What Is Cognitive Neuroscience?

By: April Carson


Neuroscience is a multi-disciplinary area that studies brain structure and function. An example of this would be Cognitive Neurosciences, which offers an interdisciplinary view on the relations between brain structure/function and cognitive processing; it provides hope for solving philosophical problems in the future.


Cognitive neuroscience is the field of study focusing on understanding mental processes through observing and analyzing brain activity. It overlaps with other related fields like psychology, physiology, neuropsychology etc. It is a very promising study area because it can help in understanding the complex interactions between physical, chemical and biological processes. The aim of this field is to solve complex mental problems by finding the neurological source. Cognitive neuroscience relies on the theories of cognitive psychology to understand how learning occurs and what processes it follows. The fundamental principle behind cognitive neuroscience is that behavior is a direct reflection of brain activity or as it is more technically referred to, "Mind-brain identity theory" (Chomsky, 1975). There is a remarkable similarity between the processes of cognition and brain activity. Cognitive neuroscience uses this analogy to decipher mental functions through testing on patients with brain injuries or impaired brain function.


It is a branch of both psychology and neuroscience that deals with all aspects of the mind, such as consciousness, thought, perception, emotion and personality. It attempts to use neuroscientific information, primarily using the methods of cognitive psychology. Cognitive neuroscience is an interdisciplinary field: it includes neuroscientists, psychologists and researchers from other disciplines including cognitive science and computational neuroscience. It seeks to understand how cognitive activities are affected or controlled by neural circuitry in the brain; and it has major applications in brain functioning.


Cognitive neuroscience has been taken as a model for the investigation of many other domains. Cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists use brain imaging tools like MRI and PET to study how living brains work, ultimately linking human behavior with its neural mechanisms. By using these techniques, researchers are able to study the neural systems that work together during specific psychological processes. Cognitive neuroscientists look at a range of domains including perception, attention, memory and language. They also investigate how information is integrated and transformed from one type of representation to another such as from acoustic signals into meaningful speech or written words. Cognitive neuroscientists investigate the neural basis of human psychological processes by combining behavioral, computational and brain imaging techniques. They study information processing in humans using a range of different methods including single-unit recording and functional neuroimaging to study how attention is directed towards external stimuli or how mental representations are manipulated.


Cognitive neuroscience is divided into several subfields:


These divisions are not mutually exclusive and there is a great deal of overlap between neighboring subfields. One way to define cognitive neuroscience would be to say that it applies in the same way as neurophysiology does to all other areas of psychology. As one author states, "it is neither possible nor desirable for cognitive neuroscientists to study the mind in isolation from brain function.


Cognitive neuroscience has practical as well as theoretical relevance. Understanding how the brain works is necessary not only to appreciate how we behave, but also what goes wrong with our mental functions or abilities when we become ill. Cognitive neuroscientists study cognition by designing experiments that investigate the workings of the normal healthy brain. In this way they attempt to determine the causes and treatments of cognitive deficits in a medical context.


Cognitive neuroscientists may also be interested in a social context. In this case, rather than trying to understand the functional organization of the brain, they might ask how other people's brains work during different tasks and interactions.


Neuroscience is both an experimental and a clinical field. While cognitive neuroscientists typically investigate how non-invasive brain stimulation affects behavioral performance, clinical neuroscience seeks to understand how damage to the brain impacts cognitive abilities.


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