Sensory Cortex: Definition & Function

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  • 0:00 What Is the Sensory Cortex?
  • 1:15 Primary Sensory Cortex
  • 2:00 Secondary Sensory Cortex
  • 2:29 Multimodal Association Cortex
  • 3:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Alyson Froehlich

Ali teaches college courses in Psychology, a course on how to teach in higher education, and has a doctorate degree in Cognitive Neuroscience.

Expert Contributor
Ana Benito Gonzalez

Ana has a PhD in Biology. She has taught college classes at leading U.S. universities, also works as a Biology tutor. She has published several scientific journals.

So, you understand the dog you see in front of you is an image your brain has constructed. Light hits your eyes and after a lot of processing, your brain comes up with an image. But, what happens in between? Find out how the sensory cortex does it.

What Is the Sensory Cortex?

The sensory cortex includes portions of the cerebral cortex, that wrinkly outer layer of the brain that process and make sense out of information gathered by our five senses: vision, audition (sound), olfaction (smell), gustation (taste), and somatosensation (touch). When our sensory organs, such as our eyes and our tongues, come into contact with sensory stimulation, such as light waves and food molecules, our sensory receptors translate that stimulation into neural signals.

The primary sensory cortex is the first stop for those sensory neural signals. Each sense has its own area of primary sensory cortex. So, neural signals coming from our eyes, carrying information about vision, travel to the primary visual cortex. Neural signals coming from our ears travel to the primary auditory cortex.

From the primary sensory cortex, sensory information is then sent to the secondary sensory cortex for further processing. And finally, sensory information from the secondary sensory cortex is passed on to the multimodal association cortex, where information from different sensory organs and other areas of the brain is combined into, well, that dog sitting in front of you.

Primary Sensory Cortex

Let's go back to primary sensory cortex. Figure 1 shows where each sense's primary cortex is located. Please note the areas with dashed borders are normally hidden from view.

Figure 1

The primary sensory cortex is where the brain first begins to process sensory information. For the primary visual cortex, this is where the brain begins to identify lines and edges, contours, and the movement of boundaries. The primary auditory cortex is where the brain identifies the most basic elements of sound, such as frequency or pitch. Because the primary sensory cortex is the first step in which the brain begins to process sensory information, the resulting output of these areas consists of the very basic building blocks of the whole objects or experiences that our brains are trying to identify.

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Additional Activities

Sensory Cortex Activity

The sensory cortex is in charge of processing all the sensory information we receive throughout the day. We have learned in the lesson that there are several areas in the cortex in charge of processing the information coming from each one of our sensory organs. There are also several levels of processing the sensory information we receive (primary, secondary, and multimodal association cortex). For the following activity you will pretend to be a doctor. You will try to determine what area of the brain is being likely damaged based on the symptoms presented to you.

Scenario

A patient arrives to your office after being involved in a car crash. He doesn't have any obvious injuries but he was sent to your office because he has trouble walking and controlling his arms. After you begin your examination, you notice that he is unable talk properly and his judgement is severely impaired. Without any further testing, would you hypothesize that the damage is affecting the primary, secondary, or multimodal association cortex? Why?


Answer:

Given the information you have, without any further testing, it is likely that the patient suffers from damage to the multimodal association cortex. The multimodal association cortex is responsible for processing different types of sensory information. Since there are several functions that seem to be affected, the damage is probably affecting an associated area. Given the symptoms it is likely that the anterior association cortex is damaged. Remember, the anterior association cortex is involved in motor planning (hence the trouble walking), judgement, and language production (hence the trouble speaking).

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