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Neuropsychology

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Neuropsychology

An introduction to neuropsychology explores the various aspects of human behaviour and cognition and how the nervous system affects these two areas. It is a biological perspective as it examines the brain to understand human behaviours. Many neuropsychologists are interested in how dysfunctional behaviours can be related to disorders within the brain. With the advancements in neuroimaging techniques, the ability to study the brain and relate it to behaviour has made leaps and bounds.

So, what are the various techniques we can use to study the brain? What are the different types of neurological damage that can affect behaviour and cognition?

  • First, we are going to provide a neuropsychology definition.
  • Followed by an in-depth discussion of the types of neuropsychology, identifying the nuances of neuropsychology, and the differences between neuroscience and neuropsychology.
  • Throughout, we will provide plenty of neuropsychology examples to illustrate our points.
  • Finally, we will discuss the various ethical issues in neuropsychology.

Neuropsychology, a man thinking of jigsaw pieces as a woman assembles a jigsaw in a brain, StudySmarterNeuropsychology explores how the brain and nervous system affect cognition and behaviour, freepik.com/vectorjuice

Neuropsychology Definition

We can define neuropsychology as:

Neuropsychology is the study of the nervous system and how the various physiological processes involved in the nervous system affect human behaviour and cognition, specifically how disorders within the brain result in dysfunctional behaviours. Some argue neuropsychology is the study of the mind (this is important when trying to understand the difference between neuroscience and neuropsychology!)

To recap, it's worth knowing what we mean by the nervous system when discussing the topic of neuropsychology. So, the nervous system consists of two parts:

  1. The central nervous system (CNS) - consists of the brain and spinal cord.
  2. The peripheral nervous system - consists of neurons connecting the CNS to the body and can be further divided into the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and the somatic nervous system.

The ANS can be divided even further! The sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) are both subdivisions of the ANS.

The nervous system cells are neurons, and they are key in the transmission of information around the body.

Types of Neuropsychology

Neuropsychology encompasses a wide range of topics and is relatively new in the grand scheme of things, but we can separate it somewhat into two types:

  1. Clinical neuropsychology
  2. Cognitive neuropsychology

They differ both in their focus and application of knowledge in neuropsychology.

Clinical Neuropsychology

Clinical neuropsychology uses the knowledge and information neuropsychology provides and applies it to people in a clinical format, assessing potential issues and dysfunctions with the brain and identifying treatment methods.

Think of neuropsychology as the explanation and study of disorders and clinical neuropsychology as its application to treat people. Typically, clinical neuropsychologists undergo specialised training to do this. They assess how brain injuries, diseases, or illnesses, in general, affect behaviour and cognition and then formulate plans to help treat the issues.

Clinical neuropsychologists, according to the British Psychological Association¹, can:

  • Assess a patient (providing a diagnosis and treatment plans, assessing the impact of the dysfunction on behaviour).
  • Treat the patient (providing strategies and training to overcome effects of brain dysfunction, illnesses, and injuries, and help people cope with any feelings/adjustments they have to make).
  • Providing research (by working with patients, they can answer many questions revolving around the effects of brain injuries and how they impact the people affected, including family and friends).

Cognitive Neuropsychology

Cognitive neuropsychology is similar to neuropsychology overall. It is interested in studying the brain and how the physiological processes involved in the nervous system affect behaviour and cognition, specifically focusing on the effects of disorders. Unlike clinical neuropsychology, however, it is more interested in identifying information through the study of patients rather than providing treatment paths and assessing medical needs.

It can be considered one of the more scientific-based branches of psychology.

Think of cognitive neuropsychology as a research branch of neuropsychology, specifically focusing on brain and behaviour disorder relationships. In contrast, clinical is more focused on using this information to assess and treat individuals.

Neuropsychology, a man standing next to a large brain with a light bulb indicating an idea, StudySmarterClinical neuropsychology is different to cognitive neuropsychology, freepik.com/vectorjuice

Cognitive Neuroscience: Difference between neuroscience and neuropsychology

Cognitive neuroscience sounds intimidating at first glance, but it essentially focuses on the structure and function of the brain and how it can affect and shape human behaviour and cognition. It is similar to neuropsychology, although some may argue it is the most scientific division overall of psychology.

Cognitive neuroscience looks at how activity within the brain can relate to and affect cognition and behaviour.

The difference between neuroscience and neuropsychology is that neuroscience is the study of the brain, focused on how structure and function affect behaviour and cognition. In contrast, neuropsychology is the study of how disorders of these processes affect the mind.

The two blend somewhat, and many debate how closely the two are related, but it helps to remember that:

  • Neuropsychology is focused more so on disorders and how it affects cognition and behaviour, and neuroscience is more focused on studying the structure and function of the brain overall.

The brain can be separated into distinct parts and areas of function.

