Chapter 3: Biopsychology

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the role and function of the basic structures of a neuron
  • Describe how neurons communicate with each other
  • Explain how drugs act as agonists or antagonists for a given neurotransmitter system
  • Describe the difference between the central and peripheral nervous systems and the somatic and autonomic nervous systems
  • Differentiate between the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions of the autonomic nervous system
  • Describe the endocrine system and explain its primary responsibilities within the body
  • Explain the two hemispheres of the brain, lateralization, and plasticity
  • Identify the location and function of the lobes of the brain
  • Identify and describe the role of the parts of the limbic system, the midbrain, and hindbrain
  • Describe the types of techniques available to clinicians and researchers to image or scan the brain
  • Investigate the historic nature vs. nurture debate and describe techniques psychologists use to learn about the origin of traits
  • Explain the basic principles of the theory of evolution by natural selection, genetic variation, and mutation
  • Describe epigenetics and examine how gene-environment interactions are critical for expression of physical and psychological characteristics
Three brain-imaging scans are shown.

Figure 1. Different brain imaging techniques provide scientists with insight into different aspects of how the human brain functions. Left to right, PET scan (positron emission tomography), CT scan (computed tomography), and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) are three types of scans. (credit “left”: modification of work by Health and Human Services Department, National Institutes of Health; credit “center”: modification of work by “Aceofhearts1968″/Wikimedia Commons; credit “right”: modification of work by Kim J, Matthews NL, Park S.)

Have you ever taken a device apart to find out how it works? Many of us have done so, whether to attempt a repair or simply to satisfy our curiosity. A device’s internal workings are often distinct from its user interface on the outside. For example, we don’t think about microchips and circuits when we turn up the volume on a mobile phone; instead, we think about getting the volume just right. Similarly, the inner workings of the human body are often distinct from the external expression of those workings. It is the job of psychologists to find the connection between these—for example, to figure out how the firings of millions of neurons become a thought.

This module strives to explain the biological mechanisms that underlie behavior. These physiological and anatomical foundations are the basis for many areas of psychology. In this module, you will learn how genetics influence both physiological and psychological traits. You will become familiar with the structure and function of the nervous system, learn how the nervous system interacts with the endocrine system, and understand the nature vs. nurture debate.