Traditionally, the purpose of Cognitive neuroscience is to understand the functioning of the nervous system . This discipline seeks to understand how the brain is organized at a functional and structural level. However, in recent times, you have gone beyond, you do not want to know just how your brain works, but also the repercussions that this has on our behavior, our thoughts and emotions .
The goal of linking the brain with the mind is a task of cognitive neuroscience , a discipline that combines neuroscience and cognitive psychology. The latter deals with studying higher functions such as memory, language, or attention. The main objective of cognitive neuroscience is therefore to relate the functioning of the brain with our cognitive abilities and behaviors.
The development of new techniques has been of great help in this field in order to carry out experimental studies. Neuro-image studies have facilitated the task of linking concrete structures with different functions, using a very useful tool for this purpose: functional magnetic resonance imaging. In addition, other instruments such as non-invasive transncranial magnetic stimulation have been developed for the treatment of various pathologies .
The birth of neuroscience
One can not speak of the birth of neuroscience without naming Santiago Ramón y Cajal , the one who formulated the theory of neurons. His contribution to the problems of development, degeneration and regeneration of the nervous system are still current and are still taught in faculties. If we need to give birth to neuroscience, it would be in the nineteenth century.
With the development of the microscope and experimental techniques such as fixing and coloring the tissues or studying the structures of the nervous system and their function, this discipline began to develop. However, neuroscience has received contributions from numerous study areas that have helped to better understand the functioning of the brain. It can be said, then, that subsequent neuroscientific discoveries are multidisciplinary .
They have received a great deal from anatomy, which deals with localizing every part of the body. From physiology, more focused on understanding how our body works. From pharmacology, with substances outside our body, observing the repercussions of these on the body and on biochemistry, using substances secreted by the body, such as neurotransmitters.
Psychology has also made an important contribution to neuroscience, through theory of behavior and thought. Over the years, vision shifted from a locating perspective, in which it was thought that every area of the brain had a concrete function, to a more functional, where the goal is to understand the overall functioning of the brain.
Neuroscience embraces a broad spectrum of sciences. Starting from basic research, up to applied research that works with the repercussion of behaviors-dependent mechanisms. Within neuroscience is the cognitive neuroscience that seeks to find out how superior functions work like language, memory, or decision making.
Cognitive Neuroscience has as its main objective the study of nerve representations of mental acts . It focuses on the neuronal substrates of mental processes, or what repercussions has on our behavior and our thinking what happens in the brain? Brain-specific areas of sensory or motor functions have been identified, but these represent only a quarter of the total bark.
These are areas of association, which do not have a specific function, those responsible for interpreting, integrating and coordinating sensory and motor functions. They would be responsible for higher mental functions. The brain areas that govern the functions of memory, thought, emotion, conscience, and personality are much more difficult to locate.
Memory is bound to the hippocampus , which is in the center of the brain. As for emotions, the limbic system is known to control thirst and hunger (hypothalamus), aggression (amygdala), and emotions in general. It is in the bark that integrate the cognitive abilities, the place where our ability to be conscious, our relationships, and complex reasoning.
Brain and emotions
Emotions are one of the essential characteristics of the normal human experience, we all test it. All emotions are expressed through visceral motor changes and stereotyped motor and somatic responses, especially facial muscle movements. Traditionally emotions were attributed to the limbic system, this theory is still in vogue, but there are other encephalic regions involved.
Other areas to which the emotion process extends is the amygdala and the orbital source of the globule. The joint and complementary action of these areas constitutes an emotional motor system. The same structures that process emotional signals participate in other tasks, such as the ability to make rational decisions and even establish moral judgments.
Visceral nuclei and somatic motors coordinate the expression of emotional behavior . The emotions and the activation of the autonomic nervous system are intimately linked to each other. Trying any kind of emotion, such as fear or surprise, would be impossible without experiencing an increase in heart rate, sweating, tremor … It is part of the wealth of emotions.
Attributing emotional expression to brain structures gives it its innate naturalness. Emotions are an adaptive tool that informs others about our mood . The homogeneity of expressions of joy, sadness, anger … in different cultures has been demonstrated. It is one of our ways of communicating and empathizing with one another.