For example, the somatosensory cortex aids the interpretation of touch, pain, and temperature, whereas the motor cortex is responsible for voluntary movement.

Broca's area is responsible for speech production and is located just below the strip of the brain known as the motor cortex, whereas Wernicke's area is responsible for understanding language and is located closer to the auditory cortex.

Scanning Techniques: Neuropsychology examples

Neuropsychology and neuroscience alike both benefit immensely from the use of scanning techniques. Scanning techniques allow researchers to investigate the brain like never before.

Previously, to understand a disorder, medical professionals had to rely on invasive techniques such as surgery to look at the brain's inner mechanisms.

Similarly, if this weren't possible, they would have to resort to post-mortems (examination after death) to gain an insight into the potential disorders affecting the brain and infer conclusions based on any present damage or structural abnormalities. Both are not ideal.

Examples of scanning techniques researchers, psychologists, and medical professionals can use include:

  1. CT (computerised tomography) scan - uses X-ray beams to take images (slices) for a cross-sectional view of the body's internal state.
  2. PET (positron emission tomography) scan - uses radioactive dyes to identify issues with function in the body and brain.
  3. fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scan - uses magnets and computers to create images of the body by affecting the alignment of nuclei using the magnetic fields, identifying function/dysfunction through identifying blood flow (BOLD imaging).

Tulving's Gold Memory Study

Tulving sought to understand the relation between memory and brain activity. Using case studies, Tulving injected six volunteering participants with a gold radioactive isotope, which subsequently spread into the brain.

As the isotope had a half-life of 30 seconds, the risk was fairly low!

This allowed Tulving to use a PET scan (which we discussed above) to identify the areas of function.

  • Participants were asked to think of either an episodic memory or a semantic memory, with reference to how recent the memories were. Participants, after a minute, were then injected, and scans were taken to measure regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF). This is used to measure brain functioning.
  • Twelve rapid scans were obtained through eight trials, and three of the participant's results were dismissed due to issues with the consistency of their readings.

The results indicated a clear difference in blood flow depending on the type of memory the participants were asked to think about, irrespective of the recency of the memories.

Neurological Damage and the Ethical issues of Neuropsychology

Neurological damage can significantly impact the brain's functioning and, subsequently, cognition.

A stroke, for instance, occurs when blood supply and, therefore, oxygen to the brain is restricted or cut off. Without a constant blood supply, the brain cells deprived of oxygen begin to die.

Depending on the stroke, this can result in significant damage and loss of function. The loss of function can be permanent, and long-term symptoms can range from loss of motor abilities, such as paralysis and incontinence, to vision problems and issues with general fatigue.

Behaviour can also be affected, with patients feeling more irritable and quick to anger, sad or depressed, and losing interest in their favourite activities.

The severity varies depending on how long the stroke occurred and how long it took to receive treatment.

Another example of neurological damage can be seen in the case of Phineas Gage.

Phineas Gage is a famous case in psychology where brain injury resulted in observable changes in behaviour. It was particularly significant due to the extent of the damage the injury caused.

Phineas Gage had an accident at work where an iron rod went through his left frontal lobe. Gage miraculously survived, but he lost his eye in the accident and behaved differently following the injury. Friends of Gage reported he was more aggressive, behaved erratically and was often vulgar and intolerable to most people afterwards.

A significant difference from the hard-working individual they previously described him as!

Ethical issues in neuropsychology

Neuropsychology is a relatively new field compared to the likes of psychology and takes a more biological, scientific approach to studying the mind. As a result, it has to consider the ethical issues the neuropsychology study can create. Overall, neuropsychology typically is bound by the same constraints psychology ethics are tied to.

Some additional examples of ethical issues to consider are:

  • Potential harm to patients/participants - use of PET scans, for instance. PET scans are somewhat radioactive and pose a small risk to the patients. Fortunately, PET scans are used only when necessary for this reason.
  • Informed consent - similar to that of psychology, neuropsychology offers potential avenues of treatment and also looks into various areas of research that require informed consent.
  • Treatment issues - treatment plans created through neuropsychological assessment come with their own risks and benefits, so the patients need to understand these risks before agreeing to treatment.
  • Invasive techniques - although neuropsychology has moved on and developed advanced techniques to study the brain, some procedures can still be considered invasive.

An introduction to neuropsychology - Key takeaways

  • Neuropsychology is the study of the nervous system and how the various physiological processes involved in the nervous system affect human behaviour and cognition, specifically in how disorders within the brain result in dysfunctional behaviours.
  • Some argue neuropsychology is the study of the mind (important when distinguishing the difference between neuroscience and neuropsychology!).
  • Neuropsychology can consist of two main types, clinical neuropsychology and cognitive neuropsychology.
  • Scanning techniques include CT, PET, and fMRI scans.
  • Tulving's Gold memory study highlighted how semantic and episodic memories vary in the areas of the brain they produce activity in.
  • Neurological disorders can greatly impact brain functioning and, subsequently, behaviour. A stroke, for instance, can cause brain cells to die and result in permanent damage and loss of functioning (paralysis, mood changes).

