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Discuss the use of brain imaging

technologies in investigating the


relationship between biological factors
and behavior.
The use of brain imaging technology has helped in investigating the relationships
between biological factors and behavior in the biological levels of analysis. The example of
brain imaging technique would be the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and the functional
magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The usage of magnetic resonance imaging can be
seen in the study conducted by Ashtari et al (2009), and the usage of the functional
magnetic resonance imaging can be seen in the study conducted by Marco Iacoboni et al
(2004), and another study by Harris and Fiske (2006).

MRI is known as magnetic resonance imaging is a brain imaging technology that


provides a still 3D image of the brain. It uses a non invasive method of creating the images
as patients are placed under the MRI machine. Once in the machine the MRI resonates
magnetic waves to the head, since the body is mostly made of water, the protons of the
hydrogen would resonate back to the machine to create the image of the brain. The MRI
scans are used to show the structural details of the brain, for example for looking for brain
damage or when looking for changes in the brain, while a person is still alive, rather than
doing an autopsy.

The usage of MRI to see the structural brain changes can be seen in the study of
Ashtari et al (2009). The aim of this study was to see the effects of long term substance
abuse on developing brains of young adults and adolescents. The substance being
investigated in this study was marijuana, a plant that contains chemicals which induce a
high effect when smoked. The researchers compared the MRI scans between 14
substance users compared to 14 non substance users to investigate the structural changes
in their brain. The results showed that compared to the non marijuana users, the MRI scans
showed the structural differences in the temporal, parietal, and frontal lobe regions of the
brain. It was also found that in marijuana users had less myelin (white matter) being
developed in the brain. This absence of white matter can be used to explain the slower
processing of information by marijuana users. Ashtari et al concluded that prolong abuse of
marijuana does impact the brain in the developing brain of adolescents and young adults.

The result of Ashtari et als study has evidence of structural changes via MRI, it is
highly replicable, and the usage of MRI was non-invasive to the participants. But the study is
limited to the fact that MRIs only provide a still image of the brain, it can be changed due to
the movement creating inaccurate imaging, and since it is producing images there can be no
cause and effect relationship established, therefore further studies are need to support this
study also reductionist just using MRI. There is also ethical concern of recruiting drug users
into a study as there is a social stigma and law against them.

An fMRI known as functional magnetic resonance imaging is a machine based on the


MRI that proved a live 3D image to the brain while participants are performing functions such
as responding to a stimulus. It creates images by using a non-invasive technique by having
participants placed under the fMRI machine which resonates magnetic waves to the
participants head. The head conforming oxygen in the blood travels as the brain is
functioning therefore the movement of oxygen resonates back to the machine in order to
measure brain activity in terms of blood flow to find activity in the brain while functioning.

The usage of fMRI can be seen in the study conducted by Harris and Fiske (2006).
The aim of the study was to find the biological correlates to prejudice and stereotyping. The
researchers hypothesized that the medial prefrontal cortex would be activated while viewing
humans but not while viewing objects. The researchers had the participants view images of
humans objects while placed under an fMRI. The results of the study were that when
participants were viewing humans the medial prefrontal cortex was active and not active
which viewing objects. But it was also found that when viewing members of the extreme
outgrips such as the homeless and minorities, the medial prefrontal cortex was also not the
activated. Harris and Fiske concluded in their study that the medial prefrontal cortex is active
when viewing humans but not objects and outgrips as the viewer interprets the extreme
outgrip as disgusting objects thus dehumanizing them.

The results of Harris and Fiskes study found the biological correlates of prejudice
and stereotyping. The study was highly replicable, and the usage of fMRI allowed to find the
active parts of the brain for stereotyping and prejudice. Although the study is limited to the
fact that if the fMRI is focused on localization and cannot provide a cause and effect relation
that it is reductionist to associate just biological correlates to a behavior also that behavior is
cause by multiple parts in the brain and not just a single part also did not consider culture as
a factor. Therefore more studies are needed and other considerations for prejudice and
stereotyping is needed.

Another study that shows the usage of fMRI is the study conducted by Marco
Iacoboni et al (2004). The aim of the study was to see if the same parts of the brain are
stimulated by just viewing an expression. The researchers had participants placed under
fMRI and were told to mimic the expressions on the screen, and then they had to simply
view the expressions on the screen. The results of the study were that in both situations the
same part of the brain was activated and that viewing a happy expression activated the
system (pleasure center of the brain). Marco Iacobini et al concluded that mirror neurons
(neurons fired when a person performing an action or views someone doing the same
action) are fired when viewing expression therefore activating the same parts of the brain
allowing humans to feel and emphasize with each other.

The results of this study support the idea of mirror neurons in explaining behavior.
fMRI allowed to view the active parts and origins to expressions. But again the usage of
fMRI cannot create a cause and effect relationship a focuses too much in localization that is
reductionist just to use the information by the fMRI alone to explore behavior. Therefore
although Jacobins study confirmed working of mirror neurons in humans, further studies are
needed to create a cause and effect relationship.

In conclusion, in the biological levels of analysis, the usage of brain imaging


technology has allowed researchers to view the brian of human beings while they are still
alive to find the biological factors in behavior. The MRI gave a still 3d image of the structural
changes in the brain between marijuana users and non marijuana users which was
conducted by Ashtari et al (2009). But MRIs only allow for a still image of the brain. The
fMRI used in the study by Harris and Fiske and by Iacoboni et al helped the researchers
view the 3D brain live while responding to stimulus such as the outgrips and facial
expressions respectively. When using technology in the imaging of the brain, it must be
remembered that they cannot be used to establish a cause and effect relationship as it is
only correlational. Biological correlates are not localized to a single part of the brain, and that
it is reductionist to assume that biology is solely responsible for behavior. Thus brain imaging
technology can be used to biological correlates to behavior but not explain behavior alone
without considering cognitive and social explanations as well.