The study of psychology is best defined as the science of mental behaviors and processes. The entire field of psychology relies on biology; without it; there could be no explanation for how we act. In fact, there is an entire branch of this study called biological psychology, and it is dedicated to linking the study of life with human (and non-human) behaviors. Now you are probably wondering how biology can influence how we act and who are.
The brain directs an organism’s behavior, with communication from the neurons, neurotransmitters, hormones, and the two nervous systems. Neurons are nerve cells that carry an action potential- a brief electrical charge. They are either Sensory (Afferent) or Motor (Efferent), which just means what direction the charge is travelling; from the brain to the neuron or from the neuron to the brain. In between neurons lies the synaptic gap, which is where neurotransmitters are released and absorbed.
Neurotransmitters (and some hormones) can be responsible for emotions and body dysfunctions. For example, the neurotransmitter serotonin controls depression; an undersupply of this will dampen your mood. Anti-depressants like Prozac work by blocking the absorption of serotonin, allowing more of it to be available. Dopamine is another neurotransmitter that is linked with Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia. Endorphins are natural, opiate-like neurotransmitters that are responsible for controlling pain and causing happiness.
The circadian rhythm, the body’s natural 24-hour biological clock, is responsible for sleep patterns by producing the chemical melatonin. The circadian rhythm can be adjusted with enough time, which is why it’s hard to wake up early after summer break!
The body has two nervous systems: the central and the peripheral nervous systems. Both of these work together to cause responses to stimuli in our environments. The parasympathetic division of the peripheral nervous system is also responsible for the “fight or flight” response we have for stressful situations.
Image from Wikimedia Commons
The brain is one of the most complex organs in the world; in fact, there are still abilities of it being discovered all the time. An interesting piece of information is that the brain named itself, something that nothing else could do! The brain is made up of several structures, each of which dictates an aspect of how to survive. The brainstem controls automatic survival functions, like maintaining homeostasis. The medulla controls heartbeat and breathing. The reticular formation is in charge of the body’s arousal, or wakefulness. The cerebellum processes senses and regulates balance. Memory and emotions are controlled by the limbic system and amygdala. Finally, the hypothalamus maintains the body’s needs and also influences emotions.
Genetics and neurotransmitters are the reason why we all have different personality traits. For example, a high dopamine activity and low brain activity in a child is responsible for the trait of extraversion. Odd human quirks and reflexes are also explained through evolutionary-based psychology. An example of this is the old knee-jerk reaction whenever a part of the leg is hit.
As you can see, psychology is completely dependent on biology. Old therapeutic surgeries (like lobotomies) were reliant on the biology involved with brain structures to “cure” issues. Now in the modern age, we can find more effective ways to treat people, especially with medications and therapy. Helping people understand themselves is all thanks to biology!