skin stimuli, and send this information to be processed in the somatosensory cortex. However, the location the neurons send this information to in the cortex isn’t random. Rather, each will have a specific place that’s relevant to the type of information being processed.

When these receptors detect a sensation, they send the information through to the thalamus (the part of your brain that relays receptors’ sensory impulses to the cerebral cortex) before they are passed on to the primary somatosensory cortex.

Once it arrives there, the cortex gets to work interpreting the information. Think of it like any type of data that’s sent to someone for analysis.

Furthermore, some of these neurons are incredibly important, which is why a large portion of this cortex is devoted to understanding and processing all of the information from these neurons. For example, high-level data will be analyzed in more detail and will take more time to interpret, while low-level data will go to a less-equipped analyst, requiring less time to be spent on it.

We can explore this in more detail by using Brodmann’s areas.

Brodmann’s Areas for the Somatosensory Cortex

Brodmann’s classification system

When examining the brain, Korbinian Brodmann, a German neurologist, identified 52 different regions according to how different their cellular composition was. Today, many leading scientists will still use these areas, hence why they are often referred to as “Brodmann’s areas.”

When it came to the somatosensory cortex, Brodmann divided this into four areas, 1, 2, and 3 (which is further divided into 3a and 3b).

These numbers were assigned by Brodmann based on the order he examined the area, and, therefore, are not indicative of their importance.

After all, area 3 is often seen as the primary area of this cortex.

How come?

Area 3 is responsible for receiving the bulk of the input that comes straight from the thalamus, with the information being processed initially in this area.

Area 3b is concerned specifically with the basic processing of things we touch, while 3a responds to the information that comes from our proprioceptors (these are specialized sensors that are located on the ends of your nerves that are found in joints, tendons, muscles, and the inner ear, relaying information about position or motion so you are constantly aware of how your body is moving or is positioned in a space).

Areas 1 and 2 are densely connected to 3b.

Therefore, while the primary location for any information about the things we touch is sent to 3b, it will also be sent to areas 1 and 2 for further in-depth processing.

For example, area 1 appears to be integral to how we sense the texture of something, while area 2 seems to have a role in how we perceive this object’s shape and size. Area 2 also plays a role in proprioception (this enables us to orientate our bodies in a particular environment without us having to consciously focus on where we are).

Should there be any lesions to these areas of the cortex (those that support the roles mentioned above, in particular) then we may notice some deficits in our senses. For example, if there is a lesion to area 1, we will find a shortfall in our ability to distinguish the texture of things, while a lesion to area 3b will affect our tactile sensations.

Somatotopic Arrangement 

Each of the four areas we have mentioned are arranged in such a way that a particular area will receive information from a specific part of the body. This is what is known as the somatotopic arrangement, with the entire body being represented within each of the four areas of the somatosensory cortex.

And as some parts of our bodies are more sensitive, e.g. the hands and lips, this requires more cortex and circuitry to be dedicated to processing any sensations that come from these areas. Therefore, if you look at somatotopic maps that depict the somatosensory cortex, you will notice they are distorted, with the areas of the body that are highly sensitive taking up far more space in this area.

How the Samatosensory Cortex May Contribute in Prosocial Behavior

As we now know, when someone experiences pain, this bodily sensation is processed in their brain. It will also switch on an emotional reaction in their brain, too.

However, when we see someone else in this type of pain, many of these same regions are activated in our own brains. But this differs entirely when you are dealing with a convicted criminal with psychopathic tendencies.  

When they see someone else in pain, there is less activation in these specific areas of the brain. They will also show disregard and less empathy toward others.

What does this suggest?

That when these “shared activations” are lacking it can cause issues with a person’s empathy.

In fact, over the years, scientists have developed the belief that we are able to feel empathy for others who are in pain because of these shared activations – and this is why we have a desire to help them.

That said, there is still a lack of evidence which helps identify how helpful behavior is influenced by these pain-processing areas of our brain. That’s why some suggest that helpful behavior is contributed to very little by empathy-related processes.

Further Studies

To explore this further, one study looked at participants’ reactions to a video of someone being swatted on their hand by a belt while displaying different levels of pain. The participants could then indicate how much pain they felt this person was in by donating money to them – so the more pain they thought they were in, the more money they donated to try and ease this.

Throughout the study, the participants’ brains (their samatosensory cortex, in particular) were measured. And the results found that the more activated this area was, the more money they donated.

The researchers then interfered with the participants’ brain activity using various techniques that affected how they perceived the sensations in their hand. This altered their accuracy in assessing the pain of the victim, and it also caused disruption to the link between the perceived pain of the victim and the donations. The amount of money being given was no longer correlating to the pain they were witnessing.

