Psychology is a profession, an academic discipline, and a science that deals with the analysis and study of mental processes in human beings. When thinking about this branch of clinical knowledge and diagnosis, most people often look to the figure of the psychologist and psychiatrist, two well-established professions in the global mental health landscape.
However, with the advancement of science, distinctions between different branches become more and more necessary. For example, did you know that terms such as neuropsychology, psychobiology, neurobiology or behavioral neurology are broadly related to the world of human behavior?
In other words, knowledge knows no boundaries and therefore there is an increasing need to specialize more in understanding each process and driver that drives human behavior. here we will see what are the differences between neuropsychology and psychobiology, Relatively recent terms in the world of mental health.
Differences between neuropsychology and psychobiology: from behavior to neurons
To understand the differences between the two terms, you have to go to the etymological roots of the two words. As we can see, both contain the prefix element “psycho”, from the Greek, which means “soul” or “mental activity”.
Here are the linguistic similarities, giving us a clue that the two branches have some sort of relationship with the study of the human mind. In one of the terms, we observe the prefix element “neuro”, which, again, in Greek refers to the nerve or nervous system. The rest of the word in the second term, “psychobiology,” is pretty self-explanatory, as it refers to biology, the science that studies living things and their life processes.
So just with words we can already understand that one of the disciplines will focus on the nervous system, and the other on explaining behaviors from a biological point of view, Right ?. Now yes, let’s start with the differences between neuropsychology and psychobiology.
1. Question of approach
Neuropsychology is defined as a discipline and clinical specialty that converges between neurology (medical specialty of nervous system disorders) and psychology. In simpler terms, you could say this branch studies the effects of an injury, an accident or an anomaly of the central nervous system on the various cognitive processes of the human being. It is not all about illness, as he also seeks to know the neural bases of complex mental processes in healthy individuals.
These “complex mental processes” respond to mechanisms that humans put into practice continuously, even unconsciously. Some of them are attention, memory, language, perception, praxis (acquired motor skills), executive functions and emotions. All of these, taken together, define us both as a species and as individuals, and condition our daily life and our relationships with the environment.
On another side, psychobiology takes a much more primitive and evolutionary approach, Because it bases its foundations on the understanding of animal behavior through biological processes.
From a purely psychobiological point of view, behavior is nothing more than the response that a living being gives to an environmental stimulus which affects it. Like other activities carried out by animals, behavior responds to an adaptive function, a simple reflection of the adaptation of the species to the environment in which it is found, in order to maximize your chances of survival and leave their genetic imprint on future generations. Let’s go deeper into this concept.
2. What is behavior and how is it modulated?
Neuropsychology seeks, like any discipline related to psychology, the understanding of human behavior, but above all, its relationship with the functioning of the brain.
If we consider that the brain is a highly plastic organ, we can postulate that it will undergo changes. in its activity and structure throughout the life of the individual (especially in the early years of development), which will lead to variations in behavior.
These claims do not evolve in a purely speculative field, as several studies have shown that, for example, experience modifies the human brain continuously, strengthening or weakening the synapses that connect neurons. The brain, as we can see, is the central point and the axis of this discipline. Some of the dogmas of neuropsychology are:
- Psychological and behavioral aspects depend on the structure of the brain.
- Each psychological faculty depends on the region of the brain that controls it.
- The quality and effectiveness of each faculty depend on the development of the brain mass associated with it.
- These faculties are innate and hereditary.
As we can see, behavior, according to neuropsychology, cannot be understood without the brain and its possible modifications, both through alterations and pathologies and through natural processes, such as learning.
Psychobiology, on the other hand, does not seem to have a particular interest in the human brain. For example, its evolutionary branch tries to understand behavior as a product of natural selection. Natural selection, postulated by Darwin, tells us that individuals with characteristics that favor their survival are selected positively, as they will be the ones who will reproduce and give birth to offspring. Over time, populations will inherit these successful characteristicsAs the less viable will stay halfway and have no genetic representation in future generations of the species.
Therefore, behavior itself can be understood as the product of a phylogenetic history within the human species. That is, as a set of responses that in ancient times promoted the survival and reproductive success of our ancestors, “evolutionary successes”.
Therefore, human behavior, according to psychobiology, is not so much dependent on the cerebral cortex and its components, such as the phylogenetic history of our species, the genetic endowment of each individual and how it modulates their responses, and the environmental factors that modulate the responses contained in genes. Complex, right?
3. The Response to Aggression: A Case Study
The differences between neuropsychology and psychobiology can be understood when we went to studies of the two branches. For example, how will each of them approach the study of aggression in humans?
For example, neuropsychology will first focus on structural differences in the anterior regions of the cortex that modulate violent responses. Questions such as: Are cortical imbalances linked to aggressive responses? What does neuroanatomy have to do with anti-social and violent behavior? What regions of the prefrontal cortex are linked to aggressive behavior and what happens if they change?
Instead, psychobiology will take a completely different approach. Faced with the violent behavior of some humans, it will first examine the relationships of the hormones that cause these behaviors and what their evolutionary significance is they do the same with humans and other vertebrates.
In these cases, questions such as: What social agents cause changes in the levels of serotonin in the aggressive person’s body will be asked? What is the role of the components that lead to violence and how are they expressed in animals? What is the ethological significance of this behavior? Maximize in your time the survival of the beings who have shown it?
As we have seen, neuropsychology and psychobiology these are different terms but not mutually exclusive. The first is loaded to explain behavioral variations in humans using the brain as a central axis, in particular in its morphological modifications. Psychobiology, on the other hand, is based on the study of the phylogenetic inheritance of these behaviors, their hormonal mechanisms and the way in which these types of responses are translated in the animal world.
As complex as the two branches may appear, one thing is clear: knowledge of human behavior, both physiologically and evolutionarily, is essential. The more we know about ourselves, the faster we will improve as individuals and as a society as a whole.
- Alcàsser-Córcoles, M. Á., Verdejo-García, A., Bouso-Saiz, JC, and Bezos-Saldaña, L. (2010). Neuropsychology of impulsive aggression. Journal of Neurology, 50 (5), 291-299.
- Moreno, LMG (2002). Psychobiology and education. Complutense Journal of Education, 13 (1), 211-227.
- Pinel, J., and Barnes, SJ (2018, April). Psychobiology. Edra.
- Vázquez, SS and Fernández, AG (1991). A conceptual approach to psychobiology. Journal of General and Applied Psychology: Journal of the Spanish Federation of Psychological Associations, 44 (4), 389-394.