Does the Brain Have a Place in Educational Psychology?

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Byrnes and Fox (1998) present the case for the relevance of cognitive neuroscience in educational psychology, including both logical and empirical arguments. In this commentary, I begin by briefly reviewing the history of the case for including the brain in educational psychology: Early educational psychology—as reflected in Thorndike's (1926) educational psychology textbook—emphasized the neuronal basis of learning; contemporary educational psychology—as reflected in educational publications—tends to ignore the brain; and future educational psychology will need to overcome the pitfalls encountered in previous misuses of brain research. Next, I examine two logical arguments for Byrnes and Fox's case, namely, that including cognitive neuroscience research makes educational psychology more complete and more plausible. Then, I examine the empirical argument of Byrnes and Fox by focusing on the value of cognitive neuroscience research in attention and memory as well as in reading and arithmetic. Finally, I suggest criteria for evaluating the contributions of cognitive neuroscience research in educational psychology, including the need for research on educationally relevant tasks and issues.

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