Cindy Zhu PSYC271, Fall 2011
Chapter 1: Biopsychology as a Neuroscience
• The human brain is an intricate network of 100 billion neurons (cells that receive and
transmit electrochemical signals), and the almost infinite number of paths available to
neural signals demonstrate its complexity
• Neuroscience: the scientific study of the nervous system
• Jimmie G.: cannot form new lasting memories, frozen in his early 20s
• Four major themes:
o Think creatively about biopsychology: Preconceptions impede scientific
progress, so think in productive and unconventional ways.
o Clinical implications: What we know about function of brain comes from
studying disease and damage, and what we discover is relevant to treating
disorders – interplay between brain dysfunction and biopsychology
o The evolutionary perspective: Looking at environmental pressures that led to
the evolution of our brains and behaviour today (environment of evolutionary
adaptedness, EEA), such as using the comparative approach of looking at
o Neuroplasticity: the adult brain is not a static network of neurons, but a
changeable organ that continuously grows and changes in response to genes
1.1 What Is Biopsychology?
• Biopsychology is the scientific study of the biology of behaviour: a biological approach
to the study of psychology, the science of behaviour (all overt activities of the organism
and the internal processes presumed to underlie them, e.g. learning, memory,
• Started with Donald Hebb’s The Organization of Behaviour (1949), which developed the
first comprehensive theory of how complex psychological phenomena (perceptions,
thoughts, memories) could be produced by brain activity.
• Helped discredit idea that psychological functioning too complex to be based on
physiology and chemistry of the brain.
• Based his theory on experiments (humans, animals), clinical case studies, and daily
observations. Cindy Zhu PSYC271, Fall 2011
1.2 What Is The Relation Between Biopsychology and Other Disciplines of
• Biopsychologists’ unique contribution to neuroscience: knowledge of behaviour and
methods of behavioural research. Biopsychology integrates knowledge from other
neuroscience disciplines and applies it to the study of behaviour.
• Neuroanatomy: study of structure of nervous system
• Neurochemistry: study of chemical bases of neural activity
• Neuroendocrinology: study of interactions between nervous and endocrine systems
• Neuropathology: study of nervous system disorders
• Neuropharmacology: study of effects of drugs on neural activity
• Neurophysiology: study of functions and activities of nervous system
1.3 What Types of Research Characterize the Biopsychological Approach?
Human and Nonhuman Subjects
• Human advantages: follow instructions, report subjective experiences, cheaper!
• Evolutionary continuity of the brain: studying animals (rats, mice, cats, primates) still
effective because our brain differences are quantitative (size, extent of cortical
development) not qualitative. Principles of human brain function can be clarified by
• Animal advantages: simpler brains and behaviour reveal more fundamental brain-
behaviour interactions, insights from comparative approach with different species
about function, fewer ethical constraints
Experiments and Nonexperiments
• Experiments: studying causation by using two or more conditions on a group of
subjects. Can use different groups of subjects for each condition (between-subjects
design) or same group under each condition (within-subjects design).
• Independent variable: the difference between conditions which the experimenter
changes; dependent variable: the condition measured to assess the effect of the
• Confounded variable: more than one difference that affected the dependent variable
and messes up results and conclusions Cindy Zhu PSYC271, Fall 2011
• Coolidge effect: a copulating male who becomes incapable of continuing to copulate
with one sex partner can often recommence copulating with a new sex partner (Lester
and Gorzalka 1988). Confounding was a concern in studying this effect in female
hamsters due to comparatively less sexual fatigue, may be confounded with sexual
fatigue of males and greater vigour of a new male partner.
o Found females responded more vigorously (lordosis) to the unfamiliar males
than the familiar males during the third test despite equal fatigue of both males.
• Quasiexperimental studies: physical or ethical impediments prevent randomly
assigning subjects to particular conditions. Instead, use subjects who were exposed to
these conditions in the real world (not randomly assigned). For example, variables other
than alcohol exposure in brain damage and performance tests: education, drug use,
poor diets, etc.
• Case studies: Focus on single case or subject, providing in-depth picture and a source
of testable hypotheses. However, generalizability problem.
Pure and Applied Research
• Pure research: motivated by curiosity, for purpose of acquiring knowledge; however,
applications flow readily from understanding of basic principles.
• Applied research: intended to bring direct benefit to humankind
1.4 What Are the Divisions of Biopsychology?
• Physiological psychology: studying neural mechanisms of behaviour through direct
manipulation (surgical, electrical) of the brain in experiments (on animals); mostly pure
research that contribute to developing theories on neural control of behaviour.
• Psychopharmacology: manipulation of neural activity and behaviour with drugs; mostly
applied research to develop therapeutic drugs or to reduce drug abuse.
• Neuropsychology: the study of psychological effects of brain damage in human
patients (case studies, quasiexperiments); special focus on cerebral cortex; applied
research helping facilitating diagnosis and effective treatment.
• Psychophysiology: relation between physiological activity and psychological processes
in humans, using noninvasive recording procedures such as electroencephalograms
(EEG), muscle tension, eye movement, and other indicators. Applications for attention,
etc., but also clinical like schizophrenics have trouble smoothly tracking a moving
pendulum. Cindy Zhu PSYC271, Fall 2011
• Cognitive neuroscience: study neural bases of cognition, higher intellectual processes
like thought, memory,