Cognitive neuroscience: history and methods of study
The enormous technological advances that have been made in the last half century have allowed the development of fields of study that previously did not exist as such. In this article we will review the definition, objectives, history and methods of study of cognitive neuroscience , result of the integration of many sciences that study the brain.
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What is cognitive neuroscience?
Cognitive neuroscience has as main objective the understanding of the human mind; In particular, this discipline aims to identify the relationship between cognitive phenomena (as well as their observable manifestations) and the brain structures in which they are based. In other words, this science looks for the biological basis of cognition .
For this the students of the cognitive neuroscience use an interdisciplinary approach that combines the analysis of images of the brain, neurophysiology, mathematics, behavioral genetics, computer science, psychiatry, psychometrics and experimental psychology, as well as any other paradigm. scientific that may be useful.
The field of study of this discipline it overlaps to a large extent with that of cognitive psychology . The development of advanced methods to study the brain has favored the approach between this branch of psychology and other sciences interested in the anatomy and functions of the nervous system, such as psychiatry, making it difficult to distinguish between them.
What cognitive processes do you study?
Among the processes and aspects of human experience that are framed in the area of interest of cognitive neuroscience we find learning, language, intelligence, creativity, awareness, attention, memory , emotion, decision making, empathy, social cognition, perception of one's body or the sleep-wake cycle.
A particularly relevant aspect for cognitive neuroscience is the analysis of the cognitive deficits present in people with brain injuries and alterations, since the relationship between neurological damage and cognitive and behavioral disorders Consequently, it allows us to infer the functions that depend on the affected regions.
On the other hand, the cognitive neuroscience of the development is a subdiscipline that deals with analyzing the changes that take place in the brain, and consequently in the cognitive functions and in the corresponding conducts, throughout all the life, from the gestation until the aging.
History of this discipline
If we analyze the history of science, we can find multiple antecedents of cognitive neuroscience. These include the phrenology of Franz Gall, which aimed at attributing each mental function to a different area of the brain, the localizationist theories of John Hughlings Jackson or the pioneering studies of Broca and Wernicke on brain injuries.
However, the consolidation of this paradigm as we know it today has been attributed mainly to the popularization of cognitive psychology and neuropsychology , closely linked to the development of neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance or positron emission tomography.
These methodological advances favored the integration of the contributions made by many disciplines with respect to the relationship between the brain and cognition. Thus, cognitive neuroscience emerged between the 1960s and 1980s as an interdisciplinary paradigm that allowed to study the human mind taking advantage of all available techniques.
George Miller and Michael Gazzaniga coined the term "cognitive neuroscience" in the late 70's. Until then the psychology of cognitive orientation and neuroscience had developed independently, with little work to unite the knowledge of both.
In recent decades the emphasis on brain localizationism that was typical of the beginnings of cognitive neuroscience has been overcome by the study of cognitive functions as what they really are: a set of very complex and widely distributed processes by the nervous system .
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Techniques and study methods
The methods of study of cognitive neuroscience vary as much as the branches of science from which this discipline is nurtured. At present, however, there is a particular interest in the use of neuroimaging techniques to study the anatomy and functions of the brain .
In this sense, functional magnetic resonance is particularly highlighted, which allows us to analyze neuronal activity through the changes that occur in the blood flow of different regions of the brain, or electroencephalography, consisting of the measurement of brain electrical activity through placement of electrodes on the scalp.
Psychophysics, which is defined as the study of the relationship between physical stimuli and the sensations they cause, was fundamental in the early analysis of cognitive processes such as forgetfulness or auditory perception. Currently some of its methods are used within the framework of cognitive neuroscience, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation.
In the near past, techniques that are based on recent advances in information technology, such as the experimental and exploratory use of computer models, artificial intelligence or virtual reality . On the other hand, cognitive and behavioral genomics are contributing very relevant data to cognitive neuroscience.
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