Functional Neuroanatomy of Memory and Comprehension

This is a critique on the journal article published in Brain 112 in 1999 with the title: “The functional neuroanatomy of comprehension and memory: the importance of prior knowledge” which Maguirre, Frith, and Morris have experimented on and studied. This starts with a summary then proceeds with critical discussions on three points. (1) The first is a critique on the purpose of the study. (2) The second critiques the background information of the article. (3) The third critiques the methodology and approach. Finally, a short conclusion on the merits or demerits of the article is provided. Article Summary

This is an experiment on listening comprehension and memory to determine the effects of two factors: (1) How stories are structured; and (2) Prior knowledge (p. 1839). Additionally, it tries to determine which specific parts of the brain are associated with the activity through positron emission tomography or PET scan which is co-registered or combined with magnetic resonance imaging or MRI scan (p. 1841). The primary objective of the research is to map distinct regions of the brain that are associated with listening comprehension and memory and understand how brain injury or disease can affect these parts (p.

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1839). The method starts with two narrations of six stories to 13 right-handed male subjects while taking 12 PET scans per subject (pp. 1841, 1840). Next, each subject after the PET scans has rated each story on ease of comprehension (p. 1841). The first narration has had three stories with pictures and three without (p. 1841). Those stories with pictures prior to the story-telling have represented prior knowledge (p. 1841). The second narration has presented five stories with pictures and only one without pictures (p. 1841).

After the individual ratings of the stories, each subject’s retention of the stories idea units have been measured (p. 1841). Discussion Methodology and Approach The methodology and approach of the study have required 13 human subjects to undergo functional brain neuroimaging a decade ago. The study implies that this was never done before and noted that informed written consents of the subjects have been gathered as well as ethical approval has been “obtained from the joint National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery/Institute of Neurology medical ethics committee” (p.

1840). Effectively, the experiment has been in the forefront of cutting-edge research in neurobiology which was started by Fletcher et al in the area of neuroimaging. Hence, the chosen methodology is not exactly the most appropriate to the research purpose but rather, it is the missing link that has closed the gap in the understanding of neuroanatomy. Moreover, the researchers have made sure that the purpose of the research was not overly involved. They have limited the elements of the experiment to just two important areas of intelligence—comprehension and memory.

They have also designed the experiment in such a way that only three variables are present in the stories—surface codes, local coherence and global coherence. Most significantly, the design for measuring comprehension and memory has been based on prior studies with focus on listening comprehension. The only difference in this study compared with prior studies in the same field appears to be its clinical context in the use of a PET scan which was co-registered with a MRI scan directly on the human brain.

The approach in the data gathering is conservative. It has started with a baseline in the form of a self-rating per subject as to the ease of comprehension per story on a seven-point rating scale (p. 1841). Next, the experimenters have gauged each subject’s comprehension and recall through their scores in the form of idea units. The subjects have recalled the stories that they have heard and the experimenters recorded these and scored accordingly as the subjects covered 14 to 19 idea units per story.

Afterwards, these results have been correlated with the 12 PET scans per subject. Each scan has represented one story with a different variable. All six stories have been repeated twice for a total of 12 instances and hence 12 PET scans. The independent variables to represent prior knowledge or memory are the use of pictures in most of the stories during the second batch of narration of the same six stories. Hence, all independent and dependent variables are well-managed perhaps due to the use of the same approach in previous studies without neuroimaging.

In summary, this study has a baseline, it has statistical data, and most significantly, it has recorded images of 13 different brains as these have processed 12 different instances of memory and comprehension activities. The description of the research design is not only clear and sufficient but also well-anchored on previous research. Moreover, the methodology and approach also permit rigorous evaluation as all aspects of the experiment have been well-recorded in different forms and modes.

The experiment is also specific and limited in scope enough to allow close scrutiny on the accuracy of the results as well as the soundness of the data measuring and gathering techniques. Aside from methodological literature and techniques, Maguirre, Frith and Morris are also well-versed in the use of equipment and software necessary to the study. They are familiar in the use of the “Siemens/CPS ECAT EXACT HR+ (model 962) PET scanner;” the “2. 0 Tesla Vision system” MRI scanner; and the Statistical Parametric and MATLAB statistical analyses software applications (p.

1841). The techniques in the use of the scanners and the analyses of the corresponding data have been sufficiently detailed and specified in comprehensive technical details. This leaves no room for doubt in the familiarity of the experimenters in their methodology and approach. The control variables in the form of standard stories with exposures 1 and 2 are also clearly predefined and well-elaborated (p. 1842). Most significantly, the data that the researchers have derived appeared to be the most suited in the achievement of the research purpose. Conclusion

In conclusion, this article critique is favorable to the work of Maguirre, Frith and Morris for a clear and sufficiently relevant research purpose, a well-considered background to the research, and a well-structured research methodology and approach based on previous researches with an innovation to the traditional approach—the use of neuroimaging on the functional brain. References Fletcher, P. C. , Happe, F. , Frith, U. , Baker, S. C. , Dolan, R. J. , Frackowiak, R. S. J. , et al. (1995). “Other minds in the brain: a functional imaging study of ‘theory of mind’ in story comprehension.

” Cognition, 57. 109-128. In Maguirre, E. A. , Frith, C. D. & Morris, R. G. M. (1999). “The functional neuroanatomy of comprehension and memory: the importance of prior knowledge. ” Brain, 112. 1839-1850. Gray, J. R. & Thompson, P. M. (2004). “Neurobiology of Intelligence: Science and Ethics. ” Nature Reviews: Neuroscience, Vol. 5. 471-482. Leonard, C. L. & Baum, S. R. (1998). “On-line evidence for context use by right-brain-damaged patients. ” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 10. 499-508. In Maguirre, E. A. , Frith, C. D. & Morris, R. G. M. (1999). “The functional neuroanatomy of

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