To what extent can cognitive development be understood in terms of the specialization of function in specific structures of the brain?
Developmental cognitive neuropsychology seeks to understand and explain the relationship between the human brain and its function. One might consider the extent to which cognitive development can be understood in terms of the specialisation of function in specific structures of the brain. Two contrasting theories of functional specialisation will be presented, debating the means by which brain functions develop and contesting the influence environment bears upon the maturing brain. To enable exploration of this topic, an account of key concepts of brain development will be offered throughout. The essay will then turn to the function of language. The extent to which language is reliant upon specific cortical structures has been the subject of keen contention, and affords rich research from which to discuss whether particular regions of the brain have an innately pre-specified role to support particular cognitive functions. Research related to the prefrontal cortex will also be considered, drawing the essay to its conclusion.
To explore cognitive development in terms of the specialisation of function in specific cortical structures, one must outline association between structural differentiation and functional specialisation. The typically developed adult brain shows predictable associations between specific cortical areas with particular cognitive functions. Prior to maturation, the developing brain demonstrates increasing differentiation in both structure and function of cells, with structural changes directly affecting functional capacity. The structural differentiation of neural pathways through the processes of dendritic growth, myelination and encapsulation result in cortical areas highly efficient in supporting particular types of information, or specialised functions. The underlying reasons for the organisation... [continues]
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