Biopsychology is the scientific study of the biology of behavior and mental processes. This field is also known as biological psychology, psychobiology, behavioral biology, or behavioral neuroscience.
The term biopsychology shows that a biological approach is used to study the psychology, rather than a psychological approach is adopted to study the biology. The phenomena include behavior and underlying psychological processes, such as learning, memory, perception, attention, motivation, emotion, and cognition.

Biopsychologists work in several overlapping fields of study. Scientists in cognitive neuroscience primarily study the brain to understand the neural mechanisms of mental processes. Researchers in the field of psychopharmacology examine how drugs affect the psychological functions of the brain. Scientists in the field of neuropsychology study the psychological effects of brain damage in humans. Researchers in behavioral genetics study how genes influence behavior and psychological traits. Evolutionary psychologists investigate how evolution shapes psychological processes. Comparative psychologists study animal behavior by comparing findings among different species. Comparative psychology often entails ethology, the scientific study of the way animals behave in their natural habitat.

Because biopsychology combines biological and psychological approaches, it can be viewed either as a specialized field of psychology or as a specialized field of biology. However, most Biopsychologists receive the majority of their training from university psychology departments.


Unlike other branches of psychology, biopsychology is characterized by its approach rather than its subject matter. Most other branches of psychology focus on particular psychological phenomena. For example, clinical psychology is dedicated to the study of mental illness, and social psychology studies human behavior in social situations. In contrast, biopsychologists study the entire range of psychological phenomena but always from a biological perspective. Consequently, biopsychological research has made important contributions to many fields of psychology—particularly developmental psychology, learning and memory, perception, motivation, cognition, and emotion.


Scientist used to guess the connection of biological factors in psychological phenomena; biopsychology was not united as a field of scientific research until the 20th century. The publication of The Organization of Behavior in 1949 by Canadian psychologist Donald O. Hebb played a key role in the surfacing of this field of biopsychology. In his book, Hebb developed the first comprehensive theory of how brain activity might produce various complex psychological phenomena.

In 1949, the year that The Organization of Behavior was published, few scientists studied the biology of psychological processes, and scholars seldom used the term biopsychology. Furthermore, few universities offered courses that expressly focused on the biology of psychological processes, and only two or three journals specialized in publishing biopsychological research.


For being able to investigate the biological bases of behavioral and mental processes, Biopsychologists should be in a position to find ways to observe and record the internal activities of the brain and the body. The research methods of biopsychology come into two general categories:

• methods of manipulating and measuring behavior, and
• methods of manipulating and measuring biological factors.

Hereinafter, the biological methods, including lesion methods, stimulation methods, recording methods, imaging methods, and genetic engineering techniques will be told about.

Lesion Methods

A lesion is a wound or area of damage. Researchers using lesion methods damage, destroy, or remove a particular part of a laboratory animal’s brain. After this is done, the researcher carefully assesses the psychological consequences in an effort to determine the function of the damaged part. For example, Biopsychologists interested in memory , for instance remove a small part of a rat’s brain and then formulate an experiment to match the subject rat’s memory to that of normal rats.

A similar technique is also used. This technique is called cryogenic blockade. In this method the scientist temporarily deactivates an area of brain tissue by cooling it to near-freezing temperatures.

But there is one problem with the lesion method. The problem is that the neural circuits (circuits of brain) that control particular psychological processes are often interconnected with neural circuits responsible for other functions. So while using this method, researchers may find it difficult to determine exactly which neural circuits are involved in a given psychological process.

Today, researchers are in a position to circumvent this problem by using selective neurotoxin. Neurotoxins are the chemicals which destroy only particular kinds of neurons (brain cells) in a given area of the brain. For example, there are selective neurotoxins that destroy only those neurons that release the particular neurotransmitters.

Stimulation Methods

In Stimulation methods the neurons are activated in a specific part of the brain. The researcher then can assess the effects of that activation on the behavior of the subject. Researchers usually do this by employing an electrode into a particular area of subject’s brain and passing a weak electrical current across the tip of the electrodes.

One weakness of this method is that because of this electrical stimulation indiscriminately all neurons are activated at the electrode tip. However, a few neurochemical techniques are now adopted so that selective neurons that release a particular neurotransmitter or that contain particular receptors are only activated.

Although scientists seldom make use of stimulation techniques on humans, surgeons rarely use stimulation techniques on conscious patients just before brain surgery. By appraising the reactions of the patient, the surgeon can ascertain which brain tissue are to be removed and which tissue are not to be touched.

Recording Methods

In this Recording methods the activity of the brain or other parts of the body are recorded while a subject is engaged in particular behaviors or psychological activities. One common method of measuring brain activity is scalp electroencephalography. In this procedure general changes in the electrical activity of the brain are recorded by means of disk-shaped electrodes connected to the scalp. An electroencephalogram (EEG) shows the voltage of the electrical signal as it fluctuates over time. Psychologists use EEG signals to measure a person’s response to a sensory stimulus or to determine the level of physiological arousal of the subject.

Other useful recording methods include electromyography, a procedure for measuring muscle tension, and electrooculography,. This are the procedures for recording eye movements. Psychologists sometimes measure how the skin’s ability to conduct electricity, known as skin conductance, is changed in different conditions.

Imaging Methods

1970 onwards scientists were able to see inside the human brain without cutting into it. Today a number of brain imaging methods are used by the psychologists to study brain activity during various cognitive processes, such as perceiving, reading, and imagining. This methods are also used to investigate the biological bases of mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia. These methods include computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional magnetic resonance imaging (functional MRI), and positron emission tomography. A few of these methods, such as functional MRI, produce three-dimensional images of the human brain with different colors indicating the different levels of activity in each part.

Brain imaging researches have generated an important new field of biopsychology i.e. Cognitive Neuroscience. One important branch of cognitive neuroscience experiments ascertained the patterns of subject’s brain activity as the subjects perceived various types of visual stimuli.

Genetic Engineering

Biopsychology has touched to the threshold of a new era in research on behavioral genetics consequent to the new Advances in genetics. Historically, research into the role of genes in the development of normal and abnormal psychological traits was largely restricted to two kinds of studies: those that traced the flow of particular traits from generation to generation, and those that compared the similarity of identical twins with the similarity of fraternal twins. The genetic engineering has created techniques to insert or “knock out” specific genes in organisms and this has allowed the psychologists to experimentally judge how genes affect the development of the psychological traits.

Behavioral geneticists most often use genetic engineering techniques on invertebrate animals, such as snails and slugs. Recently, researchers have used these techniques on mice, and thereby creating so-called transgenic rats by transferring genes from another species into the rats. Although research of this kind is in its infancy, many Biopsychologists believe that it will lead to important discoveries leading to the behavioral studies and the treatments for some psychological disorders.

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