References

  1. British Psychological Society, (2022). Retrieved from https://www.bps.org.uk/sites/bps.org.uk/files/Member%20Networks/Divisions/DoN/what%20is%20clinical%20neuropsychology.pdf

Frequently Asked Questions about Neuropsychology

Neuropsychology is the study of the nervous system and how the various physiological processes involved in the nervous system affect human behaviour and cognition, specifically how disorders within the brain result in dysfunctional behaviours. Some argue neuropsychology is the study of the mind (important when distinguishing it from neuroscience).

Cognitive neuropsychology is similar to neuropsychology overall. It is interested in studying the brain and how the physiological processes involved in the nervous system affect behaviour and cognition, specifically focusing on the effects of disorders. Think of cognitive neuropsychology as a research branch of neuropsychology, specifically focusing on brain and behaviour disorder relationships.  

Neuropsychology tends to rely on scanning techniques such as CT scans, PET scans, and fMRI scans in their methodology. However, methods can vary; the above scanning techniques are fairly common in neuropsychological research. 

An example of neuropsychology can be seen in the study of strokes, and the development of a treatment plan based on this research. 

There are multiple divisions of neuropsychology, namely clinical neuropsychology and cognitive neuropsychology. 

Final Neuropsychology Quiz

Question

What is neuropsychology?

Show answer

Answer

Neuropsychology is the study of the nervous system and how the various physiological processes involved in the nervous system affect human behaviour and cognition, specifically how disorders within the brain result in dysfunctional behaviours. Some argue neuropsychology is the study of the mind (important when distinguishing it from neuroscience). 

Show question

Question

What are the two key parts of the nervous system?

Show answer

Answer

  1. The central nervous system (CNS) - consists of the brain and spinal cord
  2. The peripheral nervous system - consists of neurons connecting the CNS to the body, and can be further divided into the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and the somatic nervous system


Show question

Question

The autonomic nervous system can be divided into the ______ and _______ nervous systems.

Show answer

Answer

sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest)  

Show question

Question

Neurons are the ___ of the nervous system

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Answer

Cells

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Question

What are two types of neuropsychology?

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Answer

  1. Clinical neuropsychology
  2. Cognitive neuropsychology

Show question

Question

What is clinical neuropsychology?

Show answer

Answer

Clinical neuropsychology uses the knowledge and information neuropsychology provides and applies it to people in a clinical format, assessing potential issues and dysfunctions with the brain and identifying treatment methods. 


Show question

Question

What is cognitive neuropsychology?

Show answer

Answer

Cognitive neuropsychology is similar to neuropsychology overall. It is interested in studying the brain and how the physiological processes involved in the nervous system affect behaviour and cognition, specifically focusing on the effects of disorders. It is more interested in identifying information through the study of patients rather than providing treatment paths and assessing medical needs.  

Show question

Question

What is cognitive neuroscience?

Show answer

Answer

Cognitive neuroscience focuses on the structure and function of the brain and how it can affect and shape human behaviour and cognition. 

Show question

Question

What is the difference between neuroscience and neuropsychology?

Show answer

Answer

The difference between neuroscience and neuropsychology is that neuroscience studies the brain focused on how structure and function affect behaviour and cognition. In contrast, neuropsychology studies how disorders of these processes affect the mind.  

Show question

Question

The somatosensory cortex aids the interpretation of ____, ___, and _______.

Show answer

Answer

touch, pain, and temperature 

Show question

Question

Broca's area is responsible for what?

Show answer

Answer

Broca's area is responsible for speech production and is located just below the strip of the brain known as the motor cortex.

Show question

Question

What are the different scanning techniques used in neuropsychology?

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Answer

  1. CT (computerised tomography) scan - uses X-ray beams to take images (slices) for a cross-sectional view of the body's internal state.
  2. PET (positron emission tomography) scan - uses radioactive dyes to identify issues with function in the body and brain.
  3. fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scan - uses magnets and computers to create images of the body by affecting the alignment of nuclei using the magnetic fields, identifying function/dysfunction through identifying blood flow (BOLD imaging).

Show question

Question

What did Tulving's Gold Memory Study find?

Show answer

Answer

The results indicated a clear difference in blood flow depending on the type of memory the participants were asked to think about (semantic vs. episodic), irrespective of the recency of the memories.  

Show question

Question

How does a stroke result in neurological damage and affect behaviour and cognition?

Show answer

Answer

A stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain is restricted or cut off, causing brain cells to die.


This can result in significant damage and loss of function. The loss of function can be permanent, resulting in paralysis, incontinence, vision problems etc.


