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Somatosensory Cortex: Definition, Location & Function

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb
This lesson is about the somatosensory cortex and it will cover what the somatosensory cortex is, where it is located in the brain, and what functions it serves within the body.

What is the Somatosensory Cortex?

Have you ever wondered if you feel things the same way other people do? How do you know 'red' is really the same red to everyone? Maybe the person next to you sees green as red… These thought-provoking questions can't be answered precisely with science, but we can learn more about how external stimuli, like colors, are processed in the brain. This is where the somatosensory cortex comes in. This part of the brain processes sensations, or external stimuli, from our environment. Before we learn more about the somatosensory cortex, we need to learn a little bit about brain anatomy and where the somatosensory cortex is located.

Location

The brain is the control center of the whole body. It is made up of a right and left side, or lobes, which are connected in the middle by the corpus colossum. Each lobe is devoted to a different function. The outer layer of the brain is called the cerebral cortex. Think of it like the skin on a fruit, the skin is the cerebral cortex, and the fruit is the white insides of the apple. The cerebral cortex helps with processing and higher order thinking skills, like reasoning, language, and interpreting the environment. This image shows a cross section of the brain, with the cerebral cortex shown as the dark outline.

A cross section of the brain showing the outer layer, the cerebral cortex
cross section of the brain

The somatosensory cortex is a part of the cerebral cortex and is located in the middle of the brain. This image shows the somatosensory cortex, highlighted in red in the brain.

The somatosensory cortex is highlighted in red in the brain
somatosensory cortex

Function

The somatosensory cortex receives all sensory input from the body. Cells that are part of the brain or nerves that extend into the body are called neurons. Neurons that sense feelings in our skin, pain, visual, or auditory stimuli, all send their information to the somatosensory cortex for processing. The following diagram shows how sensations in the skin are sent through neurons to the brain for processing.

The skin transmits signals through other neurons to the brain
sensory to brain pathway

Each neuron takes its information to a specific place in the somatosensory cortex. Next, that part of the somatosensory cortex gets to work on figuring out what the information means. Think of it like scientists sending data to a data analyst. Each scientist, like the neuron, gathers information and sends it to a master analyzer or the somatosensory cortex.

Some neurons are very important and a big chunk of the somatosensory cortex is devoted to understanding their information. The senior scientist sends the most important information to our analyst, and he spends a lot of time understanding it. However, our junior scientists or volunteers gather less important information, so our analyst, or somatosensory cortex, spends less time on that data.

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