It’s the beginning of the semester, and we’re talking about the brain in my Introduction to Psychology class. “After all, the brain produces the mind,” I tell my students. “So if we want to understand the mind, we need to first understand the brain.” The class smiles and nods and accepts what I say at face value. But then, they’re naïve freshmen.
If the truth be told, we’ll rarely refer back to the brain later in the semester. We’ll cover the full range of topics in psychology—behavior, emotions, cognition, development, social influence, personality, intelligence, even abnormal behavior and how to treat it. But in none of these areas do we really have a clear idea how the brain is involved.
Thanks to the development of brain imaging techniques such as fMRI over the last few decades, we certainly know a lot more about the brain now than we used to. Although scientists have been studying the brain for centuries, it wasn’t until they could watch it in action that they finally began to understand how it works.