Discuss the use of technology in investigating cognitive processes.


  • State what you are doing in the essay 
    • The following essay will attempt to offer a balanced review of the use of technology in investigating cognitive processes. 

  • State the different types of brain imaging technologies 
    • PET: Positron Emission Topography
    • MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imaging
    • fMRI: functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging EEG: Electroencephalogram
    • CAT: Computerised Axial Tomography 
      • Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages and are appropriate in varying situations

  • Explain why Brain imaging technologies are used at the CLA
    • Brain imaging technologies are methods used in psychology to examine the human brain. 
    • Brain imaging technologies are quite useful in neuropsychology...
      • As it provides an opportunity to study the active brain
    • Allows researchers to see where specific brain processes take place
    • Predominantly used to define brain differences in groups while they perform cognitive tasks 
    • Enables researchers to study localisation of function in a living human brain

  • State the cognitive processes being discussed
    • The cognitive processes being discussed in this essay are:
      • Memory 
      • Language

  • State the brain imaging technology being discussed
    • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) 
    • Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

  • Example Response
    • In the following essay, the brain imaging technology that will be discussed are MRI and PET Scans and will be investigated in terms of its role in investigating the correlations/relationships between cognitive processes of memory and language.


Cognitive Process 1: MEMORY
Brain Imaging Technology 1: MRI Scans
  • Introduce the cognitive process of memory 
    • The first brain imaging technology, MRI scans, will be firstly investigated with the cognitive process of memory. 
  • Describe the MRI brain imaging technology 
    • This technique uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce 3D computer-generated images.
    • MRI scans involve people to remove all metal objects and clothing where they lie within an MRI machine.
    • It can distinguish among different types of soft tissue and allows researchers to see structures within the brain. 

Supporting Study: Maguire et al. (2000)

Introduce Study Connection of study to question:

  • An example of a study which utilizes MRI scans to investigate the cognitive process of memory is a study conducted by Maguire et al. (2000). 

  • Maguire hypothesised that full licensed taxi drivers in London would have a different hippocampi structure in their brains compared to ‘normal’ people. 

  • This was based on the knowledge that London taxi drivers must do a two-year training course where they end up being able to find their way around the city without a map. 
  • MRI scans were used to scan the structure of their hippocampi, which were compared to already existing MRI scans of healthy males who did not drive taxis. 


  • Taxi drivers’ left and right hippocampi had a larger volume compared to the non-taxi drivers. 
  • Some parts of the hippocampi were smaller in the taxi drivers. 


  • Maguire concluded that there was probably a redistribution of grey matter in the hippocampi of taxi drivers due to the regular use of the spatial memory skills required to remember roads; the neurons are stronger in areas of the brain which are used most. 
Connection of study to question 

  • By using an MRI, Maguire was able to observe the structures in the brain and find a correlation between the hippocampi (biological factor) and memory skills (cognitive process). 
  • Maguire used MRI scans to investigate the structure of the hippocampi, which would not be able to be seen using other technologies such as an EEG or a PET scan 

Supporting Study 2: HM Milner and Scoville (1957)

Introduce StudyConnection of study to question: 

  • Another study which utilizes MRI scans to investigate memory is a study conducted by Milner and Scoville (1957). 

  • Background: 
    • HM suffered epileptic seizures after a head injury at age 9 
    • Doctors performed surgery to stop seizures 
    • Tissue from temporal lobe, and hippocampus was removed 
    • HM suffered anterograde amnesia 
      • He could recall information from early life but could not form new memories 
    • HM was studied using an MRI in 1997 
  • Findings: 
    • The brain scan showed that there was damage to the hippocampus, amygdala, and areas close to the hippocampus 
Connection of study to question 
  • By using MRI scanning technology, researchers were able to investigate the cognitive process of memory and make a correlation between certain brain areas (biological factor) and memory (cognitive process). 
  • MRI scans were used to see the structures of the brain to determine the extent of brain damage 
    • The structures would not be able to be clearly seen using other technologies such as EEGs or CTs. 
Cognitive Process 2: LANGUAGE
Brain Imaging Technology 2: PET Scans 

  • Introduce the cognitive process of language
    • The next cognitive process which will be discussed with the brain imaging technology of PET Scans is language.
  • Describe PET brain imaging technology
    • PET scans require patients to be injected with a radioactive glucose tracer which shows the areas where glucose is absorbed in the active brain.
    • More glucose metabolism means more brain activity.
    • PET scans show a coloured visual display of brain activity; where radioactive tracer is absorbed
      • Red indicates areas with the most activity 
      • Blue indicates areas with the least activity 

Supporting Study 3: Tierney et al (2001)

Introduce Study --> Connection of study to question:

  • An example of a study which utilizes PET scans to investigate the cognitive process of language is a study conducted by Tierney et al. (2001). 

  • To evaluate, using PET scans, the bilingual language compensation following early childhood brain damage 

  • 37 year old man (known as MA) with normal speech functions who was participating in a normal speech study 
  • It was discovered that he had a lesion in his left frontal lobe 
    • Probably as a result of encephalitis he suffered at the age of 6 weeks 
    • He had no significant long-term, clinically consequences 
  • Both his parents were deaf and he used sign language at home from a very young age. 
  • Researchers were curious to know if this might have had something to do with his ability to speak despite the brain damage (that should have prevented him from doing so. 
  • Researchers compared MA to 12 control participants, who were fluent in sign language 
  • PET scanning technologies were used while the participants produced narrative speech or signs 
  • MA's right hemisphere was more active than the controls' during the production of both speech and sign language 
  • Language function seems to have developed in the right hemisphere instead of the left hemisphere as an adaptation following his early brain damage 
Connection of study to outcome 
  • Tierney utilised PET scans to investigate the cognitive processes of language and observe the areas of the brain (biological factor) that activated while MA produced language (cognitive process). 
    • The ongoing activity in the brain would not be able to be seen using other technologies such as EEGs or MRIs. 


  • What is the significance of using brain scans? Answer the question
    • In conclusion, brain imaging technologies are very useful in investigating cognitive processes. 
    • Useful in different situations.
    • All these methods have their own advantages and disadvantages, primarily involving invasiveness and levels of radioactivity.
    • However, all of these methods contribute to investigating the relationship between cognitive processes and behaviour.
    • It is important to note that different brain scans are used depending on the individual, the cause of the problem and or the cognitive process being investigated.