Strengths and Weaknesses of Cognitive Research Methods

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Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the research methods adopted by Cognitive Neuroscientists in order to understand the biological bases of behaviour and mental processing.

This essay will analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the research methods adopted by cognitive neuroscientists. The research methods that will be discussed in this essay are CAT scans, TMS scans, FMRI scans and PET scans. Cognitive neuroscience investigates cognitive functions (such as memory, attention, language, etc.) in the brain. (Martin, G.N., Carlson, N.R., 2019). Development of machines has made it possible to investigate the brains structure and activity has revolutionised neuroscience. This has provided neuroscientist's the ability to measure the function and structure of the human brain in human and non-human participants. (Martin, G.N., Carlson, N.R., 2019, p.125)

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The first cognitive neuroscientist method that will be explored is FMRI (Functional magnetic stimulation). FMRI scan is used to measure the amount of deoxygenated blood in parts of the brain. Functional magnetic stimulation imaging has the advantage of promising an understanding of when disease processes begin and how they can be modified by new treatments. A weakness of FMRI is cost, as scanning is very expensive, around £200 per hour per participant and produces many gigabytes data. ( Martin, G.N., Carlson, N.R., 2019, p129).

However according to the university of Edinburgh (The University of Edinburgh,2019) a strength of FMRI scanning is FMRI non-invasively records brain signals without the risk of radiation inherent in other scanning methods. This allows FMRI scanning to be able to investigate the development of function in children. Functional magnetic stimulation contributes and investigates human behavioural neuroscience and its main aim is to correspond to behavioural states, .One strength of Functional magnetic stimulation is no aspect or domain of human behaviour has proven to be out of the reach of a well-designed functional neuroimaging study according to scientists

CLINTON KILTS1 * AND TIMOTHY D. ELY2 (CLINTON KILTS1 * AND TIMOTHY D. ELY2, 2012). The neural processes that code human behaviours as objective, observable, and quantitative as motor acts such as grasping an object or sensory events such as visual detection, and as subjective, no observable and qualitative as beliefs, attitudes and subconscious perception have been uniquely informed by recent in vivo functional Neuroimaging studies which is a strength of functional magnetic imaging. (CLINTON KILTS1 * AND TIMOTHY D. ELY2, 2012).

Furthermore another strength of functional magnetic imaging is that it has led to scientists opening doors and discover a whole new field of brain research such as autism (Hennig,Speck,Koch &Wellier,2003). An example of when FMRI has been used to investigate autism is when scientist's named (Hughes,Russel &Robbins,1994) performed the "tower of London task" .Hughes, Russel &Robbins found out that the degree of synchronisation between the frontal and partial areas of activation was lower of the autistic than the control participants secondly, parts of the corpus callosum were smaller in cross sectional area in the autistic participants and within the autism group only ,the size of the genu of the corpus callosum was correlated with frontal-partial functional connectivity. Due to the findings from using the functional magnetic stimulation the scientist concluded that the neural basis of altered cognition in autism entails a lower degree of information across specific cortical areas. (Marcel Adam Just,Vladimir L.Cherkassky,Timothy A.Keller,Rajesh K.Kana,Nancy J.Minshew, 2007)

Computed axial tomography scanning produces clear axial cross-sectional imaging of anatomical structures. ( (Braiteh, Cohen, & Kurzrock, 2007) .The computed axial tomography sends a narrow beam of X-rays through the participants head. A beam is moved around the participants head and the computer calculates/measures how much radiation has travelled through at various points along each angle. When using a computed axial tomography, the scientist/researcher can locate a brain lesion in a person. (G,Neil Martin,Neil R.Carlson and William Buskist, 2013). An advantage of computed axial tomography is that it produced detailed clear images of the brain which enabled neuroscientist to understand the biological bases of behaviour and mental processing of the brain. Also another advantage of computed axial tomography scanning is that it has had wide acceptance in imaging. (K. RANGA RAMA KRISHNAN, 2012) .Furthermore an advantage of using CAT scan is that it can determine the location of a brain lesion on a living person.This gives the neuroscientist results of behavioural testing and the exact location of the brain damage .This allows the neuropsychologist to compare and contrast a normal function of a damaged brain tissue( Martin, G.N., Carlson, N.R., 2019, p114).

