What is Cognitive Neuroscience?

Mary McMahon

Cognitive neuroscience is an interdisciplinary study of human cognition. Researchers within the discipline look at the psychological, computational, and biological mechanisms which have an impact on human thought, or cognition. Numerous branches of science including cognitive psychology, neuroscience, psychobiology, psychophysics, and neurobiology are integrated into the study of cognitive neuroscience, which aims to understand how humans think and behave, and why.

Advances in brain imaging have helped physicians and researchers lean more about cognition.
Advances in brain imaging have helped physicians and researchers lean more about cognition.

In addition to incorporating research from numerous disciplines, cognitive neuroscience also uses a great deal of technology to study human cognition. Advanced brain imaging systems are used to gain a deeper knowledge of the division of labor within the brain, for example. The study of genetics also plays an important role, as scientists attempt to understand potential genetic links to behavior and through processes. In addition, scientists carry out controlled studies inside and outside of the lab to learn more about how people think.

Cognition allows humans to learn new skills, like playing a musical instrument or learning to read music.
Cognition allows humans to learn new skills, like playing a musical instrument or learning to read music.

Several major universities host sizable cognitive neuroscience departments, drawing faculty from a number of other departments. Students are able to engage in cutting edge research using excellent facilities, and the small community encourages publication and the sharing of information. Students come from a wide assortment of backgrounds, incorporating numerous interests into the discipline.

The roots of cognitive neuroscience can be found in several scientific disciplines, but the breakthrough research began to happen in the 1860s, when doctors recognized that different parts of the brain had different functions. This led to a desire to learn more about the “black box” of the brain, along with the nervous system in general. It is believed that human cognitive processes, such as attention, learning, memory, development, language, emotion, decision making, and problem solving, are all related to biological mechanisms.

The brain is a very poorly understood organ, although more information is being gathered about it all the time, thanks to the efforts of scientists in disciplines like cognitive neuroscience. Despite extensive study, the complexity of the brain means that humans may never fully understand the processes behind their behavior. However, findings from this field can help to illustrate why some people have trouble learning, or why others have difficulty demonstrating empathy.

Understanding the biological basis for human behavior through cognitive neuroscience means that doctors have the potential to help patients with behavioral conditions. It has already led to important developments in the treatment of depression and learning disorders, as well as a deeper general understanding of the human mind.

Cognitive neuroscience has led to developments in the treatment of depression.
Cognitive neuroscience has led to developments in the treatment of depression.

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Discussion Comments

dbuckley212

If babies are a "tabula rasa," and are made into who they are by their parents and surrounding factors, then cognitive neuroscience is not genetic. Evidence suggests, however, that it is at least partially genetic.

JavaGhoul

@BigBloom

I think that there are also clear environmental factors which come into play in cultural trends. Religions, for instance, are often based on natural phenomena such as the sun, the mountains, and natural disasters. Religions become the basis of a lot of cultural trends, so in a way, we could say that surrounding natural forces tend to shape a culture. I'm sure genetics comes into play in this also.

Leonidas226

@BigBloom

This is a very interesting question, and is also a very interdisciplinary study which would bring anthropologists, philosophers, psychologists, and scientists together, as well as many others. My belief is that cultural trends have to do with genetics, and also a lot more than what we can fully understand, including a possible "collective unconscious," or something like an internet of the mind. Sounds crazy, but I think with our limited understanding of how the mind works, we might discover something like this in the near future. Animals seem to have a subconscious way of communicating via instinct, and I think we humans do too.

BigBloom

Are societal behavior and cultural trends results of cognitive genetic trends or is there more to it than that?

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