Neuropsychology is considered to be a specific discipline in the broader area of biopsychology that focuses upon diagnosing patients through neuropsychological assessments with the desired end result of prescribing treatments, patient care program, or counseling (Pinel, 2006. p. 9). Andrewes (2002, p. 1) expanded upon Pinel’s definition and described neuropsychology as the relationship between the brain and areas of mental function such as physical movement, language development, memory, or perception. In order to enhance the understanding of neuropsychology it is important to understand the brain structure at both the macro and micro level. A micro level example of would be the study of the transmission of chemical neurotransmitters from one neuron to the next to deliver messages and a macro level example would be understanding the structures of the cortex which is the outer layer of the brain containing the occipital, temporal, frontal, and parietal lobes (Andrewes, 2002, p. 9). Neuropsycholoy not only focuses on neuroanatomical principles; it is also based upon theoretical models. For example, evolution has demonstrated that there have been changes in the size and function of the human brain with a potential correlation between the size of the brain and the sophistication of the functions our ancestors were able to perform (Andrewes, 2002, p. 2-3). However, there are additional features of brain development that were not related to size; rather, the improvements were in the brain’s efficiency in areas such as the cortex and the neocortex allowing for many folds containing highly functioning cells to be contained in the existing brain area. As time progressed historical records noted the relationship between brain function and behavior including how brain wounds could cause paralysis (Stirling, 2002, p. 3)
As the field of neuropsychology continued to develop the theories of localization and holistic points of view became prominent. The holistic theory of brain function did not find any serious risk associated with the removal of portions of the brain as these theorists believed that the brain functionality was not divided into specific areas. It is now known that there is a relationship between different brain sections and what functions they control. An example would be the association between the frontal lobes and the manner in which thoughts and feelings are associated with stress responses in the prefrontal cortex which allows for the management of emotional or stressful situations (Lovallo, 2004). Holistic theorist may not have objected to simply just removing the front part of the brain without the understanding of the implications until a post-mortum study was performed (Andrewes, 2002, p. 19).
An example of a localization point of view would be a belief that separate parts of the brain were responsible for the development of different personality traits or intellectual capabilities and this could often be seen visually on the individual’s face or skull (Andrews, 2002, p. 18). This theory was in direct contradiction with the holistic theory and Flouren’s theory that mental impairment was related to the size of injury versus location (Stirling, 2002, p.7). Although localization (as practiced by Gall) is not in current practice today, it was a part of the theoretical foundation that led to modern day research surrounding the localization of specific tasks of neuronal activity (Aharonov, Segev, & Meilijson, 2003).
Salient issues in neuropsychology include understanding how the cerebral system, when damaged in accidents or with strokes, results in impairments to higher mental functions such as language systems, special perceptions, or attention difficulties (Andrews, 2002, p. 11). For example, Holmes (2007) discussed current neuropsychological research surrounding motor and visual imagry as a therapeutic option for helping those suffering with limb paralysis and other stroke related disorders. Additionally, cognitive neuropsychology is presenting many interesting areas for research in areas such as rehabilitating brain-damaged individual’s reading capabilities by analyzing the root cause of the reading process at the neurophysioloigcal level (Andrewes, 2002, p. 25).
Aharonov, R., Segev, L., & Meilijson, I. (2003). Localization of function via lesion analysis. Neural Computation, 15(4), 885-913.
Andrewes, D. (2002) Neuropsychology: From theory to practice. New York: Psychology Press.
Holmes, P. S. (2007). Theoretical and practical problems for imagery in stroke rehabilitation: An observation solution. Rehabilitation Psychology, 52(1), 1-10.
Lovallo, W. (2004). Stress & Health: Biological and Psychological Interactions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Pinel, J. (2006). Biopsychology (6th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Stirling, J. (2002). Introducing neuropsychology. New York: Psychology Press.