Behavioral neuroscience, also known as biological psychology, biopsychology, or psychobiology, is the application of the principles of biology to the study of physiological, genetic, and developmental mechanisms of behavior in humans and other animals. While biological psychology is a broad field, many biological psychologists want to understand how the structure and function of the nervous system are related to behavior. As such, they often combine the research strategies of both psychologists and physiologists to accomplish this goal (as discussed in Carlson, 2013).
With an understanding of the brain, a biopsychologist can explore the brain’s role in emotions, perception, mental processes, and behavior. Biopsychology includes a study of how abnormalities in the brain can affect behavior, to learn more about people who struggle with issues such as depression. Researchers are also interested in the adaptive behavior of the brain and the extraordinary ways the brain can adapt to difficulties.
This field of study has room for a great deal of fascinating research. Biopsychologists can work in a variety of settings to learn more about human and animal behavior. Some work as instructors, providing training to new generations of people in the field. Others interested in biopsychology may work in pure research and can also be found working at pharmaceutical companies, research hospitals, government agencies, and private organizations that promote a deeper understanding of the brain.
Because biopsychology often involves working with human subjects, it can be controversial. Researchers must work under the guidance of ethics committees when designing experiments to ensure that their work is conducted ethically and that their subjects are operating with informed consent. The practice of obtaining informed consent is a critical aspect of modern scientific research that is designed to address the ethical concerns raised in the era of historical experiments in which people were not informed about what was happening. Some of these experiments involved highly controversial activities that were later seen as exploitation and abuse of human subjects, leading to stricter rules on experimental ethics and the development of committees to oversee experimentation.
Researchers in this field study neuroscience topics so that they can learn how and why the brain influences emotions. This field of study is quite ancient; Chinese and Middle Eastern scientists were exploring topics that continue to be explored in biopsychology today as early as 800 CE. With the advent of advanced medical imaging techniques and a deeper understanding of the brain in the 20th century, the field was revolutionized.
The research interests of biological psychologists span a number of domains, including but not limited to, sensory and motor systems, sleep, drug use and abuse, ingestive behavior, reproductive behavior, neurodevelopment, the plasticity of the nervous system, and biological correlates of psychological disorders. Given the broad areas of interest falling under the purview of biological psychology, it will probably come as no surprise that individuals from all sorts of backgrounds are involved in this research, including biologists, medical professionals, physiologists, and chemists. This interdisciplinary approach is often referred to as neuroscience, of which biological psychology is a component (Carlson, 2013).
Researchers study topics such as the brain and central nervous system and the neurotransmitters used to send signals through these systems. Biopsychologists are interested in both normal and abnormal physiological function, studying the diversity of the human brain to learn more about the diversity of human psychology. They use medical imaging studies and a variety of other techniques to learn about the physiology of the human brain.
While biopsychology typically focuses on the immediate causes of behavior-based in the physiology of humans or other animals, evolutionary psychology seeks to study the ultimate biological causes of behavior. To the extent that behavior is impacted by genetics, a behavior, like any anatomical characteristic of a human or animal, will demonstrate adaption to its surroundings. These surroundings include the physical environment and since interactions between organisms can be important to survival and reproduction, the social environment. The study of behavior in the context of evolution has its origins with Charles Darwin, the co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin was well aware that behaviors should be adaptive and wrote books titled, The Descent of Man (1871) and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), to explore this field.