Why is it important for psychologists to study the human brain?

Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and behaviour. This article will cover why it is essential for psychologists to study the brain. It also covers the techniques psychologists use to study the brain. In the end, the article will answer some frequently asked questions.

Why is it important for psychologists to study the human brain?

Studying the brain is an important part of the psychological study of the mind. The mind and the nervous system are studied as they are significant to the way people think, feel and behave. 

The brain controls all of our functions from breathing to complex thought processes. The fact that the human brain demands such a cross-discipline study of it, is due to the number of functions it performs and how it affects practically every single aspect of our life. 

From something as simple as humming a song to something complex like lying, to something even more complex like solving a mathematical equation. 

The human brain does it all, and it does so simultaneously- without any rest. This is why it becomes so important for us to be able to better understand the human brain.

Learning more about the brain would help us learn more about ourselves, which in turn would help us to work towards the betterment of human civilization and a brighter future. 

A study from the University of Virginia, (2013) found that humans can connect with other humans without necessarily going through the experience. 

This means we are wired to feel others’ feelings and experience the same thing. When participants went through the fMRI scans it was found that the correlation between the self and friend was strong enough. 

Biopsychology is one branch of psychology that is used to analyse how behaviours, thoughts, and feelings are influenced by the brain, its neurotransmitters, and other aspects of our biology. 

There are several names for this field of psychology such as biopsychology, physiological psychology, behavioural neuroscience, and psychobiology. 

Biopsychologists are related to other areas of study such as comparative psychology and evolutionary psychology. Biopsychologists further study how our biological processes interact with emotions, cognitions, and other mental processes. 

How much do we know about the brain and the nervous system?

With the help of neuroimaging techniques, we have understood and discovered the following about the brain:

The outer part of the brain is known as the cerebral cortex. The central nervous system (CNS) is composed of the brain and spinal cord. The cerebral cortex is that portion of the brain which is responsible for cognition, sensation, emotions and motor skills. 

The central nervous system is comprised of two different brain regions. The Gray matter and the white matter. In brain regions, the grey matter is the darker, outer region of the brain, while the white matter is the inner lighter region of the brain. 

However, in the spinal cord, the order is opposite this. In the spinal cord, the grey matter is the inner region and the white matter is the outer region of the brain. 

In the brain, the grey matter is composed of something known as somas, which are the central round cell bodies, whereas the white matter is made of long stems known as axons, which are responsible for connecting different neurons to one another. Axons are wrapped in myelin which is the protective coating. Under certain scans, the different compositions of neurons clearly distinguish the two as separate shades. 

The brain is comprised of four lobes:

Frontal lobe: This part of the brain is involved in cognition, motor skills, expressive language and higher-level cognition.

Occipital lobe: This part of the brain is involved in understanding and interpreting visual stimuli and information.

Parietal lobe: This part of the brain is involved in the processing of information which is tactile in nature, such as touch, pressure, and pain as well as several other functions.

Temporal lobe: This part of the brain is involved in interpreting information of the sounds and language we hear, memory processing, as well as other functions. Another important part of the nervous system is known as the peripheral nervous system, the peripheral nervous system is divided into two parts:

The motor (efferent) division connects the central nervous system to the muscles and glands, and the sensory (afferent) division, carries all types of sensory information to the central nervous system.

Another component of the nervous system is known as the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for regulating automatic processes such as heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure.

The autonomic nervous system has two parts: 

The parasympathetic nervous system: This part of the nervous system is responsible for regulating processes such as digestion as well as bringing your body back to a state of rest. 

The sympathetic nervous system: This part of the brain controls the “fight or flight” response. The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for the stress and danger in the environment.

Cranial Nerves

There are 12 nerves, inside the cranium (the dome of the skull) they are  called cranial nerves:

Cranial nerve 1: This is known as the olfactory nerve, this helps process information related to the sense of smell.

Cranial nerve 2: This is known as the optic nerve and governs eyesight.

