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The Biopsychology or psychobiology (including Biological Psychology, English. Partially Biopsychology , otherwise behavioral neuroscience ) is a branch of psychology . She deals with the relationships between biological mechanisms in the body (neuronal, hormonal, biochemical processes) and the behavior of humans and animals.

On the one hand, biopsychological research examines how biological structures and processes (e.g. the brain , the cardiovascular , endocrine and immunological systems) affect behavior , emotions , dreams and thinking . On the other hand, how psychological states and processes influence biological structures and functions.

The term psychobiology was first used in its modern sense by the American psychologist Knight Dunlap in his book "An Outline of Psychobiology" (1914). Dunlap was the founder and editor-in-chief of the journal Psychobiology . In the announcement of this journal, Dunlap writes that the journal will publish research results "... concerning the connection between mental and physiological functions".

Delimitation of sub-areas

Biopsychology can be divided into six sub-areas. These have different focuses and, associated with them, different approaches. However, the sub-areas cannot be completely delimited from one another, as they often overlap.

Physiological psychology

Investigates the neural mechanisms of behavior through manipulation in particular of the central nervous system. Physiological psychology is strongly oriented towards basic science. With her, the application aspect is more in the background, because she examines phenomena in particular with regard to the further development of existing models or to form new theories. The contribution of the hippocampus to memory performance was examined by surgically removing it from rats and examining the performance of the rats in various memory tasks. The Spanish neurologist José Manuel Rodriguez Delgado carried out a popular experiment with a bull in the 1960s. He was able to stimulate the caudate nucleus by radio in a targeted manner, so that it paused whenever he started to attack and instead began to go round in circles.

Sometimes physiological psychology is also used as a direct synonym for biopsychology. The Biological Psychology and Physiological Psychology have nearly parallel to the other neuroscience developed and partly considered as branches of neuroscience.

While biological psychology explores the relationships between the biological processes in all organs of the body and behavior , physiological psychology deals exclusively with the interdisciplinary relationship between the brain and behavior .


Investigates the effects of pharmaceuticals and drugs on the brain and behavior. In doing so, methods of psychophysiology and neuropsychological test procedures are often referred to. For example, how the administration of drugs that increase the availability of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine can improve the memory of Alzheimer's patients.


Investigates psychological effects of brain damage in human patients. Since no experiments can be carried out here for ethical reasons, special individual cases are examined. Examples are Henry Gustav Molaison (also known as HM ) who suffered from a special memory impairment or Phineas Gage , who in an accident flew an iron rod through his skull and suffered lesions in the prefrontal cortex . By considering behavioral problems in such individual cases, which can generally be localized, conclusions can be drawn about the significance of the damaged brain area. Neuropsychology is very application-oriented and always tries to improve the patient's situation. For this, many fundamentals of basic biopsychological research are included.

As early as 1934, English scientists discovered that blind monkeys could be trained to react with fear to certain images. Only recently did a person with a rare clinical picture succeed, so that it was established: Despite the destroyed visual cortex, “unconscious vision” is possible; although the person stated that he could not see anything, he was able to avoid objects while walking around in a room (see cortical blindness ).


Investigates the relationship between physiological activity and psychological processes in humans. The focus of the investigations is often on stress, emotions, biological rhythms, stress in the workplace and the analysis of cognitive processes. Psychophysiology also includes observations of electrical processes in the brain, the activity of the cardiovascular system, muscles and skin in its observations. More and more imaging methods are also being used. Psychophysiology originally comes from medical diagnostics. Today she has set herself the task of providing indicators that are suitable for examining psychological processes in a non-verbal way. It was found that even in patients who reported being unable to see faces after brain damage, familiar faces produced common changes in the activity of the autonomic nervous system .

Cognitive Neuroscience

Investigates the neural mechanisms of human cognition, mainly using functional imaging . With the help of these methods, changes in activity in different parts of the brain can be made visible. B. Solve memory problems.

Comparative Psychology

Investigates the evolution, genetics and adaptivity of the behavior of different species. These can be close relatives of humans (primates) or other species. So could z. For example, it has been shown that bird species that hide stores of seeds have relatively large hippocampi, indicating that the hippocampus is important for local memory.

Historical development

Biological psychology began as a research discipline in the German-speaking area, but was almost completely destroyed there in the years 1933–1945 and was unable to recover sufficiently. In recent years, however, the reputation of biopsychology has risen again, as its importance has been recognized, for example in the containment of addictions. The health system certainly also contributes to the fact that biopsychology has expanded in recent years, as there has been a rethink there. Before that, diagnostics in medicine was largely based on technical equipment and was accompanied by primarily pharmacological therapy. As a result, healthcare costs have continued to rise. But more and more doctors and patients also wanted a holistic concept for body and mind.

