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Neurological Foundations of Cognitive Neuroscience Review - Neurological Foundations of Cognitive Neuroscience
by Mark D'Esposito (editor)
MIT Press, 2002
Review by Liam Dempsey
Mar 24th 2003 (Volume 7, Issue 13)

Neurological Foundations of Cognitive Neuroscience is a collection of eleven contributed chapters that attempt to bridge the cognitive neuroscientist’s study of the neural mechanisms that underpin normal cognition and the behavioral neurologist’s study of clinical disorders.  Each chapter is written by a neurologist who also practices cognitive neuroscience, each reviews a neurobehavioral syndrome, and each begins with at least one case report.  The study of brain damage, it is maintained, will lead us to a better understanding of the functioning of a normal brain.  In other words, it is hoped that we will come to better understand normal human cognitive functioning through the study of the mechanisms responsible for the cognitive deficits associated with each syndrome.  A number of chapters attempt to reconcile data derived from disparate methodologies, and all approach these syndromes from both cognitive and neurological perspectives.

The first chapter, contributed by Anjan Chatterjee, concerns unilateral spatial neglect, a syndrome “in which patients are unaware of entire sectors of space on the side opposite of their lesion” (1).  For example, a patient may neglect parts of their environment, parts of their own body, or even parts of scenes in their imagination.  Research into neglect, Chatterjee argues, has important implications for our understanding of how we represent space and for how attention is related to perception and action.  What’s more, Chatterjee contends that “there is a remarkable convergence” of ideas about spatial attention and representation “across different disciplines with highly varied traditions and methods” (17).  In the second chapter, Robert Rafal considers Bálint’s syndrome.  A disorder of visual cognition, Bálint’s syndrome is characterized by a subject’s inability to grasp or locate objects in their visual environment; although the subject may recognize the objects in question, their appearance is fleeting, their features jumbled.  “These patients are helpless in a visually chaotic world” (27).  The experience of subjects with Bálint’s syndrome, Rafal contends, “provides critical insights into the neural basis of visual attention and perception, and how they operate together normally to provide coherent perceptual experience and efficient goal-directed behavior” (38).  The third contributor, Michael S. Mega examines amnesia.  Drawing on clinical, animal, and imaging studies, Mega identifies brain regions responsible for the spontaneous retrieval and recognition of new information concluding that “the growing body of data will benefit not only our theories of normal memory function but also our diagnosis of subtle memory defects, and perhaps their treatment” (56).  Chapter four, contributed by John R. Hodges, considers semantic dementia.  Also a memory disorder, semantic dementia involves an impairment of semantic memory, “our database of knowledge about things in the world and their interrelationship” (67).  Giving an overview of his and his colleagues’ work over the last decade, Hodges emphasizes what can be gleaned about normal semantic memory from the study of patients with semantic dementia.  Topographical disorientation is the topic taken up by Geoffrey K. Aguirre in chapter five.  Topographical disorientation is a selective loss of “way-finding ability within the locomotor environment” (89).  Distinguishing four categories of disorientation, Aguirre concludes that the past decade has seen the development of important insights into this disorder.  “Driven by the success of the cognitive neuroscience program,” Aguirre writes, “it is now possible to attribute varieties of topographical disorientation to particular impairments in cognitive function” (105).  The sixth chapter, contributed by H. Branch Coslett, considers acquired dyslexia.  Giving a historical and theoretical overview of acquired dyslexia, and utilizing information-processing models as well as functional neuroimaging studies, Coslett challenges contemporary accounts of the mechanisms that mediate reading.  The performance of WT, Coslett’s case report patient, “argues for an additional reading mechanism by which word-specific stored information contacts speech production mechanisms directly” (109). Chapter seven is contributed by Darren R. Gitelman and concerns the disorder of numerical cognition acalculia which results in various calculation deficits.  Gitelman reviews the behavioral neuroanatomy and cognitive neuroscience that underpins various aspects of numerical processing.  “The range of processes participating in calculations,” Gitelman writes, “suggests that this function has few equals among cognitive operations in terms of integration across a multiplicity of cognitive domains” (157).  Gitelman closes with recommendations for bedside testing.  In chapter eight Michael P. Alexander takes up the disorder known as transcortical motor aphasia (TCMA) which is marked by impoverished but grammatical utterances, preserved oral reading and recitation, and auditory and written comprehension.  Alexander reviews the clinical and cognitive neuroscience concerning TCMA, focusing specifically on dynamic aphasia, “the cleanest exemplar of TCMA” (169).  Of special interest for Alexander are the implications of these disorders for understanding action planning.  “Dynamic aphasia,” Alexander writes, “appears to be an ideal substrate for analyzing the elements of action planning.  Mapping the conceptual framework of action plans on to language production should be a path to a clearer understanding of both” (172). Chapter nine, contributed Jeffrey R. Binder, takes up Wernicke’s aphasia, the central characteristic of which “is a disturbance of language comprehension, manifested by incorrect or unexpected responses to spoken commands . . .” (177).  Binder considers processing models, lesion correlation studies, and functional neuroimaging studies to illuminate this multifaceted syndrome.  The penultimate chapter, contributed by Scott Grafton, concerns apraxia, “a disturbance of goal-directed motor behavior characterized by an inability to perform previously learned movements in the absence of weakness or sensory defects” (239).  Grafton considers historically important developments in the study of apraxia from a number of different perspectives including contemporary anatomy and motor physiology, and lesion and neuroimaging studies.  Grafton points to a number of remaining questions about apraxia, emphasizing “the need to define the relationship between apraxia and action-oriented perceptual processing” (253).  The eleventh and final chapter is contributed by Robert T. Knight and Mark D’Esposito and considers lateral prefrontal syndrome, a disorder that affects the executive control of goal directed-behavior.  Beginning with an overview of the range of cognitive functions that have been attributed to the lateral prefrontal cortices, Knight and Esposito “present experimental evidence derived from neuropsychological, electrophysiological, and functional neuroimaging research that supports a critical role for lateral PFC in executive control of goal directed behavior” (259).

Of interest to both the novice and advanced reader, The Neurological Foundations of Cognitive Neuroscience addresses many fascinating topics in cognitive neuroscience and related areas and is of use for both those wishing to better understand neurobehavioral syndromes, and those wishing to deepen their understanding of normal cognitive processing.  For although many recently published texts provide descriptions of various neurobehavioral syndromes, this book sets itself apart both by emphasizing the study of normal human cognition in the context of patients with cognitive deficits and by the robust interdisciplinary approach it advocates and employs.

 

© 2003 Liam Dempsey

Liam Dempsey is a doctoral candidate (ABD) in the department of philosophy at the University of Western Ontario.  His interests include philosophy of mind and the metaphysics of qualia, philosophy of psychology, and cognitive science.


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