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Chapter 2

PSY290H1 Chapter Notes - Chapter 2: Brainstem, Experimental Psychology, Ethology

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Suzanne Wood

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Chapter 2: Evolution, Genetics, and Experience
Thinking About the Biology of Behaviour: From Dichotomies to Interactions
The tendency to think about behaviour in terms of dichotomies is illustrated by two
kinds of questions commonly asked about behaviour:
1. Is it physiological or is it psychological?
2. Is it inherited or is it learned?
Is it Physiological, or is it Psychological?
The idea that human processes fall into one of two categories has a long history
In Western culture, it rose to prominence following the Dark Ages, in response to 17th C
conflict between science and the Roman Church
For much of the history of Western civilization, truth was whatever was decreed to be
true by the Church
In the 1400s when plagues, famines and armies began to subside, and interest turned to
art, commerce and scholarship this was the period of the Renaissance (1400-1700)
Some Renaissance scholars were not content to follow the dictates of the Church
o Instead, they started to study things directly by observing them
o Thus, modern science was born
Much of the scientific knowledge that accumulated during the Renaissance was at odds
with Church dictates
The conflict was resolved by Descartes he advocated a philosophy that gave one part
of the universe to science, the other part to the Church
Argued that the universe is composed of two elements:
1. Physical matter behaves according to the laws of nature and is thus a suitable
object of scientific investigation
2. Human mind (soul, self or spirit) lacks physical substance, controls human
behaviour, obeys no natural laws and is thus the appropriate purview of the Church
Cartesian dualism, as Desartes’s philosoph eae ko, as satioed  the
Roman Church, and so the idea that the human brain and the mind are separate entities
became even more widely accepted
Most people now understand that the human behaviour has a physiological basis, but
some still believe in the dualistic approach where there is a category of human activity
that transcends the human brain
Is it Inherited, or is it Learned?
Scholars have debated whether humans and other animals inherit their behavioural
capacities or acquire them through learning referred to as the nature-nurture issue
Most experimental psychologists were committed to the nurture side of the debate
(due to the rise of behaviourism)
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At the same time experimental psychology was taking root in North America, ethology
(the study of animal behaviour in the wild) was becoming the dominant approach in the
study of behaviour in Europe
Ethology focused on the study of instinctive behaviours (behaviours that occur in all like
members of a species, even when there seems to have been no opportunity for them to
have been learned) emphasized the role of nature, or inherited factors, in behavioural
Problems with Thinking About the Biology of Behaviour in terms of Traditional Dichotomies
Physiological-or-Psychological Thinking Runs into Difficulty
There are two lines of evidence against physiological-or-psychological thinking
1. Many demonstrations that even the most complex psychological changes (i.e. changes
in self-awareness, memory or emotion) can be produced by damage to, or stimulation
of, parts of the brain
2. Demonstrations that some nonhuman species, particularly primates, possess some
abilities that were once assumed to be purely psychological and thus purely human
First line of evidence case example:
Olier “aks’ aout of the a ho fell out of ed
Patient was suffering from asomatognosia, a deficiency in the awareness of parts of
oe’s o od
Involves the left side of the body and usually results from damage to the right parietal
Although the changes in self-awareness displayed by the patient were very complex,
they were clearly the result of brain damage
The full range of human experience can be produced by manipulations of the brain
Second line of evidence case example:
G.G. Gallup’s researh o self-awareness in chimpanzees
The point of this case is that even nonhumans, which are assumed to have no mind, are
capable of considerable psychological complexity in this case, self-awareness
Although their brains are less complex than the brains of humans, some species are
capable of high levels of psychological complexity
Assessed the hip’s leel of self-awareness by confronting it with a mirror
The first reaction of a chimpanzee to a mirror is to respond as if it were seeing another
However, after a day or two, it starts to act as if it were self-aware
Gallup anesthetized each chimp, and their eyebrow was painted a red, odorless, dye
Following the recovery, the mirror was reintroduced
Upon seeing its painted eyebrow in the mirror, each chimpanzee repeatedly touched
the marked area on its eyebrow while watching the image
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Nature-or-Nurture Thinking Runs into Difficulty
Factors other than genetics and learning were shown to influence behavioural
o Fetal environment
o Nutrition
o Stress
o Sensory stimulation
This led to a broadening of the concept of nurture to include a variety of experiential
factors in addition to learning
Changed the nature-or-urture dihoto fro geeti fators or learig to geeti
fators or eperiee
It was also argued that behaviour always develops under the combined control of both
nature and nurture, not under the control of one or the other
“tarted askig, ho uh of it is geeti, ad ho uh of it is the result of
The problem with that phrasing is that it is based on the premise that genetic factors
and experiential factors combine in an additive fashion
A Model of the Biology of Behaviour
This model boils down to the single premise that all behaviour is the product of
interactions among three factors:
1. The orgais’s geeti edoet, hih is a produt of its eolutio
2. Its experience
3. Its perception of the current situation
**Replicate Figure 2.3 on page 25 Below**
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