Thirdly Positron Emission Tomography scanning is the insertion of radioactive atoms into molecules of a carrier, molecules are then transported by blood into the brain and radioactive molecules release positrons. Positrons collide with electrons, leading to a release of photons, photons are detected surrounding the head. As a result, activity levels of areas are shown by concentrations. A limitation of PET is that it is an invasive technique due to participants getting injected with radioactively labelled water as a result not all human beings can take part in this technique. Furthermore, positron emission tomography has poor temporal resolution as PET can only indicate activity over a period of between 3060 seconds .it cannot access rapid changes in brain activity associated with most cognitive processes. A disadvantage of transcranial magnetic stimulation is due to the level of radioactivity premenopausal women and young children are not allowed to take part ,as a result this research is only limited to adults and limits the use of PET into investigating/ researching how the brain develops and functions during the early years of a child. (G.Neil Martin,Neil R.Carlson, 2019). Furthermore a weakness of transcranial magnetic stimulation is that it is a expensive technique that can cost millions to run and operate however an advantage of PET scans is that it has allowed neuroscientist to study the brain and it has allowed to see whether this techniques shows a specific/consistent pattern . (G.Neil Martin,Neil R.Carlson) A strength of PET scanning technology , is it has reasonable spatial resolution allowing PET to locate an active area of the brain within 5-10 millimetres. A limitation of PET is the amount of radioactivity produced, resulting in it being invasive and the technology limits of instruments these affect the quality of PET images. (K. RANGA RAMA KRISHNAN, 2012)

In addition, TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation). This technique involves positioning a metal coil passing alternating magnetic fields across the scalp (Hermann et al.,2013; Fertonni and Miniussi, in press). One advantage of transcranial magnetic stimulation is that TMS is the only methods that scientists have of establishing causation rather than simply observing correlation. Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a method of inducing a change in neuronal activity. It involves positioning a magnetic coil next to the skull and can be used to either depolarise or hyperpolarise neurons. A disadvantage of transcranial magnetic stimulation is due to the level of radioactivity only certain participants take part in. Furthermore, an advantage of transcranial magnetic stimulation is that it benefits neuropsychology as it can produce transient impairment and improvements in cognition non-invasively.

Overall the strengths and the weakness of the research methods adopted by cognitive neuroscientists discussed in my essay (TMS, CAT, PET and FMRI) had a variety of strengths and weaknesses. TMS is a stimulation method that is non-invasive technique. TMS has strengths and weaknesses behaviour. An example of a disadvantage of this technique is due to level of radioactivity young children are not allowed to undergo TMS, reducing the amount of research of how a child's brain functions. CAT technique has more advantages than disadvantages. an advantage, CAT scan can predict a position of a brain lesion on a participant, this gives the neuroscientist results of behavioural testing and the exact location of the brain damage. The research methods conducted by cognitive neuroscientists are very successful and expensive techniques. TMS, CAT, PET and FMRI techniques have shown to be popular with cognitive neuroscientists due to scientists being able to research the function and development of parts of the brain. However, as discussed in my essay, some techniques are invasive with radioactivity leading to limited research into behavioural and mental processing on children and premenopausal women.


Braiteh, F., Cohen, P. R., & Kurzrock, R. (2007, January ). Cat scan reveals BAT sign. The Lancet (British edition), 369(9557), 217-217. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)60110-X

CLINTON KILTS1 * AND TIMOTHY D. ELY2. (2012). Human functional neuroimaging. Handbook of Clinical Neurolog, 106 (3rd series ), 98.

G,Neil Martin,Neil R.Carlson and William Buskist. (2013). Psychology. london: PEARSON. G.Neil Martin,Neil R.Carlson. (2019). Psychology (sixth edition ed.). london: Pearson.

K. RANGA RAMA KRISHNAN. (2012). Structural imaging in psychiatric disorders. (E. T.E Schlaepfer and C.B. Nemeroff, Ed.) Handbook of Clinical Neurology, 106(3rd series), 93.

K. RANGA RAMA KRISHNAN. (2012). Structural imaging in psychiatric disorders. Handbook of Clinical Neurology, 89-94.

Marcel Adam Just,Vladimir L.Cherkassky,Timothy A.Keller,Rajesh K.Kana,Nancy J.Minshew. (2007, april). Functional and anantomical cortical underconnectivity in autism. Evidence from an FMRI study of an executive function task and corpus callosum morphometry, 17(4), 951-961.

Martin, G., Carlson, N., & Buskist, W. (2013). Psychology (5th ed., pp. 122-124). London: Pearson. Martin, G. and Carlson, N. (2019). Psychology. 6th ed. New York: Pearson

Martin, G. and Carlson, N. (2019). Psychology. 6th ed. New York: Pearson, p.125.

The University of Edinburgh. (2019). Functional MRI (FMRI). [online]Available at: [Accessed 31 oct.2019]

Hughes, C., Russell, J., & Robbins, T. (1994). Evidence for executive dysfunction in autism.

Neuropsychologia, 32(4), 477-492. doi: 10.1016/0028-3932(94)90092-2


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