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Abnormal Psychology’s Historical Perspectives Essay

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Updated: Apr 16th, 2020


Biological psychology is a field that has provided insight into the behaviors of individuals in response to particular circumstances.

Biopsychology forms an important basis for psychic therapy in the modern world. This paper explores the prime element of this branch of science and how they relate to psychiatry.


Biological psychology is a branch of psychology that tries to expose the biological aspect of behavior, i.e., the study of the brain I,n relation to the behavior (Wickens, 2005).


The ancient Greeks were the first people to appreciate the brain as the foundation for the mind. For example, Plato (429-348 BC) was the first to suggest the brain as the organ for reasoning.

However, another early scientist including Aristotle believed that the heart performed this function while the brain acts as an organ for cooling the blood.

In ancient times, the human body was venerated, and autopsies were prohibited so that the pioneering study of the human brain was before the time of Leonardo da Vinci (Wickens, 2005).

Major theorists in biological psychology

Descartes (1596-1650)

Descartes proposed the pineal gland as the place for interaction between the mind and the body; it is the only single structure of the brain corresponding to his concept of the soul.

He also remembered for the development of the concept of automatic reflex, which happens for instance when a limb is rapidly drawn away from fire.

To affirm this response, Descartes hypothesized that a sensory fiber is composed of a tube containing a spirit to convey the message of heat to the ventricles, which then sends the animal spirit to flow to the muscle of the relevant muscle to trigger its withdrawal.

Noteworthy is the fact that the mind was not involved in such event, reflexive, and thus not a cause of behavior (Wickens, 2005).

Another proposal by this scientist sparked a big controversy among the then ancient scientist. He hypothesized that functions like respiration, digestion, memory, impressions, and emotions are reflexive.

He supported these ideas with animals which did not seem posses spirit but are capable of having sensory activity, emotions and memories.

Thus, these behaviors could be dependent on the physical phenomenon, except pure thought and reasoning which according to him was the function of the soul and unique to humans, parallel to the religious views of that time (Wickens, 2005).

Luigi Galvani

Experimental findings in 1971 by an Italian scientist, Galvani was substantial enough to dismiss Descartes theories of the animal spirit. Galvani discovered that he could cause the leg of the frog to twitch, in a different manner.

This led to the conclusion that nerves are capable of conveying electricity and the animal spirit must have electric nature.

Following the invention of the voltmeter, electric activity was indeed observed, and this lead to the dismissal of hydraulic theories and a different approach of study (Wickens, 2005).

Franz Gall (1758–1828)

Gall is famous for founding phrenology that is a conception that attributes a person’s behavior to the surface and shape of the head. He proposed that a person’s character could be determined by examining the shape and surface of his/her skull.

His interest led to various discoveries by 1792 of regions of the brain he associated with the various faculties of the brain, like the faculty of murder and the inclination to steal (Wickens, 2005).

Galls’ hypothesis was strongly opposed because his categorization of psychological elements like faith, veneration, and self-love was impossible to measure. However, phrenology popularized in the 19th century and numerous phrenological societies were established.

Most importantly, social reformist speculates that phrenology could be employed to rehabilitate criminals or determine the best Member of Parliament (Wickens, 2005).

Relationship between biological psychology and another field of psychology

Biological psychology is a synonym to biopsychology, behavioral neuroscience, and psychobiology (Breedlove et. Al., 2007). Although physiological psychology is a term which some scientist prefer to regard it as a sub-discipline of biological psychology, it can be used to signify biological psychology.

Theoretical models

First, medical and biological models are essentially a physical perspective of abnormal psychology.

Thus, various efforts to elucidate abnormal psychology in basically material aspects have been made, so that ordinary persons can understand this phenomenon. Masterpasqua (2009) establishes that an abnormality such as anxiety is highly connected with the certain blueprint of DNA.

Second, the socio-cultural model identifies the circumstances within which abnormal actions are perceived “…focuses on the influence of large social and cultural forces on individual functioning” (Damourv & Hansell, 2008, p. 63).

Socio-cultural psychologists, for instance, have emphasized the contribution of unemployment, poverty, and discrimination in criminal tendency.

While other psychologists propose that a psychological condition is caused by people within a community such that he or she will experience a sense of belonging in the traditional standards.


From the above research, one can appreciate crucial elements of biopsychology that can be considered during approaches to the psychotic issue.

Thus biopsychology is a very important course for students who intend to pursue psychiatry because it is evident that any psychological condition has a biological basis.

A major assumption in this field is a strong belief that biological and mental processes are directly connected. Some biopsychology emphasizes that mental events are products of the apparent biology of the brain and the two cannot be separated.

Reference List

Breedlove, M., et. al. (2007). Biological Psychology: An Introduction to Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience. Sunderland, Mass: Sinauer Associates.

Damour, L. & Hansell, J., (2008). Abnormal psychology (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. History of psychology: Contemporary foundations (2010). Learner. Web.

Masterpasqua, F. (2009). Psychology and epigenetics. Review of General Psychology, 13(3), pp 194-201. Retrieved February 7, 2011, from EBSCOHost.

Wickens, A., (2005) Foundation of psychology. 2nd ed. New York: Prentice Hall.

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