Memory: the brain store
Memory is a basic psychological process that alludes to coding, storing and retrieving information learned . The importance of memory in our daily lives has given rise to several researches on this subject. Another central theme of many studies is forgetfulness, as many pathologies cause amnesia, which seriously interferes with daily life.
The reason why memory is so important is that much of our identity lies in it. On the other hand, although pathological forgetting causes us worry, it is known that the brain needs to discard unnecessary information to receive new learning and meaningful information. In this sense, the brain is an expert in recycling its resources.
Neuronal connections change with the use or non-use of the same . When we have information that is not being used, neural connections are weakening until they disappear. Likewise, when we learn something new, we create new connections. All those learning that we can associate with other notions or life events will be easier to remember.
Memory knowledge has increased as a result of a study on people with a very specific amnesia. It has helped to better understand short-term memory and consolidation of declarative memory. The famous HM case highlighted the importance of hippo-campus in establishing new memories. The memory of motor skills, on the other hand, is controlled by the cerebellum, the primary motor cortex and the basal ganglia.
Language and Speech
Language is one of the skills that differentiates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. The ability to communicate with such precision and the great amount of ways we have to express thoughts and feelings makes language our most useful and useful communication tool . This unique feature of our species has led many research to focus on it.
Successes from human culture are partly based on language, which allows precise communication . Language ability depends on the integrity of the various specialized bladder airways in the temporal and frontal lobes. In most people, the primary functions of the language are found in the right hemisphere.
The right hemisphere would deal with the emotional content of language. The specific damage of encephalic regions may compromise the essential functions of language, ending with causing aphasia. The aphasia may have very different characteristics, you may have difficulty both in articulation and in producing or understanding the language.
Neither language nor thought is supported by a single concrete area, rather than by an association of different structures . Our brain works so well organized and complex that when we think or talk, it realizes multiple associations between the tasks it is carrying out. Our past knowledge will affect new ones, in a back-feeding system.
Great Discoveries of Cognitive Neuroscience
Describing all relevant studies in neuroscience would be a complicated and extensive task. The following discoveries have overlooked some of the past ideas about the functioning of our brain and have begun new studies. This is a selection of some important experimental studies among the thousands of existing jobs:
- Neurogeness (Eriksson, 1998). Until 1998, it was thought that neurogenesis was produced only during the development of the nervous system and that after that period the neurons died, without being re-produced. After Erikkson’s experiments, however, it was possible to ascertain that neurogenism also occurs during old age. The brain is more plastic and malleable than it was thought of.
- Contact during early childhood and cognitive and emotional development (Lupien, 2000). In this study, the importance of child physical contact during early childhood has been demonstrated. Children who have had little physical contact are the most vulnerable to cognitive functional deficiencies that typically occur with depression or high stress situations, which mainly concern attention and memory.
- The discovery of mirror neurons (Rizzolatti, 2004). To start this study was the ability of newly born children to imitate the gestures of others. This has led to the discovery of mirror neurons , neurons that activate when we see a person performing an action. They facilitate not only imitation, but also empathy and, therefore, social relationships.
- Cognitive reserve (Petersen, 2009). The discovery of the cognitive reserve has been very significant in recent years. According to this theory, the brain is able to compensate for the lesions. This ability is influenced by factors such as school age, work performed, reading habits, or social circle. A high cognitive reserve can compensate for damages in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
The Future of Neuroscience: “Human brain project”
The Human Brain Project is a project funded by the European Union which aims to build an information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure. This infrastructure wants to make available to all scientists in the world a database in the field of neuroscience. Develop six ICT-based platforms:
- Neuro-computer science : will give access to the data of neuroscientific studies carried out all over the world.
- Brain Simulation : It will integrate information into unified computer models to carry out tests that would not be possible in person.
- High Performance Computing : It will provide the interactive super-computing technology that neuroscientists need for data models and simulations.
- Neuro-computer computation : It will transform brain models into hardware devices by testing their applications.
- Neuro-robotics will allow researchers in neuroscience and the industry to experiment with virtual robots controlled by brain models that are developing in the project.
This project started in October 2013 and will last for 10 years. The data that will be collected in this huge database will facilitate the work of future research. The advancement of new technologies is allowing scientists to have a deeper knowledge of the brain , even though basic research still has many doubts to be solved in this exciting field.