What is a Biopsychologist?


Biopsychologists, or biological psychologists as they are also known, pursue the causes of behavior and thought in a physiological medium. While it may be seen as a branch of behavioral psychology, the field these scientists examine is unique among the realms of the discipline. The article below both explores aspects of the area of study and seeks to answer questions about the practitioners, such as what they do, where they work, and how they apply their findings.

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Other Names and Aspects

What drives humans to behave in the many different ways they do? While much of the broader discipline of psychology may be perceived to be culturally bound, relying upon systems of cultural custom and preferred courses of action, biopsychologists hold that the basis for thought, feeling, and behavior have roots in human physiology. Therefore, rather than being limited to a specific culture or group, psychological theories can be applied to the species as a whole.

According to Simply Psychology, neurophysiology is a large part of what these psychologists study because they adhere to the belief that humans and all their actions are the results of physical existence. This includes genetics, evolution, and even phenotypic adaptations to the environment. They may often specialize their inquiry, focusing on subjects such as the intersection of the central nervous system with other bodily systems or explore the evolution of the modern human brain, which is nearly twice as large as that of our early ancestors. What captivates them is likely the fact that most of the organ’s growth is concentrated in higher brain areas required for complex symbolic communication, abstract thought, and the cooperative interactions essential to building society.

Behavior: A Physiological Symphony

The concept of “you are what you eat” isn’t a foreign idea for most, but until recently, the fact that humans are what their gut flora eat would have seemed rather odd. This startling thought, as it turns out, is closer to the truth of both our evolutionary context and the motivation for current human behaviors. While physicians and scientists realized some time ago that hormones produced by the pituitary and adrenal glands could have direct and measurable impacts upon emotional states, thought processes, and behaviors, it wasn’t until recently that the means by which the 100 million microorganisms that call the human intestinal tract home were impacting the brain.

Microbiota, the community of microorganisms, function in a variety of ways during the lifetime of a human. From shortly after birth until death, this community develops. Scientists discovered that these microorganisms are responsible for both activating or deactivating specific genes via their outputs and interactions—such as the gene responsible for lactose intolerance, which is usually inactive during infancy.

In the recent past, scientists have observed or intentionally manipulated social interactions in non-human animals, and measured the diversity and health of gut microbiota concurrently. In the chimpanzees of Gombe Park, Tanzania, heightened social contact, prosocial behaviors, and food sharing were strongly correlated to an increased vigor in the gut, and immune system of populations studied. Psychology Today shared a landmark study, conducted at UCLA, demonstrating that this gut-brain axis is linked to brain structure, behavioral adaptations, and emotional response in humans.

While much of human culture—the agglomeration of behaviors, choices, verbal elaborations, and expressive tendencies—may be plastic or malleable, the new understandings of human physiology uncovered by advancing science indicate that it is not all subjective. Biopsychologists research these increasingly apparent relationships between human physiology and the intangible realms of behavior or thought at the nexus of neurological expression, advancing the frontiers of both biology and psychology in the process.