Have you noticed the Parietal lobes tend to receive less attention than their flashy neighbour the Frontal lobes and other lobes of the brain?
Maybe it’s because they tend to be more on the touchy-feely side of life. That softer sensory side we don’t like to talk about. We tend to prefer those flashy intellectual functions other parts of the brain are better known for.
Or maybe it is because what they do is tricky to explain.
Or maybe they just sit up there on top of our heads, doing their job, forlorn and forgotten until something goes wrong.
Today we give the Parietal Lobes their day in the sun. An attempt at a simple rundown on what they do, and what happens when they are damaged.
Quick Parietal Lobe Anatomy Lesson
A couple of basics before I launch into the detail:
There are two Parietal lobes – a left and a right. They have some separate jobs but work closely together. They also work closely with the other lobes of our brain.
One lobe sits each side of our head – sitting up top. They perch above the temporal lobes, and behind the frontal lobe.
If you are looking at a real brain don’t expect to see a coloured section, or sign saying ‘Parietal Lobe’. The separation is more through landmarks – sort of like hills and valleys that distinguish one lobe from another.
What Our Parietal Lobes Do
Here I go simplifying a busy lobe: The Parietal lobes are responsible for two main functions –
- Sorting out sensory information. Collecting it, deciding what it means, and what to do about it.
- Working out our relationship to space. No I don’t mean the moon and planets – I mean where our own body is, and other objects around us are, – in our everyday spaces.
Our Parietal Lobe Function In More Detail
Hopefully this can make some sense of what the Parietal lobe does.
All help is welcome here. Please feel free to add, or disagree, in the Comments below.
Parietal lobe function includes:
Proprioception – Proprio-WHAT! A a simple definition (I hope) is that this is your own brain and body making sense of your position – without even looking. Your brain takes in messages from muscles, sensory organs, and other parts of your body to sort out where you are.
Think about what happens if you have your eyes closed while you sit, stand and lie down. You usually can tell the position of your body (and each part of your body) while you do that.
Visuo-spatial abilities – Visuo-WHAT ! Well it means sorting out what we see – with where it is in space. Where things are in relation to each other. You can find practical examples in Challenging Our Minds. You can find your way to your local store and back because you have a map in your mind of where to go. It helps you recognise a face by putting the features together – a bit like an inbuilt Identikit picture.
Somatosensory functions – Soma-WHAT ! How many of these terms can there be. This one is about sensory information that does not come from the ‘proper’ sensory organs (taste, smell etc). ‘Somatosensory’ information comes from all over the body– I am warm. I have pain. The Parietal lobe helps to gather information, decide what it means, and what action to take.
Disengaging Attention – it is thought the parietal lobes play a part in our ability to pay attention. They do this by actually turning off our attention to particular things when needed. I need to stop paying attention to my phone and pay attention to what my friend is saying.
Coordinate sensory functions – relating one sensory system to another. Linking sensory with motor systems. Information is received and combined with information from other systems to make it all work smoothly and correctly.
Understanding language – it is thought to be in a small bit of the Parietal lobe, close to the Temporal lobe. The Temporal lobe is the main man (person) when it comes to speech and language and the Parietal lobe follows along, helping out its neighbour.
Spirituality – there is also some research suggesting the Parietal lobes are part of the network responsible for spirituality. Described further in this article, as an area that promotes our selflessness Spirituality Spot Found in Brain. It has been observed that an area in the Parietal lobe appears to be particularly active when people are having strong spiritual experiences.
Are you finding it hard to understand the Parietal lobes?
Here is another view from Mark Kerrigan at Life With Head Injury. Mark gives a great introduction to the Parietal lobes along with examples of his own and others experience to help illustrate.
When the Parietal Lobe is Damaged
As in all things brain – the outcomes of damage to the Parietal lobe depends on the area damaged.
Damage to the Parietal lobe may include:
- Changes in the way senses are interpreted and felt. Not feeling pain when one should.
- Failure to recognize with one sense what has already been experienced by another. Not being able to recognize by sight a spoon moments after holding it blindfolded.
- Apraxia – difficulty making specific muscle movements. The muscles are in working order but won’t move. The brain is not able to plan and carry out the movement. My facial muscles might be working fine but I am not able to smile or make facial expressions.
- Changes in Attention – the article ”Lesions of the Parietal Association Cortex: Deficits of Attention” explains the variety of difficulties that can affect the ability to attend (or not) to what is needed.
- Inability to recognise people.
- Difficulty understanding numbers and doing mathematics.
- Getting lost, even around areas that were once very familiar.
- Confusing left and right.
- Difficulty with spatial skills – difficulty or inability to understand where your body or objects are in relation to each other. Seeing the footpath but not understanding how far it is when you put you foot down.
- Neglect – not recognising a part of your body as your own. At times it may be claiming a limb or part of their body does not belong. Dressing half of your body and leaving the other half.
- Difficulty controlling where you are looking.
For more technical stuff on what can go wrong when the Parietal lobes are damaged The Center for Neuro Skills article ‘Parietal Lobes’ has more information and also the article “The Parietal Lobes and Their Dysfunction from Life With Head Injury” provides examples of what can go wrong.
Ageing and Male vs Female: In Mapping the Mind by Rita Carter when talking about differences in the male and female ageing brain described men being more prone to losing cells in the frontal and temporal lobes while women more in the hippocampus and parietal lobes.
The outcome is that men may be more likely to become “irritable and other personality changes” as they age while woman may have “more difficulty remembering things and finding their way about as they age” (Rita Carter ‘Mapping the Mind’. 2004 pge 108)
Any resources, links, information you have about the Parietal lobes please share in the Comments.
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