Already in the founding of psychology as a science, the physiological and biological psychology played a central sometimes defining role. Scientific psychology began in 1874 with the textbook Grundzüge der Physiologische Psychologie by Wilhelm Wundt . While in Anglo-American psychology around 20 percent of scientific work in the field of neurosciences is published by biological psychologists, the situation is different in German-speaking countries, despite some excellent research groups.

While thousands of psychologists in the USA deal with physiological or biological psychological issues as part of their research, the number of scientists who scientifically deal with biological psychology in the Federal Republic of Germany can be estimated at around 100 to 150 active researchers.


In the past, most of the knowledge in biopsychology was based on observation, as there was still no tool to study the human living brain. However, important findings were made back then, for example that the left hemisphere is responsible for the right hemisphere and vice versa. In this case, for example, it was observed that if the brain was injured on one side, the other half of the body showed signs of paralysis or numbness.

Today scientists are able to decode and analyze individual messages from neurons by stimulating the brain chemically, electrically or magnetically and observing what is happening.

In biological psychology, a wealth of methods are used for this. On the one hand, people are treated, but overall, biopsychology is heavily based on animal experiments , which are an indispensable core component of the subject. Since German psychology is rather negative about animal experiments, this is one of the reasons why the subject in Germany is limited to a few institutes. The increasing availability of non-invasive examination methods, i.e. examination methods that do not penetrate the body, means that there are fewer and fewer animal experiments. These are primarily methods for functional and imaging examinations.

There are various microscopic methods for examining the structure and functions of the nervous system, starting with light microscopy , which, however, can only provide resolutions up to a maximum of 0.25 μm. In contrast to light microscopy, electron microscopy can already guarantee a much higher resolution, namely up to a magnification of 0.3 nm. This enables synaptic systems, membrane structures and ion channels to be made visible. Another possibility is fluorescence microscopy , in which the tissue to be viewed is supplied with certain chemicals which, depending on the structure, then bind to individual molecules of the nerve cell. These chemicals emit a light that becomes visible when exposed to ultraviolet light, so that the corresponding tissues glow and individual tissue structures can be clearly differentiated. Another possibility is two-photon microscopy. It makes it possible to visualize individual biochemical processes in a cell, for example to display receptors on living cells.

There are also numerous staining methods that make microscopy easier. They are used to separate the various elements of the nervous system from one another. This makes use of the fact that the different dyes have different affinities for certain parts of the cell. With Golgi staining, for example, a cell can be made visible in its entirety and individual parts by staining with selected silver salts. The advantage of this is that the nerve cell clearly stands out from its surroundings. However, only a few nerve cells can be stained with this method. Another staining option is Nissl staining , which is very useful if you want to determine the diameter of the cell body or to count the number of nerve cells. Because this coloring mostly only stains the cell body.

There are also possibilities today for visualizing the dynamics of neurochemical processes in nerve cells, namely with autoradiography

From the point of view of cognitive neuroscience, however, all possible imaging methods are also used, in particular magnetoencephalography (MEG), electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). These allow non-invasive insights into cortical and subcortical areas of the brain and how they work.

Biopsychology is thus closely linked to the development of new research methods and technologies, such as B. the Trier stress test .

See also


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Biopsychology. In: Clemens Kirschbaum: Biopsychologie von A bis Z. Springer, Heidelberg 2008, ISBN 978-3-540-39606-2 , p. 37.
  2. Donald A. Dewsbury, "Psychobiology." In: American Psychologist . tape 46 , no. 3 , 1991, ISSN  1935-990X , pp. 198-205 , doi : 10.1037 / 0003-066X.46.3.198 ( [accessed October 2, 2019] "... bearing on the interconnection of mental and physiological functions").
  3. ^ John PJ Pinel, Paul Pauli: Biopsychology. 6., update Edition. Pearson Studies, 2007, ISBN 978-3-8273-7217-8 .
  4. Rainer M. Bösel: The brain: A textbook of functional anatomy for psychology. 1st edition. Kohlhammer, 2006, ISBN 3-17-019183-7 , p. 124.
  5. Niels Birbaumer, Robert F. Schmidt: Biological Psychology. 7., completely revised. u. supplemented edition. Springer, Berlin / Heidelberg, 2010, ISBN 978-3-540-95937-3 , p. 2.
  6. Niels Birbaumer, Robert F. Schmidt: Biological Psychology. 7., completely revised. u. supplemented edition. Springer, Berlin / Heidelberg, 2010, ISBN 978-3-540-95937-3 , p. 5.