Methods of Cognitive Neuroscience
Full course description
In cognitive neuroscience, cognitive functions and their neural basis are often studied by placing people in a lab and have them do a computer task with only few well-controlled variables. By careful manipulations of the task, we try to break down functions into sub-processes, and by measuring the effect on behaviour and neural processes, we learn more about their properties.
In this manner, important progress has been made towards understanding brain processes underlying perception, attention, emotion, language, memory and the motor system.
In this module, students study the most important methods. Response time (RT) is used to measure the duration of processes and is combined with all other methods. RT-based models are strong, but a limitation is that RT is only the sum of the underlying processes.
Measuring electrical brain activities with Electro- and Magnetoencephalography (EEG / MEG) during the processing of stimuli gives an accurate image of the duration of the involved brain processes. A disadvantage is that it is often difficult to determine the source of activity in the brain. Other methods are sensitive to relatively slow metabolic processes that result from brain activity and give a more accurate view of the location of activity in the brain. These methods are in turn less sensitive to the exact duration. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) will be covered.
In humans, decreased functioning of the brain is often the result of accidental brain damage. A temporary and better controlled way to interfere with brain function uses Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). The good control allows for stronger evidence that a specific brain activity is in fact causally involved with some behaviour.
Every week, students will learn the principles and several applications of one or two research methods. They will also compare different methods with each other and discuss the manners of integration of the information that comes from methods that differ in temporal and spatial precision.
- can explain conventional experimental paradigms which are used to isolate cognitive functions, and the research methods (RT, EEG/MEG, PET, fMRI, TMS) that are used to investigate them;
- can explain the biological basis of the measurements, and the way they inform us about the functioning of the brain.