Neuroscience in Psych: AP Test Prep

Preparing for the Exam.


Studying bumps on the skull to reveal a person's mental abilities and characteristics, lead to attention of "localization of function."
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Localization of Function

The idea that various brain regions have particular functions.

Biological Psychology

The scientific study of the links between biological (genetic, neural, hormonal) and psychological processes.


A nerve cell; the basic building block of the nervous system.

Parts of the Neuron

Cell body, dendrites, axons, and myelin sheath.
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A neuron's bush, branching extensions that receive messages and conduct impulses toward the cell body.


The neuron extension that passes messages through its branches to other neurons or to muscles or glands.

Myelin Sheath

A fatty tissue layer segmentally encasing the axons of some neurons; enables vastly greater transmission speed as neural impulses hop from on sausage-like node to the next.
Neurons transmit messages when stimulated by signals from our senses or when triggered by chemical signals from neighboring neurons. In response, a neuron fires an impulse, called the action potential.

Action Potential

A neural impulse; a brief electrical charge that travels down an axon.


Electrically charged atoms.
The positive-outside/ negative-inside state is called the resting potential.
The axon's surface is selectively permeable, meaning that the axon is selective about what is allowed through its surface.

Refractory Period

A period of inactivity after a neuron has fired.
Most signals are excitatory, somewhat like pushing a neuron's accelerator. Some are inhibitory, more like pushing its brake. If excitatory signals exceed inhibitory signals by a minimum intensity, or threshold, the combined signals trigger an action potential.


The level of stimulation required to trigger a neural impulse.
The neuron's reaction is an all-or-none response.

All-Or-None Response

A neuron's reaction of either firing (with full response) or not firing.


The junction between the axon tip of the sending neuron and the dendrite or cell body of the receiving neuron. The tiny gap at this junction is called the synaptic gap or synaptic cleft.
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When an action potential reaches the knob-like terminals at an axon's end, it triggers the release of chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters.


Chemical messengers that cross the synaptic gaps between neurons. When released by the sending neuron, neurotransmitters travel across the synapse and bind to receptor sites on the receiving neuron, thereby influencing whether that neuron will generate a neural impulse.


A neurotransmitter's re-absorption by the sending neuron.


"Morphine Within"

A natural, opiate-like neurotransmitter linked to pain control and pleasure.


A molecule that, by binding to a receptor site, stimulates a response.


A molecule that, by binding to a receptor site, inhibits or blocks a response.

Nervous System

The body's speedy, electrochemical communication network, consisting of all the nerve cells of peripheral and central nervous systems.

Central Nervous System (CNS)

The brain and spinal cord.

Peripheral Nervous System

The sensory and motor neurons that connect the Central Nervous System.


Bundled axons that form neural "cables" connecting the Central Nervous System to the rest of the body.

Sensory (Afferent) Neurons

Neurons that carry incoming information from the sensory receptors to the brain and spinal cord.

Motor (Efferent) Neurons

Neurons that carry out going information from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles and glands.


Neurons withing the brain and spinal cord that communicate internally and intervene between the sensory inputs and motor outputs.

Somatic Nervous System

The division of the Peripheral Nervous System that controls the body's skeletal muscles. Also called the Skeletal Nervous System.

Autonomic Nervous System

The part of the Peripheral Nervous System that controls the glands and the muscles of hte internal organs (such as the heart). Its sympathetic division arouses; its parasympathetic division calms.

Sympathetic Nervous System

The division of the Autonomic Nervous System that arouses the body, mobilizing its energy in stressful situations.

Parasympathetic Nervous System

The division of the Autonomic Nervous System that calms the body, conserving its energy.


A simple, automatic response to a sensory stimulus, such as the knee-jerk response.

Endocrine System

The body's "slow" chemical communication system; a set of glands that secrete hormones into the bloodstream.
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Chemical messengers that are manufactured by the endocrine glands travel through the bloodstream and affect other tissues.

Adrenal Glands

A pair of endocrine glands that sit just above the kidneys and secrete hormones (epinephrine and nor-epinephrine) that help arouse the body in times of stress.
Epinephrine and nor-epinephrine are also called adrenaline and nor-adrenaline.

