2.1 Intro to Biological Psychology
When we think about making choices, we think about things happening in the mind: ideas that influence how we think. But, your brain, nerves and hormones also affect your behavior and how you feel. We can understand more about the human condition when we recognize how biology affects behavior.
Your brain, nerves and hormones are responsible for your thoughts, feelings and actions. When you get hungry, remember your favorite place to eat, smell food cooking and take a big bite – biological processes are involved.
Biopsychologists study the lines of communication between your brain, glands and muscles. They look at the intersection between biology and psychology, between brain activity and mental states. Think of the brain as a computer, biopsychologists are the technicians who discover how the hardware affects how smoothly the software runs.
An important contribution of biopsychology is finding biological causes of why we think, feel and act the way we do. Two biological systems that affect your behavior are your nervous system and your endocrine system. Your nervous system is an interconnected network of nerve cells (called neurons) that allow you to sense the things going on around you so you can react. Your brain tells you that you’re hungry, but your nervous system tells your brain when you see food, and it even helps digest the food. Your endocrine system, meanwhile, includes your hormone-producing glands and helps your body turn the food into energy. Biopsychologists and behavioral neuroscientists study the effects of biological processes like hunger, eating and digestion.
Ideas, emotions and behavior are only the tip of the iceberg. Our understanding of biological causes of mental illnesses and genetic roots of disorders continues to grow. Biopsychologists have discovered genetic and biochemical triggers for eating disorders that cause us to rethink the idea that certain conditions are ‘all in the head.’ If you’re not convinced, think about how your eating habits change when you’re stressed out or sick.
Behavioral neuroscientists also study neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to reorganize in response to damage and new experiences. You’re probably familiar with the idea that when you lose the ability to use one of your senses, your other senses become stronger. There’s actually a structural change in your brain that goes along with this shift in ability. If you became blind, parts of your brain that aren’t responsible for your vision might grow larger to help compensate for your loss of sight. You would no longer be able to see food, but you’d be able to smell and taste it more than ever.
Next time you think, feel or react, consider the roles that your brain, nerves, muscles and glands play.