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Chapter 1

psyc 280 key concepts chapter 1.docx

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Simon Fraser University
PSYC 280
Neil Braganza

Chapter 1 In order to study the structures (or mechanisms) that are involved in generating behavior, we must view the organism being studied as a machine made up of billions of neurons and ask the question: “How is this creature constructed to be able to do that?” The field of biological psychology involves many people working in a wide variety of areas of specialization. A few of the types of professionals who participate in research in biological psychology are psychologists, biologists, physiologists, engineers, neurologists, and psychiatrists. The study of the brain is called neuroscience, and biopsychology is also known as behavioral neuroscience. The basic goal of biological psychology is to explain behavior in terms of physiological processes, particularly those of the nervous system. The findings of basic research in biological psychology may be applied to improving the lives of both humans and animals. List the five viewpoints of biological psychology using one word for each. Description (Hint: This viewpoint asks, “What are the structural and functional features of the behavior?”) Evolution (Hint: This viewpoint asks, “How did patterns of behavior come to be so different in some species and so similar in others?”) Development (Hint: This viewpoint asks, “How does behavior change over the life span?”) Mechanisms (Hint: This viewpoint asks, “What aspects of bodily function produce behavior?”) Applications (Hint: This viewpoint asks, “How can we use our discoveries to improve health and well-being?”) Studying differences among species highlights the ways in which neural mechanisms have been shaped by evolution to solve the particular problems that each species faces. For example, some bats use hearing to hunt and navigate, but others use vision. Each method seems to be an adaptation to the kind of food eaten by the particular species. Conversely, studying similarities among species reveals the degree to which a feature is continuous, or “conserved,” presumably due to a common ancestry. For instance, some sex hormones are found in all mammals, suggesting that these evolved long ago. However, these data need to be interpreted with care because some adaptations are so useful that they have evolved independently in numerous lines of species The process of change during the life span is formally called ontogeny . As behaviors emerge and decline during development and old age, parallel changes in the nervous system may be observed. For example, memory in monkeys improves over several years, suggesting that the neural circuits underlying memory are slow to mature. Learning ability emerges before the capacity to form long-term memories in rodents, suggesting that learning and memory involve different neural processes. The most commonly used study method in biological psychology is the somatic intervention approach, in which the experimenter alters body or brain structure . An alternative experimental approach to the one described in the previous question is the behavioral intervention approach, in which behavior is the independent variable and an effect in the body or brain is the dependent variable. A particularly plastic feature of neurons are the dendritic spines, which seem to be constantly undergoing alteration as a consequence of inputs. The experiment of Cooke et al. (2000) found that, in male rats raised either in isolation or in social groups, differences in social experience resulted in systematic changes in a brain region involved in processing odors. Similarly, in biological psychology lectures your instructor is attempting to alter your brain (with varying degrees of success). Winning a contest (a social factor) can increase a man’s testosterone levels, and reciprocally, increased testosterone levels are associated with increased dominance and aggressiveness in social contexts. For the following levels of analysis, select the numbers that would place them in order from the most complex level of analysis to the least complex. 7 Synaptic level 4 Neural systems level 3 Brain region level 8 Molecular level 2 Organ level 1 Social level 6 Cellular level 5 Circuit level At least 20% of the present population of the world suffers from neurological and/or psychiatric disorders. Three psychiatric disorders that are especially prevalent in the United States are disorders of mood, anxiety, and impulse control/attention deficit. The World Health Organization estimates that over 15 % of all disease burden in the United States, in terms of lost productivity, is due to mental disorders. Humans have studied animal behavior and physiology since before recorded history, both for agricultural purposes and in order to survive. Most animals used in research are lab-reared rodents— about 93% of all mammals used in research belong to this group. Animal research has provided major findings in all of the main fields of psychology. Introductory psychology textbooks often present these findings without specifying their source in animal research rather than in studies of human subject The Hebrew Bible and New Testament make no mention of the brain, apparently ascribing wisdom to the heart. This notion was still prominent by the time of the ancient Greek scholar Aristotle, according to whom the function of the brain was to cool the blood. In dissecting human and animal bodies, the Greek physician Herophilus (350 BCE) noted the connection of separate nerves to each region of the body and also noted that the nerves arise from the spinal cord. During the second century, Galen noted the behavioral changes associated with head injuries in gladiators. Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of the nervous system were especially remarkable because they provided cross-sectional views of structures. Examples of nervous system components that he studied include the nerves of the arm and the fluid-filled ventricles of the brain. René Descartes likened the operation of the body to that of a(n) machine and proposed a mechanism for the production of spinal reflexes. He also wrestled with the question of how the mind could control the body and proposed an interface of sorts, located in the pineal gland. He selected this structure because unlike most structures of the brain, which are doubled with one in each hemisphere, the pineal gland is unitary, like consciousness. He also believed the gland to exist only in humans, and we know now that this is not true. Dualism, the assertion that an immaterial soul exists in parallel with, and exerts control over, the material body permitted early scientists to study the body without being obviously guilty of heresy. Dualism is rejected in biological psychology, which asserts instead that all facets of behavior can be understood as purely physical processes of the nervous system. A popular nineteenth-century idea called phrenology held that the behavior of individuals can be predicted from the pattern of lumps and bumps on the skull. Other investigators rejected this notion, arguing that the brain operates as a whole, without any localization of functions to specific regions. We know now that although the whole brain is active in most behavior, peaks of activity are seen in different locations depending on the task being performed. Broca advanced the localizationist position when he presented an analysis of a patient who had lost the ability to talk; this patient had suffered brain damage limited to the left frontal region of the brain, which came to be known as Broca’s area. Workers in the early twentieth century developed systematic methods for measuring learning and memory, first in humans and then in animals. Pavlov described the process of conditioning, which opened up many new avenues for research. In other early work, Lashley’s “search for the engram” was undertaken, using a combination of training and brain lesions to try to discover the anatomical basis of memory traces. Galton was disappointed in his search for a consistent relationship between head size and intelligence by two methodological problems: lack of a direct measure of brain size and lack of a systematic way of measuring a person’s intelligence. Three ways in which brain size has been measured, from the nineteenth century to today, are (1) overall head size; (2) skull volume; and (3) MRI measurements of living brains. In The Organization of Behavior, D. O. Hebb describes two theoretical mechanisms that could, in principle, provide the necessary processing to accomplish complex cognitive tasks. The first of these is the concept of cell assemblies, which describes how brain cells that are initially connected in a somewhat random fashion can become organized into circuits as a consequence of activation. The second mechanism, now known as the Hebbian synapse, describes how synaptic connections can become strengthened through use. According to Adam Zeman, aspects of consciousness that most scientists agree on include the following: Consciousness permits us to make plans and to create mental simulations of the future. Consciousness is bound up somehow with the activity of the brain. Some brain activity is unconscious. The deep brain regions are important for arousal. The topmost brain regions are responsible for our experienc
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