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Biological Bases of Behavior

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Biological Bases of Behavior

Imagine wanting to take apart a computer system to better understand how it works internally. There are so many different components that are necessary for the computer to work properly, such as the central processing unit or motherboard. Imagine, now, the internal processes of the body, and how they equate to behaviors that we experience.

The biological processes of the brain can explain human behaviors and have been studied as such for centuries. Biological psychology is the study of the link between biological functions and psychological functions. Let's begin with a look at the communicators of the brain, the neurons.

  • What are neurotransmissions?
  • How to neurons communicate?
  • What are the key parts of the central nervous system?

Biological basis of behavior, neural image of the human mind, StudySmarterbiological psychology,pixabay.com

Neurotransmissions

Neural communication is the information system that helps connect our biological process to our psychological process as an information highway. Nerve cells are at the very basis of this communication. Each neuron consists of a cell body with extended branches. These branches are called dendrites, and they receive information to then carry it back to the cell body.

At this point, the long arm of the cell body, the axon, takes the message to the other neurons. This is kind of like the game you may have played as a child, the telephone game.

Dendrite - a bushy branch-like extension from the cell body that reaches to gather communication and bring it back to the cell body.

Axon - the long arm of the cell body that passes the message to the other neurons.

Neural Communication

Think of neural communication as a huge telephone system. The meeting point between each neuron, or telephone, is called a synapse. Do all the neurons touch at the synapse or meeting point? No, they don't; this is called a synaptic gap. The synaptic clefts come incredibly close to each other, but they do not come in contact.

Fun fact! There was a Spanish anatomist by the name of Santiago Ramón y Cajal who named the synaptic gap "protoplasmic kisses".

At the synaptic gap, there is a booming release of chemicals! This is called a neurotransmitter. The neurotransmitter allows for the absorption of the chemical that was released in the action. Once the sending neuron has a moment to reabsorb the excess or extra neurotransmitters, it becomes a moment of reuptake.

Why are these factors important to that of behavior? Neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are in charge of certain aspects and behaviors for humans. For example, when a neurotransmitter releases dopamine into our system, there is a change in our emotions. It also influences our attention.

The Nervous and Endocrine System

The nervous system has a lot of key players in the performance of our day-to-day living. There is the taking in mass amounts of information, the making of decisions, and then conveying that to the many areas of our body.

Who are the key players in all this information processing?

The Nervous System

The brain and the spinal cord are the decision-makers of the central nervous system (CNS); you can think of them collectively as the team captain. The assistant to the captain is the peripheral nervous system (PNS), which takes the messages from the central nervous system and shares it with the rest of the body or team members. Nerves are the links between the muscles, glands, and sensory receptors of the body. For example, the olfactory nerve of the body is in charge of smell. The nervous system information travels to three different types of neurons; sensory neurons, motor neurons, and interneurons. The sensory neurons are the message carriers from the sensory receptors to the brain and spinal cord. The motor neurons take messages and instructions from the central nervous system to the glands and muscles. Those messages are then processed by the brain by the interneurons, or the body's internal way of communicating.

The Peripheral Nervous System

The peripheral nervous system has both the somatic and autonomic components that make it one large system. The somatic nervous system is responsible for our skeletal muscles. Our organs also have someone calling the shots; our autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS controls our glands and inner organ muscles and such functions as our heartbeat. Because this system is autonomic, you can consciously make it stop (hold your breath as you finish this sentence), but it will operate on its own, naturally.

The autonomic system has two major functions under its command, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Imagine that you are about to take a major exam. You notice that your breathing becomes a bit faster, and your heart beats quickly. This is your sympathetic nervous system kicking in. Once you realize that you are prepared, your parasympathetic nervous system will kick in, essentially doing the opposite of the sympathetic system. Your heart rate slows down!

When you go for a run on an uneven trail, you may find yourself looking down intermittently. You hop over a stone or change your course. Even if you don't notice that you are doing so, this is an example of your somatic system sending messages to your skeletal system.

The Central Nervous System

The brain is at the head of a super network of information, creating and controlling even the smallest bodily actions and movements.

