What Is the Biological Perspective
There are various different approaches in contemporary psychology. An approach is a perspective (i.e. view) that involves certain assumptions (i.e. beliefs) about human behavior: the way they function, which aspects of them are worthy of study and what research methods are appropriate for undertaking this study.
—Saul McLeod, 2007
Definition of the Biological Perspective
Charles Darwin first proposed the idea that genetics and evolution both contribute to many human qualities including personality. Biology is defined as the study of life while psychology examines the human mind and its processes, especially those affecting behavior. Biological perspective links biology and psychology by focusing on the analysis of human behavior based on biological and physical evidence.
The Biological Perspective seeks to determine the psychological aspects of human behavior looking at evidence from genetic and neurological studies as well as studies of the immune system. Also known as biopsychology, it has played a major role in psychology from the beginning.
Technology for studying the nervous system and brain has grown tremendously advanced with access to tools such as PET and MRI scans making the biological perspective in psychology increasingly important. The biological perspective is relevant to psychology through three areas of investigation.
1. Comparative method:
- by studying different animal species, their behavior under similar stimuli can be compared to human data enhancing the understanding of human behaviors.
- investigates how the nervous system and hormones work
- determines how the brain functions
- determines how changes in structure and function of these systems may affect behavior
- investigates which traits are inherited by offspring from their parents
- investigates the mechanism of inheritance of traits in animals
At the foundation of biological perspective is the theory that physiological changes directly affect an individual's behavior. It is thought by many supporters of this perspective that behavioral changes occur at the genetic level and are the direct result of evolutionary changes brought about by adaptations in some organisms that give them a survival advantage. Many biopsychologists have concentrated on abnormal behavior and have tried to explain it in physiological terms. For example they believe that schizophrenia is affected by levels of dopamine (a neurotransmitter).
Basic Assumptions of Biological Perspective
- Behavior is determined by biology.
- There is a genetic basis to all behaviors.
- Most behavior has an adaptive or evolutionary function.
- Behaviors have their origins in specific locations of the brain.
- In order to understand human behavior, it is necessary to include animal studies.
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Biological Perspective
- By understanding the physiological basis of behavior, it is possible to treat behavior disorders with chemotherapy (drug intervention), or psychosurgery (more sophisticated versions of the lobotomy using MRI scans)
- Using evolutionary theory allows the development of rational explanations for otherwise unexplainable behaviors.
- It does not leave room for the effect of environmental influences and life experiences on behavior.
- It weakly explains altruism.
- It is reductionistic as it only looks at one cause – the physiological cause– of behavior or mental disorders, thus, simplifying the disease.
Theories Leading to the Development of Biological Perspective
There are four main theories which contributed to the development of the biological perspective of psychology.
- A theory developed by Descartes.
- He determined that although the body and mind are separate, they do interact through the brain's pineal gland.
- This theory has been disregarded by many psychologists.
- This theory assumes a physical aspect to all behavior.
- It is based on animal and human genetics studies suggesting genes evolved over long periods of time.
- This theory assumes that behavioral traits result from the passing on of characteristics through gene transfer from one generation to the next.
4. Natural Selection:
- This theory was developed by Charles Darwin who proposed the idea that random variations in organisms led to better reproductive success ensuring the passing on of these traits to subsequent generations.
The development of these theories required a unifying perspective explaining the connection between psychology and physiology. Almost every human behavior and mood is analysed by the biological perspective for its physiological origin. Criminal behavior, depression, happiness, and personality disorders have been studied extensively by this perspective.
- Happiness is thought to be due to the quality of experience offered by our nervous system. A person's personality will determine his/her perception of the experience.
- Depression results from a traumatic situation which alters a person's nervous system leading to the secretion or inhibition of secretion of specific neurotransmitters.
- Criminal behavior: It was widely held by biopsychologists that criminal behavior was due largely to heredity and many were in favor of eugenics, a means, they thought, to improve the human species through compulsory sterilization of criminals, the mentally retarded, and others thought to be social misfits due to the inheritance of undesirable traits.
The biological perspective of psychology is still a strongly explored area of study especially with advances in technology including sophisticated scanning tools that allow an ever deeper examination of human physiology.