A Role in Social Function 

These findings suggest that the area of the brain that helps us perceive pain (the somatosensory cortex) plays a role in our social function. It helps us transform the vision of bodily harm into an accurate perception of how much pain the other person is experiencing. And we need these feelings in order to adapt so we can help others.

This also adds to the current argument of what role empathy plays in helping behaviors, with it suggesting that we are indeed promoted to help by brain activity that is empathy-related. It allows us to pinpoint who needs our help.

Putting These Findings into Practice

girl in red jacket with happy face

By understanding this relationship between the activity in our brain and our helping behavior, it may help in the development of treatments for people who are suffering with antisocial behavior. Or for children with unemotional, callous traits – something that’s associated with a general disregard for other people and a lack of empathy.

AP Psychology Study Resource: Cerebral Hemispheres Information

You’ve probably heard about the different functions of the left and right brains, but you may not be aware of their functions. Although we have a long way to go before we fully understand all that our brains are capable of there are some things we do know about the cerebral hemispheres.

What Are the Cerebral Hemispheres?

Cerebral Hemispheres

The biggest part of our brain is called the cerebrum and it’s found at the top and front of our heads. It consists of two parts, the left and right hemisphere, which are separated by a bundle of nerves called the corpus callosum.

The two hemispheres are divided into four lobes called the frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal lobe. The left hemisphere is the side of your brain that manages language and logical thought processing while the right side manages visual and intuitive thought processes.

The cerebral hemispheres each control the opposite side of the body.

So, the left cerebral hemisphere controls the right side of the body and vice versa. If you experience a stroke in the left side of your brain, you will display physical symptoms on the right side of the body. However, the two hemispheres work together through the nerves that connects them in a process called lateralization.

Left-brain Right-brain Theory

Bear in mind that there is still a lot that we don’t know about the brain and how it functions, but neuroimaging techniques have shown us some distinct differences that have allowed psychologists and scientists to develop their theories.

The left-brain right-brain theory is still taught. However, it is now believed that both parts of the brain work more closely than previously thought.

Left-brain characteristics include the ability to understand a whole situation, not just parts of it. It also controls the larger muscle movements such as walking, balance, and the sense of where your body is in terms of the space around you.

The left hemisphere also helps to regulate avoidance behaviors, balance emotional functioning, helps you to sense sounds, smell, and taste and manages your non-verbal communication. It’s stimulated by new experiences and controls your immune system. It controls your involuntary bodily functions such as breathing, your heart rate, and digestion.

Your fine motor movements are controlled by the left hemisphere. Your problem-solving skills, your ability to understand what words mean and your mathematical skills are all left-brain functions.

As you would expect, your right brain controls the functions that are left such as your ability to grasp the concepts of more and less, but not the mathematical concepts of them. Processing the visual shape of things, understanding emotional nuances, and understanding ambiguity come from the right side of the brain.

Scientists understand that as children grow, the right side of the brain is dominant until around the age of three, as theses are the skills children need to learn to function as adults. As they get older, it becomes important to know which side of a child’s brain is more dominant, to know how they learn. A child who is left-brain dominant will learn easier when being taught with visual aids and a right brain child will learn easier with auditory aids.

What Happens If the Cerebral Hemispheres Are Damaged?

Cerebral Hemisphere

Despite the hardness of our skulls, brain damage is a relatively common occurrence particularly for people who engage in high risk activities. Of course, the extent of the injury or damage is what determines how quickly, and how well, a person will recover.

Right Hemisphere Brain Damage

Symptoms of right hemisphere brain damage can include:

    • Inability to focus attention on a specific task, object, or verbal communication.
  • Left-side neglect. This term is used to describe the inability to acknowledge the left-side of the body, objects, or people. They may not be able to read the left-hand side of a page or shave the left side of their face.
  • Inability to reason or solve problems. They may not understand that there is a problem or that that there is a way to fix it.
  • Memory problems. People with right hemisphere brain damage may not be able to learn information or recall previously learned information.
  • Lack of social skills. Non-verbal cues may not be understood, and they may make inappropriate comments or not understand jokes.
  • Disorganized behavior and/or communication. This will take the form of forgetting to answer emails or losing information. The person won’t be able to give accurate directions or explain processes.
  • Lack of insight. Often people with right brain damage are not aware that they are experiencing problems. This can sometimes make the condition difficult to treat.
  • Orientation problems. The person may not be able to recall important factual information such as names or dates and they may not know where they are.
  • Limited movement. They may struggle to move their limbs properly, particularly on the left side of the body.

Treatment for Right Hemisphere Damage

Speech language therapy can be helpful for people suffering from right hemisphere damage and the first task is often to help the patient understand that they are experiencing problems. Visual aids are used to keep patients on task and you may need to repeat instructions several times.