With some 40 billion neurons, each connecting with roughly 10,000 other neurons, we end up with perhaps 400 trillion synapses—places where neurons meet and greet their neighbors. A grain-of-sand-sized speck of your brain contains some 100,000 neurons and 1 billion talkingsynapses (Myers, 2014).

These neural networks are the reason why, we as humans, can have much deeper thought and reasoning in comparison to other species of animals. Each time we learn something or practice something new, such as a new language, we are creating and establishing stronger connections within this network.

In the central nervous system is a smaller information highway with lots of traffic, the spinal cord. Here, there are messages of motor control, such as a reflex. A reflex is the body's automatic response to something; for example, a stimulus like heat. When you accidentally touch a hot stovetop, your body's natural response to the feeling of pain is to quickly remove your hand.

Endocrine System

Another form of information processing is done through the endocrine system of the body. This is a slower form of communication through the glands of the body, which release chemicals such as hormones that travel through our bloodstream. Hormones are the endocrine system's mail carriers (much slower than the superhighway of the neurotransmitters) that influence our needs for food and aggression. Because the endocrine system relies on the bloodstream to carry its messages, the effects can last longer (which may be why you stay angry longer because of a disagreement).

Moments of possible danger trigger the adrenal glands to release the chemicals epinephrine (you may know it by the more common term adrenaline) and norepinephrine. These chemicals are the reason for our fight-or-flight response in potentially dangerous situations.

The tiny structure of the pituitary gland is in charge of some very important events. One of its major jobs is to release the growth hormone (the reason for our physical development). Another chemical released by the pituitary glands is oxytocin. This is the chemical related to bonding and love.

"Old Brain" Structures

It can be difficult to realize, but our brain system has new portions as well as older structures. Through change and developments in humans, there have been newer functions added to the basis of fundamental brain structures that are called the "old brain".

The Brainstem

The brainstem is the oldest portion of the human brain. The lowest portion of the brainstem structure is the medulla. In the medulla are the controls for fundamental bodily functions such as our heartbeat. Above this sits the pons, which helps us with coordination.

Those who have brain damage and are considered to be in a vegetative state are still able to breathe and have a heartbeat because of the medulla of the brainstem.

The Thalamus

Above the brainstem is the thalamus, which is in charge of the brain's sensory control. The thalamus takes information from all of our senses (except smell) and sends these messages to the higher processing portions of our brains. Because it is a two-way system, the thalamus will also receive messages from the brain involving sight and touch, etc.

The Reticular Formation

The reticular formation is the crossing guard of information that comes from the spinal cord up through the thalamus. Arousal is the main function of the reticular formation of the body.

The Cerebellum

The cerebellum is considered to be the second brain in our system. The function of nonverbal learning and memory lie in this area. Amongst these functions is the ability to distinguish time, regulate our emotions, and be able to understand different sounds. It also is in charge of our voluntary movements.

If there is damage in the cerebellum area of the brain, we would have difficulty with walking or keeping balance.

The Limbic System

The Amygdala

This almond-shaped area of the brain is in charge of our emotional responses like fear or rage. The amygdala also attaches emotions to memory, allowing it to be better remembered.

The Hypothalamus

At the center of the limbic system lies the hypothalamus. It is in charge of our feelings of hunger and sexuality and also regulates body temperature and the sleep cycle. It releases hormones. An example of an important hormone that is released in the hypothalamus is oxytocin or the love hormone. Lesions of the hypothalamus influence unconscious functions, and some motivated behaviors like combativeness and hunger. The lateral parts are involved with pleasure and rage. Lastly, the medial part is linked to aversions and displeasure.

The Cerebral Cortex

The cerebral cortex is made of two hemispheres that are covered in connecting neural cells. This area is considered the brain control center and is about 85 percent of the brain's overall weight.

Motor Functions

The cerebral cortex is responsible for behavior mechanics such as precise movements (in our fingers for example). We also now know that there is a cross-hemisphere function in the cerebral cortex. What that means is that the right side of the brain controls functions on the left side of the body, and the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body's functions.

