National Science Foundation boosts cognitive neuroscience
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has established a major new emphasis on
cognitive neuroscience, setting aside $10 million from its 2001 budget to
support basic research in the fast-growing field and to promote efforts to
strengthen its infrastructure. As early as next year, the foundation may
establish cognitive neuroscience as a formal, permanent program area.
The new allocation represents about 8 percent of total research funding within
NSF's Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences and about 16
percent of the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences' budget. No
program area within that division is larger.
"It's tremendously exciting," says Temple University psychologist Nora
Newcombe, PhD, who conducts research on spatial cognition and navigation.
"This opens the field up for people to be focused on the basic science and on
In the past, researchers interested in the link between the brain and behavior
have been rooted in the medical sciences, working to understand the role of
the central nervous system in illnesses such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's
diseases and schizophrenia. Most public funding for cognitive neuroscience
research in the United States has come from the National Institutes of Health.
But now, "researchers are starting to come to grips with much more basic
cognitive processes that are not tied to diseases," says Steven J. Breckler,
PhD, director of NSF's social psychology program and acting program director
for cognitive neuroscience.
"They're looking at fundamental questions such as how the brain accomplishes
memory, thought and reasoning, or how our brains allow us to navigate in the
world," he explains. "Some of these questions have been answered in
health-related research, but now the field has gotten to a place where it
wants to take on those questions head-on."
Cognitive neuroscience research, with its reliance on sophisticated equipment
and need for specialized technical support, tends to be far more expensivethan
most other areas of behavioral research. A single experiment using functional
magnetic resonance imaging, for example, can nearly exhaust an investigator's
annual NSF grant budget.
To accommodate cognitive neuroscientists' needs, NSF plans to use up to half
of its $10 million cognitive neuroscience allocation to bolster existing
disciplinary programs that support research in the area, including its
programs in human cognition, social psychology, linguistics and physical
consciousness, phlogiston, philosophy, vitalism, mind, free will, qualia,
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