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Chapter 2 Summary, Neuroscience and Behavior

Neural Communication
The bodys circuitry, the nervous system, consists of billions of individual cells called
neurons. A neuron receives signals from other neurons through its branching dendrites
and cell body, combines these signals in the cell body, and transmits an electrical
impulse (the action potential) down its axon. When these signals reach the end of the
axon, they stimulate the release of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters.
These molecules pass on their excitatory or inhibitory messages as they traverse the
synaptic gap between neurons and combine with receptor sites on neighboring neurons.
Researchers are studying neurotransmitters to discern their role in behavior and
emotion. Some drugs (agonists) excite by mimicking particular neurotransmitters or
blocking their reuptake; others (antagonists) inhibit by blocking neurotransmiters.
The Nervous System
The central nervous systems neurons in the brain and spinal cord communicate with
the peripheral nervous systems sensory and motor neurons. The peripheral nervous
system has two main divisions. The somatic nervous system directs voluntary
movements and reflexes. The autonomic nervous system, through its sympathetic and
parasympathetic divisions, controls our involuntary muscles and glands. Like people
clustering into neighborhoods, neurons cluster into working networks.
The Brain
The Tools of Discovery
Clinical observations have long revealed the general effects of damage to various areas
of the brain. But CT and MRI scans now reveal brain structures, and EEG, PET, and
functional MRI recordings reveal brain activity. By surgically lesioning or electrically
stimulating specific brain areas, by recording the brains surface electrical activity, and
by displaying neural activity with computer-aided brain scans, neuroscientists explore
the connections among brain, mind, and behavior.
Lower-Level Brain Structures
The brainstem begins where the spinal cord swells to form the medulla, which controls
heartbeat and breathing. Within the brainstem, the reticular formation controls arousal.
Atop the brainstem is the thalamus, the brains sensory switchboard. The cerebellum,
attached to the rear of the brainstem, coordinates muscle movement.
Between the brainstem and cerebral cortex is the limbic system, which is linked to
memory, emotions, and drives. One of its neural centers, the amygdala, is involved in
responses of aggression and fear. Another, the hypothalamus, is involved in various

bodily maintenance functions, pleasurable rewards, and the control of the hormonal
system.
The Cerebral Cortex
Each hemisphere of the cerebral cortexthe neural fabric that covers the hemispheres
has four geographic areas: the frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal lobes. Small,
well-defined regions within these lobes control muscle movement and receive
information from the body senses. However, most of the cortexits association areas
is uncommitted to such functions and is therefore free to process other information.
Some brain regions serve specific functions (figure 2.30, page 94). The brain divides its
labor into specialized subtasks and then integrates the various outputs from its neural
networks. Thus, our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors result from the intricate
coordination of many brain areas. Language, for example, depends on a chain of events
in several brain regions. If one hemisphere is damaged early in life, the other will pick
up many of its functions, thus demonstrating the brains plasticity. The brain becomes
less plastic later in life. Frequently, however, nearby neurons can partially compensate
for damaged ones, as when a person recovers from a stroke or brain injury.
Our Divided Brains
Clinical observations long ago revealed that the left cerebral hemisphere is crucial for
language. Experiments on people with a severed corpus callosum have refined our
knowledge of each hemispheres special functions. Separately testing the two
hemispheres, researchers have confirmed that in most people the left hemisphere is the
more verbal, and that the right hemisphere excels in visual perception and the
recognition of emotion. Studies of healthy people with intact brains confirm that each
hemisphere makes unique contributions to the integrated functioning of the brain.
The Endocrine System
This chapter has focused on the bodys speedy electrochemical information system.
There is, however, another communication system. Hormones released by the
endocrine glands form the bodys slower information system.