Psychophysiological and Neuropsychological Assessments

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  • 0:07 Brain & Behavior
  • 1:57 Neurological Imaging
  • 5:06 Neuropsychological Assessments
  • 6:53 Psychophysiological…
  • 8:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Some psychological disorders have a physical basis. In this lesson, we'll look at three types of assessments that examine the link between body and mind: neuroimaging, neuropsychological tests, and psychophysiological tests.

Brain and Behavior

Imagine that you go to a movie theater to see a movie that you've been waiting to see for a long time. Up on the screen, you see the set and actors. You hear the music swelling and watch the light illuminating the scene. All these things work together to make the movie into a cohesive whole. But, there's one thing that you don't see or hear - the director. She works behind the scenes to coordinate and guide every other element of the film. Without a director, the movie would be in chaos, and no one would know what to do.

Your brain is kind of like the director of your body. Your arms move, your heart beats, you feel the swell of love or the pain of rejection, but all of these things are guided and interpreted by your brain. We all know that your brain is responsible for helping you think. And, most of us know that the brain helps your organs work to keep you alive. But, did you know that even your emotions and behaviors are guided by activity in your brain? When it feels like your heart is breaking, it's really your brain sending out signals.

When someone hears voices that aren't there, his brain is working overtime. So, when someone has a psychological issue, often, his or her brain is at the center of that problem. And, it's not just your brain. Because the brain and the body are so intertwined, some psychological disorders actually show up in a person's body as well as in their brain.

Because so many psychological disorders are caused or influenced by a person's physiology, mental health professionals have devised different ways to look at patients' brains and bodies to diagnose and treat mental disorders. Let's look closer at some of the ways that psychologists and doctors assess patients' mental health by examining their physical bodies.

Neurological Imaging

Imagine that you are a psychologist, and Peter comes to you with a problem. About a week ago, with no explanation, he started talking gibberish. He speaks rapidly, and his intonation makes it sound like he's speaking normally, but the words he uses are unrelated. He says sentences like, 'Rabbit yellow for the football in his mouth.'

What's going on with Peter? You're not sure, but you think there might be a problem with the area of his brain that controls language. But, how do you know for sure? Neurological imaging, or neuroimaging, involves taking a picture of a person's brain. There are several types of neuroimaging that mental health professionals use.

Computed tomography, or CT scan for short, is a series of X-rays of the brain taken from different angles. CT scans are great for looking at brain injuries, like when someone hits his head. A CT scan would show if Peter had a brain tumor in his brain, for example. But, what if his CT scan is clear? Does that mean that Peter's brain is fine? You might also want to do a PET scan, which is short for positron emission tomography. In a PET scan, small levels of radiation are injected into the bloodstream. They make their way to the brain and then the scan measures the radiation. In this way, doctors can see levels of activity in different areas of the brain.

Your PET scan of Peter's brain could show if he has a brain disease, like Alzheimer's disease or a brain tumor. Because these problems change the activity levels in certain areas of the brain, they show up on a PET scan even if they don't on a CT scan. But, to do a PET scan on Peter, you would have to inject him with radioactive chemicals. Sure, the chemicals are very low doses of radiation, and they are generally considered to be safe, but it's still radiation. And, CT scans, like other X-rays, use low levels of radiation as well. Wouldn't it be better if there was a way to look at the activity in Peter's brain without radiation?

That's what magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, does. It uses magnets to form two- and three-dimensional images of the brain, so you can look at Peter's brain and search for anomalies, like brain tumors. An MRI image does essentially the same thing as a CT scan: it shows the basic structures of the brain.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging, usually abbreviated to fMRI, uses magnets to track blood flow in the brain. As a result, you can see the activity in different parts of the brain. Like a PET scan, it allows you to see what areas of Peter's brain are really active and which areas are not. There are many other types of neuroimaging techniques, but these four are the most commonly used in the mental health profession.

Neuropsychological Assessments

Perhaps the neuroimaging techniques don't show anything wrong with Peter's brain. Or, perhaps Peter's health insurance won't pay for expensive neuroimaging without more proof that something is wrong other than the fact that he's talking funny. There are other assessments that you, his psychologist, can do.

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