Imaging Techniques and Cognitive Function

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Neuroimaging is a multidiscipline science and experts from the field of psychology, statistics, physics and physiology all contribute to its further development (Poldrack et al., 2007). In the last 20 years the imaging techniques developed from single proton emission tomography (SPET) to positron emission tomography (PET) and finally to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) (Page, 2006). Their applications are numerous in experimental and cognitive psychology. However, at one level they can constitute another dependent variable (brain activity) as a response to an independent variable (stimulus manipulation) and at the other level, understanding the structure and processes of the brain can shed light on ‘normal’ cognitive functioning (Kaye, 2010). Therefore, this essay will argue that imaging techniques not only tell us about the brain structure but also try to explain its cognitive functions. Two non-invasive imaging techniques will be put forward, namely, electroencephalogram (EEG) that measures electrical activity and gives excellent temporal resolution and fMRI that is based on changes in blood supply and provides excellent spatial resolution. The claim will be evaluated in the light of their basic assumptions, methodology and contribution to examining the brain function. Relevant evidence of studies with healthy adults will be provided. Finally, technologies that can only show the brain structure will be introduced.

First, let us look at the electroencephalogram (EEG), which is based on recordings of electrical brain activity with millisecond temporal resolution and it provides “the most direct measure correlate of ongoing brain processing that can be obtained non-invasively (Johnsrude and Hauk, 2010, p. 28). The ba...

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Page, M. A. (2006). What can't functional neuroimaging tell the cognitive psychologist?. Cortex: A Journal Devoted To The Study Of The Nervous System And Behavior, 42(3), 428-443. Retrieved May 5, 2012 from

Poldrack, R.A., Fletcher, P.C., Henson, R.N., Worsley, K.J., Brett, M. and Nichols, T.E. (2007). Guidelines for reporting an fMRI study. NeuroImage, 40 (2), 409-414. Retrieved May 5, 2012 from

Whatson, T. (2006) Studying the brain: Techniques and technology. In Exploring the Brain (2nd ed.), 11-41, The Open University, Milton Keynes.