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Physiological functions

The physiological functions of the brain are located in different areas and structures and are interconnected. Depending on the function required, these structures are enabled or disabled. This chapter describes some physiological functions of the brain, such as somatosensory, sensorimotor, and language.


Somatosensory cortex → Located in the cerebrum and used for haptic sensation, i.e. feeling and sensing one's own body and the environment.

Physiological functions → Processes that form the basis of life, such as perception and reaction processes (sensory, language), or regulation processes such as blood pressure.

Somatosensory system → Includes various perception systems such as the sense of pain, the sense of touch or the sense of temperature.

Sensorimotor system → Describes the interaction of a perception and a subsequent motor response.

Pyramidal tract → A structure in the brain that connects the motor cortex with the spinal cord and transmits motor reactions to the corresponding muscles.

Prosody → The totality of all special features of spoken language that go beyond the mere wording, including word and sentence accent, pitch, speech rate and rhythm.

Wernicke's area → The sensory speech region that is essential for understanding speech.

Broca's area → The motor speech area that activates the areas in the motor cortex for the mouth and tongue during speech.

Perceptual/response pattern → Recognisable regularity in a system of stimuli and responses. In learning, for example, a certain stimulus always triggers a reaction in the same way.


The brain network describes the structures of the brain and the principles by which it is organized, but not how physiological processes such as sensation, touch, taste occur. Different brain functions are located in different areas and structures and are interconnected. Depending on the function required, these structures are enabled or disabled. For example, the frontal lobe is responsible for personality and social behavior, and the temporal lobe for language and memory. Some physiological functions of the brain are given below.

Somatosensory functions

The somatosensory cortex is located in the cerebral cortex and is used for haptic sensation, that is, to feel and perceive one's own body and the environment. The somatosensory system includes various perception systems, such as the sense of pain, the sense of touch, or the sense of temperature. This information allows us to experience, sense, or sense ourselves and our environment.

Sensory cells in the cerebral cortex responsible for different parts of the body are arranged next to each other. Projected on the surface, they resemble a small human being, whose proportions of body parts are, however, strongly distorted (homunculus). What is interesting is, on the one hand, the spatial arrangement, but also the size of the different areas. The legs and arms are arranged in the upper area, the face in the middle area, and the lips, tongue and facial muscles in the lower area. Particularly striking is the size of the hands, head and lips, which have a particularly large number of sensory cells, therefore they are particularly sensitive and therefore particularly important for feeling and living.

The homunculus (according to Wilder Penfield)

Sensory-motor functions

Many processes in the brain, especially sensory-motor processes, follow a pattern of perception and reaction. Sensorimotor describes the interaction between a perception and a subsequent motor response. Environmental stimuli are transmitted through receptors to the nervous system and thus to the brain. There, information is processed, but at the same time it is evaluated for meaning and appropriate reaction patterns are programmed. Depending on the assessment, the reaction to the same stimulus can turn out to be very different. The motor response is then transmitted from the motor cortex via the pyramidal tract and spinal cord to the appropriate muscles. Many of these processes occur simultaneously and automatically without our being aware of them. They also play a central role in many everyday actions, such as walking or grasping, but of course also in sports. Because of the complexity of these reaction patterns, we speak here of motor behavior. For the development of the sensory-motor system, there are certain time frames in which specific skills can be learned very well. Therefore, this fact is of decisive importance for the development of children. If these time slots are missed, it is relatively difficult and time-consuming to recover later.


Areas of understanding and production of speech are located in and below the cerebral cortex. In the 19th century, two centers were already identified as "speech centers": Wernicke's area in the left temporal lobe, as a center for understanding speech, and Broca's area as a center for speech production. Today we know that both centers work in a much more multifunctional way and that the right hemisphere of the brain is also involved in language processes. This is true, for example, when it comes to functional features of language such as intonation and stress. Currently, there are even indications that the thalamus is also involved in the recognition of sentence structures.

The processing of language impulses begins in the inner ear. Similar to the retina in the eye, the organ of the cochlea has the function of preselection of sounds. This means that high frequencies are allocated to other areas of the brain than low frequencies. This also allows it to distinguish human speech from other sounds.

In further language processing, the "form before content" principle is applied: in the first 200 milliseconds, the grammatical structure (verbal or nominal groupings, prepositions, etc.) is analyzed, and only after 400 milliseconds is the semantics analyzed. The fusion and understanding of linguistic data thus takes a phase of 600 milliseconds. Children in the process of language acquisition need almost twice as much time as adults to analyze grammatical structures. However, they recognize sentence-level grammatical features (noun groups, verb groups, verbal parentheses, etc.) even before the end of the first year of life. Children can also use the rhythmic and phonetic elements of language communicatively before producing their first words. In all developmental processes, there are periods of time that are particularly favorable for certain stages of development.

While articulation difficulties and vocabulary weaknesses "disappear" during development or through appropriate practice offerings, children with grammatical and prosodic deficits certainly need professional help.

What does this mean for my teaching practice?

If children have sensory-motor or language impairments, it is important to recognize and support them as early as possible. It becomes increasingly difficult and expensive to recover this at a later stage.


Reflection question

Could differences in performance between children also be due to different speeds of development?


1) In the homunculus in the cerebral cortex, the sensory cells for the different areas of the body are

A) strongly distorted
B) evenly arranged
C) 100 trillion

2) The learning of sensory-motor skills is subject to

A) no specific time pattern
B) relatively fixed time windows


1️⃣ → A) strongly distorted
2️⃣ → B) relatively fixed time windows

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