Sensory Functions

If motor functions are the messages that are going out, where are the incoming messages processed in the cerebral cortex? The somatosensory cortex is the area that can process and understand these, as well as sensations of movement. For example, a sensitive area of the body such as the lips has a larger area devoted to it in the somatosensory cortex.

Behavior Genetics

Behavior genetics help us to explain and understand our personalities, behaviors, and individual differences in both psychological and biological terms. The biological basis for our behaviors lies in both the functions of our innermost bodily functions and, even more deeply, our genetic makeup.

Genes

If a man is a professional baseball player, does that mean that his future child will be a professional baseball player as well? This is what interests those who study nature vs. nurture in the elements of human behavior. Geneticists and psychologists both look for DNA variations that could answer questions about who we are as individuals, and if these differences explain our behaviors and choices.

Environment

We as humans have an amazing ability to adapt to our environment. Epigenetic studies try to understand molecular mechanisms and how they are affected by environmental factors. Although genes have a major effect on how we are and behave, it is understood that environmental factors can "turn them on and off". For example, stress, drugs, or our diets all can be major factors to consider.

Biological Bases of Behavior - Key takeaways

  • Biological psychology is the study of the link between biological functions and psychological functions.
  • The brain and the spinal cord are the decision-makers of the central nervous system (CNS).
  • The assistant to the captain is the peripheral nervous system (PNS), who takes the messages from the central nervous system and shares it with the rest of the body or team members.
  • The autonomic system has two major functions under its command, the sympathetic nervous system, and the parasympathetic nervous system.
  • The cerebellum is considered to be the second brain in our system. In this area lie the functions of nonverbal learning and memory.

Frequently Asked Questions about Biological Bases of Behavior

The biological processes of the brain can explain human behaviors and have been studied for centuries. This study is simply called biological psychology.  

It is important to study the biological bases of behavior because helps us understand our behaviors through both biology and psychology. 

Biological factors in psychology are neurotransmissions, nervous system, endocrine system, central nervous system, limbic system, and behavior genetics. 

The biological bases of being male and female are DNA and genetics.

Behavior is a mixture of all of biological and psychological components. 

Final Biological Bases of Behavior Quiz

Question

What is the limbic system in charge of? (Choose one)

A. Digestion

B. Behaviors and thoughts

C. Personality

Show answer

Answer

B. Behaviors and thoughts

Show question

Question

The limbic system is unique only to humans. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

The limbic system is specifically located in the:

A. Cerebrum

B. Amygdala

C. Lymph nodes

Show answer

Answer

A. Cerebrum

Show question

Question

The limbic lobe is the same as the limbic system. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False: The limbic lobe is the first major lobe area of the limbic system.

Show question

Question

What are the three gyri of the limbic lobe?

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Answer

The cingulate gyrus, parahippocampal gyrus, and dentate gyrus.

Show question

Question

What are the three layers of the dentate gyrus?

Show answer

Answer

The molecular layer, granule cell layer, and polymorphic layer.

Show question

Question

What is the amygdala in charge of?


Show answer

Answer

Emotional responses such as fear and pleasure as well as emotional imprinting. 

Show question

Question

The hippocampus is in the shape of an almond. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False: The hippocampus is in the shape of a seahorse. 

Show question

Question

What is the hippocampus in charge of?

Show answer

Answer

Episodic memories are readied here for long-term storage along the cerebral cortex. Spatial orientation happens here as well.

Show question

Question

What is the hypothalamus in charge of?

Show answer

Answer

Feelings of hunger and sexuality. It also regulates body temperature and sleep cycles, and releases hormones.

Show question

Question

What is an example of a hormone that is released in the hypothalamus? 

Show answer

Answer

Oxytocin

Show question

Question

What is the thalamus in charge of?


Show answer

Answer

Perception and motor functions.

Show question

Question

What are three possible medical conditions from a damaged limbic system?

Show answer

Answer

Autistic spectrum disorders, epilepsy, schizophrenia.

Show question

Question

Why is the thalamus important?

Show answer

Answer

It's in charge of our five senses.

Show question

Question

The limbic system is one major lobe in the brain. True or false?


Show answer

Answer

False: The limbic system is made up of many parts such as the amygdala and the hippocampus.

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Question

How many hemispheres make up the cerebral cortex?