Cranial nerve 3: The oculomotor nerve It branches out from the area in the brainstem where the midbrain meets the pons and controls motions of the eyes and pupil response. 

Cranial nerve 4: The trochlear nerve emerges from the back of the midbrain part of the brainstem and controls various muscles in the eye. 

Cranial nerve 5: The trigeminal nerve originates from the pons and conveys sensation from the scalp, teeth, jaw, sinuses, parts of the mouth and face to the brain, it allows the function of chewing muscles, and much more. This is the largest and most complex of the cranial nerves, with motor and sensory functions. 

Cranial nerve 6: The abducens nerve innervates some of the muscles in the eye.

Cranial nerve 7: The facial nerve supports glandular,  face movement, taste, and other functions.

Cranial nerve 8: The vestibulocochlear nerve helps facilitate hearing and balance of the body.

Cranial nerve 9: The glossopharyngeal nerve allows throat, ear and taste movements this has many more functions.

Cranial nerve 10: The Vagus nerve allows sensation around the digestive system ear and controls motor activity in the throat, digestive system and heart. 

Cranial nerve 11: The accessory nerve innervates specific muscles in the neck, head, and shoulder.

Cranial nerve 12: The hypoglossal nerve controls the motor activity of the tongue.

The first two nerves of the brain region originate in the cerebrum, and the remaining 10 cranial nerves emerge from the area of the brainstem. This region has three parts: the midbrain, the pons and the medulla.

Brief History of Biopsychology

The roots of this field of Biopsychology often date back many years ago. Dated to early philosophers, though it might seem like a recent concept. During the early days, philosophers and psychologists debated what was known as the mind/body problem. Other thinkers during the early days, wondered what the relationship was between the mental world and the physical world.  In the recent era, the mind and brain are considered synonymous. 

Link Between Biopsychology and Human Behavior

One of the early attempts at understanding how human behaviour is controlled by different parts of the brain led to the emergence and development of a pseudoscience known as phrenology. According to this, human faculties can be linked to indentation and bumps of the brain, which could be felt on the surface of the skull.

During the later years, phrenology was dismissed by scientists and the idea that certain parts of the brain were responsible for certain functions played an important role in the development of future brain research. 

The popular case of Phineas Gage, a railroad worker who suffered a devastating brain injury helped influence our understanding of how damage to certain parts can lead to the impact of various other functioning and behaviour of the brain. 

Newer Biopsychology Research

Researchers have made various important discoveries in understanding how the various roles of the brain and their biological underpinnings of behaviours. Research on understanding the localization of brain function, neurotransmitters and neurons has led to the understanding of how several of our basic biological processes impact thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.

Conclusion

This article covers why it is essential for psychologists to study the brain. It also covers the techniques psychologists use to study the brain. In the end, the article will answer some frequently asked questions.

Frequently Asked Questions: Why is it important for psychologists to study the human brain?

How much intelligence is required as a psychologist?

You require higher levels of intelligence to become a psychologist. You need to be able to have qualities of self-learning and analytical thinking.

What are brains made up of?

Soft tissue, including the grey matter, white matter, nerve cells, and non-neuronal cells make up the brain. The brain also includes small blood vessels. Brains also have high water content and nearly 60% of fat.

What part of the brain controls behaviour and personality?

Prefrontal Cortex – The term prefrontal cortex refers to the very front part of the brain located behind the forehead and above the eyes. It appears to play a critical role in the regulation of emotion and behaviour by anticipating the consequences of our actions and inhibiting behaviours.

References

Clements, D. H. (2004). Geometric and spatial thinking in early childhood education. Engaging young children in mathematics: Standards for early childhood mathematics education, 267-297.

Kosslyn, S. M., Maljkovic, V., Hamilton, S. E., Horwitz, G., & Thompson, W. L. (1995). Two types of image generation: Evidence for left and right hemisphere processes. Neuropsychologia, 33(11), 1485-1510.

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