Biological psychology

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Biological psychology is the scientific study of the biological bases of behavior and mental states. Because biological psychology and neuroscience both study the nervous system often using the same techniques (such as fMRI and MEG), it is difficult to say whether biological psychology is a branch of neuroscience (or vice versa) or whether they are one and same. Many researchers use the terms interchangeably.

Biological psychology is also known as biopsychology, psychobiology, physiological psychology, behavioral neuroscience, and neuropsychology.


[edit] Research methods

Biological Psychologists use empirical experiments to study changes in central nervous system activation in response to a stimulus. A number of techniques are used to measure activation:

  • Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) measures blood oxygenation in the brain, which is indicative, though not a direct measure, of neuronal activity.
  • Electroencephalography, (EEG) measures electrical fields created by neuronal activity (sometimes called brain waves).
  • Magnetoencephalography (MEG) is the measurement of the magnetic fields produced by electrical activity in the brain

Biological psychology does not just look at neurons and use the methods mentioned above.

Biological psychology also looks at genetics and their influence on the probability of an individual getting a disease. For example, biological theories of phobias look at a heritability. Davison, Neale and Kring (2004) state that blood, injury and injection phobias run in families; if someone has this specific phobia there is a 64% chance a first degree relative will also have it. This is significantly higher than the percentage at which it occurs in the general population, 3-4%. Studying monozygotic/MZ (identical) and dizygotic/DZ (un-identical) twins is also a method used by biological psychologists. If MZ twins have a higher concordance rate (if one twin has a disorder, the likelihood the other has it) than DZ twins then the disorder is likely to have a biological element. This is because MZ twins share 100% of their genes and DZ twins share only 50%. Of course with twin studies and family studies what must also be remembered is that they most likely share the same environment which may have an effect.

Adoption studies are also used in biological psychology. These are studies which look at children who are adopted into families who do not have a history of a disorder, but their biological parents do, and see what percentage of children in the study get this disorder. This helps in empirical falsification, to rule out environmental factors, because these children have a biological link (genetically) to the disorder, but are reared in an environment which is free from the disorder. This helps to distinguish between nature and nurture influences on the development of psychological disorders.

Biological psychology also looks at many other elements which are usually specific to a particular disorder.

It has been proposed that phobias are associated with a heightened autonomic nervous system, but studies generally do not support this. Panic disorder has been associated with sensitive CO2 receptors.

Biological psychology is also very interested in neurotransmitters, and whether too much or too little of a specific neurotransmitter has an effect on a disorder. For example, depression is associated with low levels of norepinephrine and serotonin. This link has been established by studies which look at what drugs have a theraputic effect on depression.

[edit] Treatments for disorders according to the biological paradigm

Biological treatments are usually drug treatments. Tranquilizers are frequently used for anxiety disorders. Anti-depressants such as Tricyclics, Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI) and Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI).

Other treatments can include ECT - electroconvulsive therapy, or psychosurgery amongst others.

[edit] Criticism of biological psychology

Biological approaches are very reductionist, reducing human behaviour down to genetics and neurotransmitters. This reduction does not necessarily mean that they ignore the effects of personality, emotion, thoughts, social and environmental factors in the development of a disorder, but it does entitle the biological approaches to maintain that a full comprehension of mental disorders is not complete if it does not refer to its biological genesis. This position is criticized notably by researchers who adopt a functionalist approach, advocating for the view that the appropriate level of explanation of a disorder of the mind (greek: psychè) must refer to psychological concepts and does not need to refer to biological concepts.

Another common criticism of the biological approach is that it naturally leads to the view that biological interventions (eg. drugs and electroconvulsive therapy) may have therapeutic virtues in the treatment of mental disorders. Yet, these interventions are often afflicted with often-overlooked problems. For example, drug therapies usually have many severe side effects which can even be so bad that patients stop treatment, and they can also have severe withdrawal effects. Also, the disorder can come back when patients stop taking the medication, an indication that this may only treat the symptoms, not the causes of behaviour. Some clinicians even believe that medication interferes with psychological therapeutic interventions by providing to subjects an opportunity to avoid changing their behaviours and thereby addressing the causes of the psychological stressors. Most clinicians, however, acknowledge the usefulness of drug treatments in severe cases.

An opinion that is supported by an increasing number of clinicians and researchers adopting the biological approach is that the best therapeutic intervention for most mental disorders is one that includes both pharmalogical drugs and psychological interventions.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

nl:Biologische psychologie sk:Biopsychológia

Biological psychology

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