Physiological Psychology

Psychology is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes. Biopsychology is the subarea of psychology that takes a biological approach to understanding behavior. Biopsychologists study the biological events - genetic, neural, endocrine- that underlie each and every one of our thoughts, feelings, and actions . Research in this area focuses on the relationship between brain and behavior but often extends to physiological processes elsewhere in the body (e.g. stomach, glands). This course will introduce you to the methods biopsychologists employ to investigate the biological underpinnings of behavior. It will explore what is currently known about the biological basis of emotional responses, mental illness, sexual behavior, memory, states of consciousness, sensory perception, thought and language, and several neurological disorders. Before delving into these topics this course will provide the necessary foundation - background on basic nervous system anatomy and functioning and an introduction to genetics. We will make use of a combination of lecture, class activities, and a few out-of-class assignments.

The modern history of physiological psychology has been written by psychologists who have combined the experimental methods of psychology with those of physiology and have applied them to the issues that concern all psychologists. Thus, we have studied perceptual processes, control of movement, sleep and waking, reproductive behaviors, ingestive behaviors, emotional behaviors, learning, and language. In recent years we have begun to study the physiology of human pathological conditions, such as addiction and mental disorders. Brain damage and drugs can profoundly affect consciousness. Because consciousness can be altered by changes in the structure or chemistry of the brain, we may hypothesize that consciousness is a physiological function, just like behavior. Consciousness and the ability to communicate seem to go hand in hand. That is, our ability to send and receive messages with other people enables us to send and receive our own messages – in other words, to think and to be aware of our own existence. This approach to the study of psychology looks at the influence of physiological factors upon behavior. Principle areas of examination include the brain, genetics, hormones and other chemicals in regulating both animal and human behavior.

The Goals of Research

  • The goal of all scientists is to explain the phenomena they study. Scientific explanation takes tow forms: generalization and reduction. Most psychologists deal with generalization. They explain particular instances of behavior as examples of general laws, which they deduce from their experiments.
  • Most physiologists deal with reduction. They explain complex phenomena in terms of simpler ones. For example, they may explain the movement of a muscle in terms of the changes in the membranes of muscle cells, the entry of particular chemicals, and the interactions among protein molecules within these cells.
  • The task of the physiological psychologists is to explain behavior in physiological terms. But physiological psychologists cannot simply be reductionists. We must understand "psychologically" why a particular behavior occurs before we can understand what physiological events made it occur.
  • Mice will build nests under two conditions: when the air temperature is low and when the animal is pregnant. The same behavior occurs for different reasons. If fact, nest-building behavior is controlled by two different physiological mechanisms. Nest building can be studied as a behavior related to the process of temperature regulation, or it can be studied in the context of parental behavior.
  • Sometimes, physiological mechanisms can tell us something about psychological processes. Damage to a specific part of the brain can cause very specific impairments in a person’s language abilities. The nature of these impairments suggests how these abilities are organized. When the damage involves a brain region that is important in analyzing speech sounds, it also produces deficits in spelling. This finding suggests that the ability to

EGG - EGG information.

Acetylcholine – involved in voluntary movement, learning, memory, and sleep.

Too much acetylcholine is associated with depression, and too little in the hippocampus has been associated with dementia.

Dopamine – correlated with movement, attention, and learning

Too much dopamine has been associated with schizophrenia, and too little is associated with some forms of depression as well as the muscular rigidity and tremors found in Parkinson’s disease.

Norepinephrine – associated with eating, alertness

Too little norepinephrine has been associated with depression, while an excess has been associated with schizophrenia.

Epinephrine – involved in energy, and glucose metabolism

Too little epinephrine has been associated with depression.

Serotonin – plays a role in mood, sleep, appetite, and impulsive and aggressive behavior

Too little serotonin is associated with depression and some anxiety disorders, especially obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some antidepressant medications increase the availability of serotonin at the receptor sites.

GABA (Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid) – inhibits excitation and anxiety

Too little GABA is associated with anxiety and anxiety disorders. Some antianxiety medication increases GABA at the receptor sites.

Endorphins – involved in pain relief and feelings of pleasure and contentedness



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