Do you know what the term “neuroscience” means and when it was coined? Do you know the crucial moments in the history of this discipline? Do you know that there are several sub-disciplines in the field? Test your knowledge of the subject by answering the following five questions.
1. True or false? The term “neuroscience” dates back to the 1960s and refers to the scientific study of the nervous system, from molecules to cognitive and behavioural functions.
Note that the nervous system includes our fascinating brain. In terms of the field’s history, we are most familiar with its advances in the 1990s, when the advent of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) shed new light on the functioning of the brain, allowing live and safe visualization of its structure and function.
However, the origins of neuroscience can be traced back to the 19th century. In the 1830s, German scientists Matthias Jakob Schleiden and Theodor Schwann provided the basis for the theory that would become the foundation of biology, the cell theory, which presents the cell as the structural and functional unit of all living organisms.
However, the brain tissue could not be stained the same way as other tissues in the body, preventing scientists from checking whether it corresponded to the cell theory. It is to the Italian doctor Camillo Golgi that we owe the discovery in 1873, in an unexpected way, of how to stain neurons and their tree-like extension, allowing them to be observed under the microscope.
However, the Italian doctor’s technique was challenging to implement, and it was the Spanish neuroanatomist and histologist Santiago Ramon y Cajal who succeeded in standardizing it a few years later, which allowed him to produce thousands of drawings from his observations, giving an idea of how the brain works for the first time.
Find out more: 5 Milestones in the History of Neuroscience
2. Which of the following statements about the advances in neuroscience in recent decades is incorrect?
A) It has been confirmed that the brain can evolve and adapt throughout life.
B) Some fundamental mechanisms and factors involved in learning have been revealed.
C) It provided a better understanding of some neurological problems, mainly dyslexia, dyscalculia and dementia.
D) It has been confirmed that neurons are the only cells of major importance in brain function.
Since the early 2000s, with the sophisticated microscopes developed for molecular biology, scientists have been able to see the glial cells (or glia) that surround neurons at work. For every 85 million neurons, our brain has 100 million glial cells, and researchers have found that they play a much more important role than previously thought. Divided into three groups, they can either make myelin, the sheath that protects neurons, defend the immune functions of the nervous system or work to support, nourish and protect neurons.
This new field of exploration has prompted some neuroscientists to predict that a new conception of the brain, less centred on neurons and making more room for their neighbouring cells, could soon be born.
Find out more: 5 Milestones in the History of Neuroscience
3. The field of neuroscience involves a wide range of disciplines from biology to chemistry and from mathematics to computer science. Select the correct term to complete the statements about its major branches or sub-disciplines.
Terms: clinical, neuropsychological, molecular, mathematics
A) “________ and cellular” neuroscience studies the biological mechanisms of the nervous system at their smallest scale, that of molecules and cells (neurons, glial cells, neurotransmitters, etc.).
B) “Cognitive” neuroscience uses tests ________, cognitive tasks and psychophysics, as well as the most sophisticated brain imaging techniques to try to unravel the mysteries of higher mental functions (perception, memory, language, etc.).
C) “Medical” neuroscience, also known as “________,” is interested in the normal functioning of the nervous system as well as its disorders (trauma, dementia, Parkinson’s, mental illness, etc.) to treat and prevent them better.
D) “Computational” neuroscience analyzes biological and clinical data on the nervous system using techniques from ________, physics and computer science.
The complete, correct statements are:
A) “Molecular and cellular” neuroscience studies the biological mechanisms of the nervous system at their smallest scale, that of molecules and cells (neurons, glial cells, neurotransmitters, etc.).
B) “Cognitive” neuroscience uses neuropsychological tests, cognitive tasks and psychophysics, as well as the most sophisticated brain imaging techniques to try to unravel the mysteries of higher mental functions (perception, memory, language, etc.).
C) “Medical” neurosciences, also called “clinical,” is interested in the normal functioning of the nervous system as well as its disorders (trauma, dementia, Parkinson’s, mental illness, etc.) to treat and prevent them better.
D) “Computational” neuroscience analyzes biological and clinical data on the nervous system using techniques from mathematics, physics and computer science.
Find out more: 4 Branches of Neuroscience
4. True or False? In education, the objective of neuroscience, which can be described as “hard” science, is to replace the approaches based on theories of learning – constructivism, cognitivism and so on – which have become popular but belong to the so-called “soft” sciences.
Building bridges between the cognitive sciences in general – of which neuroscience is a part – and the education community is also essential for neuroscientists. Recalling that these sciences are recent, evolving and have yet to stabilize, neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene maintains that “it is necessary to establish a permanent dialogue to verify and validate in the classroom what cognitive sciences can say from a very general point of view about the organization of the brain.”
It is, therefore, not a question of rejecting approaches based on learning theories – constructivism, cognitivism and so on – which have been used in schools. Instead, the goal is to take advantage of the unique insight offered by neuroscience to determine the most effective teaching approaches based on evidence. Moreover, neuroscience often comes up with the same findings as other research methods, which reinforces its scientific value and thus the very credibility of the educational sciences.
Find out more: Education through the lens of neuroscience
5. Which of the following contributions to the field of education can be attributed at least partly to neuroscience?
A) To unveil specific brain characteristics that affect learning and that cannot be perceived otherwise by studying the brain.
B) To develop remedial approaches based on the brain mechanisms responsible for learning problems.
C) To better understand memory and its links with knowledge and executive functions.
D) To facilitate the personalization of learning.
ALL THESE ANSWERS
Did you know that neuroscience is also involved in combating neuromyths, which are erroneous beliefs about brain function that are particularly widespread in education (learning styles, left or right brain, etc.)?
Find out more: 10 Contributions of Neuroscience to Education