Background to Biological Psychology

When we study biological psychology, we are interested in the biological processes that shape how our brains create our minds, thereby generating who we are and what we do – our sense of self and our behaviour. In this introductory section of the textbook, which consists of a single chapter, we will explore three distinct aspects of biological psychology.

We begin with a brief survey of the ways in which our understanding of the relationship between the mind and our physical body, especially the brain, has changed over time. Almost all biological psychologists now take a broadly materialistic view which assumes that the mind, once seen as a quite separate entity from the body, is simply another aspect of the physical functioning our brain.

We then explore the methods used to investigate the relationship between brain function and behaviour. Although contemporary neuroscientists have developed techniques that permit us to monitor, and potentially interfere with, brain function in ways that were unimaginable only twenty or thirty years ago, there are still fundamental limitations which it is important to understand.

All scientific study is subject to ethical constraints. Psychology as a discipline has developed a strong research ethics code and in the final section of the chapter we explore how this is reflected in studies that use either human or non-human animals.

There is also a brief postscript which introduces three key concepts from biology (cells , inheritance and evolution) that you may find helpful.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section you will be able to:

  • briefly describe the way in which our understanding of the relationship between brain and behaviour has evolved in the last two millennia
  • understand how experimental approaches to investigating the relationship between brain and behaviour can be used
  • appreciate some of the limitations of techniques that use either correlational techniques or experimental manipulations
  • reflect on how the broad ethical principles that underpin psychological research apply in the context of biological psychology.


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Introduction to Biological Psychology Copyright © 2023 by Catherine N. Hall is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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