Essentials of Cognitive Neuroscience
Does the world need another cognitive neuroscience textbook? Well, “need” is such a loaded word … What I’ll try to do here is summarize my motivation for writing this book and, in the process, convey the pedagogical vision behind choices about style, content, and organization.
For over 10 years I have taught cognitive neuroscience to undergraduate students and to graduate students at the University of Wisconsin‐Madison. For undergraduates I offer an upper‐level seminar that is linked to a large‐enrollment lecture course on cognitive psychology. The lecture course is a survey of
cognitive psychology, spanning sensation and perception to decision making, language, and consciousness. The upper‐level seminar course, the impetus for this book, is populated by 12–15 honors students who are concurrently enrolled in the lecture course. In the seminar, which meets once per week for 75 minutes, we discuss the cognitive neuroscience of what’s been covered in that week’s cognitive psychology lectures. The modal student in this seminar has a background in experimental design and probability and statistics for experimental psychology; only some have any formal training in biology, and fewer still in neuroscience. In this context, I have found that a textbook that attempts to cover “everything that we know” in the field is not effective – it will either be too superficial in its coverage to support substantive discussions in class, or it will be inappropriately lengthy and dense, a cognitive neuroscience analogue of the > 1000‐page medical‐school neuroscience textbook that I lugged around as a graduate student in systems neuroscience. Another approach, which is to assign papers from the primary literature, has proven to be an unsatisfactory alternative, because it results in an inordinate amount of class time being taken up with the remedial work of filling in background that the assigned papers don’t cover, and explaining methods so that students can fully understand how the experiments were performed and how their results can be interpreted.
Essentials of Cognitive Neuroscience aspires to be a textbook that will support high‐level, substantive engagement with the material in settings where contact hours and/or expectations for outside‐of‐theclassroom preparation time may be constrained.1 It introduces and explicates key principles and concepts in cognitive neuroscience in such a way that the reader will be equipped to critically evaluate the evergrowing body of findings that the field is generating. For some students this knowledge will be needed for subsequent formal study, and for all readers it will be needed to evaluate and interpret reports about cognitive neuroscience research that make their way daily into the news media and popular culture. The book seeks to do so in a style that will give the student a sense of what it’s like to be a cognitive neuroscientist: when confronted with a problem, how does one proceed? How does one read and interpret research that’s outside of one’s sub‐area of specialization? How do two scientists advancing mutually incompatible models interrelate? Most importantly, what does it feel like to partake in the wonder and excitement of this most dynamic and fundamental of sciences?
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