Biopsychology is a branch of psychology that analyzes how the brain and neurotransmitters influence our behaviors, thoughts and feelings. This field can be thought of as a combination of basic psychology and neuroscience.
Many psychology programs use alternate names for this field, including biopsychology, physiological psychology, behavioral neuroscience and psychobiology. Biopsychologists often look at how biological processes interact with emotions, cognitions and other mental processes. The field of biopsychology is related to several other areas including comparative psychology and evolutionary psychology.
If you are interested in the field of biopsychology, then it is important to have an understanding of biological processes, anatomy and physiology. Three of the most important components to understand are the brain, neurotransmitters and the nervous system.
The Brain and Nervous Systems
The Central Nervous System is composed of the brain and spinal cord. The outermost part of the brain is known as the cerebral cortex . This portion of the brain is responsible for functioning in cognition, sensation, motor skills, and emotions.
The brain is comprised of four lobes:
- Frontal Lobe: Also known as the motor cortex, this portion of the brain is involved in motor skills, higher lever cognition and expressive language.
- Occipital Lobe: Also known as the visual cortex, this portion of the brain is involved in interpreting visual stimuli and information.
- Parietal Lobe: Also known as the somatosensory cortex, this portion of the brain is involved in the processing of other tactile sensory information such as pressure, touch and pain.
- Temporal Lobe: Also known as the auditory cortex, this portion of the brain is involved in the interpretation of the sounds and language we hear.
Another important part of the nervous system is the Peripheral Nervous System, which is divided into two parts:
1. The Somatic Nervous System: Controls the actions of skeletal muscles.
2. The Autonomic Nervous System: Regulates automatic processes such as heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. There are two parts of the autonomic nervous system:
- The Sympathetic Nervous System: Controls the "fight or flight" response. This reflex prepares the body to respond to danger in the environment.
- The Parasympathetic Nervous System: This system works to bring your body back to its normal state after a fight or flight reflex.
Also important in the field of biopsychology are the actions of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters carry information between neurons and enable chemical messages to be sent from one part of the body to the brain, and vice versa.
There are a variety of neurotransmitters that affect the body in different ways. For example, the neurotransmitter dopamine is involved in movement and learning. Excessive amounts of dopamine have been associated with psychological disorders such as schizophrenia, while too little dopamine is associated with Parkinson’s disease. A biopsychologist might study the various transmitters to determine their effects on human behavior.