It’s important that a person with right hemisphere damage doesn’t become overwhelmed by too much stimuli, so a quiet room is needed to give instructions. Tasks need to be broken down into small, manageable steps and the person giving them should stand at the patient’s right side.

Left Hemisphere Brain Damage

Symptoms of left hemisphere brain damage can include:

    • Paralysis or weakness down the right side of the body.
    • Right-side neglect. This term is used to describe the inability to acknowledge the right-side of the body, objects, or people.
    • Speech and language problems. The person may appear confused.
    • Problems with daily activities that are well-established parts of your routine.
    • Lack of analytic skills. The person may struggle to problem-solve. They may also seem confused between left and right.
    • Inability to remember a sequence of instructions, dates or times.
    • Performing tasks slowly or taking longer to process thoughts and speech.
  • Emotional instability. The person may experience rapid mood swings or become overwhelmed emotionally.

Treatment for Left Hemisphere Brain Damage

Treatment is like right hemisphere brain damage and is focused on the individual symptoms. Physical and speech language therapy are options and support with problem-solving and physical tasks may be needed. The patient may also need to be treated for depression.

How Does a Stroke Damage the Cerebral Hemispheres?

Man experiencing heart attack

Strokes can be caused in one of two ways.

An Ischemic stroke is when clots form in the blood vessels of the brain, or in the blood vessels traveling to the brain. This is the most common cause of stroke and can also occur when there are too many fatty deposits or cholesterol in the blood vessels.

A Hemorrhagic stoke is when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures or breaks. Blood then seeps into the brain tissue which causes damage to the brain cells. This type of stroke can be caused by high blood pressure or a brain aneurysm.

The symptoms for both types of stroke include paralysis, numbness, or weakness in the face and down one side of the body. Your vision can be impaired, and you may have difficulty speaking. You may also struggle to walk properly and may have problems maintaining your balance. Sometimes, you may experience sudden, strong and severe headaches.

It’s also important to note that sometimes a person who is having a stroke may appear to be drunk. If they are displaying drunken behavior but you can’t smell alcohol, there is a strong possibility they are having a stroke.

The key to successfully treating a stroke is a quick response.

Women are more susceptible to strokes than men and if you suspect you, or a loved one, may be having a stroke you should get help immediately.

If a stroke is treated within three days, the patient can often make a full recover and damage to the cerebral hemispheres can be reversed. Research into stem cell therapy continues to make progress and new treatments may be available soon.

10 of The Most Influential 20th Century Psychologists

As we merge ever more into society as we age, we are constantly learning new ideas and ideals such as ​assimilation psychology

In doing this, we experience things that either change or confirm our current state of mind.  This is why we are often drawn to people that have new perspectives or ideas that we can draw from. 

We Are All Just Trying to Make Sense of the World- It’s the Nature of the Beast


babysleeping

Think about a newborn baby. Babies are the cleanest slate possible When it comes to their psychology. They have not experienced anything thus far, so they are free to learn anything without any kind of interference from previous thought. 

Babies often bond with their mothers within the first weeks of life. At this point, they have learned that mothers are the most important people in the world. As they get older, they often separate from their mothers to form attachments with dad, siblings, or other caregivers. 

At this point, they learn that there are more people that can be trusted, also.

From these people that they grow to trust, they will learn other things by observing, such as how to hold silverware, proper manners, and toilet training.

Another phenomena of human psychology, especially assimilation psychology is that we are always trying to be like the people we are surrounded by. We tend to dress to fit in with our peers, we sometimes pick up similar musical tastes, and we might even pick up dialects and accents based on the people we work with or live near.

Why does this happen, though?

Why Question Mark Represents Confusion Questions And Aim; assimilation psychology

​Jean Piaget initially proposed the idea of ​assimilation psychology. Piaget claimed that assimilation is a part of human psychology that is particularly important during the formative years of childhood. This is how children learn to react to social queues and how certain aspects of the world work. 

How Does Assimilation Psychology Work?

Assimilation psychology, according to Piaget, is the easiest way that people adapt to new experiences. 

The reason assimilation is believed to be the easiest is because it requires very little adjustment. In this method of adaptation, we simply apply new knowledge to that which is already known. Because it has to fit with what is currently known, though, how we adapt is based entirely upon our current state of mind.

For example, let’s say that your co-worker has a son who seems well adjusted and kind. One day, though, you see the boy at a local park throwing rocks at a bird’s nest. 

To you, this behavior seems very out of character. Your co-worker has always bragged about their child’s sensitivity and and care and concern for animals and other people, but today he seems to be trying to harm animals. 

Assimilation psychology takes place in how we process this information.

