Neuropsychology Breakthroughs You Don’t Know About
5 Recent Advancements in Neuropsychology
Neuropsychology is the study of the brain and how it impacts and influences human behavior. In order to become a neuropsychologist, you must first earn a degree in neuropsychology for your undergraduate and/or graduate studies. Neuropsychology professionals also conduct research to help advance the field. Their findings often have implications outside of just neuropsychology.
What is Neuropsychology?
Neuropsychology is the study of the relationship between the brain and human behavior. Different areas of the brain, as well as different systems and connections within the brain, are responsible for producing behaviors, emotions, and thoughts, which represents the psychological process.
Essentially, without the research and field of neuropsychology, we would know very little about why individuals behave the way they do. Given the substantial connection between the brain and human behavior, neuropsychology is useful across many fields and disciplines, including areas of psychology and medicine. Therefore, it is important to consider how the many recent advancements within neuropsychology research impacts different specialties and populations.
#1: Depressed Adults Pay More Attention to Negative Information
One advancement within neuropsychology research has the potent to change the way depression is treated in the future. Researchers Dainer-Best, Trujillo, Schneyer and Beevers published a study in 2017 titled, “Sustained Engagement of Attention is Associated with Increased Negative Self-Referent Processing in Major Depressive Disorder” in Biological Psychology. The study examined brain waves and information processing of 22 individuals diagnosed with major depressive disorder and compared their results to a control group 24 healthy individuals with no depression diagnosis.
The researchers used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure study participants’ brain waves while they were shown negative and positive words on a computer and made quick decisions on the words described them. The results from this study confirmed previous research that found depressed individuals were more likely to describe themselves using negative words. However, the researchers found new findings from their study that demonstrated depressed individual’s brain waves showed their attention was captured more significantly by negative words than positive words in the later stages of information processing.
The results from this study are an important advancement in the field as they could help future researchers and practitioners target their treatment towards how depressed individual’s process information and pay more attention to negative words. The researchers encourage future studies to examine if new treatment methods designed to address information processing can help improve depressive symptoms. You can view the full article through Research Gate to learn more about the findings in this study.
#2: Neuro-Exercises Improves Cognitive Functioning in Aging Adults
Researchers completed a pilot study that assessed cognitive functioning in older adults during a two month pilot clinical trial. The study participants completed physical and mental virtual exercises to determine if their cognition would improve within the two months. Researchers Anderson-Hanley and colleagues published the study in 2018, titled “The Interactive Physical and Cognitive Exercise System (iPACESTM): Effects of a 2-Month In-Home Pilot Clinical Trial for Mild Cognitive Impairment and Caregivers” in Clinical Interventions in Aging.
The results of this study found participants’ cognitive skills including executive functioning and verbal memory, improved after completing the 3-month pilot clinical trial. Their improved cognition was also confirmed by salivary biomarkers in which researchers measured their stress levels (i.e., cortisol) and found they were indictive of having increased cognition. These findings are important because they suggest that these types of physical and mental exercises could help improve cognitive functioning in older adults to help promote healthy aging. The full article can be viewed for further information on these new findings.
#3: Neuropsychological Deficits in Preschool Predict Adolescent ADHD Issues
Researchers Sjöwall, Bohlin, Rydell and Thorell published a study in 2017 titled “Neuropsychological Deficits in Preschool as Predictors of ADHD Symptoms and Academic Achievement in Late Adolescence” in Child Neuropsychology. The study examined participants over a period of approximately 13 years, starting in preschool and ending in late adolescence. The researchers measured the relationship between ADHD symptoms, academic achievement, and neuropsychological features such as executive functioning, reaction time variability, working memory, emotion reactivity, and emotional regulation (both positive and negative emotions) in preschool and over time.
The study found the source of neuropsychological deficits in preschoolers were related to ADHD symptom, and this could impact academic achievement in adolescence. The findings suggest that screening for neuropsychological deficits in preschool could help identify children at risk for future negative outcomes related to Attention-Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and poor academic achievement.
Neuropsychological features such as working memory and reaction time were significantly correlated to academic achievement in late adolescence. Additionally, the study found specific neuropsychological deficits that resulted in both inattention (i.e., working memory, reaction time variability, and emotional regulation of happiness/exuberance) and hyperactivity/impulsivity (i.e., emotional regulation of happiness/exuberance and anger reactivity).
These findings suggest it is important to consider both negative and positive emotions as well as neuropsychological deficits beyond executive functioning when screening and assessing for ADHD symptoms. This could be a valuable tool to prevent the negative consequences of ADHD symptoms and help improve academic achievement for children growing up in school. The
#4: Veteran’s Neuropsychological Process Predict Maladaptive Thinking in Trauma
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a significant issue most often associated with military veterans. Unfortunately, the disorder has yet to be fully researched and studied to help doctors understand the best way in which to treat this disorder, particularly among soldiers returning from combat. Researchers Hart and colleagues published a study in 2017 titled “Neuropsychological Predictors of Trauma Centrality in OIF/OEF Veterans.” The study examined neurological processes and trauma centrality and 41 male military combat veterans, including 11 with PTSD and 30 without PTSD.
The results found that veterans who had higher levels of trauma also had higher levels of PTSD and depression and had lower levels of neuropsychological processes, including cognitive flexibility and working memory. Furthermore, working memory and cognitive flexibility were associated with trauma.
The results from this study are important because although it was already known that high levels of trauma are often associated with PTSD, this study revealed that neuropsychological processes such as working memory and cognitive flexibility are also related to high levels of trauma centrality. Thus, these findings help researchers and practitioners understand ways they can address treatment and PTSD symptoms related to neuropsychological processes such as working memory and cognitive flexibility. You can also view the full article at Read Cube to learn more about the findings in this study.
#5: New Understanding in the Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) continues to affect a large majority of aging adults. A paper was published by Molinuevo, Minguillon, Rami, and Gispert in 2018, titled “The Rationale Behind the New Alzheimer’s Disease Conceptualization: Lessons Learned During the Last Decades” in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The paper discussed the new way in which Alzheimer’s disease is being conceptualized because of new research findings over the past decade. The authors explain how AD has newly been categorized into three stages including preclinical, mild cognitive impairment or prodromal AD, and dementia.
There are benefits that come from the recent discovery and understanding of the preclinical stage of AD. In the preclinical stage a person has abnormal biomarkers, but no or subtle cognitive impairment. Essentially, researchers are able to pinpoint the beginning stages of AD at a much earlier stage than they previously were capable, which is prior to when they start to have cognitive (i.e., thinking) impairments. As a result, practitioners and researchers can provide treatment at an earlier stage of the development of AD, which could help reduce or prevent progression of the disease over time. You can read the full article discussing the new advancements in diagnosing, preventing, and treating AD due to new conceptualizations.