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Answer

Two

Show question

Question

The darker outer layer of the cerebral cortex is called _______.

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Answer

gray matter

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Question

_____  - the inner portion of the folds or wrinkles of the cerebral cortex.

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Answer

Sulci

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Question

The portion of the cerebral cortex that is not inside a fold or sulci is called a ______. 

Show answer

Answer

gyrus

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Question

The________ and the ______ are the two large separators of the

cerebral cortex.

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Answer

Sylvian fissure; parietal-occipital fissure

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Question

There are _____ lobes of the cerebral cortex.

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Answer

 four

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Question

_________ is located in the front of the cortex, behind the forehead.

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Answer

The frontal lobe

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Question

Which lobe is the largest in the cerebral cortex?


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Answer

The frontal lobe

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Question

What is the frontal lobe in charge of?

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Answer

The frontal lobe is in charge of emotional processing, voluntary movements, and speaking (a voluntary movement).

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Question

__________ is located at the top and to the back.

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Answer

The parietal lobe

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Question

What is the parietal lobe in charge of?

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Answer

The parietal lobe is in charge of spatial awareness and navigation.

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Question

________ is towards the back and the bottom of the brain.

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Answer

The occipital lobe

Show question

Question

The __________ is in charge of visuospatial processing, color processing, and

motion perception.

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Answer

occipital lobe

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Question

The_______ can be found near the temples or sides of the head.


Show answer

Answer

 temporal lobe

Show question

Question

The______controls language acquisition, language comprehension, and emotional and

motivational behaviors. 

Show answer

Answer

 temporal lobe

Show question

Question

________ are often called "uppers" as they speeds up functions in the body.

Show answer

Answer

Stimulants

Show question

Question

Stimulants include Methamphetamine (Meth), _______, _______, cocaine, and MDMA.

Show answer

Answer

caffeine, nicotine,

Show question

Question

Meth can reduce the production of _______. 


Show answer

Answer

dopamine.

Show question

Question

Nicotine takes effect only ___ after being smoked.

Show answer

Answer

 7 seconds

Show question

Question

______ is also known as Ecstacy and happens to be a mild hallucinogen.


Show answer

Answer

MDMA

Show question

Question

________ psychoactive drugs create a slowing down in the body versus stimulants.


Show answer

Answer

Depressant

Show question

Question

______ leads to slower processing speeds in thought and speech. It also disrupts memory and can deeply impair judgment.


A. Cocaine

B.Caffeine

C. Alcohol

Show answer

Answer

C. Alcohol

Show question

Question

_________ can create sensations without the help of any sensory input creating hallucinations for the user.

Show answer

Answer

Hallucinogens

Show question

Question

There is a numbing or pain-killing effect with this particular class of drug.

Show answer

Answer

Opiates

Show question

Question

Those who are under the influence of _____ find themselves seeing geometric patterns as well as shapes, and past emotional experiences. Many people claim that they felt a sense of separation from their mind and body.

Show answer

Answer

LSD

Show question

Question

Psychoactive drugs often affect ______ of the brain either in benefit or in harm.

Show answer

Answer

neurotransmitters

Show question

Question

A psychoactive drug is a drug that has a significant impact on psychological processes including _____, _____, ____.

Show answer

Answer

emotions, thinking, and perception.

Show question

Question

______ will stimulate the release of dopamine.

Show answer

Answer

Meth

Show question

Question

Which psychoactive drug can be as addictive as cocaine and heroin but is easily accessed?

Show answer

Answer

Nicotine 

Show question

Question

What are three different categories of psychoactive drugs?

Show answer

Answer

Stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens.

Show question

Question

Which psychoactive drugs are considered to be stimulants?

Show answer

Answer

Caffeine, cocaine, methamphetamine, and nicotine

Show question

Question

Which of these is a stimulant?

Show answer

Answer

Caffeine 

Show question

Question

Which psychoactive drugs are considered to be hallucinogens?


Show answer

Answer

LSD and MDMA

Show question

Question

Alcohol is considered a hallucinogen. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

Which of these psychotropic drugs are considered depressants?

Show answer

Answer

Barbiturates

Show question

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