Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Neuropsychology studies the relationships between brain functions and behaviors. It examines both human and animal nervous systems, and tries to link biological organization and function of the nervous system to cognitive processing and behavior. Both healthy and damaged neural systems are examined. Although neuropsychology can be divided into a number of specialty areas, breaking the field into the branches of clinical neuropsychology and experimental neuropsychology serves to classify the primary types of work in which neuropsychologists are involved. This distinction is not absolute, of course.
(The entire section is 85 words.)
Clinical Neuropsychology (Psychology and Mental Health)
Clinical neuropsychology involves the diagnosis and treatment of individuals who suffer from brain dysfunction, either developmental (genetic or chromosomal) or, more often, acquired (brain damage). Developmental disorders include Turner and Down syndromes; acquired disorders can be caused by problems such as fetal alcohol syndrome or to brain lesions caused by tumors, cerebral vascular accidents (strokes), or head trauma.
Although neuropsychological evaluations once relied almost exclusively on paper-and-pencil tests to identify the probable location of a brain lesion and the resulting deficits, localization of lesions is typically handled through computerized brain imaging techniques such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Clinical neuropsychologists primarily assess a patient’s cognitive and behavioral deficits and describe the individual’s level of functioning. They are often involved in planning treatments and rehabilitation programs. Because damage to the same brain area may affect two individuals differently, it is vital that clinical neuropsychologists assess the effect of the lesion on the patient’s daily functioning at work, at home, and in social contexts. Furthermore, it is important that the evaluation consider the patient’s strengths in addition to weaknesses or impairments. Intact abilities can assist the patient in coping and compensating for the loss of other...
(The entire section is 203 words.)
Brain Testing (Psychology and Mental Health)
Clinical neuropsychologists typically take one of two approaches with patients, the standard battery approach or the process approach. The standard battery approach is the older of the two and involves administering the same set of neurological tests to every patient. These tests typically demand different mental or cognitive abilities, which involve various regions of the brain. These different cognitive abilities are commonly referred to as cognitive domains and include functions such as attention, memory, perception, movement, language, and problem solving. A number of comprehensive test batteries have been created to assess these different skills, but two commonly used ones are the Halstead-Reitan and the Luria-Nebraska.
The process approach to clinical neuropsychology tailors the testing to the patient. It requires neuropsychologists to spend more one-on-one time with patients, and the tests chosen for each case can vary considerably. Essentially, neuropsychologists try to develop a hypothesis about the patient’s problems, then test it, and either accept or reject that hypothesis.
Each approach has its costs and benefits. The standard battery approach is cheaper and easier to use and teach. The process approach better recognizes the individuality of patients and can give a more comprehensive picture of an individual.
(The entire section is 197 words.)
Experimental Neuropsychology (Psychology and Mental Health)
Experimental neuropsychology focuses on answering theoretical questions in the laboratory rather than solving clinical or practical problems in the outside world. Because of the invasive nature of their questions, experimental neuropsychologists often use animals rather than humans in their research. Only after a line of research has been proven safe and effective is it verified, wherever possible, with a human sample.
More than with most fields of psychology, advances in neuropsychology are determined by the technology available to researchers. An experimental neuropsychologist is usually familiar with the techniques of neurosurgery, primarily on animals, and with a variety of techniques, such as the staining of neurons, that help in examining brain structure. Neuropsychologists will certainly be familiar with electroencephalography (EEG), a recording of the brain’s electrical activity, and they often use direct electrical stimulation of the brain, at very low levels of current, in research. They commonly use brain imaging devices such as the CT or MRI. A high degree of technological expertise is demanded of the neuroscientist, but the result has been a rapid increase in knowledge about the relationship between the brain and behavior.
Although the daily routines of clinical and experimental neuropsychologists are quite different, their work often intertwines. The insights of experimental...
(The entire section is 236 words.)
