Identify and analyze the brain areas implicated in learning that finally culminate in perception, memory, and language.  Provide a summary of the brain's executive process in the emergence of...

Identify and analyze the brain areas implicated in learning that finally culminate in perception, memory, and language.  Provide a summary of the brain's executive process in the emergence of language.  Include a short introduction/summary explaining how learning begins with sensory experience, then moves to brain functions, to finally culminating in memory and language.

Consider the process of learning a new taste, smell, etc.

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caledon | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Areas of the Brain

"Implicated" is a good term to use here, because the behavior of the brain is complex and diverse; just as we can't really say "process A takes place in region X, and only in X", neither can we say "this process takes place 50% here and 50% there". In short, we can identify regions of the brain that participate in a function, but it can be difficult to quantify or explain why it behaves as it does.

Perception begins with the nervous system; touch, sight, etc. all involve nerves being triggered. The different senses are all extremely complex, not thoroughly understood, and not necessarily linked; for example visual information is processed in the visual cortex, while scent is processed in the olfactory bulb, which is located in an entirely different region of the brain. Communication of the senses to other parts of the brain involves a variety of structures that are too complicated to get into here, but they do include some of the structures implicated in memory and language. This complex series of structures is generally referred to as the limbic system.

The amygdala, frontal lobe and the hippocampus are strongly implicated in memory. These structures are also strongly implicated in learning, decision making, emotions and a sort of "switchboard" function that regulates the flow of information in the brain. Language is strongly implicated in the superior temporal and inferior frontal gyri (singular: gyrus) which are basically distinct folds in the outer surface of the brain. It seems clear that, unlike the senses, language and memory are decentralized. More generalized regions like the cerebellum are indicated in both processes.

Summary

Suppose that a subject is learning a new language: they are introduced to the word "zwei" by seeing the word written in a book. The first step is perception; the brain perceives the visual information via stimulation of the optic nerves, and then communicates this information to the visual cortex.

However, without interaction with memory, the perceived information is limited as a language tool; the subject would only perceive letters with certain shapes, were they not to already know that the letter Z communicates a "zuh" sound, and so forth. It is entirely possible for someone to know that lines in the shape of the word "zwei" is pronounced a certain way, without ever knowing the individual sounds of the letters. Instead they have simply memorized the sound attached to the shape of the word. This also occurs in languages with no alphabet, such as Chinese, and is partially responsible for the difficulty of learning non-alphabetic languages when one's first language is alphabetic.

It is also difficult to say exactly how many regions of the brain will be implicated in a particular signal; for example, if the subject happened to have coincidentally named their dog "zwei", this would open up a whole separate avenue of mental processes that would complicate things even further.

Let's limit ourselves to the processing of the word "zwei" as a new word in the subject's mental lexicon. Currently the image is "stored" in the visual cortex. It will be communicated to a number of other regions that will recognize it as a part of language, and then convert it from an "active" image to a "stored" image, i.e. a long-term memory.

The limbic system is the strongest player in this process, and its complexity makes it very difficult to summarize easily. In short, the image in the visual cortex is transmitted to the limbic system, where it is distributed among a number of substructures which all have a part to play in processing that information. For example, the amygdala might imprint an emotional "accent" to the word. The occipital and temporal lobes are strongly involved in both recognizing the information as language-related, and in converting it from a short-term memory to a long-term one, but this most crucially takes place in the hippocampus, where the majority of both learning and memory construction appear to take place, particularly in the case of "book learning". 

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