What is neuroscience?

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system.

Traditionally, neuroscience has been seen as a branch of biology. However, it is now an interdisciplinary science that collaborates with other fields such as chemistry, computer science, engineering, linguistics, mathematics, medicine and allied disciplines, philosophy, physics, and psychology. The term neurobiology is usually used interchangeably with the term neuroscience, although the former refers specifically to the biology of the nervous system, whereas the latter refers to the entire science of the nervous system.

The scope of neuroscience has broadened to include different approaches used to study the molecular, cellular, developmental, structural, functional, evolutionary, computational, and medical aspects of the nervous system. The techniques used by neuroscientists have also expanded enormously, from molecular and cellular studies of individual nerve cells to imaging of sensory and motor tasks in the brain. Recent theoretical advances in neuroscience have also been aided by the study of neural networks.

The study of neuroscience has progressed significantly in recent years. It is now to the point where there are many specialized fields of study related to neuroscience. Below are some of the key specialties.

  • Affective neuroscience is the study of the neural processes which are involved in emotion. This is generally done through animal studies.
  • Behavioral neuroscience utilizes the principles of biology to study the physiological and developmental aspects of behavior in animals and humans.
  • Cellular neuroscience studies neurons at the microscopic level. It analyzes the morphological and physiological properties in the neurons. 
  • Clinical neuroscience encompasses medical specialties such as neurology, psychiatry along with speech language pathologists. Neurology deals with disorders of the nervous system. Psychiatry deals with mental health and disorders of the mind, focusing on the treatment of mental disorders. This can include a variety of affective, behavioral, cognitive and perceptual disorders. 
  • Cognitive neuroscience involves the study of biological processes which involves cognition. 
  • Computational neuroscience studies brain functions in terms of its information processing abilities. It can also involve computer simulations and other theoretical models to study the function of the nervous system. 
  • Cultural neuroscience has to do with the impact of how cultural practices, beliefs and values shape our minds across multiple timescales. 
  • Developmental neuroscience studies the processes which develop our nervous system and how processes at the cellular level impact this. 
  • Molecular neuroscience studies neurons and other nervous system components at the cellular level. It examines the chemical processes as well as genetics, protein chemistry and other methodologies. 
  • Neuroengineering applies engineering techniques to understand, repair, replace or improve nervous system functions and components. 
  • Neuroimaging involves the use of innovative techniques to provide images of the structure and function within the brain.
There are a number of other important specialties within the field of neuroscience including neuroinformatics, neurolinguistics, neurophysiology, social neuroscience and systems neuroscience.

These have all increased our understanding of brain function and the interaction of neurons throughout the nervous system. It has also helped to demonstrate the impact of outside influences on the effective operation of our brains and nervous system.

There will most likely be continued enhancement and evolution of neuroscience specialties in support of increased knowledge and understanding related to the way in which we think, learn and react to the world around us.