In order to understand something it is important to know the history and have a definition. Biological psychology has been dated to Avicenna (980-1037 C.E.), a physician who recognized physiological psychology in the treatment of illnesses and linked the physical and psychological together. Behavioral neuroscience, also known as biological psychology (Breedlove, Rosenzweig & Watson, 2007), biopsychology (Pinel, 2009), or psychobiology (Dewsbury, 1991) is the application of the principles of biology (in particular neurobiology) to the study of physiological, genetic, and developmental mechanisms of behavior in human and non-human animals. Biopsychology is defined as “the scientific study of the biology of behavior” (Pinel, 2009, p. 3). Pinel expands on this to say it is the biological approach to studying psychology (2009).
There has been one predominant theme throughout several resources. This has been the encouragement and emphasis of critical and creative thinking when viewing the myriad of possibilities stemming from biopsychology or rather the biology of behavior. This is as important in every-day life as it is in the biopsychology laboratory (Pinel, 2009). The move away from traditional processes to one of questioning all things is a healthy way to view ourselves and our environments. Keeping these thoughts and questions in mind, here is a very brief glimpse into biopsychology as gleaned from my perspective, research, text books, life experiences, and gut feeling at this moment in time. As my knowledge base expands, hopefully this will open up avenues for sharing and growing with other students and professionals in the relatively new area of biopsychology.
To answer the question: …which division do you feel is best equipped to study the field of biopsychology? Until additional information has been presented, I would say all of them in various combinations, depending on the presenting situation. I do not think this is a one or the other type question or answer. It depends. However, if I were to choose one, it would be psychophysiology.
Biopsychology is one of many contributors to neuroscience and adds the dimensions of behavior and behavioral research. The six primary divisions within biopsychology have three basic research dimensions. According to Pinel these may include human or nonhuman subjects, formal experiments or nonexperiments, and can be pure or applied (2009).
There are six major divisions that demonstrate the diversity of biopsychology. Each one specifies a distinct area, yet seldom do they stand alone. In most situations a synergistic and harmonious blending of various combinations of these divisions is what delivers the most accurate insight into a specific situation.
The six divisions are:
Physiological psychology examines behavior by examining the neural mechanism and manipulating the nervous system of animals. An example would be removing part of a hamster brain to examine how they perform on memory tests.
Psychopharmacology examines how drugs affect the brain and behavior. An example of this would be examining new drugs to help schizophrenic patients.
Neuropsychology examines brain damaged humans with the use of case studies or quasi-experimental studies. An example would be studying the effects of neural damage on behavior. This helps physicians in forming a clear diagnosis with appropriate medications.
Psychophysiology examines the relationship between physiological and psychological processes and activity. An example of this would be the relationship between nutrition and biological markers, such as eating fish and the improvement of overall health (Hansen, Dahl, Bakke, Froyland, & Thayer, 2010). This is an area of research that might have important implications with regard to both physical and mental health.
Cognitive neuroscience examines neural connections in human cognition, mostly through brain imaging. An example of this would be neuropsychological work on patients with difficulties in speech perception and production that has been expanded to include nonhuman primates (Teufel, Ghazanfar, & Fischer, 2010).
Comparative psychology compares evolution, genetics, and other adaptive behavior as well as the comparison of theories. An example of this would be Darwin’s theory of evolution (Burghardt, 2009).
Research Strengths and Limitations
Neuropsychology’s strength is that it deals with humans, but this is also its weakness because it precludes experimentation. In contrast, physiological psychology has the power of the experimental method and invasive neuroscientific techniques to bear on the question. However it does have the weakness to only to study laboratory animals. With collaboration and sharing of ideas a synergistic strength emerges and allows the two approaches to focus on complementary aspects and together they can provide evidence for points of view that neither can defend individually.
Like most things in life, each division has strengths as well as weaknesses. Some of these are: unintended differences among conditions can influence the dependent variable. These are called confounding or extraneous variables (contamination) the presence of confounded variables makes experiments difficult to interpret.
Quasi-experimental studies are used when ethics become called into question and this type of research replace controlled experiments that could cause harm, instead the researcher compares different groups. An example would be the comparison of alcoholics and non-alcoholics in the real world.
The major limitation of quasi-experimental studies is that although they can tell the researcher what is related (correlated) to what (e.g., alcohol consumption is related to brain damage), they cannot tell the researcher what caused what.
Case studies are scientific and focus on a single area, this leads to not being able to apply any results in a general way. Even without perfect conditions and control for different types of research, it is important to know that this is part of the overall process and is a step in understanding.
The final area of research examined today is pure and applied research. The differences between these two are defined by the motivation of the researcher (Pinel, 2009). Pure research is motivated primarily by the curiosity of the researcher about how things work. Applied research is motivated by an attempt to directly benefit humankind.
As has been evidenced through out this paper and prior research, the methods used by these six divisions of biopsychology have their share of positive and negative attributes. Progress is possible when a variety of approaches can be used for each unique set of circumstances (Pinel, 2009). Hopefully, the divisions can form a converging operation utilizing a gestalt approach, where the whole is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.
The notion thinking outside the box is far more than just a cliche. It is a very powerful concept worthy of deeper consideration in today’s complex and rapidly changing world. Thinking outside the box is never easy, nor is it merely a reflection of mental brightness. To leave our psychological comfort zone and explore solutions in the unknown world on the outside requires large measures of mental agility, boldness, and creativity. The future rests in those willing and able to do so.