If you already have doubts about your co-worker’s honesty, you might determine that they have overinflated the good merits of the child. If you trust your co-worker, you might determine that the child is simply having a bad day or has picked up a bad habit by observing another child. 

You might even work out that the child is still very kind and well-mannered, but simply has a mischievous aspect of his personality. In this case, you could find the behavior funny because it is so out of character that it is almost endearing. 

This is how adaptation works based on our previous knowledge or experiences. 

We take what we already know and add new information to the mix. It becomes a clue, rather than a whole new perspective. If we determine that the child is mean and that he is conning everyone including his mom, though, we are creating a completely new idea. This is a process known as accommodation.

Examples of Assimilation in Society

To further explore assimilation psychology, we need to look at a few more examples. They are as follows:

A baby tries lemons for the first time.

lemon

Imagine it’s a baby’s first birthday. They have previously tried all kinds of fruit- watermelon, strawberries, grapes, and bananas are their favorite. They have learned by trying these fruits that fruit is sweet and delicious. 

Then, Uncle Mike shows up at the party. Uncle Mike has no children and makes a habit of using his nieces and nephews for a chuckle. He decides to pull a lemon slice from the pitcher of lemonade and let baby have a try, knowing the sour flavor of the fruit will give them an adorable pucker. Naturally, the ploy is successful.

The baby has now learned that not all fruits are sweet. They might also have learned to never trust food from Uncle Mike.

A child meets an angry dog.

Angry dog

Now imagine a little girl named Sophie. She has always been around dogs. Her parents have two large German Shepherds who do very well with her. Her grandpa has a Chihuahua who is also very mellow and child- friendly and Aunt Ellen has a cocker spaniel. 

She’s learned from her exposure to these dogs that sometimes dogs bark a lot and sometimes they don’t bark at all. She’s also learned that they can come in a variety of sizes, colors, shapes, and coat lengths.

One day, Sophie is playing outside when a man walks his dog past. The dog begins snarling and growling and attacks the fence. He is very scary.

Sophie has now learned that some dogs are not friendly. 

A woman discovers a country music CD in her rocker husband’s car.

disc

This is a tricky one. One day, Karen gets into her husband’s car because hers is not running properly. As she pulls out of the driveway, she decides to turn on the radio and is instantly met with the sound of country music.

She checks the radio station, but discovers that she is actually listening to a CD. She is somewhat baffled. She has always known her husband to enjoy heavy metal and rock music. In fact, she met him in a mosh pit. It is out of his usual character to enjoy country music. 

This can go one of two ways, depending on the history of the marital couple. If her husband has previously been unfaithful, she might immediately assume that he has been driving around a secret partner in his car. 

If they have never encountered any issues before, she will probably just assume that he has learned to like a new kind of music or that he has always been a secret country music fan.

​These Are Both Examples of Assimilation Psychology

Assimilation

Everyday Assimilation Psychology

Piaget described processes where we learn and grow, adapting to our environment, socially and physically. He names these processes assimilation. In this process, the experience is brought in from the outside into the inside without interrupting our pre-existing ideas. This works especially well when the new item is an additional item of something we are familiar with. The process can be useful but sometimes it results in squeezing reality to fit.

The internal world has to change in response to new factors that are introduced.  This can be harder, especially in adults because it may mean changing something vital about something someone has always taken for granted. An example of this is the belief in the sanctity of marriage and moving toward divorce. The term for this is cognitive dissonance. He stated that it is not doable to hold two incompatible ideas in your head at the same time. A great way we see this carried out in real life is by having a firm belief that it is wicked to kill, yet being forced to become a soldier.

Assimilating the Internet

For anyone below midlife age, the use of the World Wide Web as the definition for all things both essential and trivial is taken for granted. The interwebs sit waiting for us to consult its seemingly-endless, virtual pages on all things from lists. to serious help to understand anything history to science. Social media allows us to connect with our family and what we now call “friends” and buying sites allow the whole world purchasing to be closer to us than our nearest mall.

For those over middle age, we have had to assimilate the internet into our lives as a tool for everyday activities: research, social interaction, and shopping.  Before it existed, we had to ask encyclopedias, annual collections of trivia, and the television for information to study. For reaching out to friends and family, we would use the house phone or wrote a letter. Shopping was done in person, always.  There will be very few people who will regret the passing of snail mail) or the limited options of strip mall shopping. The introduction of the internet has been one assimilation that has been easy and enjoyable.

This is an illustration of assimilation because though while the way we use the internet to carry out these parts of our lives, the basic concepts of studying, interacting, and shopping have not changed.

Final Thoughts on Assimilation Psychology

Understanding assimilation psychology is vital in realizing why we do the things we do as a culture. Assimilation is the reason for so much of the everyday pushback we naturally have to changes.