AP Psychology Study Resource: Cerebral Hemispheres Information

You’ve probably heard about the different functions of the left and right brains, but you may not be aware of their functions. Although we have a long way to go before we fully understand all that our brains are capable of there are some things we do know about the cerebral hemispheres.

What Are the Cerebral Hemispheres?

Cerebral Hemispheres

The biggest part of our brain is called the cerebrum and it’s found at the top and front of our heads. It consists of two parts, the left and right hemisphere, which are separated by a bundle of nerves called the corpus callosum.

The two hemispheres are divided into four lobes called the frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal lobe. The left hemisphere is the side of your brain that manages language and logical thought processing while the right side manages visual and intuitive thought processes.

The cerebral hemispheres each control the opposite side of the body.

So, the left cerebral hemisphere controls the right side of the body and vice versa. If you experience a stroke in the left side of your brain, you will display physical symptoms on the right side of the body. However, the two hemispheres work together through the nerves that connects them in a process called lateralization.

Left-brain Right-brain Theory

Bear in mind that there is still a lot that we don’t know about the brain and how it functions, but neuroimaging techniques have shown us some distinct differences that have allowed psychologists and scientists to develop their theories.

The left-brain right-brain theory is still taught. However, it is now believed that both parts of the brain work more closely than previously thought.

Left-brain characteristics include the ability to understand a whole situation, not just parts of it. It also controls the larger muscle movements such as walking, balance, and the sense of where your body is in terms of the space around you.

The left hemisphere also helps to regulate avoidance behaviors, balance emotional functioning, helps you to sense sounds, smell, and taste and manages your non-verbal communication. It’s stimulated by new experiences and controls your immune system. It controls your involuntary bodily functions such as breathing, your heart rate, and digestion.

Your fine motor movements are controlled by the left hemisphere. Your problem-solving skills, your ability to understand what words mean and your mathematical skills are all left-brain functions.

As you would expect, your right brain controls the functions that are left such as your ability to grasp the concepts of more and less, but not the mathematical concepts of them. Processing the visual shape of things, understanding emotional nuances, and understanding ambiguity come from the right side of the brain.

Scientists understand that as children grow, the right side of the brain is dominant until around the age of three, as theses are the skills children need to learn to function as adults. As they get older, it becomes important to know which side of a child’s brain is more dominant, to know how they learn. A child who is left-brain dominant will learn easier when being taught with visual aids and a right brain child will learn easier with auditory aids.

What Happens If the Cerebral Hemispheres Are Damaged?

Cerebral Hemisphere

Despite the hardness of our skulls, brain damage is a relatively common occurrence particularly for people who engage in high risk activities. Of course, the extent of the injury or damage is what determines how quickly, and how well, a person will recover.

Right Hemisphere Brain Damage

Symptoms of right hemisphere brain damage can include:

    • Inability to focus attention on a specific task, object, or verbal communication.
  • Left-side neglect. This term is used to describe the inability to acknowledge the left-side of the body, objects, or people. They may not be able to read the left-hand side of a page or shave the left side of their face.
  • Inability to reason or solve problems. They may not understand that there is a problem or that that there is a way to fix it.
  • Memory problems. People with right hemisphere brain damage may not be able to learn information or recall previously learned information.
  • Lack of social skills. Non-verbal cues may not be understood, and they may make inappropriate comments or not understand jokes.
  • Disorganized behavior and/or communication. This will take the form of forgetting to answer emails or losing information. The person won’t be able to give accurate directions or explain processes.
  • Lack of insight. Often people with right brain damage are not aware that they are experiencing problems. This can sometimes make the condition difficult to treat.
  • Orientation problems. The person may not be able to recall important factual information such as names or dates and they may not know where they are.
  • Limited movement. They may struggle to move their limbs properly, particularly on the left side of the body.

Treatment for Right Hemisphere Damage

Speech language therapy can be helpful for people suffering from right hemisphere damage and the first task is often to help the patient understand that they are experiencing problems. Visual aids are used to keep patients on task and you may need to repeat instructions several times.

It’s important that a person with right hemisphere damage doesn’t become overwhelmed by too much stimuli, so a quiet room is needed to give instructions. Tasks need to be broken down into small, manageable steps and the person giving them should stand at the patient’s right side.

