What is Biological Psychology?

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  • Written By: Barbara R. Cochran
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 28 September 2019
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Biological psychology, also known as behavioral neuroscience and psychobiology, is the study of physiological processes and how they affect human behavior. According to this concept, behavior is inextricably related to somatic or physiological experiences that are created by the brain’s interpretation of sensory impingement. Therefore, biological psychology presumes that the mind and body have an interdependent relationship, and that behavior is fueled by sensory perceptions based on physiology.

Avicenna (980-1037 C.E.), a Persian physician, was the first scientist to discern a relationship between psychology and physiology. This runs counter to the dualistic point of view held by Plato and Aristotle, and later, by René Descartes. In his work, Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes put forth his belief that the mind, which he thought to be the seat of emotions, was a separate phenomenon from the biological brain, which had more to do with intelligence. He felt emotional phenomena, then, was not dependent on the physical substance of brain matter.

During the 19th century, psychologist William James, in his seminal textbook The Principles of Psychology (1890), advanced the idea that psychology should be studied in conjunction with biology. James's point of view attracted much attention since, in addition to being a psychologist, he had received training in physiology. Another psychologist, Knight Dunlap, advanced the concept of biological psychology by writing the book An Outline of Psychobiology (1914). He also founded and published the journal, Psychobiology.


Through the study of biological psychology, neuroscientists and social scientists hope to improve the quality of life of those who may be suffering from cognitive disorders that are sometimes accompanied by physical deficits. Therefore, both autism and Alzhemier's Disease are of great interest to biological psychologists. In the case of autism, the person afflicted may experience severe and quite noticeable kinds of motor disturbances. With Alzheimer’s patients, in addition to possible physical deterioration, cognitive and behavioral abilities become more and more impaired as the disease progresses.

The field of biological psychology is also concerned with finding solutions to psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and clinical depression. It is generally believed that the emotions and behaviors are associated with chemical imbalances in the brain, and dysfunctional transmission of neurons. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring chemicals in the brain that relay signals between nerve cells. When their action is disrupted, it generally has a deleterious effect on a person’s mood. The disruption can cause depression, or auditory and/or visual perceptions, in the case of schizophrenia.


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Post 4

I wonder how much of psychological disorders can be treated by restoring a "chemical" imbalance, ie, via medication, and how much of it requires counseling. Most psychiatrists try to use both means, but sometimes I have felt them to be not enough for me. When I first started taking medication, I thought I would be all better in no time, but soon found it to have unhelpful side effects and very little benefit for me.

Post 3


I think that you may be missing the original point. While it is helpful to have a class of people who are the thinkers of a society, these people should be required to incorporate real-life concepts and ideas for the betterment of a society as a whole. So where today, psychologists may comprise some of the "thinkers" in our society, they must view all aspects of existence: spiritual, psychological, and physical, in looking at psychological disorders. There are very clear connections between these realms, and they should be seen as fundamentally separate.

Post 2


I would be cautious in trying to dismiss Greek Philosophy as a whole like this because of Gnosticism. The Greeks had a group of thinkers whose sole job was to pursue higher thought and knowledge. These men didn't do manual labor and considered it to be an animal task which was a necessary evil. While manual labor shouldn't be disdained, I think it is necessary to have people in a society who form its higher spiritual echelon, and make up its "soul" so to speak.

Post 1

It is interesting that so many in the West have dismissed the idea that the mental and physical aspects of people are two entirely different entities. This dualism seems to stem back to Greek Gnosticism, which held that the physical was inferior to the psychological/spiritual. This dualism doesn't exist as strongly in Eastern Philosophy. Instead, they tend to see a variety of realms which all interact, and are ultimately one. I think that this is more like how things really are.

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