Pituitary Gland

The endocrine system's most influential gland. Under the influence of the hypothalamus, the pituitary regulates growth and controls other endocrine glands.


Tissue destruction. A brain lesion is a naturally or experimentally caused destruction of brain tissue.
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Electroencephalogram (EEG)

An amplified recording of the waves of electrical activity sweeping across the brains surface. These waves are measured by electrodes placed on the scalp.
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CT (Computer Tomography) Scan

A series of X-Ray photographs taken from different angles and combined by computer into a composite representation of a slice of the brain's structure (also called CAT Scan).

PET (Positron Emission Tomography) Scan

A visual display of brain activity that detects where a radioactive form of glucose goes while the brain performs a given task.

MRI (Magnetic Response Imaging)

A technique that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce computer-generated images of soft-tissue. MRI scans show brain activity.

fMRI (Functional MRI)

A technique for revealing blood flow and, therefore, brain activity by comparing successive MRI scan. fMRI scans show brain function as well as structure.
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The machine above is used for CTs, PET scans, MRIs, and fMRIs.


The oldest part and central core of the brain, beginning where the spinal cord swells as it enters the skull; the brainstem is responsible for automatic survival functions.
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The base of the brainstem; controls heartbeat and breathing.


The brain's sensory control center, located on top of the brainstem; it directs messages to the sensory receiving areas in the cortex and transmits replies to the cerebellum and medulla.

Reticular Formation

A nerve network that through the brainstem and thalamus and plays an important role in controlling arousal.
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The "little brain" at the rear of the brainstem; functions include processing sensory input, coordinating movement output and balance, and enabling nonverbal learning and memory.

Limbic System

Neural System (including the hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus) located below the cerebral hemispheres; associated with emotions and drives.
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Two lima-bean-sized neural clusters in the Limbic System; linked to emotion.


A neural structure lying below (hypo) the thalamus; it directs several maintenance activities (eating, drinking, body temperature), helps govern the endocrine system via the Pituitary Gland, and is linked to emotion and reward.

Cerebral Cortex

The intricate fabric of interconnected neural cells covering the cerebral hemispheres' the body's ultimate control and information-processing center.
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Glial Cells (Glia)

Cells in the nervous system that support, nourish, and protect neurons; they may also play a role in learning and thinking.

Frontal Lobes

Portion of the cerebral cortex lying just behind the forehead; involved in speaking and muscle movements and in making plans and judgments.

Parietal Lobes

Portion of the Cerebral Cortex lying at the top of the head and toward the rear; receives sensory input for touch and body position.

Occipital Lobes

Portion of the Cerebral Cortex lying at the back of the head; includes areas that receive information from the visual fields.

Temporal Lobes

Portion of the Cerebral Cortex lying roughly above the ears; includes the auditory areas, each receiving information primary form the opposite ear.

Motor Cortex

An area at the rear of the frontal lobes that controls voluntary movements.

Somatosensory Cortex

Area at the front of the parietal lobes that registers and processes body touch and movement sensations.
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Association Areas

Areas of the Cerebral Cortex that are not involved in primary motor or sensory functions; rather, they are involved in higher mental functions such as learning, remembering, thinking, and speaking.
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The brain's ability to change, especially during childhood, by reorganizing after damage or by building new pathways based on experiences.

Corpus Callosum

The large band of neural fibers connecting the two brain hemispheres and carrying messages between them.
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Split Brain

A condition resulting from surgery that isolates the brain's two hemispheres by cutting the fibers (mainly those of the Corpus Callosum) connecting them.
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Our awareness of ourselves and our environment.

Cognitive Neuroscience

The interdisciplinary study of the brain activity linked with cognition (including perception, thinking, memory, and language).

Dual Processing

The principle that information is often simultaneously processed on separate conscious and unconscious tracks.


The interplay that occurs when the effect of one factor (such as environment) depends on another factor (such as heredity).


The study of environmental influences on gene expression that occur without a DNA change.