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Understanding Neuroscience

 

Psychology entails the study of the mind and human behaviour. Neuroscience psychology focuses on the biological and chemical processes that enable the brain to function efficiently. Neuroscience psychology is also known as cognitive neuroscience. It studies the activity in the brain that influences human behaviour. To map the brain at a mechanistic level, neuroscientists use cellular and molecular biology, anatomy, physiology, human behaviour and cognition. The human body has over hundred billion neurons and brain cells, all which is intertwined. Modern neuroscience aims at mapping out all the network of cell-to-cell communication to understand the brain circuit that processed all thoughts, feeling which thus influences behaviour. The picture that results from mapping out the brain area is known as “the connectome”. Psychologists also studies the brain to understand it’s primary function in learning and noticed that it has an ability to elaborate new connections and neuronal circuits which is is known as “Neuroplasticity”.

 

Modern neuroscience aims at studying the nervous system, it’s structure and it’s development and work. The discipline addresses the changes and malfunctions in the nervous system. The information is transmitted through neural pathways in the brain and these connections between the various neural pathways is of key importance for neuroscientists. Neuroscientists employ imaging tools and computer simulation to understand the neurological, physical and psychological functioning of the brain.

 

There are multiple branches of neuroscience, some focus on the neural basis of behaviour and processes that cause change in the nervous system while others aim at organising scientific data. This is done by applying computational models and analytical tools. Cognitive neuroscience is one of the most widely developed branches and explores the relationship between neural circuits and mental processing. It aims at understanding the biological base to psychological functions. Behavioural neuroscience is also called as biopsychology because it focuses on the brain mechanisms that drive human behaviour. Cellular neuroscience on the other hand is the study of the magnanimous number of neurons and physiological properties at a cellular level. It also studies the changes and development that occur in the brain as a response to new experiences. The branch of molecular neuroscience focuses on the molecular behaviour and processes of the various neurons along with it’s functions and development. A more scientific approach to neuroscience is the neural systems branch which studies circuits and it’s intricacies and how they influence reflexes, memory and emotional responses. The application of mathematical models, computer simulation and theoretical assessment for understanding the brain structure is a branch known as computational neuroscience. A branch which is extensively intertwined with psychology is neuropsychology which studies the brain and neuropsychological functioning like the changes in human behaviour post a neurological illness or injury.

 

It was William James who had first put forth the idea of the relationship between psychology and biology. Around the 1700’s philosophers started to consider and actively think about the relationship between the mind and the body and coined the “mind-body problem”. They wanted to understand the extent to which the mind and body are connected. The questions raised were are mental states physical, or whether each is a distinct state or a subclass of another state. They also wanted to understand the influence of physical states on mental states or vice versa. Various schools of thoughts have tried to provide an explanation for this problem. According to materialism, mental states are nothing but physical states. The dualist view holds that both physical and mental states are real and neither can be attributed to each other. On the other hand, idealist view believes that physical states are actually mental states (Robinson, 2016). Another theory is of “Reductionism”. Constructive reductionism holds that mental processes are produced by the brain. Therefore, the mind is nothing but a by product of the body and not a separate entity. On the other hand, eliminative reductionism believes that mind is the activity of the brain.

 

Neuroscience has made immense contribution to the field of psychology in understanding various conditions that affect mental health and behaviour. Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder which causes impairment in the brain nerve cells that affect movement along with decision making ability. Neuroscience has contributed in developing computational models which aim at offering an understanding of the strength of connection within the basal ganglia region of the brain. This can help in understanding the patient’s condition as well to personalise the therapy in line with the patterns of neural degeneration. (Frontiers Science News, 2017)

Alzheimer’s is another manifestation of cognitive deterioration which leads to a progressive decline in a person’s intellectual abilities. This leads to changes in personality and behaviour. Neuroscience has helped in the discovery that age associated memory loss might be reversible using a gene transfer approach. Experiments were conducted on monkeys and it was found that neurons in the brain shrink with age and eventually stop making regulatory chemicals which in turn affect reasoning ability and memory. In the process neuroscientists discovered that using insertion of a nerve growth factor into the cells and then re-injecting them into the brain restoration of cell count and function was possible. This provided insights into the potential treatment of age related disorders in humans. (National Institute on Aging, 2019)

 

Neuroscience has greatly contributed to the understanding and treatment of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by the impaired perception of reality. The symptoms include psychosis, hallucinations and delusions. Research using scientific techniques has helped in categorising the symptoms and identifying the brain functions responsible for it. This helps in identifying appropriate interventions and treatment options. Neuroscience contributed in the drug development for treating schizophrenia. Scientists discovered when and where dopamine alterations occur. Having a clear understanding of the neurotransmitter system and brain region affected aids in identifying the core neurobiological features of schizophrenia (Kesby et al., 2018)

 

Neuroscience studies have helped identify the appropriate intervention and treatment program for depression by understanding the baseline activation of the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC). In cases of anxiety, brain chemical messengers have been assessed in relation to the stress sensitive amygdala region. Through this researchers understood the underlying mechanism through which the chemical helps reverse the stress response caused by the hormone. In a recent breakthrough a brain pathway was identified which could be targeted by anxiety reducing drugs. This could influence pharmaceutical companies and the formulation of existing anxiety drugs.

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 Soumita Ramesh is a junior contributor and research assistant at dR CLB Lab.

She is a graduate in psychology and her aim is to obtain a doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Soumita is extremely passionate about mental health and keen to contribute to developing this field in every way possible. She is curious, inquisitive, and motivated to learn new aspects every single day. She has a keen interest in contributing to help and provide support to people and de-stigmatise mental health. An outdoor person, she is a certified scuba diver and enjoys trekking and scuba diving. She is also a research assistant at The Global Foundation of Cyber Studies and Research Washington DC Think Tank.

References:

Bryck, R. L., & Fisher, P. A. (2012). Training the brain: Practical applications of neural plasticity from the intersection of cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, and prevention science. American Psychologist, 67(2), 87–100. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0024657

 

Faubion, D. (2018, October 16). What Is Neuroscience Psychology, And What Can It Do For Me? | Betterhelp. BetterHelp. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/psychologists/what-is-neuroscience-psychology-and-what-can-it-do-for-me/

 

Kesby, J. P. (2018, January 31). Dopamine, psychosis and schizophrenia: the widening gap between basic and clinical neuroscience. Translational Psychiatry. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-017-0071-9

 

Strik, W. (2017). Systems Neuroscience of Psychosis: Mapping Schizophrenia Symptoms onto Brain Systems. Abstract - Neuropsychobiology 2017, Vol. 75, No. 3 - Karger Publishers. https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/485221