Monday, February 28, 2011

Biological Psychology

Biological Psychology

As the science of the brain and the study of the human psyche seek to understand the genesis of human behavior, the intersection of the two results in biological psychology (Wickens, 2005). Psychology's historic roots lie in deciphering and exposing the mysterious qualities of the human psyche and all of its manifestations including thought processes and behavior (Goodwin, 2009). The science of the brain and the nervous system continues to expose the inner workings of neural function and its products in human behavior (Wickens, 2005). Together the new science of biological psychology seeks to address and support the vital relationship between the body and the mind through the integral pathway of the brain (Wickens, 2005).

A Brief Description of Biological Psychology

Biological psychology is the science that attempts to explain human behavior's basis in biological foundations (Wickens, 2005). Its primary concern is the exploration of physiological and biological processes, specifically those of the nervous system, and how it relates to behavior (Wickens, 2005). According to Wickens (2005), "the mind is the product of the brain's electrical and neurochemical activity" (p. 3). Although there is debate and criticism regarding this assumption, it is difficult to separate the two, and it is this assumption that forms the fundamental basis of biological psychology (Wickens, 2005).

The Historic Development of Biological Psychology

According to previously learned material, the Hebrew Bible and New Testament make no mention of the brain, apparently ascribing wisdom and reasoning to the heart. This notion was still prominent by the time of the ancient Greek scholar Plato (429-348 BCE) who theorized the brain was responsible for the human ability to reason (Wickens, 2005) His student, Aristotle, however, believed the function of the brain was to cool the blood, and the heart was the organ of reason (Wickens, 2005). Five centuries after the first drawings of the human brain by Leonardo da Vinci around 1480, Galen discovered behavioral changes in gladiators who had suffered head injuries. Further inquiry into the function of the brain lead Broca to advanced ideas of the localization of function with his famous patient "Tan" who had damage to his left frontal region, which later became known as "Broca's area" (Wickens, 2005).

In the nineteenth century, William James' Principles of Psychology claimed an intimate link between the function of the nervous system and all of human experience (Goodwin, 2008), while technological advances of the microscope enhanced the ability to view and understand the cellular structure of the nervous system (Wickens, 2005). Donald Hebb played an integral part in the beginnings of biological psychology with his two theories of cell assemblies and his Hebbian synapse (Goodwin, 2008). The former theory described how cells become organized into systems when they are activated, and the latter describes the synaptic connection and its strength with use (Goodwin, 2008).

Influential Theorists

Rene Descartes

Rene Descartes was a brilliant thinker, philosopher, scientist, physiologist, and early psychologist whose theory of mind-body connection has become an integral part of modern medicine (Goodwin, 2008). His dualist view, asserted the mind was ethereal and autonomous in relation to the physical and strictly material body, and to account for their interaction, he proposed the pineal gland was where the intersection of the two transpired (Goodwin, 2008). He theorized the mechanistic, reflexive nature of certain human behaviors, although his one caveat was that reasoning and thoughts were unique properties of the human soul (Wickens, 2005). Descartes's work laid some of the fundamental parameters for modern thought in psychology, encouraged further research on the localization of brain function, and promoted further experimental research of the nervous system (Goodwin, 2008).


Herophilus (335-280 BCE) is appreciated as a master of medicine during ancient times that made significant discoveries about the human body and provided a foundation for neuroscience (Acar, Naderi, Guvencer, Ture, & Arda, 2005). Herophilus was the first to dissect the human body, and because of religious and other taboos, it was not until many years later human dissection was again undertaken (Acar, et al, 2005). Herophilus named several human biological structures, including the neuron, and his contributions to the medical world place him as a founder of neuroanatomy and neurophysiology as he paved the way for future neurological discoveries (Acar, et al, 2005).

Santiago Ramon y Cajel

Santiago Ramon y Cajel used the significant discovery of Golgi stain to observe the detail of the brain's neural anatomy (Wickens, 2005). This observation enabled him to describe the characteristics of the brain's cells, including the basic structure of the neuron and its axon projections (Wickens, 2005). He determined the organizational behavior and predictable nature of the brain's structure, and his observations explained the fundamental function of neurons and the transport of information along neural circuitry (Wickens, 2005).

Biological Psychology's Relationships

Biological Psychology and Other Psychological Fields

The various psychological fields address mental imbalances, internal conflicts, maladaptive behaviors and thoughts processes, and basic human psychological needs, while biological psychology contributes its perspective on the biological disposition of the brain and nervous system, its neural function and its relationship to the maladaptive behaviors and thought processes (Wickens, 2005). Biological psychology provides guidance in diagnosis and treatment options based on the biological disposition of the brain (Wickens, 2005).

Biological Psychology and Neuroscience

According to Cacioppo (2002), "human survival depends in large part on the formation of alliances," (p. 820), and accordingly, neuroscience contributes significant information from its research and new discoveries of biological and neural processes to the field of biological psychology for application in diagnostics and more effective treatment options (Wickens, 2005). As neuroscience continues to define the mysteries of the brain and its neural function, biological psychologists can provide relief from the illnesses and imbalances that continue to defy current therapies and pharmaceuticals (Wickens, 2005).

Major Underlying Assumptions of the Biopsychological Approach

There are two fundamental assumptions associated with the biopsychological approach to human behavior; mental events cause biological consequences, and biological events cause mental consequences (Wickens, 2005). These assumptions define the inextricable connection between the two and in the approach to human disease and dysfunction, the biopsychological perspective will include addressing organic, biological dispositions of the brain and its neural function (Wickens, 2005).


Understanding the complex and miraculous mechanics of the brain and nervous system allows us deeper insight into human behavior and the often-dysfunctional intricacies of mental illness. This insight allows science to change the course of human life by preventing, deterring, and treating its myriad dysfunctions and diseases by a single fundamental understanding that psychological and physiological health has roots in the biological disposition of the brain and nervous system (Wickens, 2005). Further research in these areas will provide better definition to the brain's inherent relationship to degenerative disease and its treatment while providing a definitive understanding and wider perspective of the frailties of the human condition (Wickens, 2005).


Acar, F., Naderi, S., Guvencer, M., Ture, U., & Arda, M. N. (2005). Herophilus of Chalcedon: A Pioneer in Neuroscience. Neurosurgery, 56(4), 861-867. doi: 10.1227/01.NEU.0000156791.97198.58

Cacioppo, J. (2002). Social neuroscience: Understanding the pieces fosters understanding the whole and vice versa. American Psychologist. 57(11). 819-831. Retrieved October 7, 2010. EBSCOhost.

Goodwin, C.J. (2008). A History of Modern Psychology (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Wickens, A. (2005). Foundations of Biopsychology (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice- Hall.

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