Where the Mind meets the Physical

Where the Mind meets the Physical
2020-07-22

Let me share some info on the topic of Biological Psychology. 

Biological Psychology is where the mind meets the physical and we investigate the neuronal basis for emotion and behaviour. I found that this topic really gets you thinking about the deterministic nature of reality. Do our behaviours influence the balance of chemicals in the brain or is how we act and feel just the result of chemical manipulations? The effect of drugs on neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline show us how our behaviour and mood can change with the levels of these chemicals and just how sensitive we are to changes in the balance. Schizophrenia is linked to imbalances of dopamine in the brain which affect your perception of reality, leading you to misinterpret and add meaning into events, which as a result can cause hallucinations as the patient attempts to explain the world by adding 'missing' details. 

On the other hand, drugs like SSRIs show how both the drug can change our mood but how our mindset can influence how we feel. Studies in rats have demonstrated the effect of our environment on our mood. There is a good evidence that a negative outlook and environment can cause a vicious cycle, and the same is true if you practice projecting yourself positively, to a much more desirable effect. Like they say, you’ve gotta fake it ‘til you make it! 

We also explored neuropsychology, and the link between behaviour and different areas of the brain. This is studied by looking at patients with many disorders - tourettes, Parkinson's, dementia, phantom limb syndrome, speech aphasia and object agnosia - by dissecting the brains of these patients once they pass away, neuropsychologists can work out which parts of the brain are responsible for what by process of dissociation - working out what bits weren’t working in the patient. It's fascinating to see how carefully hardwired we are and what happens when something goes wrong. 

Think about someone with a phantom limb. They have the sensation of still having a hand when it's been removed and they'll get compensatory sensations in other areas of the body like their face because of how touch sensations are wired in the brain. What I love is what this reveals about reality - there is only an illusory connection between what you think you feel and what is really happening. It's a similar effect with how painkillers reveal that pain is only a chemical firing in the brain. We think we see the world as it really is but really it is only a mirage, created by your brain as you as attempt to navigate it… 

Joshua Bugg graduated with an MSc Psychological Studies in 2019

Published by The School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen

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