Understanding Neuroscience and Neuropsychology

How different can neuroscience and neuropsychology be? After all, they both start with ‘neuro-‘ right? – Prats Raul


The renowned journal ‘Nature‘, defines neuroscience as a multidisciplinary science that is mainly involved in the study of the structure and function of the nervous system. It incorporates many different aspects, such as the evolution, development, cellular and molecular biology, physiology, anatomy and pharmacology of the nervous system. Furthermore, neuroscience contains various specific disciplines or branches, including computational, behavioural, and my personal favourite, Cognitive Neuroscience!

Neuroscientists fundamentally study how brain cells connect and communicate with other cells, the evolution of the brain, and as suggested by professor Usha Goswami FBA, how cells from the developing brain differentiate themselves, for instance, the formation of visual in contrast to auditory brain cells. Below are a few popular branches of neuroscience with a bit more elaboration:

  • Cognitive neuroscience is more about how the brain processes memory, language, sensation, perception, consciousness and executive functions. The Stroop effect test or Stroop task is a classic cognitive neuroscience tool where participants are required to report the colours in which a series of words are written, each word being printed in a different colour to what the word reads.

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  • Molecular and cellular neuroscience delves into proteins, genes and other molecules that guide neuronal function.
  • Clinical neuroscience explores the treatment and prevention of neurological disorders.
  • Neurogenetics focuses on genetic conditions such as Huntington’s disease, and also is also the study of inherited changes to neurons.

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  • Developmental neuroscience as the name suggests, primarily focuses on how the brain forms, grows, and changes.
  • Behavioural neuroscience looks at brain areas and processes that inform how animals and humans act.


Neuropsychology is the study of how the brain operates in order to produce the higher mental functions that broadly come under the areas of cognition, emotion and movement. Clinical neuropsychologists assess persons through clinical testing, in order to describe the psychological impairment and strength in association with the person’s specific kind of brain damage. Their goal is not so much to describe where the damage is located in the brain, but help patients with management of their condition and rehabilitation. For instance, a neuropsychologist may develop various strategies or employ rehabilitation techniques to aid patients diagnosed with unilateral neglect (also known as hemispatial neglect), which may be caused by a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or stroke, usually occurring in the right hemisphere of the brain. This results in a dramatic loss of attention on the left side (contralaterally to the damaged hemisphere).

If you are a student perusing clinical neuropsychology or are interested in neuropsychological disorders, I would highly recommend the above mentioned David Andrewes’ book titled Neuropsychology, from theory to practice.

Neuropsychological examination generally involves the administration of standardized tests using oral questions, paper and pencil tests, computers, and manipulation of materials, such as blocks and puzzles. Neuropsychology researchers may use imaging techniques and other tools, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), in order to visualize and stimulate specific regions of the brain. For example, to support a model (Kinsbourne’s opposing orientation model) that is used to potentially explain unilateral neglect, TMS was applied to either the left or right temporal parietal junction (TPJ) of the undamaged hemisphere of the brain, which resulted in an effect such that, attention was diverted back to the center (see more in David Andrewes: Neuropsychology, from theory to practice (page 141)).

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