Psychobiology: Definition & History

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  • 0:00 What Is Psychobiology?
  • 0:48 A Brief History
  • 2:29 The Brain & Nervous System
  • 3:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ryan Hultzman
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. 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.

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