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Biological psychology is a major branch in psychology that has been prominent since its beginning and remains a key area of research and training in most parts of the world. This paper will attempt to analyze biological psychology by defining it, examining its historical development and identifying associated important theorists. It will further depict the relationship between biological psychology and other psychology fields and finally describe key biopsychology assumptions.
Biological psychology (also referred to as biopsychology) is a branch of psychology that applies the principles of biology to the study of behavior that is, the study of psychology in terms of bodily mechanisms (Rosenzweig, Breedlove & Watson 2002, p. 18). Biopsychology looks at the link between biology and psychological events such as how information travels throughout our bodies (neural impulses, axons and dendrites, among others) and how different neurotransmitters affect sleep, dreams, and other behaviors.
The idea that the mind and body work in unison and that this harmony should be used in psychological treatments dates back to the times and works of Paracelsus, Hippocrates and Avicenna. Each of these early practitioners saw man as a combination of interactions between the mind and body. They recognized the need to identify illness and disease as a result of the above connection. Paracelsus saw physical disorders as weakness within the mind and spirit, relating medicine to biopsychology.
He believed in the mind-body connection to such an extent that he challenged other clinicians to find the spiritual insight to effectively heal and treat impaired individuals. Hippocrates also believed that both mind and physical approaches were required for effective healing. The Island of Coz, Hippocrates birth place, was reported to have special healing powers that extended beyond the earth. In addition, Avicenna also attempted to offer psychological explanations regarding various somatic illnesses.
In this case, his explanations would almost always provide a link between on the one hand, psychological illnesses and on the other hand, physical illnesses (Rosenzweig, 2002, p. 81). For example, Avicenna hypothesized that when we are happy, this acts to heighten breath and as a result, the moisture content of the brain also increases. In contrast, when moisture exceeds certain limits, this may result in a loss in the rationality of the brain, leading to mental disorders.
Theorists in biological psychology
Galen (AD 130–200), a physician of the Roman Empire was one of the first writers to propose a theory of brain function based on the ventricles. He believed that the heart was the body’s most important organ because it contained the ‘vital spirit’. This spirit, believed to provide brain’s substance, was transported to the brain then mixed with air and transformed into an animated spirit that was stored in the ventricles.
When required, the spirit would enter body nerves and stimulate muscles to produced behavior (The Wellness Institute, 2005, p. 4). Galen knew that the brain had four main ventricles although he did not ascribe their different functions. His ideas contributed to development of biopsychology and were further expanded in the fourth century AD by Nemesius, who developed a hypothesis for the theory.
According to Nemesius, mental impressions are formed at the lateral ventricles. These are the first and second ventricles. On the other hand, reasoning occurs at the third ventricles while the memory site is at the brain’s fourth ventricle. However, the theory was challenged in 1543 when Vesalius showed that the human brain does not actually contain an animated spirit. Critics of the theory say that Galen, who had not performed human dissection, had inferred its human existence by observing it in animals.
Ren Descartes is also one of the major biological psychology theorists. He discovered that the brain and certain genes influence behavior, though behavior was to a great extent mechanical and did not require mental intervention. He claimed that the human body worked on mechanical principles and did not require a soul to execute memory, emotions and sensory impressions.
This was based on his observation that animals, which he believed had no soul, could perform such mental functions. Descartes’ theory was beneficial in laying foundations for recent development of psychology. Though highly criticized, the theory helped shift focus on the problem of how reflexes may operate in human behavior and mental processing, without fearing to disagree with religious doctrine. His work also provided a great drive for experimental research to prove his ideas.
Biopsychology in relation to other psychology fields
Biopsychology is similar to other psychology fields such as comparative psychology and evolutionary psychology since they all use a combination of biology and psychology, though in different ways. Also, both neuroscience and biopsychology study the nervous system, often using the same techniques. This makes it difficult to say whether biological psychology is a branch of neuroscience (or vice versa) or whether they are one and same.
The terms have been used interchangeably by various researchers. On the other hand, biopsychology is unique to other psychology fields. This is because while biopsychology is classified by method, most other psychology branches focus on phenomena. For example, even as group behavior and clinical psychology are more concerned with the study of mental illness, on the other hand, biopsychology is more concerned with the study of behavior.
The study of biological psychology largely hinges upon the assumption that thre are biological assumptions behind psychological processes. In this case, it is important to note that the use of biological processes to explain psychological phenomena is largely determined by the genetic makeup of an individual as opposed to the impact of the environment (Wickens, 2005, p. 36). This assumption may have some setbacks on the ability of biopsychology to treat psychological disorders.
It is important to understand the history and theories underlying biological psychology in order to fully understand its fundamental pillars. The above analysis helps to identify the great potential of biopsychology to influence changes in trends of psychological approaches and therefore further research needs to be carried out. There is need to integrate disciplines in the psychology field in order to come up with better solution to mental, psychological disorders.
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Rosenzweig, M.R., Breedlove, S.M., & Watson, N. V. Biological psychology: An introduction to behavioral, cognitive, and clinical neuroscience. (3rd Ed).
Sunderland, MA: Sinauer The Wellness Institute. (2005). Psycho-Neuro-Immunology (The Mind/Body Connection). Web.
Wickens, A. (2005).Foundations of biopsychology. Harlow: Prentice-Hall.