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What Is Biopsychology?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2014
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Biopsychology is a scientific discipline which applies the principles of biology to the understanding of psychology. Researchers in this field study topics in neuroscience so that they can learn about how and why the brain influences emotion. This field of study is quite ancient; Chinese and Middle Eastern scientists were exploring topics which continue to be explored in biopsychology today as early as the 800s CE. With the advent of advanced medical imaging techniques and a deeper understanding of the brain in the 20th century, the field was revolutionized.

This discipline is also known as physiological psychology or behavioral neuroscience. Researchers study topics such as the brain and central nervous system, and the neurotransmitters used to send signals throughout these systems. Biopsychologists are interested in both normal and abnormal physiological function, studying the diversity of the human brain to learn more about the diversity of human psychology. They use medical imaging studies and a variety of other techniques to learn about the physiology of the human brain.

With an understanding of the brain, a biopsychologist can explore the role of the brain in emotion, perception, mental processes, and behavior. Biopsychology includes a study of how abnormalities in the brain can impact behavior, to learn more about people who struggle with issues such as depression. Researchers are also interested in the adaptive behavior of the brain, and the remarkable ways in which the brain can adjust to hardship.

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This field of study has room for a great deal of fascinating research. Biopsychologists can work in a variety of settings to learn more about both human and animal behavior. Some work as instructors, providing education to new generations of people in the field. Others interested in biopsychology can work in pure research, and may also be found working at pharmaceutical companies, research hospitals, government agencies, and private organizations which foster a deeper understanding of the brain.

Because biopsychology often involves work with human subjects, it can be controversial. Researchers need to work under the guidance of ethics committees when they design experiments, to ensure that their work is conducted in an ethical way and that their subjects operate with informed consent. The practice of obtaining informed consent is a critical aspect of modern scientific research which is designed to address ethical concerns raised in the era of historical experiments in which people were not informed about what was going on. Some of these experiments involved highly controversial activities which were later viewed as exploitation and abuse of human subjects, leading to tougher rules about experimental ethics and to the development of committees to oversee experimentation.

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