Outcomes in Neuroscience Education: Modular Theory and Network Theory

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Thomas Romanchek


Since the late 1700s, various physicists, electrophysiologists, biologists, and, eventually, neuroscientists have set out to cre-ate a faithful, functional understanding of the nervous system and its many components. Early physiologists related phys-ically observable behavioral abnormalities to damage or dysregulation of specific tissues of the brain; these findings pro-moted an increasingly modular view of brain function. This theory held that the brain was organized into discernible parts or “modules” that correlated to particular regulatory and functional tasks (Blackmore, 2013). As a consequence, modular theory has been at the heart of research and scientific investigation in the field of neuroscience for centuries. The advent and introduction of more sophisticated brain imaging and stimulatory technologies such as fMRI and TEM, along with the development of more precise methodology for experimental lesion induction and neuron inhibition, have cast doubt on traditional modular theory (Badcock et al., 2019). Instead, new findings support a more unified, network-based theory of neural organization and function (Sporns & Betzel, 2016). Despite our growing understanding of the more accurate nature of a network approach to brain study, many universities and classrooms still rely on either a predominantly or exclusively modular approach to neuroscience education. It is the goal of this article to inform the reader about the current state of debate between modular and network brain theories of brain organization and function, to elucidate the profound bias in education - particularly undergraduate education - toward the use and exploration of modular theory, and an examination of the benefits of readapting neuroscience education to give either commeasurable or greater coverage of the alternative network theory in neural organization and function.

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