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This lesson covers the definition and history of psychobiology, or the study of the way biological processes influence behavior. You will also learn some of the most important discoveries to influence psychobiology.

What Is Psychobiology?

How do the mind, the body, and the brain work together? What are the biological explanations for human behavior? These are the kind of questions that scientists who study psychobiology ask. Psychobiology, also known as biological psychology, is a sub-field of biology and psychology that deals with the interaction between the biological (things like hormones, neurotransmitters, and cells) and the social, or the way we act in our world.Psychobiologists study the evolutionary and physiological mechanisms that are responsible for human behavior and try to understand how the brain functions in order to understand why humans behave the way we do. Psychobiologists believe that biology is largely responsible for human action and behavior.

A Brief History

Psychobiology has its earliest origins in philosophy. The study of the mind was the domain of philosophers long before scientists began to study it.

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The most pressing question the early philosophers asked was, ‘Is the mind the same as the brain?’At first, philosophers believed that the mind and the brain were separate, which is known as dualism. The theory of dualism suggested that the mind and the brain are made of different materials. The brain is physical matter and the mind is non-physical, or independent of the material world. However, as scientists began to study the brain in the early 19th century, the theory of monism emerged.

This theory argues that the mind and the brain are the same thing.Very early on, philosophers did not know much about how the brain works or how it might be related to behavior. However, some of the earliest scientists began to make important discoveries about the theory of monism. The experiments they conducted showed that physical processes are extremely important to understanding behavior.The Italian scientist Camillo Golgi made an important contribution when he discovered that the substance silver nitrate would cause nerve cells to appear black, or stained, under a microscope. This allowed scientists to study cells in greater detail. Today we call these particular nerve cells neurons, and they are responsible for transmitting information from our brains.

Scientists then discovered individual components of neurons, called axons and dendrites. Axons carry electrical signals away from the body of the neuron and dendrites receive electrical signals from other cells. In other words, this is how your brain tells parts of your body what to do. When you decide to get up from a chair you’re sitting in, the electrical signals sent from your brain to the nerve cells in other parts of your body are responsible for your ability to complete this action.

The Brain ; Nervous System

Today, psychobiologists devote much of their time to studying the brain, which is part of the central nervous system.The central nervous system is made up of the brain and the spinal cord.

These are both directly related to human behavior. The communication between the brain and the body occurs because of a process known as neurotransmission. In this process, chemicals known as neurotransmitters are released, causing activity in other neurons. There are many different kinds of neurotransmitters, and they all have different functions.

Different neurotransmitters are responsible for regulating sleep, mood, appetite, pleasure, and motor function.Both the brain and the spinal cord are responsible for sending these messages. You can think of the spinal cord as a pathway that allows messages to travel through the body. The brain is like the command center of the body, sending out the important messages. For example, if you accidentally touch a hot burner on a stove, you most likely pull your hand away quickly. This is because your spinal cord carried a message from your hand (hot), through your body to your brain, and then from your brain (pain) back through your body to your hand, which you quickly pull away.

Lesson Summary

Psychobiologists are interested in understanding the evolutionary and biological processes that account for human behavior.

In other words, they want to understand how nerve cells and chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, influence behavior. The earliest philosophers understood the brain and the body as two separate entities, while early scientists thought of them as the same thing. Today psychobiologists understand that the central nervous system, consisting of the brain and spinal cord, send electronic signals across nerve cells to initiate human behavior.

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