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Psychobiology: what is it and what does this science study?

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When psychology and biology come together to find answers to the questions posed by human behavior, the psychobiology, a scientific discipline that aims to understand how human behavior works based on criteria biological.

In this article we explain what psychobiology is and how it arises, what are its areas of study and the types of research most used, as well as its relationship with other neurosciences.

  • Related article: "Parts of the human brain (and functions)"

What is and how does psychobiology arise?

Psychobiology or biopsychology is a scientific discipline that studies psychological phenomena and human behavior from a biological point of view. The scope of this science includes topics such as the evolution of the brain, the functioning and development of the nervous system, the understanding of sensory and perceptual processes, and the study of basic behaviors such as sex or reproduction, among many others phenomena.

The study of behavior has a long history, but psychobiology did not become a major neuroscientific discipline until the 20th century. Although it is not possible to specify the exact date of the birth of this science, it should be noted that the publication of

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The organization of behavior from Donald hebb played a key role in its appearance.

In his book, Hebb developed the first comprehensive theory of how some complex psychological phenomena, such as emotions, thoughts, or memories, can be produced by brain activity. His theory did much to discredit the dogma that psychological functioning is too complex to be the result of the physiological and chemical activity of the brain.

Hebb based his theory on experiments involving both humans and laboratory animals, on clinical cases, and on logical arguments he developed based on his own observations. This eclectic approach would later become the hallmark of psychobiological research.

Study areas

In general, psychobiology professionals study the same problems as academic psychologists, although they are sometimes limited by the need to use non-human species. As a result, most of the literature in psychobiology focuses on mental processes and behaviors that are shared among mammalian species.

Some examples of the most common areas of study in psychobiology They are: the processes of sensation and perception; behaviors that involve motivation (hunger, thirst, sex); learning and memory; sleep and biological rhythms; or aggressive emotions and behavior.

With increasing technical sophistication and with the development of more precise non-invasive methods that can be applied to human subjects, from psychobiology it is beginning to contribute to other classical subject areas of psychologysuch as language, decision-making and reasoning, or the implications of consciousness.

Psychobiology has also contributed its knowledge to other disciplines to advance, as in the case of medical disorders and psychopathology. Although there are no animal models for all mental illnesses, psychobiology has provided insights into a variety of disorders, including for example:

1. Parkinson's disease

A degenerative disorder of the nervous system that affects motor skills and speech.

  • You may be interested: "Parkinson's: causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention"

2. Huntington's disease

Hereditary neurological disorder whose main symptoms are the abnormal movements and lack of coordination.

3. Alzheimer disease:

This well-known neurodegenerative disease causes a progressive cognitive deterioration that occurs with behavioral changes and neuropsychiatric disorders.

4. Clinical depression

A common psychiatric disorder, characterized by a persistent decrease in mood, loss of interest in usual activities, and decreased ability to experience pleasure.

5. Schizophrenia

Mental illness characterized by deficiencies in the perception or expression of reality, which manifests more frequently as auditory hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech and thinking in the context of significant social or occupational dysfunction.

  • You may be interested: "What is schizophrenia? Symptoms and Treatments"

6. Autism

Neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs social interaction and communication, and causes restricted and repetitive behavior.

7. Anxiety

Physiological state characterized by the presence of cognitive, somatic, emotional and behavioral components. These combine to create feelings and sensations of fear, apprehension, or worry.

What relationship does this discipline have with other neurosciences?

The sciences that study the nervous system and its relationship with cognition and human behavior, or what have come to be called neurosciences, are disciplines in which teamwork and interdisciplinarity are very important.

Biopsychologists are scientists who bring knowledge of behavior and behavioral research methods to their research. It is this orientation towards the investigation of human behavior that makes his contribution to the rest of the neurosciences so relevant.

In addition, psychobiology would not be the integrative discipline that it is without the contribution of other neurosciences like the ones set out below:

  • Neuroanatomy: studies the structure of the nervous system.
  • Neurochemistry: this discipline studies the chemical bases of nervous activity.
  • Neuroendocrinology: is responsible for the study of the interactions between the nervous system and the endocrine system.
  • Neuropathology: studies the diseases of the nervous system.
  • Neuropharmacology: is responsible for studying the effect of drugs on the activity of the nervous system.
  • Neurophysiology: the science that studies the functions and activity of the nervous system.

Types of research in psychobiology

Experts in psychobiology are charged with studying many different psychological phenomena and approach their research from different approaches. Psychobiological research can involve human and animal subjects; it can be done through experimental or observational research; and it can also be basic or applied. Let's see in more detail what each of them consists of.

1. Human and animal experimentation

Psychobiological research has been carried out in both humans and animals, especially mice and rats, although cats, dogs and primates have also been used. The advantage of working with people is that they can follow directions and can report their subjective experiences, and therefore Of course, they have a human brain from which they can draw more accurate conclusions, compared to the brains of other animals.

With everything, the differences between human brains and those of related animal species are more quantitative than qualitative. In addition, nonhuman animals have the advantage of having a simpler nervous system, making it easier to reveal interactions between the brain and behavior. Likewise, the fact of investigating with animals facilitates the comparative method when studying biological processes.

2. Experimental and observational research

Research in psychobiology includes scientific experiments and observational studies; In the latter, no variable is manipulated and only the data that are observed in a natural way are collected.

Experimental studies are used to study causality; that is, to discover what causes a certain phenomenon. To perform an experiment involving living subjects, the experimenter must design two or more conditions under which they will be evaluated. Typically, a different group of subjects is tested in each experimental condition (design between subjects), although it is sometimes possible to evaluate the same group under each condition (design within subjects).

The experimenter assigns the subjects to each condition, administers the tests, and measures the result, such that there is only one difference that can be compared between the different experimental conditions: the variable Independent. The variable measured by the experimenter to evaluate the effect of the independent variable is called the dependent variable. If the experiment is successful, any difference in the dependent variable between the conditions must have been caused by the independent variable.

3. Basic and applied research

Research in psychobiology can be basic or applied. Basic research is motivated primarily by curiosity of the researcher; it is done solely for the purpose of acquiring new knowledge on the subject.

By contrast, with applied research, it is sought to generate some direct benefit for a given population.

Obviously, it is not necessary for a research project to be only basic or applied, since many programs have elements of both approaches and are provide feedback because the knowledge generated in basic research is then used to generate new practical applications from the research applied.

Bibliographic references:

  • Escera, C. (2004). Historical and conceptual approach to Cognitive Neuroscience. Cognitive, 16 (2), 141-61.
  • Ripoll, D. R. (2010). Fundamentals of psychobiology (Vol. 147). Editorial UOC.
  • Wickens, A. (2009). Introduction to biopsychology. Pearson Education.
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