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Methodology in biological psychology

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Biological psychology studies both humans and non-human animals.
  3. Biological psychology uses a variety of approaches.
  4. Some issues involved in different approaches and methods.
  5. Motor behaviour: reflexes, movements and actions.
    1. Reflexes.
    2. Selective potentiation.
    3. Levels of control of motor behavior.
  6. Some main principles of biological psychology.
  7. Conclusion.

Biological psychology manipulates and observes psychological variables just as do all other fields of psychology. However, to delineate the somatic contribution to behavior and mental functions, biological psychology needs to draw evidence from studies combining methods of psychology with those of other disciplines such as neuroscience, pharmacology, immunology, and endocrinology. These methods allow the investigator to probe into relevant bodily systems. In contrast to many other fields of psychology that focus their research mainly on human beings, biological psychology investigates both human and nonhuman species. Study of animal subjects is justified for two reasons. First of all, from an evolutionary perspective, the bodily systems sub serving mental activity, like any other biological features, are under the pressure of natural selection and have evolved over a long period of time as a consequence of adaptation to the environment. Common components may underlie mental functions of both humans and other species in terms of their structural bases or operational mechanisms. Investigating the brain function of animals can therefore contribute significantly to our understanding of that of humans. This expectation is substantiated by numerous findings suggesting shared biological bases of human and nonhuman behavior.

[...] Studies in biological psychology may also adopt the correlational approach in which behavioral and somatic variables are measured simultaneously in each of a group of subjects, so that the extent to which the two measures co-vary can be measured. For example, the neurophysiological activity of a specific structure may correlate with behavioral performance during acquisition in a new learning task. In another case, the level of androgen or glucocorticoid may correlate with the social hierarchical status of monkeys in a colony. [...]

[...] However, this by no means reduces its importance in biological psychology research, because the presence of a correlation between two measures suggests future intervention studies, and lack of correlation may help to limit the domain for further investigation. Even when a causal relationship between two variables has been established, correlational studies still provide additional information. Based on the evidence that disrupting the function of a somatic structure alters a specific type of behavior, one can conclude that the somatic structure exerts critical influence on that behavior, but there is no guarantee that the structure is normally engaged when the behavior is performed in nature. [...]

[...] In the swing phase, the tap elicits flexion in all the joints of the leg; this lifts the leg and may allow it to clear an obstacle that might otherwise trip the cat. If the same tap is delivered as the cat is starting the stance phase, the stimulation elicits or strengthens the extension reflex, so a moving object that might have swept the cat's foot out from under it is less likely to do so. Thus, a given stimulus does not by itself determine a reflex response; the response is determined also by the state of the animal at the time of stimulation. [...]

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