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Physiological Psychology

Psychology EncyclopediaBranches of Psychology

The area of experimental psychology concerned specifically with how biology shapes behavior and mental processes.

The area of experimental known as physiological psychology has evolved in the 1990s. Increasingly, the field is being referred to as behavioral neuroscience, replacing physiological psychology and biological psychology. Nonetheless, the goals of psychologists in this field remain the same: to utilize basic research to explain behavior in physiological terms, working on the assumption that for every behavioral event there is a corresponding physical event or series of events.

The physiological psychologist (or behavioral neuroscientist) is also concerned with the functioning of the adrenal glands and with the physical processes involved in sensation. Although physiological psychology is concerned with physical organisms, it is distinguished from such life sciences as physiology and biology by its focus on behavior. Researchers may investigate questions such as how the brain controls physical movements or regulates eating; the role of sex hormones in violent behavior; the effects of drugs on memory and personality; the physiological basis for sleep and dreaming; and the areas of the brain devoted to language functions. Physiological psychology overlaps with the field of neurobiology, which is the study of the nervous system and its functions. A related field is psychopharmacology, the study of drugs and behavior.

Another subfield of physiological psychology, psychophysiology, deals with the measurement of physiological responses as they relate to behavior. Practical applications include lie detector tests; clinical tests of vision and hearing; tests of brain activity in individuals with mental retardation and neurological and behavioral disorders; and biofeedback training.

Further Reading

Asimov, Isaac. The Human Brain: Its Capacities and Functions. New York: Penguin, 1994.

Guiley, Rosemary. The Encyclopedia of Dreams: Symbols and Interpretations. New York: Crossroad, 1993.

Mind and Brain: Readings from Scientific American Magazine. New York: W.H. Freeman, 1993.

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