The human brain regulates and controls practically all human activity, including the conscious cognitive mind. From as much as is known about brain function, there does not appear to be any localized center of conscious control. The mind apparently derives consciousness from interactions between various systems within the brain. The human brain is comprised of three main parts (forebrain, midbrain and hindbrain) and numerous sub-parts, including the temporal lobes.
The temporal lobes lie at the sides of the brain separated by the lateral or Sylvian fissure, the deepest and most prominent of the cortical fissures. The human brain resembles a boxing glove when seen in profile, and the temporal lobes are where the thumbs would be.
The temporal lobe processes auditory inputs and is primarily involved in speech and vision semantics. The temporal lobe is therefore involved in:
- Hearing and auditory memories.
- Speech learning.
- Vision pathways.
- Memory in general.
- Some behaviors, emotions and sense of identity.
The temporal lobe also contains the hippocampus. The hippocampus is located in the medial temporal lobe and is part of the forebrain. It derives its name from the Greek word that means ‘horse shaped sea monster’ as it reminded early anatomists of a seahorse. Humans and other mammals have two hippocampi, one on each side of the brain. It is a part of the limbic system that is responsible for short-term memory and navigational abilities.
There is a general agreement among psychologists and neuroscientists that the hippocampus is primarily responsible for the formation of new memories associated with experiences. Short attention spans that we usually see in children are thus due to the fact that the hippocampus has not yet fully developed. Similarly, short adult attention spans also may be due to some factors that affect hippocampus functioning. One possible factor is advanced age.
The role of temporal lobes, especially the hippocampus, in memory functions is evident from studies of brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Damage to hippocampus is the first sign that is observed in Alzheimer’s disease, which is characterized by memory problems and disorientation.