The Student's Guide to Cognitive Neuroscience
eBook - ePub

The Student's Guide to Cognitive Neuroscience

Jamie Ward

  1. 526 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

The Student's Guide to Cognitive Neuroscience

Jamie Ward

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About This Book

Reflecting recent changes in the way cognition and the brain are studied, this thoroughly updated fourth edition of this bestselling textbook provides a comprehensive and student-friendly guide to cognitive neuroscience. Jamie Ward provides an easy-to-follow introduction to neural structure and function, as well as all the key methods and procedures of cognitive neuroscience, with a view to helping students understand how they can be used to shed light on the neural basis of cognition.

The book presents a comprehensive overview of the latest theories and findings in all the key topics in cognitive neuroscience, including vision, hearing, attention, memory, speech and language, numeracy, executive function, social and emotional behavior and developmental neuroscience. Throughout, case studies, newspaper reports, everyday examples and studentfriendly pedagogy are used to help students understand the more challenging ideas that underpin the subject.

New to this edition:

  • Increased focus on the impact of genetics on cognition
  • New coverage of the cutting-edge field of connectomics
  • Coverage of the latest research tools including tES and fNIRS and new methodologies such as multi-voxel pattern analysis in fMRI research
  • Additional content is also included on network versus modular approaches, brain mechanisms of hand-eye coordination, neurobiological models of speech perception and production and recent models of anterior cingulate function

Written in an engaging style by a leading researcher in the field and presented in full color including numerous illustrative materials, this book will be invaluable as a core text for undergraduate modules in cognitive neuroscience. It can also be used as a key text on courses in cognition, cognitive neuropsychology, biopsychology or brain and behavior. Those embarking on research will find it an invaluable starting point and reference.

This textbook is supported by an extensive companion website for students and instructors, including lectures by leading researchers, links to key studies and interviews, interactive multiple-choice questions and flashcards of key terms.

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Introducing cognitive neuroscience

Cognitive neuroscience in historical perspective
Does cognitive psychology need the brain?
Does neuroscience need cognitive psychology?
From modules to networks
Summary and key points of the chapter
Example essay questions
Recommended further reading
Between 1928 and 1947, Wilder Penfield and colleagues carried out a series of remarkable experiments on over 400 living human brains (Penfield & Rasmussen, 1950). The patients in question were undergoing brain surgery for epilepsy. To identify and spare regions of the brain involved in movement and sensation, Penfield electrically stimulated regions of the cortex while the patient was still conscious. The procedure was not painful (the surface of the brain does not contain pain receptors), but the patients did report some fascinating experiences. When stimulating the occipital lobe one patient reported, “a star came down toward my nose.” Upon stimulating a region near the central sulcus, another patient commented, “those fingers and my thumb gave a jump.” After temporal lobe stimulation, another patient claimed, “I heard the music again; it is like the radio.” She was later able to recall the tune she heard and was absolutely convinced that there must have been a radio in the operating theatre. Of course, the patients had no idea when the electrical stimulation was being applied—they couldn’t physically feel it or see it. As far as they were concerned, an electrical stimulation applied to the brain felt pretty much like a mental/cognitive event.
This book tells the emerging story of how mental processes such as thoughts, memories and perceptions are organized and implemented by the brain. It is also concerned with how it is possible to study the mind and brain, and how we know what we know. The term cognition collectively refers to a variety of higher mental processes such as thinking, perceiving, imagining, speaking, acting and planning. Cognitive neuroscience is a bridging discipline between cognitive science and cognitive psychology, on the one hand, and biology and neuroscience, on the other. It has emerged as a distinct enterprise only recently and has been driven by methodological advances that enable the study of the human brain safely in the laboratory (see Figure 1.1). It is perhaps not too surprising that earlier methods, such as direct electrical stimulation of the brain, failed to enter into the mainstream of research.
Figure 1.1 A timeline for the development of methods and findings relevant to cognitive neuroscience, from phrenology to present day.
To discover more about Wilder Penfield and his pioneering research, watch the videos found on the companion website (
Key Terms


A variety of higher mental processes such as ­thinking, perceiving, imagining, speaking, acting and planning.

Cognitive neuroscience

Aims to explain cognitive processes in terms of brain-based mechanisms.

Mind–body problem

The problem of how a physical substance (the brain) can give rise to our sensations, thoughts and emotions (our mind).
Key Terms


The belief that mind and brain are made up of different kinds of substance.

Dual-aspect theory

The belief that mind and brain are two levels of description of the same thing.