Behaviour can also be affected, with patients feeling more irritable and quick to anger, sad or depressed, and losing interest in their favourite activities. 

Show question

Question

What happened to Phineas Gage?

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Answer

Phineas Gage had an accident at work where an iron rod went through his left frontal lobe. According to his friends, he became more aggressive and vulgar after his accident. 

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Question

What is cognitive neuroscience?

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Answer

Cognitive neuroscience attempts to understand the origins of cognition by analysing the physical processes that happen in the brain.

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How does cognitive neuroscience work?

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Cognitive neuroscience works by combining behavioural data with data gathered from observations of the brain and brain activity.

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Question

What are three modern forms of neural imaging?

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Answer

PET scans, MRI scans and CT scans are used in cognitive neuroscience.

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Question

How do PET scans work?

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Answer

PET scans work by highlighting the presence of radioactive tracers, which are injected into the blood and can be used to detect brain activity.

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How do CT scans work?

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CT scans work by using X-Rays to create an accurate 3D model of someone's brain. This allows doctors and researchers to detect damage to the brain.

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How do MRI scans work?

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MRI scans show a real-time image of the brain by using a combination of radio waves and magnetic fields.

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Question

What is the difference between MRI and fMRI?

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fMRI shows metabolic function, while MRI only shows brain structure. Patients are given prompts, questions and instructions to trigger activity in different parts of the brain which can be observed.

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Question

Why are fMRI scans better than PET scans?

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Answer

fMRI scans are superior to PET scans as they perform a similar function but they can be repeated as they don't use any radioactive material, resulting in a clearer image.

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Question

What are the risks of neural imaging techniques?

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Answer

PET scans and CT scans involve the use of radiation. PET scans require the injection of radioactive material, and CT scans require using X-rays, which are high-energy radiation waves.

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Question

What happened to Phineas Gage?

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Answer

Phineas Gage was working on a railroad when an accident involving explosives propelled a metal bar through his head.

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Question

Why is Phineas Gage's story relevant to cognitive neuroscience?

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Answer

Gage's injury resulted in marked changes to his cognition, which suggested that the physical damage to his brain caused the changes to his cognition, which supports a key assumption of cognitive neuroscience.

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What did Ratiu et al. (2004) determine about Gage's injury and its effects?

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Answer

The study found that Gage's left frontal lobe was badly damaged, which could have been the cause of his changes in cognition.

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Question

What was the aim of Tulving's memory study?

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Answer

Tulving's study aimed to find a link between different types of memories and respective activity in the brain. 

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Question

What was the method of Tulving's study?

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Answer

Tulving injected participants with a radioactive gold tracer isotope and instructed them to recall a memory. He then analysed how different types of memory would elicit activity in different parts of the brain.

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Question

What did Tulving's study find?

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Answer

Tulving's study found that there was a clear difference in brain activity between participants that imagined different types of memory. Episodic memories highlighted the temporal and frontal lobes, and semantic memories highlighted the cerebral cortex's parietal and occipital lobes.

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Question

What techniques of studying the brain did researchers rely on before the invention of neuroimaging techniques?

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Answer

Post-mortem autopsies

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Question

What organ was thought to be linked to psychological functioning before the brain?

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Answer

The heart

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Question

What are the two types of neuroimaging technique?

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Answer

Structural and functional imaging techniques.

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Question

Computed Tomography is an example of a ___

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Answer

Structural imaging technique

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Question

What are structural imaging techniques used for?

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Answer

Producing a detailed image of brain structures.

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What are functional imaging techniques used for?

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Answer

They  are used to investigate the activity of the brain which occurs while we perform certain actions. 

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Question

What differentiates the different brain structures on a CT scan?

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Answer

Differences in X-ray radiation absorption.

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Question

The skull absorbs the most radiation on a CT scan. What is the colour of the skull on the scan?

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Answer

White

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Question

Which neuroimaging technique is more precise?

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Answer

fMRI scan

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Question

Which techniques use changes in blood flow to measure brain activity?

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Answer

PET scan

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Question

Why is PET considered an invasive neuroimaging technique?

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Answer

Because it involves an injection of a radioactive tracer.

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Question

What neuroimaging technique was used in the Tulving's (1989) Gold memory study?

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Answer

PET scans

Show question

Question

How does the fMRI measure changes in blood flow?

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Answer

fMRI uses a strong magnetic field sensitive to the concentration of deoxyhemoglobin, a molecule associated with greater brain activity.

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Question

What is the smallest unit of activity measurement in an fMRI called?

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Answer

Voxel

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Question

What are the benefits of neuroimaging techniques?

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Answer

1. Expanded neuroscience research e.g. discovery of REM sleep.

2. Important tool for diagnosis.

3. Helped identify structures involved in certain functions and behaviours.

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