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Hello Brain • Brain Health
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Your three brains

Your three brains

Your brain is structured a little like a Russian doll: the wrinkly surface of the outer layer is the cerebral cortex that makes up the forebrain. This outer blanket of tissue -  which you use to process information for ‘higher-level’ functions like reading, writing, talking, learning, thinking and making decisions – wraps around deeper structures that are important for more ‘primal’ or basic functions.

In fact, some scientists think you have three brains inside your head. The outer cortex is the most recent addition in evolution – a newcomer, it has been around for only about 2-3 million years.

An older part lies inside, the ‘limbic brain’, which has been around for about 150 million years. This part of your brain is important for memory, emotions, mood and reward.

The innermost structure – and the oldest in evolutionary terms – is the ancient ‘reptilian brain’ that appeared first in fish around 500 million years ago and reached its most advanced stage in reptiles around 250 million years ago. Of course you are not a reptile, but you do still have to keep your body running smoothly, and this is the part of your brain that does it: in the brain stem, the ‘stalk’ that connects your brain to your spinal cord, there are brain parts that regulate the functions that you don’t have to consciously think about – such as breathing, digesting your food and keeping your heart beating at the appropriate rate.

This ‘reptilian’ brain is also concerned with movement, and a structure called the cerebellum at the back of your head receives input from your eyes and ears and helps to co-ordinate how you move. Next time you get onto the dance floor and groove to a beat, say thanks to your cerebellum for getting the timing right! Illustration: Brain basics

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