The temporal lobe is a part of the brain located under the temples and below the lateral fissure. On its own, the right side of the temporal lobe deals with visual memory (such as identifying and recognizing a face) whereas the left lobe handles verbal memory and comprehension (such as understanding a word, and applying meaning to it). In addition, parts of the temporal lobe handle balance and equilibrium.

In addition to the intrinsic functions of the temporal lobe as a whole, it also houses other systems intricate to the proper functioning of the human body, including the olfactory cortex (which handles the sense of smell), the amygdala (which handles sensory input which triggers fear or danger), the hippocampus (which handles the storage of new long-term memories), the primary auditory cortex (which processes sound), and much of the limbic system which controls the heart, blood vessels and the gastro-intestinal systems.

The temporal lobes are located slightly above the ears. They are involved in the reception and interpretation of auditory stimuli.

The primary auditory cortex is the site in the cortex where hearing registers. The primary auditory cortex in each temporal lobe receives sound inputs from both ears. Injury to one of these areas results in reduced hearing in both ears, and the destruction of both areas causes total deafness.

Adjacent to the primary auditory cortex in the left temporal lobe is Wernicke’s area. This is the languagearea involved comprehending the spoken word and in formulating coherent written and spoken language. It is usually in the left hemisphere.

When you listen to someone speak, the sound registers first in the primary auditory cortex. From there the sound is sent to the Wernicke’s area. This is where the sound is unscrambled into meaningful patterns of words.

The same areas that are active when you listen to someone speak are also active in deaf people when they watch a person using sign language. This area is also involved when you choose the words to use in speech and written expression.

Wernicke’s aphasia is a type of aphasia resulting from damage to Wernicke’s area. Although speech is fluent and words are clearly articulated, the actual message does not make sense to others. The content may be vague, or bizarre and may contain inappropriate words, parts of words, or gibberish of nonexistent words. People with this condition are not aware that there is anything wrong with their speech.

Another kind of aphasia is auditory aphasia, which is word deafness. It can occur if there is damage to the nerves connecting the primary auditory cortex with Wernicke’s area. The person is able to hear normally but may not understand spoken language, and perceive the sounds but have no idea what the speaker is saying. They hear it as a foreign language.

The remainder of the temporal lobes consist of the association areas that house memories and are involved in the interpretation of auditory stimuli.

See also:

That part of the brain controlling storage of, and access to, memory

Moments of forgetfulness
were once matter for laughter,
a philosophical shrug, an
angler’s tale of a
flashing silver side
that slipped
off the hook of memory.

Mary and I could sit alongside
the stream of conversation,
enjoying it like the sun and soft-afternoon air,
content to let the current carry
a word away.
Another would soon be by.

Now, I cast and cast.
I struggle to hook and haul
each wriggling, reluctant idea,
knock it on the head
and mount it where I
can see it.

Some are gone already:
Mary speaks of prince nymphs
tied together on a table in Turangi;
of a campfire trout on the Tongario’s banks;
and I smile, as if at reflection
but glimpse only rippled surface:
memory sunk beneath.

And I cast against the approaching day
I come to the river
without bait,
or sit in a garden, rod in hand,
wondering why
there is no water.

Part of the Anatomy project

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