Practice and Theory (Psychology and Mental Health)
Overall, the field of neuropsychology has been useful in solving a number of practical problems as well as more theoretical ones. For example, clinical neuropsychological procedures have been applied in the assessment and treatment of individuals suspected of having Alzheimer’s disease. This disease is virtually impossible to confirm without removing and inspecting a sample of brain tissue under the microscope for the structural abnormalities that characterize the disorder. Therefore, a final diagnosis must wait until after the person’s death, at autopsy. However, neuropsychological test procedures have contributed dramatically to the accurate diagnosis of probable Alzheimer’s disease in still living individuals. A person with such a diagnosis is said to have senile dementia of the Alzheimer’s type (SDAT).
To family members of the Alzheimer’s patient, memory problems are often the first sign of trouble. However, a careful examination usually reveals subtle difficulties with language, problem solving, and visual-spatial activities such as navigating in the neighborhood or at home. Clinical neuropsychologists can investigate such problems by using a variety of pencil-and-paper tests to measure specific cognitive and behavioral functions. The patient is then tested serially at six-month intervals, and the overall pattern of test scores across time is evaluated. If the patient displays a pattern of declining...
(The entire section is 769 words.)
Brain Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
The term neuropsychology appears to have been coined by Sir William Osler, sometimes called the father of modern medicine, in an address at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1913. The field really began to expand, however, after Donald O. Hebb, often called the father of neuropsychology, published The Organization of Behavior: A Neuropsychological Theory (1949). This book introduced Hebb’s concept of neural networks, which remains a unifying theme for modern neuropsychologists. The 1970’s and 1980’s were a particularly explosive time in the development of neuropsychology, with many new training programs springing up. Funding for all subfields of neuroscience increased dramatically when the U.S. Congress designated the 1990’s as the Decade of the Brain.
Although the field is relatively young, neuropsychology’s underpinnings can be traced back thousands of years. Ancient peoples from both Europe and the Americas engaged in trephination, the cutting of holes in the skull, presumably as a treatment for some sort of physical or behavioral problem. Ancient Egyptian and Greek writings also describe the results of brain injury, including the behaviors of patients. A theory of brain functioning was put forth in the nineteenth century by Franz Gall, the founder of phrenology, who thought specific areas of the brain were responsible for specific behavioral traits, and that brain abilities could be “read” by studying the shape...
(The entire section is 593 words.)
Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Finger, Stanley. Origins of Neuroscience: A History of Explorations into Brain Function. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. For those who want to understand how modern thinking about brain function evolved. Covers all of neuroscience with specific references to many neuropsychological concepts.
Kolb, Bryan, and Ian Q. Whishaw. Fundamentals of Human Neuropsychology. 6th ed. New York: Worth, 2006. A comprehensive textbook that fully covers the fields of clinical and experimental neuropsychology. Lengthy, but clear and well written.
LeDoux, Joseph. Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. Explains the neuroscience of personality. Focuses on the working of the synapses in the brain’s communication system.
Luria, Aleksandr Romanovich. The Working Brain: An Introduction to Neuropsychology. New York: Basic Books, 1976. A seminal work in the field, with great insight into the workings of both normal and damaged brains. Especially of interest for historical purposes.
Sacks, Oliver. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Reprint. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Sacks is a gifted writer as well as successful neurologist, and he displays the best of both talents in this work. Based on actual neurological cases seen by Sacks.
Zillmer, Eric A., Mary V. Spiers, and William Culbertson. Principles of...
(The entire section is 221 words.)
Neuropsychology (Encyclopedia of Science and Religion)
Neuropsychology is the area of neuroscience that studies relationships between brain function and behavior, with a central focus on human brain-behavior relationships. Neuropsychological research attempts to map the brain structures and functions that are critical for particular mental/cognitive, emotional, and behavioral capacities. Clinical neuropsychology involves assessment of persons with diseased or damaged brains to evaluate whether the patient's cognitive, behavioral, or emotional functioning has been compromised. Developmental neuropsychology is the study of the relationship between the development of brain structure and function, and the emergence of cognitive abilities. Finally, neuropsychological rehabilitation attempts to ameliorate the negative impact of brain damage.
See also MIND-BRAIN INTERACTION; NEUROSCIENCES
WARREN S. BROWN