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Examining Brain Function

Examining Brain Function

Description:

This lesson will explain the usefulness of localizing brain function. The electrical stimulation of the brain and electroencephalograph will show how the brain can be stimulated and function can be measured.

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Tutorial


What's Covered

This tutorial will focus on the brain as the central part of the nervous system by focusing on:

  1. Brain Overview
  2. Neuroplasticity
  3. Localization of Function
  4. Ongoing Research

1. BRAIN OVERVIEW

The brain is responsible for everything that makes up a person's thoughts, feelings, perceptions, language, and behaviors. It allows for the full range of the human experience.

Through various types of studies, psychologists have determined that certain areas and structures of the brain relate to certain behaviors or mental processes. And this is what we call localization of functions - specific areas lead to certain functions; this is common in most people.

However, the brain is so complex that ongoing research is necessary. One area of the brain is aligned to vision, but one specific neuron that leads to one function of vision is unknown. That level of complexity is too difficult at this time, but much progress has been made!


2. NEUROPLASTICITY

The brain adapts to different situations and different responses from the environment. This is what we call neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to change in response to the environment or to different kinds of events that occur in life.

Did You Know

The brain is constantly growing and developing and making new connections within the neurons normally over time, especially when we're younger, but throughout our entire lifespan.

IN CONTEXT

A stroke victim has damage to a specific area of the brain. Because of the localization of function, there are impairments with movement and speech.

However, because of neuroplasticity and the ability of the brain to adapt, this individual regains some of the functions over time. How is that possible?

The area surrounding the damaged parts of the brain began to take on some of those different functions because the brain changed in order to adapt and learned to compensate for the damaged areas.

Some stroke victims may not completely regain all of their function, but they might regain some of it over time.

3. LOCALIZATION OF FUNCTION

Localization of function has been studied in brain damaged patients. The loss of certain abilities such as has been studied to determine which area(s) of the brain caused the damage.

Phineas Gage is a famous psychological subject, who had a tamping rod shot through his frontal lobe of his brain and survived.

There was damage to a specific part of his brain and it severely affected his mood and personality. He essentially became a different person. Localization of function was studied and psychologists began to understand that part of the brain is related to personality and mood.

Studies are also conducted on post mortem patients (after death) that have reported certain kinds of problems when they were alive.

ExampleIf someone had trouble producing speech, then they can donate their brains to be examined. Researchers can study the areas of the brain that may have received some type of damage.

Example People who have lost speech have been examined and found to have a certain area of the brain that was damaged. This was later determined to be called the Broca's area, which is related to the production of speech itself.

Term to Know

    • Localization of Function
    • The idea that specific areas and structures of the brain relate to certain behaviors or mental processes.

4. ONGOING RESEARCH

To further study localization of functions of the brain, healthy patients are examined and researched as well.

Neurons communicate through electrical impulses, so providing electrical stimulation of the brain (ESB) can activate specific parts and show the results and the different functions of those specific parts of the brain.

    • Term to Know
      • Electrical Stimulation of the Brain (ESB)
      • Providing electrical shocks directly to certain parts of brain to activate them and measuring responses.

A psychologist may surgically implant an electrode or replace an electrode, which is a device that produces an electrical stimulation to a certain area of the brain, and then measure those responses.

Using electrodes on certain parts of the brain can elicit:

  • Physical movements
  • Aggression
  • Memories
  • Altered speech
  • Crying in different patients

Powerful magnets produce the same kinds of results. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is relatively new. This allows researchers to measure the electrical activity of the brain to see which areas are active. Since this can be conducted through the head, it's an alternative to surgery.

An electroencephalograph (EEG), is a device placed on a person's head that can amplify and measure electrical responses of the brain to show which specific areas are being activated.

ExampleWhen a person performs a certain kind of activity such as reading, the EEG can identify which specific area of the brain is activated. Various behaviors can be done to show how certain areas of the brain produces thoughts or behaviors. Damaged areas can also be identified and can help establish treatment.

Term to Know

    • Electroencephalograph (EEG)
    • A device placed on a person’s head that can amplify and measure the brain’s electrical activity.

Summary

This tutorial discussed an overview of the brain, neuroplasticity, localization of function, and ongoing research. The brain is responsible for everything that makes up a person's thoughts, feelings, perceptions, language, and behaviors. Neuroplasticity is how the brain adapts, and localization of function means that certain areas of the brain are responsible for specific behaviors and mental processes. Ongoing research can involve the use of an EEG, which measures electrical responses of the brain.

Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Erick Taggart.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Electroencephalograph (EEG)

    A device placed on a person’s head that can amplify and measure the brain’s electrical activity.

  • Localization of Function

    The idea that specific areas and structures of the brain relate to certain behaviors or mental processes.

  • Electrical Stimulation of the Brain (ESB)

    Providing electrical shocks directly to certain parts of brain to activate them and measuring responses.