General Neuroscience

Cognitive Neuroscience: A Critical Social Review

Esthefani Chávez Hinostroza


Each human being has different ways of expressing themselves and acquiring notions about their environment, their actions, and their internal states to achieve a personal balance. This balance forms their identity, characterizes their behavior, and guides their particular interpretation of the world. These expressions are represented in a cognitive, emotional and behavioral way whose interrelation has a biological basis that define the mental functions of an individual and the subsequent behavior that they will adopt. Endemic diseases, current needs of technological implementation and incidence of crimes need an immediate response. Therefore, it is opportune to establish a connection between neuroscience and cognitive psychology from a social perspective. As this connection is made one will be able to further understand how changes in a person’s cognitive processes may change their individual behavior and determine their development within a community. In this article, a critical analysis of the implications of cognitive neuroscience: public health, technology administration, and legislation and legal order will be presented.


Influence on Public Health

    Public health is an essential component for the development of a society since it is meant to improve and sustain the personal well-being, both physical and mental, of the population. Research in cognitive neuroscience plays a fundamental role in mental well-being as it furthers our understanding of diseases of the brain and mind. For example, neurodegenerative diseases are studied by using neuroimaging techniques to evaluate cerebral functioning. Several scientific fields and techniques are integrated to develop interventions to improve the quality of life of those who suffer from such diseases. Additionally, such a multidisciplinary approach may also be beneficial in to protecting vulnerable social groups, such as those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

    In 2005, the Healthy Brain Initiative emerged in the United States as a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alzheimer's Association with the goal of transferring the focus of public health to cognitive health. The Healthy Brain Initiative created a plan that focuses on the dissemination of scientific knowledge to the population, the assessment of their scientific effectiveness and reliability of cognitive health programs, the adequate management of such programs, and the efficient collection of information on cognitive health [1]. These strategies will promote improvements in health in order to provide interdisciplinary support to the citizens, both those who are suffering from cognitive health issues and those who may wish to prevent such issues from occurring, some of which are discussed below.

    The study of mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, is enabling scientists to discover more about their incidence, prevalence and new treatments. These pathologies constitute an issue that concerns the world population, and therefore play an essential role in the improvement of public health. Currently, they imply a great personal and social cost whose course produce a maladjustment for the individuals. It is expected that in the future we may be able to use alternative methods according to the symptoms and signs of depression based on models of brain structure and function, considering the mechanisms associated with this disorder and the responses to its treatment to optimize its results. [2].

    Likewise, addictions represent a serious problem to society because they produce instability within a community. A lack of order and compliance with societal norms, family dysfunction, and increased insecurity may all be outcomes of addiction within a community, especially when addiction begins at an early age. Community members suffering from addiction become risk factors within that community, threatening to disrupt the normal order of the community [3].

    Taking such potential issues into account, it is easy to see that research in neuroscience is providing valuable knowledge through its look into addiction. One specific area of great interest has been nicotine’s addictive mechanisms and the impact of messages aimed both at spreading of smoking and its prevention. Neuroimaging reveals new features about unconscious responses to information that go on to influence addictive behavior, such as the higher occipital activity in the primary visual cortex, in front the presentation of spots with a high “message sensation value” (MSV), a measure of sensory intensity of the features of an advertisement and an important factor of Public service announcements (PSA) impact. On the other hand, for spots with a lower MSV had significantly higher activity in the frontal and temporal cortices in areas related with memory encoding. This result suggests that more attractive and stimulant ads do not always lead to smoking. Through this type of research, we are able to analyze the impact of tobacco promotion and anti-tobacco campaigns and potentially increase mental well-being within both individuals and communities [4].

    Rates of addiction directly affect levels of violence, corruption, and death [5].  Studying addictions allow for the development of effective evaluation, diagnosis and rehabilitation techniques that favor healthy habits. Thus, this research contributes to the effects of physical and emotional dependence that make it a public health problem above social exclusion, a stigma that surrounds the use and abuse of drugs [6].


