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OBJECTIVES

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  • 1) Differentiate the abilities that comprise cognition, including executive function and memory, and the neural networks that support them

  • 2) Distinguish the neural networks responsible for language production and language comprehension

  • 3) Discern feelings from emotions and the neural networks that support these concepts

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This chapter focuses on the most complex of abilities (cognition, emotion, and language), and in many ways, the areas of functioning that most differentiate humans from other animals, or at least we like to think so. Although these functions are highly interrelated, we will talk about each and the neural networks that support them individually.

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COGNITION

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Cognition is an expansive term used to describe our ability to perceive the world around us, interact with it, remember our past experiences in it, and imagine potential experiences with it; the concepts of thinking, memory, imagery, problem-solving, and decision-making are all included within the term cognition. Obviously, these skills are extensive and span multiple neural networks. Within this chapter, we will discuss some of the components of cognition and the neural networks that are involved in cognitive processes, specifically executive function and memory. Our ability to understand and produce language is critically tied to our cognitive abilities and vice versa. In addition, our emotional state plays a significant part in cognition; thus, this chapter will also explore the neural control of language and emotion.

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Executive Function

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Executive function (EF) is a term that refers to a spectrum of abilities, including attention, working memory, inhibition, task switching, abstract thought and behavioral regulation as well as decision-making, sequence planning, and initiation. First, we will explore these skills under the executive function umbrella, and then, we’ll look at the areas of the brain that give rise to these abilities.

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Attention is the ability to focus your awareness on visual, auditory, tactile, or other sensory stimuli (sustained attention) but also involves the ability to prioritize your attention on one among competing stimuli as well as to switch your attention from one stimulus to another (see Box 7-1).

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BOX 7-1  Types of Attention

As you read this paragraph, let’s propose that you are also listening to the radio (a cognitive-cognitive dual task); this requires divided attention between the two activities, yet, to fully understand the words on the page, you will need to focus more of your attention on the printed word than on the music (prioritization of attention). However, if your favorite song comes on the radio, you are able to switch your attention quickly to listen to the song and then switch back to prioritizing reading again, once the song is done (shifting attention). This ability to divide, prioritize, and switch your attention from one stimulus to another is critical for functioning in our complex environment and often disrupted in many neurologic conditions. ...

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