In a discipline that revolves around the biological functions of the mind, that traces the roots of perception and the physical mechanisms of human behavior, questions are bound to arise. Interesting topics in the field of biological psychology range from inquiries into the physical nature of consciousness itself to moral concerns over the notion of free will.
Perception and Consciousness
Biological psychology, otherwise known as psychobiology or behavioral neuroscience, delves into the neural structures and chemical interactions of the brain that determine mental activity. What philosophers once attributed to the soul or an independent mind alone, scientists now attribute to complex physical systems in the brain. In his blog for “Psychology Today,” cognitive psychologist Bernard J. Baars, Ph.D., explains how the cortex and the thalamus are the primary drivers of man’s conscious life. From this premise, he extrapolates an interesting question: Can humans deny the existence of consciousness in other animals that possesses similar cognitive organs?
Cognitive Diseases and Disorders
Biological psychology can lead to greater understanding and treatment of diseases and disorders that affect consciousness and the nervous system, such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. In 2007, for example, a team of scientists in New York City linked borderline personality disorder to underperforming areas of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Borderline personality disorder can lead to impulsive and self-destructive behavior, and scientists were hopeful the new research could help guide future psychiatric treatment. However, some mental diseases are more inscrutable than others. An interesting topic in biological psychology is the current state of research for any given disease and corresponding treatment.
Cognitive Effects of Drugs
Advances in biological psychology have not only revealed how certain substances interact with the brain, but have laid the groundwork for the development of pharmaceutical drugs used in psychiatric treatment. Interesting topics could be the history of antidepressants, such as Zoloft and Prozac, or the race to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. Of course, the influence of illicit drugs is also a popular topic. Specifically, the medical use of marijuana has sparked ongoing debate about how the drug affects brain development, whether it causes side effects such as memory loss, and whether its medical benefits outweigh any detriment.
Biology and Free Will
The study of the physical brain begs the question: Are human beings capable of free will and moral decision-making, or are we harnessed to the preformed circuitry of our heads? As scientists continue to broaden their knowledge of the brain and pinpoint the biological basis of behavior, concepts such as individual responsibility come into question. In a 2010 article written by Lisa Zyga and appearing in Phys.org, biologist Anthony Cashmore argues that free will is an illusion and one’s actions merely a reflection of chemical, biological and environmental factors. Some 464 reader comments posted after the story, many in opposition to the claim, indicate the matter is far from settled, yet it undoubtedly fuels interesting discussion.
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