Introduction

The surface area of the human occipital lobe encompasses approximately 12% of the total surface area of the neocortex of the human brain. Its primary role is to provide the sense of vision. Vision begins with the spatial, temporal, and chromatic pattern of light falling onto photoreceptors of the retina and culminates in the perception of the properties of the objects and surfaces within the world around us. Fundamentally, then, vision is the ability to infer the attributes of objects in the visual scene from an analysis of the light patterns imaged in the eyes. The occipital lobe contains the bulk of the neural "machinery" responsible for this. However, visual perception can be affected by the context of previous experience as well as by current goals and expectations. To permit these more cognitive functions, the occipital lobe is heavily interconnected with other lobes of the brain, especially the parietal and temporal lobes, as well as with an array of subcortical structures. Through these connections, the results of visual processing in the occipital lobe enter into and can be influenced by more general processes involved in goal-directed, motivated behavior and "thinking." With these considerations in mind, the following discussion begins by describing the structure and function of the occipital lobe as a separate entity but ends with a consideration of its potential role in more cognitive functions whose neural basis may include other brain regions.

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