A sensory area is an area in the brain that is responsible for processing sensory information such as smell, taste, touch, vision, and sound. There are several sensory areas located in different regions of the brain, each corresponding to a specific type of sensory input. Damage to the brain, neurological disorders, and congenital conditions can all involve the sensory areas and cause sensory impairments that make it difficult or impossible for people to process information.
The parietal lobe hosts the primary gustatory area and the primary somatosensory cortex for processing taste and touch information. The motor cortex is located in close proximity to the somatosensory cortex, as the two cortices are naturally linked. When someone feels a burning sensation on the arm, for example, the motor cortex kicks in to move the arm away from the source of the pain. Sensations for both taste and touch are routed through the thalamus to these sensory areas.
Another sensory area can be found in the occipital lobe to process visual information. In the temporal lobe, the auditory cortex processes sound, and the olfactory bulb connects to provide sensory information from the nose. All of these sensory areas are capable of receiving sensory information, determining how important it is, and interpreting it, all at very rapid speeds. As people develop, their sensory areas became more capable of fine distinctions. For example, the auditory lobe learns to filter out extraneous sound to allow for clear processing of speech as this sensory area is exposed to the sound of human speech.
When a sensory area is damaged, sensory impairments can occur. The brain may process sensory information accurately or not at all, or it can have difficulty processing information. One example that can occur is in the auditory cortex with auditory processing disorder. This disorder interferes with the way that people process sound. Although the physical hearing is fine, the person may not be able to comprehend spoken speech, or may have trouble processing directions, orders, and other types of communication.
Neurologists are continuously learning new things about the brain. While the sensory areas have been mapped out, research is still being conducted to learn more about the function of each sensory area and what is involved in the processing of sensory information. Researchers are especially interested in what happens when sensory processing goes wrong, with the goal of learning more about how to treat sensory impairments and how to address degenerative neurological diseases.