What is cognitive neuroscience, Other Subject

Cognitive neuroscience is a fairly young but rapidly growing discipline of science that aims at solving the intriguing question of how the brain (or, more generally, the body) gives rise to the human mind; how the brain enables one to think, plan, remember, understand other people, see, hear, and move about. Solving this so-called mind-body problem has been a central quest ever since the days of ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato, though many of the early philosophers mistook the brain as an organ merely responsible for cooling the body and not as the seat of thoughts, memories, emotions, and motivation that are collectively nowadays referred to as cognition. It is today, with the aid of modern neuroimaging technology, that it is becoming increasingly possible to shed light on the neural basis of cognitive functions.

To begin the exciting adventure into the depths of brain-mind interrelationships, it is useful to first imagine some events that could take place during an ordinary day. In the following, an example is provided taken from the life of a fictional university student. When reading through the example below, try to imagine what type of mental processes the student has to utilize while going through various events of the day. And once you have read through the whole book, you might wish to return to this short description of the day of a student, and figure out how the different events relate to the various cognitive functions that are described in the various chapters of this book.

Cognitive neuroscience in everyday life: an example from a student’s day

Imagine a student, a responsible and well-mannered young adult named James, waking up on the morning of an important examination. James gets up, and while still mentally reciting the most central topics and details for the examination he goes through preparing breakfast and commuting to his college. On his way there, he receives a call from his loved one, who says that there is a need to seriously talk about something in the evening. That adds to the anxiety level of poor James and he starts going through in his mind different scenarios of what it might be that is on his/her loved one’s mind. When doing so, he recollects interactions with his loved one that have taken place in the recent past, looking for memories of important cues; has there been signs of boredom, annoyance, or is she perhaps willing to take the next step in their relationship?

At the steps of the college, James bumps into an old friend from elementary school and immediately remembers what type of personality his friend has and all those things he did together with him. But James remembers that he has to hurry and thus cannot linger in a conversation. Moving on, James finally makes it to the hall where the examination is to take place, barely in time. As an unpleasant surprise, James notices that there is no one there! He frantically starts searching for any clues and finds a notice stating that the place of the examination has changed to another hall with the number of the hall indicated. With effort James recalls where this other hall is located within the confines of the campus and mentally calculates the fastest route to get there. James decides to run as there is only few minutes left and manages to make it in time.

Once the examination begins, James feels that he is in too much adrenalin to answer the examination questions, however, after a few minutes he manages to calm down and focus on the questions. Once the examination is over James is on elevated moods as he feels having done very well. At the same while as James is feeling rewarded that his hard studying has paid off, the memory of the morning phone call from his loved one creeps back into his mind, and James starts worrying about what is going to happen in the evening, what his loved one possibly wants to discuss about.

Mental phenomena that take place in the types of everyday life situations and tasks that James encounters and engages in (e.g., planning one’s actions, figuring out the intentions of other persons, maintaining one’s goals persistently, feeling emotions, and memorizing things) are the very focus of cognitive neuroscience research. Each of these cognitive functions and the underlying neural mechanisms will be described in detail later in this book. In order to begin from the very basics, however, a more thorough definition of the word “cognitive” will be provided in the following.
Posted Date: 7/7/2012 6:20:01 AM | Location : United States

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