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MCAT Content / Cognition / Biological Factors That Affect Cognition

Biological factors that affect cognition

Topic: Cognition

Biology plays a role in a person’s development and understanding of concepts. Cognition does not just change with age it relies on biological processes in the brain.

The frontal lobe of the brain is associated with planning and being self-aware they are often thought of as a higher, less primal portion of the brain. These play a key role in cognition. The most famous case of frontal lobe damage is that of Phineas Gage. On September 13, 1848, Gage (age 25) was working as a railroad foreman in Vermont. He and his crew were using an iron rod to tamp explosives down into a blasting hole to remove rock along the railway’s path. Unfortunately, the iron rod created a spark and caused the rod to explode out of the blasting hole, into Gage’s face, and through his skull. This caused damage to his frontal lobe and in the months following his accident, people noticed that his personality had changed. Many of his friends described him as no longer being himself. Such changes in personality would be consistent with loss of impulse control a frontal lobe function and a biological contributor to cognition.

The hippocampus and amygdala play a large role in the process of cognition as well. Memory consolidation is a category of processes that stabilize a memory trace after its initial acquisition. The hippocampus is essential for the consolidation of both short-term and long-term memories. Whilst the amygdala has been associated with enhanced retention of memory. Because of this, it is thought to modulate memory consolidation.


Practice Questions

Khan Academy

Prosopagnosia You seem familiar but I can’t place your face


MCAT Official Prep (AAMC)

Sample Test P/S Section Passage 4 Question 19

Key Points

• Cognition has many biological factors chiefly those in the processes involved in the brain.

• The frontal lobe is part of the cerebral cortex involved in reasoning, emotion, and language and the amygdala and hippocampus all play a part in memory formation and retention, a vital part of cognition and learning.

Key Terms

frontal lobe: the part of the cerebral cortex involved in reasoning, motor control, emotion, and language; contains the motor cortex

cerebral cortex: the surface of the brain that is associated with our highest mental capabilities

Phineas Gage: a railroad worker who suffered brain damage to the frontal cortex which caused personality changes

hippocampus: part of the brain that is important to memory processing

amygdala: associated with the retention of memories

personality: the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character

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