Psychology was heavily influenced by behaviorism, which prioritized stimuli and responses and saw the study of what may occur in mind as being beyond the scope of science, up to the 1960s. With the development of “cognitive psychology” and the invention of techniques to attempt and access what was happening in the “black box” of the mind, this started to alter. Cognitive neuroscience, a new field of research, was established at the end of the 1970s as a result of the study of people who had experienced brain damage or injury to specific areas of the brain. However, it wasn’t until the discovery of methods for accessing the working brain’s activation via imaging techniques like PET and fMRI that cognitive neuroscience truly emerged as a discipline that bridged psychology and neuroscience and had close ties to the philosophy of mind. Studies that place volunteers in scanners while performing various tasks think, solve problems, and recall information focus on the underlying brain mechanisms. The study is novel and intriguing, and it frequently garners media attention. But there is a lot of confusion regarding what brain imaging informs us and how to interpret cognition studies.
Richard Passingham, a renowned cognitive neuroscientist, provides a provocative and fascinating description of the nature and extent of this relatively new field and the methodologies at our disposal, focusing on research into the human brain. He briefly introduces the various components of human cognition, including perceiving, attending, remembering, thinking, determining, and acting, and explains what brain imaging reveals, pointing out typical misconceptions. Passingham wraps up by talking about the fascinating developments that could come.