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VCE Psychology Unit 1: Area of Study 1: Outcome 1

Area of Study 3: Student-directed research investigation

Area of Study 1: How does the brain function?

Advances in brain research methods have led to new ways of understanding the relationship between the mind, brain and behaviour. In this area of study, students examine how our understanding of brain structure and function has changed over time and how the brain enables us to interact with the external world around us. They analyse the roles of specific areas of the brain and the interactions between different areas of the brain that enable complex cognitive tasks to be performed. Students explore how brain plasticity and brain damage can affect a person’s functioning.

On completion of this unit, the student should be able to describe how understanding of brain structure and function has changed over time, explain how different areas of the brain coordinate different functions and explain how brain plasticity and brain damage can change psychological functioning.

Key knowledge

Role of the brain in mental processes and behaviour:

  • the influence of different approaches over time to understanding the role of the brain, including the brain vs heart debate, mind-body problem, phrenology, first brain experiments and neuroimaging techniques
  • the basic structure and function of the central and peripheral nervous systems as communication systems between the body’s internal cells and organs and the external world
  • the role of the neuron (dendrites, axon, myelin and axon terminals) as the primary functional unit of the nervous system, including the role of glial cells in supporting neuronal function
  • the basic structure and function of the hindbrain (cerebellum, medulla), midbrain (reticular formation) and forebrain (hypothalamus, thalamus, cerebrum)
  • the role of the cerebral cortex in the processing of complex sensory information, the initiation of voluntary movements, language, symbolic thinking and the regulation of emotion, including localisation of function.

Brain plasticity and brain damage:

  • infancy and adolescence as periods of rapid development and changes in brain structure and function, including development of myelin, synaptic pruning and frontal lobe development
  • the impact of injury to the cerebral cortex on a person’s biological, psychological and social functioning and the ability of the brain to undergo adaptive plasticity, illustrated by rehabilitation of people with brain injuries
  • the use of animal studies and neuroimaging techniques to develop understanding of human neurological disorders including Parkinson’s disease.

From VCE Psychology Study Design, pp. 14-15

crash course psychology - meeting your master

Early Brain Experiments

Ablation studies, or experimental ablation, describes the method of deliberately destroying brain tissue or making brain lesions, in order to observe the changes that this may have on an animal's behaviour. Lesion studies study brain function by purposely destroying parts of the brain and then studying the resulting change in behaviour. 

Structure and Function of the Nervous System

Brain Plasticity

Brain case study: Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage (1823–1860) was the victim of a terrible accident in 1848. His injuries helped scientists understand more about the brain and human behaviour.

Parkinson's Disease

The Library is open 8.00 to 4.00 Mon-Thurs, 8.00 to 3.30 Fri. We also have a selection of games available to play during recess and lunch. Only games from the Library are to be played.