What is Biopsychology? - Definition & Basics

What is Biopsychology? - Definition & Basics
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  • 0:00 Overview of Biopsychology
  • 0:47 Definition
  • 1:47 Biopsychology and…
  • 4:16 Research
  • 6:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

In this lesson, we'll be looking at biopsychology, which is the study of the brain and nervous system from a psychological perspective. You'll learn its basics and get some examples of place in psychology and then you'll test yourself with a quiz!

Overview of Biopsychology

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.

Biopsychology and Mental Health

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.

Diagnostic imaging technology, like this MRI machine, are often used by neurologists looking for physical damage to the brain.

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