The two temporal lobes of the brain are divisions of the cerebral cortex located on the lower side of each cerebral hemisphere. The right temporal lobe has many different functions that complement left temporal lobe functions, and new information is being discovered all the time. The major functions of the right temporal lobe are nonverbal memory, nonverbal aspects of communication, aspects of pitch and sound location and certain aspects of personality.
The temporal lobes contain structures important for memory. The right temporal lobe is specialized to process nonverbal memories such as memory for pictures, visual scenes, familiar faces, routes or directions and music, but may also contribute to verbal memory, which is a primary left temporal lobe function. The temporal lobes do not store all of these memories but instead encode new information and relay it to other systems of the brain to be stored. Thus, if the right temporal lobe is seriously damaged, the person may remember many previously learned scenes, pictures and music, but she will not be able to form new memories of these.
The right temporal lobe is important in prosody, or the rhythm of one’s speech. People with damage to the right temporal lobe often produce meaningful sentences, but they are choppy and uneven. The right temporal lobe is also important in decoding speech intonations, the changes in the tone of speech that give it different meanings in different contexts; decoding others’ facial expressions; and interpreting sequences of visual and verbal information. Thus, people with right temporal lobe damage often have difficulty picking up social cues, understanding facial expressions, following tunes and melodies, inhibiting comments that might be offensive to others and understanding aspects of nonverbal communication -- such as humor, expressed anger or sadness -- in others.
The auditory cortex, the portion of the brain that processes the sounds picked up by your ears, is located in the temporal lobes. The right auditory cortex processes most of the information from the left ear and vice versa; however, damage to the right auditory cortex does not result in a person being unable to process sounds from the left ear, because each ear sends information to both hemispheres. The right auditory cortex does process information about the direction from which sounds come based on their differences in pitch; it also processes how high or low the pitch of these sounds is. People with right temporal lobe damage often have difficulty locating the source of sounds or determining changes in pitch.
The right temporal lobe is also involved in aspects of personality. Research on individuals with severe right temporal lobe damage indicate these people are often egocentric or unable to consider the perspectives of other people. They can be long-winded and emphatic when speaking, have trouble moving from one topic to another and can stick to one topic to the point of being inappropriate. They may display aggression and paranoia and are often obsessed with strict religious or moral concerns.
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