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Neuro-Psychology Laboratory

Neuropsychology, as a branch of psychology and neurology, is a science studying the relationship between the human brain and behaviors. The main objective of neuropsychology is to understand specific psychological processes and behaviors of human being from the perspective of the structure and function of the brain. It is scientific in its approach and shares an information processing view of the mind with cognitive psychology and cognitive science.

“The brain controls all of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors”. This notion was not generally agreed in the history of when neuropsychology began to emerge. The origin of the development in neuropsychology can be traced back to around 3500 B.C. in ancient Egypt, when Imhotep, one of the first physicians recorded in history, began to study functions of the brain scientifically. Nevertheless, by that time, the brain was still looked upon as a useless organ and was generally discarded during burial processes and autopsies. People at that time tended to explain human body function from a religious point of view and attribute any abnormalities to bad spirits and the gods. The brain has not always been looked upon as the center for the functioning body as we know it to be now; rather, it has taken hundreds of years for the hundreds of great minds committed to their scientific investigation for the discovery of our brain’s functions and its relations to our behaviors.

Neuropsychology can be seen as an experimental and clinical field of psychology that aims to study, assess, understand and treat behaviors directly related to brain functioning. The major difference between experimental and clinical neuropsychology is that the prior involves studying healthy humans with experimental psychology approach to understand human brain functions in a laboratory setting, whereas the latter applies neuropsychological knowledge to the assessment, management and rehabilitation of people with brain disorders in clinical settings or as an expert witness in medico-legal proceedings. Some experimental neuropsychologists would also conduct animal studies. By integrating with a psychological point of view to the treatment for brain disordered patients, a clinical neuropsychologist can understand how the brain disorder may affect and be affected by psychological factors, and thereby determine whether a person is demonstrating difficulties attributed to the brain pathology or simply a psychological reaction or both. Another sub-division of neuropsychology is termed as cognitive neuropsychology, which is an approach composing the elements of both experimental and clinical neuropsychology. Cognitive neuropsychology studies the behaviors of people who have sustained brain injury or neurological disorders to understand human brain functions, with the basic principle that a specific part of the brain is in some way involved in certain cognitive function if that cognitive function becomes impaired after that specific brain region get injured.  

“The brain controls all of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors”. This notion was not generally agreed in the history of when neuropsychology began to emerge. The origin of the development in neuropsychology can be traced back to around 3500 B.C. in ancient Egypt, when Imhotep, one of the first physicians recorded in history, began to study functions of the brain scientifically. Nevertheless, by that time, the brain was still looked upon as a useless organ and was generally discarded during burial processes and autopsies. People at that time tended to explain human body function from a religious point of view and attribute any abnormalities to bad spirits and the gods. The brain has not always been looked upon as the center for the functioning body as we know it to be now; rather, it has taken hundreds of years for the hundreds of great minds committed to their scientific investigation for the discovery of our brain’s functions and its relations to our behaviors.

 

 

In whatever aspects of neuropsychology, structure and function of the brain can be assessed by the following widely adopted methods and tools:

1) Standardized Neuropsychological Tests:

Neuropsychological tests are mostly paper-and-pencil tests that have been developed based upon the understanding of brain-behavior relationship and typically validated and standardized with a specific group (or groups) of individuals before being used in individual clinical cases. These tests are designed such that the performance on the tests can reflect the condition of specific neurocognitive processes. Some well-known examples of neuropsychological tests include the Halstead-Reitan Neuropsychological Battery, the Boston Naming Test, the California Verbal Learning Test, and the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test. Given that majority of the neuropsychological tests is developed for the Western societies, while some of them are limited by the language and cultural factors that they can hardly be applied to the Asian populations, therefore, some researchers have devoted to translating existing neuropsychological tests or developing new tests for the Asians. Our laboratory has also developed several neuropsychological tests with clinical validation for the Chinese people, such as the Hong Kong List Learning Test (a test for verbal memory function), the Chinese version of Dementia Rating Scale (a test for dementia), a modified version of the Boston Naming Test (a test for naming ability), the verbal fluency test (a test for fluent speech production), which have been widely adopted in local allied-health institutes and universities in Hong Kong and mainland China. 

2) Brain Scans:

Various brain scanning methods can be used for examining the structure or function of the brain. These methods are simply a way to assess the brain structure with high resolution pictures or to assess the relative activations of different brain areas. The techniques for examining the structure of the brain include computed axial tomography (CAT or CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); whereas techniques for assessing the function of the brain include functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), positron emission tomography (PET), electroencephalography (EEG) and magneto-encephalography (MEG). 

3) Experimental Tasks

The experimental tasks used in neuropsychology are often computerized and typically measuring the reaction time and accuracy on the experimental paradigm that is believed to be related to a specific neurocognitive process. These tasks are also usually implemented while the research participants are undergoing some brain scanning procedures, such as fMRI, PET, EEG, MEG. This is to examine how the brain works when a person is undergoing certain cognitive process so as to tease out functions specific to certain brain region or a network of various parts of the brain.