Posted: April 15th, 2015

Using the example of fMRI, explain how researchers use brain imaging Techniques and discuss what, if anything, these techniques can tell us about Cognitive processes

Title: Using the example of fMRI, explain how researchers use brain imaging Techniques and discuss what, if anything, these techniques can tell us about Cognitive processes.

• knowledge of biological methods of investigation in cognitive psychology
• ability to identify examples of relevant studies, and use them in evaluating biological methods
• ability to present ideas and arguments in a form which addresses the essay question
• ability to write a clear, well-structured essay which is appropriately referenced and within the stated word limit.

Word limit: 2000

The essay will require you to draw on material from Chapter 2 of the DD303 Methods Companion. Section 3 of this chapter surveys different types of brain imaging technique based on metabolism and blood supply, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
The article by Henson (2005) also focuses on fMRI, along with positron emission tomography (PET), and is therefore directly relevant to the essay.
Additionally, Cognitive Psychology contains numerous useful references to, and examples of, fMRI being used in research, such as the discussion in
Chapter 1, Section 4.1.

Explain how fMRI works. In the Methods Companion, fMRI is covered in Chapter 2, Section 3.4.1. Explore some of the methodological assumptions that underpin imaging techniques, such as subtractive and correlative designs, which are covered in Chapter 2, Sections 3.1.1 and 3.1.2 of the Methods Companion.

Use Henson (2005) article as it explores function to structure deduction and structure to function induction. Examples of actual experimental studies using fMRI from Cognitive Psychology can also be useful in explaining how these imaging techniques work. Link back to ideas already covered and use appropriate examples (e.g. recognition memory and the remember–know paradigm)
The key elements to draw from this article are therefore the larger arguments, rather than the technical detail. For example, the section on function–structure mapping (p. 215) introduces an important issue in imaging research. As with traditional cognitive research, inferences are made, in imaging research, about the structure of the brain and cognitive function. Henson argues that there has to be an assumption of a ‘one to one mapping between function and structure, in order to discount the possibility that the same structure implements different functions across the experimental contexts’ (p. 220). However, as you will see in this section, different types of inference are made (structure–to–function, and function– to–structure) which have implications for the types of inference that can be drawn. Consider these important wider issues and critically evaluate the techniques in more depth. Furthermore, the section at the end of the article entitled ‘common criticisms’ (p. 221) is very useful, as Henson provides a response to the most frequent criticisms of imaging techniques.

Use additional independently sourced material and integrate to enhance critical evaluation.
The second part of the question requires you to think about what results from imaging studies can tell us. Imagine yourself in the position of a researcher who is employing an imaging technique. What kinds of experimental studies would the technique be particularly useful for? Again, examples of research using fMRI can be helpful here to explain what the experiment can, and cannot tell us.

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