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Neuropsychology

(neuropsychology)





Neuropsychology is a branch of psychology that aims tounderstand how the structure and function of the brain relates to specific psychologicalprocesses.

It is strongly scientific in its approach and shares an information processing view of the mind with cognitive psychology and cognitive science .

It is one of the most eclectic of the psychological disciplines, overlapping at times with areas such as neuroscience , philosophy (particularly philosophy of mind ), neurology , psychiatry and computer science (particularly by making use of artificial neural networks ).

In practice neuropsychologists tend to work in either academia (involved in pureresearch), clinical settings (involved in assessing or treating patients with neuropsychological problems - see clinical neuropsychology ), forensic settings (oftenassessing people for legal reasons or court cases or working with offenders) or industry (often as consultants whereneuropsychological knowledge is applied to product design).

Contents

Approaches

Experimental neuropsychology is an approach which uses methods from experimental psychology to uncover the relationship betweenthe nervous system and cognitive function. The majority of work involves studying healthy humans in a laboratory setting,although a minority of researchers may conduct animal experiments. Human work in this area often takes advantage of specificfeatures of our nervous system (for example that visual information presented to a specific visual field is preferentially processed by the cortical hemisphereon the opposite side) to make links between neuroanatomy and psychologicalfunction.

Animal work often involves vivisection and is particularly controversialboth from the moral angle (see animal rights ) and from the scientificangle, with some scientists skeptical of the claims that findings from animal neuropsychology can be extrapolated to humans whileothers claim such work is essential to understand neural systems and related medical problems.

Clinical neuropsychology is the application ofneuropsychological knowledge to the assessment (see neuropsychological test ), management and rehabilitation of people who have suffered illness or injury (particularly to thebrain) which has caused neurocognitive problems. In particular theybring a psychological viewpoint to treatment, to understand how such illness and injury may affect, and be affected bypsychological factors. Clinical neuropsychologists typically work in hospital settings in an interdisciplinary medical team,although private practice work is not unknown.

Cognitive neuropsychology is a relatively newdevelopment and has emerged as a distillation of the complimentary approaches of both experimental and clinical neuropsychology.It seeks to understand the mind and brain by studying people who have suffered brain injury or neurological illness. This isbased on the principle that if a specific cognitive problem can be found after an injury to a specific area of the brain, it islikely that this part of the brain is in some way involved. A more recent but related approach is cognitive neuropsychiatry which seeks to understand thenormal function of mind and brain by studying psychiatric or mentalillness .

Connectionism is the use of artificial neural networks to model specific cognitive processes using what are consideredto be simplified but plausible models of how neurons operate. Once trained to perform a specific cognitive task these networksare often damaged or 'lesioned' to simulate brain injury or impairment in an attempt to understand and compare the results to theeffects of brain injury in humans.

Functional neuroimaging uses specific brain imaging technologies to take readings from the brain, usually when a personis doing a particular task, in an attempt to understand how the activation of particular brain areas is related to the task.

In practice these approaches are not mutually exclusive and most neuropsychologists select the best approach or approaches forthe task to be completed.

Methods and tools

  • The use of standardised neuropsychologicaltests . These are often simple paper and pencil tasks but they have been designed and tested so the performance on the taskcan be linked to specific neurocognitive processes.
  • The use of 'brain scanners' or functionalneuroimaging to investigate the structure or function of the brain is common, either as simply a way of better assessingbrain injury with high resolution pictures, or by examining the relative activations of different brain areas. Such technologiesmay include fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), PET (Positron Emission Tomography) and CAT (Computed axial tomography),
  • The use of electrophysiological measures designed to measurethe activation of the brain by measuring the electrical or magnetic field produced by the nervous system. This may include EEG (Electroencephalography) or MEG (Magneto-encephalography).
  • The use of designed experimental tasks, often controlled by computer and typically measuring reaction time and accuracy on aparticular tasks thought to be related to a specific neurocognitive process.

Influential neuropsychologists

See also

External links

Further reading

  • Beaumont, J.G.(1983) Introduction to Neuropsychology. Guilford Publications Inc. ISBN 0898625157
  • Kolb B, Wishaw IQ (2003) Fundamentals of Human Neuropsychology (5th edition). Freeman. ISBN 0716753006

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