Three Types of Processing Centers

Numerous centers process, organize, and regulate this constant flow of electrical communication within the brain. There are three basic types: local centers, which process only isolated fragments of information; regional centers, which put together these isolated local fragments from a given sensory modality; and integrative centers, which process increasingly large batches of information drawn from multiple centers.

Local centers, mostly in the posterior (rear) third of the brain, process only very specific types of information, for example, perceptions taken in from one particular sense: vision, hearing, smell, taste, or touch. Stimuli picked up by eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin are carried rapidly to the appropriate center at the back of the brain, creating a flow of fragmented images of what is seen, heard, smelled, touched, and so on in the outside world. These perceptual fragments might be compared to the fractured segments of a Picasso cubist painting, unrecognizable in isolation.

Regional centers pull together these information fragments to form more integrated and complex informational maps. For example, the visual cortex receives from the retina of each eye fragmentary images of objects and settings perceived by the eyes. These stimuli are then assembled by the visual association cortex into a more coherent and recognizable picture of what is being looked at, moment by moment.

Pulling together the steady flow of data from these specific association centers are numerous other centers that integrate. These integrative areas instantaneously assemble data from vision, smell, hearing, and so forth to create up-to-the-moment multimodality updates about our experience with the external world. Unlike the sensory modules in the back of the brain, these association centers are not isolated and encapsulated units; they are linked in many ways to allow for the rapid, progressive flow of information from one network to another.

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