Back To CourseAbnormal Psychology: Help and Review
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Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.
Some human behavior can seem pretty weird to us when we see it from the outside. This makes sense, since we tend to look at the reasons for human behavior from the outside looking in. So, it also makes sense that therapy from this perspective addresses mental illness by changing the abnormal behavior into a less abnormal behavior.
A different way of understanding human behavior is to look at it the opposite way: from the inside to the outside. In this way, mental health and mental illnesses are treated as functions of the brain's state; a healthy brain produces a healthy mental state, and an unhealthy brain produces mental illness. The field of psychology that deals with the health of the brain and its effects on behavior is called biopsychology.
As its name suggests, biopsychology is the science of the brain and nervous system and how they influence behavior. This includes the normal function of the brain as well as dealing with an injured brain or one in poor physical condition. Other names for this field include psychobiology and biological psychology. The sub fields of this science include cognitive neuroscience, behavioral neuroscience, and neuropsychology. These fields are often confused as other names for biopsychology, but represent well-developed sub fields of their own.
Biopsychology and its sub disciplines were an outgrowth of interest in the physiological (meaning dealing with the physical body and organs) basis of behavior in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Cartesian model of science - named for Rene Descartes - was an approach to the sciences through reason and evidence. The young field of biopsychology was strongly influenced by the Cartesian model of the 19th century, though it didn't go by that name until 1914.
Let's look at a brief example of biopsychology in action. Like other kinds of psychology, biopsychology often begins with a problem. Let's say that we have Jill, a young woman in her mid-20's, who's having some symptoms like headaches, memory issues, and sudden bouts of depression. Jill becomes concerned because her symptoms don't seem to be getting any better, and may even be getting worse. She goes to her doctor, who may give her medication for her depression. In some cases, the treatment would end here with antidepressants if she responded well. However, even if the medication works, Jill has symptoms other than depression, and her doctor would likely send her to a neurologist.
The first thing the neurologist does is get a family history from Jill and her doctor, as well as administering some basic physical and mental health tests. Physical tests include hearing and vision tests, as well as tests of balance and coordination. Mental health exams may include tests like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). Psychological tests, like the MMPI ,look for patterns of answers that match established profiles of mental illness. These profiles are built up through administering the test to hundreds of patients with known mental health problems and categorizing their responses. Once a profile is matched, a mental health professional asks follow-up questions and discusses the patient's symptoms, history, and any previous treatments.
Let's say Jill matches a profile for depression. The neurologist looks for neurological conditions, including chemical imbalances, cancer, or injury that may contribute to Jill's condition. Indeed, another way biopsychology may be encountered is in the aftermath of some sort of trauma, like a car accident. If Jill's mother had cancer and it ran in her family, it's pretty likely that diagnostic imaging, like head CT (computer tomography) scans or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) would be called for in order to observe possible cancer and similar diseases.
Biopsychology treatments depend on the type of damage or imbalance that's present in the patient. In the case of a chemical imbalance, a doctor will prescribe medication intended to normalize levels of a variety of neurological chemicals, like the antidepressants in Jill's case. If Jill is diagnosed with cancer, treatments may include more extreme treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and surgery. Had Jill suffered from trauma in an accident, treatments may involve surgery as well, but treatments vary widely, again depending on the nature of the injury.
Like many branches of psychology, research in biopsychology can involve human subjects or animal studies. Human studies are used for a variety of topics, like the advanced stages of medication research, particularly where a human's reactions to a possible treatment must be studied. Other human studies measure behavior after surgery and particularly interesting cases of injury with behavioral ramifications. Like many fields in medicine, research may be performed on cadavers donated for research purposes.
Sometimes the research is through circumstance and accident. One of the most famous case studies in biopsychology is that of Phineas Gage. As a worker for the railroad in 1848, Gage accidentally set off an explosive charge while trying to tamp it down with an iron bar roughly a meter long. The bar struck him in the left cheek and passed completely through his skull, exiting out of the top of his head. He survived the injury and the resulting infection through the work of his doctor, John Martyn Harlow, but some close contemporaries and Dr. Harlow noticed a change in his behavior. After the accident, he had trouble controlling his impulses, though it was reported later in life that he had learned some self-control and responsibility. Gage survived nearly twelve more years until he died of a seizure in 1860. Since documentation of Gage's behavior pre-injury is scant, there's little that can be concluded about the injury and its effects, but the case remains one of the most famous case studies in biopsychology.
Other research is performed on animals, particularly when ethical considerations make it impossible to ethically perform the study on human beings, such as when parts of the brain must be removed for study or when a completely new drug is being developed. The types of animals used for this research are mice and rats, with primates used only when other animals are not similar enough to humans. Though animal research may leave a bad taste in some people's mouths, this is one case in which the research helps benefit people with injury directly.
The brain, nervous system, and genetic factors influence human behavior. The study of these influences is called biopsychology, which comes in a variety of sub disciplines including cognitive neuroscience, behavioral neuroscience, and neuropsychology. Biopsychology was strongly influenced by the Cartesian model of science, which was an approach to the sciences through reason and evidence.
Biopsychology helps us to understand the role of the human brain, not only in disease, but in health as well. Things that may change a person's behavior through influence of the brain include injury, chemical imbalance, or disease. Research in biopsychology may be conducted on animals or people, and research goals include understanding how injury influences key elements of behavior and the best ways to treat trauma or disease.
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Back To CourseAbnormal Psychology: Help and Review
26 chapters | 314 lessons
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