Brain Study

Neuropsychology rapidly emerged as a separate branch of the neurosciences in the 1970's and 1980's. During that time, there was an explosion of training programs for neuropsychologists and scientific research concerning the relationships between the brain and behavior. While the field has only recently evolved, however, the discipline's underpinnings can be traced back thousands of years. Egyptian writings dating to 2500 b.c.e. describe trauma to the brain and the behavior of the patient sustaining this damage.

A second early milestone occurred with the anatomical studies and illustrations of the 1800's. In 1861, Paul Broca demonstrated that a lesion of the left frontal lobe of the brain caused a disruption of the production of speech. Soon after this revelation, researchers became quite consumed with localizing all cognitive functions to some discrete part of the brain.

Those who believed that each function could be neatly contained in a small region of the brain came to be known as localizationists. Those who believed that all areas of the brain were equally involved in all cognitive abilities were labeled equipotentialists. A third group known as interactionists suggests that more basic cognitive functions are relatively localized but interact to allow for more complex cognitive processes. This perspective was derived from the late nineteenth century research of Hughlings Jackson in his clinical work as a neurologist. In many ways, Jackson's ideas were quite advanced for his time and the available research methodology.

The twentieth century witnessed a steady accumulation of knowledge concerning the relationships between the brain and behavior. These developments occurred primarily because of the need to assist soldiers who had sustained wartime brain injuries. In the process of treating these individuals, much was learned about the role of various brain regions in carrying out various behaviors. The systematic study of brain-injured persons by Aleksandr Luria contributed tremendously to the process of assessing and localizing brain dysfunction.

This new awareness provided psychology with a better understanding of how the physical brain can produce very atypical behaviors. Before this time, it was believed that behavioral disturbance was universally caused by disruption of the nonphysical "mind." The new knowledge has given clinical psychologists much more sophisticated answers about how best to treat patients with behavioral difficulties. It has also served to remove some of the stigma attached to mental illness or dysfunction. The lay public seems more willing to tolerate atypical behavior from an individual with physical damage to the brain than from a patient labeled as being mentally ill.

The future of neuropsychology appears to be full of promise. It is expected that investigators will continue to conduct research that sheds light on the workings of the healthy brain as well as assisting those with neurological damage. Furthermore, it appears that neuropsychology will continue to advance the larger field of psychology by providing physiological explanations for behaviors and disorders that now have only hypothetical ones.

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