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

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

In this article we explain what psychobiology is and how it arises, What are their fields of study and the most widely used types of research, as well as their relationships with other neurosciences.

    What is psychobiology and how does it 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 such topics 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 others. . Many other phenomena.

    The study of behavior has a long history, but psychobiology did not become an important neuroscientific discipline until the 20th century. While it is not possible to pinpoint the exact date of birth of this science, it should be noted that the publication of The Organization of Behavior by Donald Hebb played a key role in its emergence.

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

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

    Fields of study

    In general, professionals in psychobiology 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 the mental processes and behaviors that are shared among mammalian species.

    Some examples of the most common fields 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 emotions and aggressive behavior.

    With increasing technical sophistication and the development of more precise non-invasive methods that can be applied to human subjects, starting from psychobiology he begins to contribute to other classic thematic areas of psychology, Such as language, decision making and reasoning, or the implications of consciousness.

    Psychobiology has also contributed with its knowledge to the advancement of other disciplines, such as medical disorders and psychopathology. Although animal models do not exist for all mental illnesses, psychobiology has provided information on a variety of disorders, including:

    1. Parkinson’s disease

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

      2. Huntington’s disease

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

      3. Alzheimer’s disease:

      This well-known neurodegenerative disease causes progressive cognitive impairment which is accompanied by behavioral changes and neuropsychiatric disorders.

      4. Clinical depression

      A common psychiatric disorder, Characterized by a persistent drop in mood, loss of interest in regular activities, and decreased ability to experience pleasure.

      5. Schizophrenia

      Mental illness characterized by deficiencies in the perception or expression of reality, Which is most often manifested by disorganized auditory hallucinations, delusions, speech and thought in a context of significant social or professional dysfunction.

        6. Autism

        Neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs social interactions and communication, And causes restrained 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 does this discipline have to do with other neurosciences?

        Sciences that study the nervous system and its relationship to human cognition and behavior, Or what has been called neuroscience, are disciplines in which teamwork and interdisciplinarity are very important.

        Biopsychologists are scientists who contribute to their research through knowledge of behavioral and behavioral research methods. It is this focus on research into human behavior that makes his contribution to the rest of neuroscience so relevant.

        Also, psychobiology would not be the integrative discipline it is without the contribution of other neurosciences such as the following:

        • Neuroanatomy: studies the structure of the nervous system.
        • Neurochemistry: This discipline studies the chemical basis of nervous activity.
        • Neuroendocrinology: is responsible for the study of interactions between the nervous system and the endocrine system.
        • Neuropathology: studies 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 responsible for studying many different psychological phenomena and approach their research from different approaches. Psychobiological research can involve human and animal subjects; this can be done through experimental or observational research; and can also be basic or applied. Let’s see in more detail what each of them consists of.

        1. Experimentation with humans and animals

        Psychobiological research has been carried out in 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 instructions and report their subjective experiences, and of course, they have a human brain from which to draw more precise conclusions, compared to the brains of other animals.

        With all, the differences between the human brain and that of related animal species are more quantitative than qualitative. In addition, non-human animals have the advantage of having a simpler nervous system, which makes it easier to reveal interactions between the brain and behavior. Also, the fact of researching 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 naturally observed data is collected.

        Experimental studies are used to investigate causality; that is, find out what causes a certain phenomenon. To perform an experiment involving living subjects, the experimenter must design at least two conditions under which they will be evaluated. Usually a different group of subjects is tested in each experimental condition (inter-subject design), although it is sometimes possible to evaluate the same group under each condition (inter-subject design). intra-subject).

        The experimenter assigns subjects to each condition, administers the tests, and measures the result, so that there is only one difference that can be compared between the different experimental conditions: the independent variable. The variable measured by the experimenter to assess 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 fundamental or applied. Basic research is primarily driven by curiosity of the researcher; it is done only for the purpose of acquiring new knowledge on the subject.

        On the other hand, with applied research, it seeks to generate direct benefits for a given population.

        Obviously, a research project does not need to be simply fundamental or applied, as many programs have elements of both approaches and are returned because the knowledge generated in basic research is then harnessed to generate new practical applications from applied research.

        Bibliographical references:

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

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