Left Hemisphere Brain Damage

Symptoms of left hemisphere brain damage can include:

    • Paralysis or weakness down the right side of the body.
    • Right-side neglect. This term is used to describe the inability to acknowledge the right-side of the body, objects, or people.
    • Speech and language problems. The person may appear confused.
    • Problems with daily activities that are well-established parts of your routine.
    • Lack of analytic skills. The person may struggle to problem-solve. They may also seem confused between left and right.
    • Inability to remember a sequence of instructions, dates or times.
    • Performing tasks slowly or taking longer to process thoughts and speech.
  • Emotional instability. The person may experience rapid mood swings or become overwhelmed emotionally.

Treatment for Left Hemisphere Brain Damage

Treatment is like right hemisphere brain damage and is focused on the individual symptoms. Physical and speech language therapy are options and support with problem-solving and physical tasks may be needed. The patient may also need to be treated for depression.

How Does a Stroke Damage the Cerebral Hemispheres?

Man experiencing heart attack

Strokes can be caused in one of two ways.

An Ischemic stroke is when clots form in the blood vessels of the brain, or in the blood vessels traveling to the brain. This is the most common cause of stroke and can also occur when there are too many fatty deposits or cholesterol in the blood vessels.

A Hemorrhagic stoke is when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures or breaks. Blood then seeps into the brain tissue which causes damage to the brain cells. This type of stroke can be caused by high blood pressure or a brain aneurysm.

The symptoms for both types of stroke include paralysis, numbness, or weakness in the face and down one side of the body. Your vision can be impaired, and you may have difficulty speaking. You may also struggle to walk properly and may have problems maintaining your balance. Sometimes, you may experience sudden, strong and severe headaches.

It’s also important to note that sometimes a person who is having a stroke may appear to be drunk. If they are displaying drunken behavior but you can’t smell alcohol, there is a strong possibility they are having a stroke.

The key to successfully treating a stroke is a quick response.

Women are more susceptible to strokes than men and if you suspect you, or a loved one, may be having a stroke you should get help immediately.

If a stroke is treated within three days, the patient can often make a full recover and damage to the cerebral hemispheres can be reversed. Research into stem cell therapy continues to make progress and new treatments may be available soon.

AP Psychology Study Resource: Cognitive Learning

Cognitive learning theory can be broken down into two specific branches: social cognitive theory and cognitive behavioral theory.

Both concepts consider the brain to be an information processor and concentrate on how we learn and the specific processes that are going on in the brain when we learn.

What Is Cognitive Learning Theory?

cognitive theory

In psychology, cognitive learning involves studying perception, memory, attention and focus, language, problem-solving and learning. Its focus is thinking.

In 1948, an American Psychologist, Edward Tolman challenged the behaviorist theories that were dominant at the time that stated our thought processes were governed by our environment.

Tolman believed that the brains of people, and animals, worked as information processors much like our present-day computers. He gave us the term cognitive map to describe the process of taking external stimuli and internalizing it to form a mental image in our minds.

He also further developed the theory of latent learning, which is learning that is not displayed at the time of teaching but is visible at a later point.

Tolman’s Work with C.H. Honzik

Tolman and Honzik conducted experiments with rats placed in mazes to prove Tolman’s theory of latent learning. They created three groups with the rats and gave one group a reward (food) when the rats reached the end of the maze.

The rats in the second group were given delayed rewards: for the first 10 days when they reached the end of the maze, they were taken out. From day 11 through to day 17, when they reached the end of the maze, they were given a reward.

The rats in the third group were never given rewards but were taken out of the maze when they reached the end.

Their results found that the second group of rats – those that received delayed rewards – formed a cognitive map of the maze from day 11 through to 17, because they had a goal (reward) to aim for. During days one to ten, they took longer to reach the end of the maze.

This proved that during the second part of the experiment, the rats were actively processing the information they had gathered during the first part of the experiment to get to the end of the maze, and receive the reward, quicker.

The Brain as a Computer

Brain as a Computer

The computer analogy is the term the cognitive psychologists use to compare the human brain to a computer’s processing system. This information processing approach works with the following assumptions.

  • Environmental information is processed in the brain by a series of processing systems. We know these systems as attention and focus, perception, and short-term memory.
  • The brain’s processing systems alter the environmental information.
  • Cognitive learning research is conducted to better understand the processes that drive our cognitive performance.
  • Our brain’s information processing systems work in the same way as a computer’s processing systems. Studying how a computer works will help us to understand how our brains work.