Influence on Technology Administration

    Applied technology has become a fundamental component of any occupation that uses multimedia tools. Current education is becoming more interactive through the development of new pedagogical technology with an increasing focus on teaching software that encourages reasoning and logic in problem solving.  Through practice-oriented (using unsupervised repeated practice), needs-oriented (such us the use alternative methods for students that suffer of reading difficulties), and age-independent teaching methods that utilize meaningful digital implementation (linking the abstract concepts with the physical concepts that allow better learning), students are faced with challenges that encourage practice and persistence [7].

    Utilizing technology in teaching may increase both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation within students: that is to say a student’s own internal motivation to learn as well as the motivation from family and friends may increase with the use of technology. For example, by reaching out to children of different conditions in diverse environments, educative technology encourages reciprocal learning in which a set of students share their knowledge and experiences together online or by being close in a study environment. Likewise, neuroscience research shows that learning mechanisms and the individual characteristics in each learner improve the ability to learn [8].

    In addition, the dissemination of these technologies allows for superior academic training, resulting in an improvement of the cognitive abilities of the students, a more favorable attitude towards studying and better overall performance in the teaching-learning process. Through the personalization of the educative strategies according particular needs of students, the foment of collective creativity and multimodality of teaching offers a more enriching learning experience [9].

    New technologies can also help teach adults new skills, allowing them to stay  mentally active and healthy, in addition improving performance during collaborative work, discussion, and critical reflection in activities of continuous training  that technology applied to education provide to retired adults [10].


Influence on Legislation and Legal Order

    Neuroscientific evidence, such as Electroencephalography (EEG), Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Computed tomography (CT) and Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), is becoming more commonly  used to prove innocence of the accused in criminal hearings [11]. In the United States between 2005 and 2012, more than 1585 court rulings refer to the use of neurobiological tests to reinforce the defendants' argument. In 2012, more than 250 cases indicated that the defendants committed criminal acts by “influence of their brain" more than by their own will, and  5 percent of homicide trials and 25 percent of death penalty trials sought to reduce liability using neurobiological data [12]. In that context, this type of evidence can be beneficial in making important decisions regarding personal responsibility while remaining unbiased [13].

    Different models of clinical neuroscience indicate that there is a significant biological basis for antisocial behavior, information which is important in both understanding the origin of social violence and preventing potentially dangerous behaviors [14]. These studies have found the prefrontal cortex, cingulate, temporal cortex, angular gyrus, amygdala, and hippocampus, which are involved in moral judgement, are often structurally or functionally impaired in people with antisocial tendencies, as seen in Fig. 1 [15]. There has been a great deal of research surrounding potential genetic influences of antisocial behavior, such as the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene, which has been hypothesized to increase the likelihood of antisocial behavior when coupled with childhood mistreatment. [16]. Now, as we uncover more information about potential neurological bases for such behavior, some researchers are beginning to focus on investigating which genes encode the specific cerebral deficiencies found in antisocial groups [14].

    Research into populations predisposed to develop maladaptive behaviors has the potential to improve the neurocognitive functioning of at-risk individuals through early prevention, decreasing rates of violence and crime.   Given the behavioral dysfunction of the offenders, interventions are needed at the cerebral level to approach the problem at its roots. A recent study of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy shows an enhancement of the neural excitability of the prefrontal cortex leading to some improvement of attitudes toward the fulfillment of social norms imposed by the punishment. Likewise, a reduced prefrontal function in antisocial individuals has been reported in brain images, for which the improvement of the functionality of this area  could favor the prevention of crime [17]. Emerging research in neurocriminology has resulted in discoveries that understand crime from the biosocial perspective, information which will eventually go on to change the way we develop and implement legal policies to predict the occurrence of violence and contribute to the decreasing of criminality.

Fig. 1. Illustration based on midsagittal (top), coronal (middle), and axial (bottom) MRI slices of the brain regions found to be structurally or functionally impaired in antisocial, violent, and psychopathic populations [15]

    Cognitive neuroscience focuses on the neural bases of cognition. It is the means to know how an individual can satisfy his or her own demands of self-development at multiple levels, and how behavior is produced to achieve progress. This science applied to public health, technology administration and legal order will allow society to, in time, vastly improve the general population’s quality of life and better understand and solve future political, cultural and ethical dilemmas that comprise social advancement.


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Esthefani Chávez Hinostroza

Esthefani Chávez Hinostroza

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