Biological Bases of Behavior

A very broad domain.
Psychologists are expected to have knowledge of biological and neural bases of behavior, and psychopharmacology. This includes areas like neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and neuroendocrinology. It pertains to specific brain functions such as “perception, action, attention, memory, temperament, and mood in normal and chronic disordered states… and/or chronic disease (e.g. insulin shock, diabetes, mood disorders, dementia, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s)”(quote from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards).

Current trends.
The current trend is to explain things in terms of chemistry rather than psychological events. But the two are inseparable. Everything we do is, on some level, the result of chemical reactions within our brains and bodies. And the things we do result in chemical changes in our brains and bodies. There is a chicken and egg problem with locating the causes of depression or anxiety in the deficits of a particular neurotransmitter, such as serotonin. This is not to say that neurotransmitters are not connected with depression — there clearly is a relationship. What effects do chronic negative thoughts have on the production of neurotransmitters? Or chronic negative emotional states? We do not have simple, clear answers to these questions.

One case: Schizophrenia.
Consider briefly, your own beliefs about schizophrenia. The current thinking is that this is a brain disorder. There are observable differences in the brains of schizophrenics. From this point of view, there is no cure, only management. Now read this.

Prescription privileges.
Psychologists, as a group, are pushing strongly for the right to prescribe psychotropic medications. While there are some compelling arguments for doing this (lack of access to psychiatrists in rural areas, for one), prescribing medications potentially lures the practice away from human problems and dilemmas. Think for a moment — what is your view of the role of drug companies in medicine? Does that role help or hinder medical practice?

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.

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