The belief that mind-based concepts will eventually be replaced by neuroscientific concepts.
This chapter begins by placing a number of philosophical and scientific approaches to the mind and brain in a historical perspective. The coverage is selective rather than exhaustive, and students with a particular interest in these issues might want to read more deeply elsewhere (Wickens, 2015). The chapter then provides a basic overview of the current methods used in cognitive neuroscience. A more detailed analysis and comparison of the different methods is provided in Chapters 3 to 5. Finally, the chapter attempts to address some of the criticisms of the cognitive neuroscience approach that have been articulated and outlines how it can move forward.

Cognitive Neuroscience in Historical Perspective

Philosophical approaches to mind and brain

Philosophers, as well as scientists, have long been interested in how the brain can create our mental world. How is it that a physical substance can give rise to our sensations, thoughts and emotions? This has been termed the mind–body problem, although it should more properly be called the mind–brain problem, because it is now agreed that the brain is the key part of the body for cognition. One position is that the mind and brain are made up of different kinds of substance, even though they may interact. This is known as dualism, and the most famous proponent of this idea was René Descartes (1596–1650). Descartes believed that the mind was non-physical and immortal whereas the body was physical and mortal. He suggested that they interact in the pineal gland, which lies at the center of the brain and is now considered part of the endocrine system. According to Descartes, stimulation of the sense organs would cause vibrations in the body/brain that would be picked up in the pineal gland, and this would create a non-physical sense of awareness. There is little hope for cognitive neuroscience if dualism is true because the methods of physical and biological sciences cannot tap into the non-physical domain (if such a thing were to exist).
Even in Descartes’ time, there were critics of his position. One can identify a number of broad approaches to the mind–body problem that still have a contemporary resonance. Spinoza (1632–1677) argued that mind and brain were two different levels of explanation for the same thing, but not two different kinds of thing. This has been termed dual-aspect theory and it remains popular with some current researchers in the field (Velmans, 2000). An analogy can be drawn to wave–particle duality in physics, in which the same entity (e.g., an electron) can be described both as a wave and as a particle.
An alternative approach to the mind–body problem that is endorsed by many contemporary thinkers is reductionism (Churchland, 1995; Crick, 1994). This position states that, although cognitive, mind-based concepts (e.g., emotions, memories, attention) are currently useful for scientific exploration, they will eventually be replaced by purely biological constructs (e.g., patterns of neuronal firings, neurotransmitter release). As such, psychology will eventually reduce to biology as we learn more and more about the brain. Advocates of this approach note that there are many historical precedents in which scientific constructs are abandoned when a better explanation is found. In the seventeenth century, scientists believed that flammable materials contained a substance, called phlogiston, which was released when burned. This is similar to classical notions that fire was a basic element along with water, air and earth. Eventually, this construct was replaced by an understanding of how chemicals combine with oxygen. The process of burning became just one example (along with rusting) of this particular chemical reaction. Reductionists believe that mind-based concepts, and conscious experiences in particular, will have the same status as phlogiston in a future theory of the brain. Those who favor dual-aspect theory over reductionism point out that an emotion would still feel like an emotion even if we were to fully understand its neural basis and, as such, the usefulness of cognitive, mind-based concepts will never be fully replaced.

Scientific approaches to mind and brain

Our understanding of the brain emerged historically late, largely in the nineteenth century, although some important insights were gained during classical times. Aristotle (384–322 bc) noted that the ratio of brain size to body size was greatest in more intellectually advanced species, such as humans. Unfortunately, he made the error of claiming that cognition was a product of the heart rather than the brain. He believed that the brain acted as a coolant system: the higher the intellect, the larger the cooling system needed. In the Roman age, Galen (circa ad 129–199) observed brain injury in gladiators and noted that nerves project to and from the brain. Nonetheless, he believed that mental experiences themselves resided in the ventricles of the brain. This idea went essentially unchallenged for well over 1,500 years. For example, when Vesalius (1514–1564), the father of modern anatomy, published his plates of dissected brains, the ventricles were drawn in exacting detail, whereas the cortex was drawn crudely and schematically (see Figure 1.2). Others followed in this tradition, often drawing the surface of the brain like the intestines. This situation probably reflected a lack of interest in the cortex rather than a lack of penmanship. It is not until one looks at the drawings of Gall and Spurzheim (1810) that the features of the brain become recognizable to modern eyes.
Figure 1.2 Drawings of the brain from Vesalius (1543) (top), de Viessens (1685) (bottom left) and Gall and Spurzheim...

Table of contents