Cognitive neuroscience addresses how psychological actions and functions are derived from the brain. It is both an academic and practical field of study. The focus of these studies is on biological substrates and how they influence mental processes and behavior.
The study of cognitive neuroscience is a part of the psychology and neuroscience discipline but it also relates to other areas of psychology that involve the physical, cognitive and neurological areas. As a branch of cognitive science, cognitive neuroscience foundations came from that discipline, combined with elements of neuropsychology. It also involves mathematical calculations using various modeling techniques.
As is the case with a number of scientific practices, cognitive neuroscience employs a number of experimental methods in order to assist academics and scientists in gaining insight into the discipline. Many of the experiments involve patients who have had problems in their brains due to lesions or other physical defects. Analysis using techniques of cognitive neuroscience helps academics and scientists to understand more about this area and to develop advanced treatments.
In addition to the experimental and practical area of cognitive neuroscience, the discipline also encompasses a theoretical area, which focuses on understanding computational neuroscience and the psychology of the brain with regard to neurological issues. Since the objective of cognitive neuroscience is to identify how the brain creates the mind and individuals' thoughts, a lot of research goes into researching the cause and effect relationships between actions and brain function.
Cognitive neuroscientists come from a variety of backgrounds as the discipline is related to a number of areas of science. Specialists have backgrounds in medical fields, such as psychiatry, but also in scientific fields like biology and physics. Cognitive neuroscientists also come from areas such as computer science and mathematics, highlighting the computational element of this discipline.
The discipline has progressed substantially over the years and further insights have illuminated how certain areas of the brain support specific mental capabilities. Research in this area often leads to further questions concerning the brain, leading to more investment in research and development in this area of science.
Cognitive neuroscience has been studied since the days of Aristotle, who explored the question of how sensory information traveled in the body. This questioning into the roots of how our body and mind link to one another is the foundation of the cognitive neuroscience that is studied today.
Since Aristotle initially posed questions into the sensory linkages in the body, much research has been performed, to mixed reviews. One area that has come into question is that of subdividing the brain into its various areas or organs according to function. This was proposed in its extreme form by the 19th century phrenology movement, which claimed that such functions may even be deduced from the shape of the skull. Such theories were subsequently debunked but it remains true that specific areas of the brain conduct specific functions.
In modern times, further research has been conducted into the specificity (sometimes called modularity) area of cognitive neuroscience. This includes studies into single neurons, case studies of patients with brain damage or disease and recording of electrical or magnetic activity in the brain through advanced scanning techniques.
A number of pivotal events have helped to identify various areas of the brain that relate to specific body functions. In the 1800s part of the left frontal lobe of the brain was named Broca's area. It was so named after a French physician, Paul Broca, who witnessed how a patient was capable of grasping language, while unable to actually speak. Broca found that the individual had brain damage in that particular region of the brain.
In a similar case, Carl Wernicke examined a patient who had suffered a stroke and was unable to understand either written or spoken language. Wernicke found that the patient had brain damage in the area where the left parietal and temporal lobes meet. This area would later be known as Wernicke's area. Both cases helped to support the view of localization in the brain, as damage in a specific area of the brain had caused behavioral changes in the patients. These studies ended up creating the foundations of the discipline of neuropsychology.
New technologies are continually being developed to identify the signs of brain damage and to help decide on the best treatment. In many instances these progressive technologies are utilized by cognitive neuroscientists to assist patients from around the world.