Social Cognitive Theory

Social Cognitive Theory

Social cognitive theory is comprised of three variables: behavioral, environmental or extrinsic, and personal or intrinsic factors. Learning occurs when these three factors interact with each other in certain ways.

  • Personal-environmental – our beliefs, ideas and thought processes can be modified by our parents’ influence, stressful environments, and even the climate we live in.
  • Personal-behavioral – our thought processes affect our behavior and our behavior can affect the way we think.
  • Environmental-behavioral – the way we display our behavior can be affected by our environment and our behavior can alter our environment.

The above model emphasizes that if we are to learn we need positive personal traits, a supportive environment and we need to display appropriate behavior. It also suggests that our learning occurs when we compare past experiences with our current situation.

The Basic Concepts of Social Cognitive Theory

These basic concepts apply to adults, infants, children, and adolescents.

    • Observational learning – we learn by watching others and mimicking their behavior.
    • Reproduction – putting people in a comfortable environment, with all the tools and materials they need, will help them to retain, recall, and reproduce behavior.
    • Self-efficacy – the learner takes what he has learned and then improves it by practicing and using the learned the information.
    • Emotional coping mechanisms – people who can manage negative emotions well and deal effectively with stress are in the best position to learn new information.
  • Behavior regulation – learning is affected by a person’s ability to control their own behavior, particularly in a stressful environment.

Cognitive Behavioral Theory

Cognitive Behavioral Theory

Cognitive Behavioral Theory, developed by Aaron Beck, states that a person’s behavior is determined by their thoughts and that their thoughts can be affected by their environment. Beck used the cognitive triad to explain his theory.

Beck termed the Cognitive Triad, also known as the negative triad, to describe the interaction between negative thoughts about the self, the world, and the future. These elements are commonly found in people experiencing depression and are often considered to be automatic responses for sufferers.

Beck believed that the interaction of these three components, alter a person’s cognitive processing to the point that memory, problem-solving, and perception become obsessively negative.

Negative Self-schemas and Cognitive Distortions

According to Beck, negative self-schemas develop when a child is exposed to traumatic experiences such as the death of a parent or sibling, parental neglect, abuse, criticism, and/or overprotection, and bullying or exclusion from peer groups. These experiences lead the brain to form a schema that is negative and pessimistic which is carried into adulthood.

Cognitive distortions develop because of negative self-schemas and Beck believed that people suffering from depression had adopted the following illogical thinking processes.

  • Arbitrary interference – this is the process of drawing conclusions without evidence. For example, a person may think they are worthless if an outdoor event they were going to was cancelled due to bad weather.
  • Selective abstraction – this can be described as a person focusing on one aspect of a situation and not seeing the bigger picture. An example of this would be a person blaming themselves for the failure of a team effort.
  • Magnification or catastrophizing – making a mountain out of a molehill. If a person makes a small mistake in performing a task, they assume they are completely useless at all related tasks.
  • Minimization – a person may be praised for something but shrugs it off as nothing. It’s an inability to see your own skills and talents.
  • Personalization – this is when a person assumes that the negative feelings of others are their fault, despite having no evidence that points to this.

The Strengths and Weaknesses of Cognitive Behavior and Learning

The Strengths and Weaknesses of Cognitive Behavior and Learning

Cognitive learning theories are easy for us to understand. We know that our cognitive abilities make things happen such as advances in science and technology, therefore it makes sense that negative cognitive learning will increase negative situations.

Cognitive theories can be tested with appropriately designed experiments with real human participants although the ethics of these experiments need to be closely monitored. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective treatment for depression as it involves challenging negative self-schemas. It has also been effective for helping people with mild to moderate anxiety.

Further study needs to be conducted to determine whether cognitive distortions cause psychopathology or if they are a result of it. Cognitive theories are also limited in what they cover as there is much more to a person than just their thoughts.

Cognitive psychologists are often focused on research to find cures for such conditions as Alzheimer’s disease, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Depression. Other psychologists treat patients directly with cognitive behavioral therapy that focuses on changing the self-schemas that people have developed, often from childhood.

As technology continues to develop and computers become more advanced than we ever imagined, it’s reasonable to assume that our understanding of our brain’s informational processes will advance in tandem.

When you consider how much we have learned since 1948, when Edward Tolman challenged the behaviorists belief that we are the passive receivers of outside information, the future of cognitive learning research looks brighter.

We now know that we use far more than 10% of our brain, but there are still more secrets of cognitive learning and our brains informational processes that we haven’t uncovered yet.