Biological psychology is the study of behavior using a biological approach. Biopsychology is a term used for neuroscientists who study behavior by studying the underlying biological processes of the brain. There are several divisions of biopsychology and neuroscientists specialize in different fields.
The Historical Development of Biological Psychology
The field of biopsychology owes much of its recognition to Donald O. Hebb during the mid 20th century. Hebb theorized that electrical activity in the brain was responsible for behavior. We now know that this is indeed, the case, and all fields of biopsychological research are based around this theory.
The Relationship Between Biological Psychology and other Fields in Psychology and Neuroscience
Behavior is the primary focus of all divisions of biopsychology. Each specialist studies a different aspect of neuroscience, but each field is still specific to the study of behavior. Although other psychologists study human behavior and use various therapies to treat psychological disorders, the neuroscientists who study the biological aspect work directly on brain functions. A biopsychologist works to discover new facts about electrical activity in the brain, evolution, genetics, and disease and illness that are directly related to behavior.
Physiological psychologists focus on the electrical signals produced by the brain, as well as surgical procedures and other ways the brain can be manipulated.
Psychopharmacology deals with drugs and how brains respond to medications. Drugs are tested extensively before being used in clinical trials on humans. For ethical reasons, laboratory animals are the subjects of experimentation in the early stages of drug development (Pinel, p. 9).
Neuropsychologists work with people who have brain injuries that are caused by accident or disease. “Neuropsychology deals almost exclusively with case studies and quasiexperimental studies” (Pinel, p. 9). The neuropsychologist assists doctors by assessing and diagnosing people who have experienced brain trauma, which has caused damage.
Psychophysiology is the division of neuroscience that focuses on the connection between the mind and the body. The body responds via signals from the brain, which causes physiological changes in blood pressure, perspiration and other bodily functions. Psychophysiologists work with human subjects when conducting research. An example of a physiological response to autonomic nervous system activity (ANS) can be seen when the pupils of the eyes dilate.
Cognitive neuroscience deals with learning, thought processing, memory and attention. These functions of the brain, which cannot be seen, are observed by using imaging technology such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Neural activity can be observed in various parts of the brain in response to questioning. When a brain has been damaged, the neurologist may look for activity, or the lack of activity, in the area of the brain, which is associated with a particular process. For example, the patient may be asked to recall his childhood. If he is unable to do so, the image may show very little activity in the part of the brain which would normally be highlighted during the fMRI.
Comparative psychologists study the behavior of animals and humans. They work either in the laboratory or in the field. “Comparative psychologists compare the behavior of different species in order to understand the evolution, genetics, and adaptiveness of behavior” (Pinel, p. 11). Comparative psychologists also research role of genetics and evolution and the impact that each of them have on behavior.
Major Underlying Assumptions of a Biopsychological Approach
Biopsychology is a field of study dedicated to the study of behavior as it relates to brain functions. Researchers study the effects of drugs on brain activity and how the brain and its electrical activity cause physiological changes to occur.
Through biological research, scientists can discover the causes of some psychological disorders, why people behave in different ways, and identify what parts of the brain are responsible for different functions throughout the human body. Biopsychologists also study live images of the brain to find out whether areas of the brain are active and able to function after a brain injury. Biopsychologists are interested in cognitive processes, and discovering which areas of the brain are associated with learning, memory, and the storage and retrieval of information.
Pinel, J. P. J. (2009). Biopsychology (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and