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Encyclopedia > Postmortem Studies

Postmortem studies are a neurobiological research method in which the brain of a patient, usually the subject of a longitudinal study, with some sort of phenomenological affliction (i.e. cannot speak, trouble moving left side of body, Alzheimer’s, etc.) is examined after death. The irregularities, damage, or other cerebral anomalies observed in the brain are attributed with whatever ailment the patient was afflicted with in life. With repeated studies a more exact correlation can be ascertained. Neurobiology is the study of cells of the nervous system and the organization of these cells into functional circuits that process information and mediate behavior. ... Longitudinal studies form a class of research methods that involve observations of the same items over a longer time. ...



Postmortem studies have been used to further the understanding of the brain for centuries. Before the time of the MRI, CAT Scan, or X-ray it was one of the few ways to study the relation between behavior and the brain. The mri are a fictional alien species in the Faded Sun Trilogy of C.J. Cherryh. ... CAT apparatus in a hospital Computed axial tomography (CAT), computer-assisted tomography, computed tomography, CT, or body section roentgenography is the process of using digital processing to generate a three-dimensional image of the internals of an object from a large series of two-dimensional X-ray images taken around... In the NATO phonetic alphabet, X-ray represents the letter X. An X-ray picture (radiograph) taken by Röntgen An X-ray is a form of electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength approximately in the range of 5 pm to 10 nanometers (corresponding to frequencies in the range 30 PHz...

Approximate location of Broca's and Wernicke's areas highlighted in gray
Approximate location of Broca's and Wernicke's areas highlighted in gray

Drawing of human brain with Brocas and Wernicke area highlighted. ... Drawing of human brain with Brocas and Wernicke area highlighted. ...


Paul Broca used postmortem studies to link a specific area of the brain with speech production. Paul Pierre Broca (June 28, 1824 - July 9, 1880) was a French physician, anatomist and anthropologist. ...

His research started when he noticed that a patient with an aphasic stroke had lesions in the left hemisphere of his brain. His research continued and his theory held up overtime. Look up aphasia in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... A lesion is a non-specific term referring to abnormal tissue in the body. ...

Most notable of his research subjects was Tan (named for the only syllable he could utter). Tan had lesions in his brain caused by syphilis. This lesion was determined to cover the area of the brain important for speech production.

The Area of the brain that Broca identified is now known as Broca’s area and damage to this section of the brain can lead to Broca's aphasia Expressive aphasia, known as Brocas aphasia in clinical neuropsychology and agrammatic aphasia in cognitive neuropsychology, is an aphasia caused by damage to Brocas area in the brain. ...


Karl Wernicke also used postmortem studies to link a specific area of the brain with speech production. However his research focused more on patients who could speak, but whose speech made little sense and/or has trouble understanding spoken words or sentences. Carl Wernicke -- 1848-1905. ...

His research in language comprehension and the brain also found it to be localized in the left hemisphere, but in another section. This area is now known as Wernicke's area and damage to this section can lead to Wernicke's aphasia. Approximate location of Wernickes area highlighted in gray Wernickes area is a part of the human brain that forms part of the cortex, on the left posterior section of the superior temporal gyrus, posterior to the primary auditory cortex, on the central sulcus (part of the brain where... Receptive aphasia, also known as Wernickes aphasia in clinical neuropsychology and neologistic jargonaphasia in cognitive neuropsychology, is a type of aphasia caused by neurological damage to Wernickes area in the brain. ...


While postmortem studies can be very useful in linking the brain and behavior it still has its limitations.

The very thing that makes it such a great research method is its greatest weakness. The researcher is studying a human and his brain. However, getting a hold of person’s brain, even from one who is a subject of a longitudinal study, can be difficult. Furthermore, the rarity of the affliction studied may also affect the scarcity of the needed brain.

Also, brain damage is what being studied. It is possible that there might be too much damage to pinpoint any specific area of the brain as being responsible.


Sternberg, R.J. (2006). Cognitive Psychology, Fourth Edition. California: Thomson Wadsworth.



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