Discuss the use of technology in investigating cognitive processes
· The use of advanced technology in research on cognitive processes provides insight into the complexity of the activity of the brain’s neuronal network in cognitive processes that underpin behavior.
· Cognition always involves neuronal activity in the brain. Modern technology, e.g. EEG (electroencephalography) and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), can be used to study cognitive processes while they are taking place (e.g. in traditional cognitive research on memory but also in research on neruroeconomics and neuromarketing).
· Neuroimaging, such as fMRI, can register changes in blood flow in the active brain (oxygen and glucose consumption in the brain). The researchers can then make a map of areas in the brain related to specific cognitive processes.
· Neuroimaging has revealed that cognitive processes are mediated by a network of distributed interacting brain regions and each area makes specific contributions.
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) produces three-dimensional images of brain structures. It is used to detect structural changes in the brain in cases of brain damage or illness.
· H.M. suffered from amnesia and was not able to form new explicit memories. This case study demonstrated that explicit memory processes are dependent on the hippocampus and adjacent cortical structures, but the exact damage to H.M.’s brain was not known before researchers could use brain imaging.
· Corkin et al. (1997) used MRI to study H.M.’s lesion in the first attempt to use modern technology to study his brain.
· The results of the MRI scan confirmed a relationship between damage to the medial temporal lobes (including the hippocampus) and H.M.’s amnesia. Although a tiny part of the hippocampus remained it was not enough to support normal memory function.
Strengths of using modern technology
· It provides the opportunity to see inside the working brain as it operates by mapping active brain areas. It is also possible to see synchronization between various brain areas involved in cognitive processes.
· It is useful in diagnosing brain disease or damage that causes problems in cognitive functioning (for example memory problems in Alzheimer’s).
Limitations of using modern technology
· Scanning takes place in a highly artificial environment and some scanners are extremely noisy. This affects ecological validity.
· Scanner studies can map brain areas involved in various cognitive processes but it is not yet possible to say anything definite about what these pictures actually mean.