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What Is the Biological Perspective

Updated on June 13, 2016
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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.

2. Physiology:

  • 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

3. Inheritance:

  • 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

  1. Behavior is determined by biology.
  2. There is a genetic basis to all behaviors.
  3. Most behavior has an adaptive or evolutionary function.
  4. Behaviors have their origins in specific locations of the brain.
  5. In order to understand human behavior, it is necessary to include animal studies.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Biological Perspective

Strengths:

  • 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.

Weaknesses:

  • 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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
An image of a 1920s image attempting to associate brain types to criminal behaviour. The theory is named biological determinism - heredity, more than environment or education, the idea went, caused social problems. Main health effects of sleep deprivation.  Drug intervention can reduce or remove the effects of this disorder.
An image of a 1920s image attempting to associate brain types to criminal behaviour. The theory is named biological determinism - heredity, more than environment or education, the idea went, caused social problems.
An image of a 1920s image attempting to associate brain types to criminal behaviour. The theory is named biological determinism - heredity, more than environment or education, the idea went, caused social problems. | Source
Main health effects of sleep deprivation.  Drug intervention can reduce or remove the effects of this disorder.
Main health effects of sleep deprivation. Drug intervention can reduce or remove the effects of this disorder. | Source

Theories Leading to the Development of Biological Perspective

There are four main theories which contributed to the development of the biological perspective of psychology.

1. Dualism:

  • 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.

2. Materialism:

  • 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.

3. Heredity:

  • 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.

Resources Used

Bhondwe, Ashlesha. Buzzle. Biological Perspective. January 17, 2011

Cherry, Kendra. About.com Psychology. What is the Biological Perspective? 2012

Genevieve. Genevieve's Biological Perspective Page.

McLeod, Saul. Simply Psychology. Psychology Perspectives. 2007.

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    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 4 years ago from Northern, California

      A very interesting look at human biopsychology. It has always caused me to contemplate just how closely some humans can relate to animal behavior in some situations. By this I mean, some humans (past and present) feel that disposing of or sterilizing those with certain (criminal, mental, physical) differences will bring a more unified population, thus a stronger population. While others have a more Darwinian thought process, believing these differences offer a stronger more positively diversified population that will sustain and guarantee the future of superior human propagation. While in the wild, some differences will get you either eaten or exiled, while other differences assure a stronger more resilient future species. Making the tactics for both human and beast pretty closely related when we think about it in simplified terms. Still, the human species has to be the most amazing study subject! I REALLY enjoyed this read!

      HubHugs~

    • Teresa Coppens profile image
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      Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks Indie for your enthusiasm. It's amazing how some will take research and twist it to fit their own agendas such as in the case of promoting eugenics. In psychology as in many other fields multiple perspectives are best to get a more well rounded view of human behavior. It certainly was an interesting topic to research!

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      HOUMAM 2 months ago

      i have always taken the biological school of thought as my main (while respecting other schools offcourse i would be very interested in your opinion about the future of the school as i personaly believe it will replace all the other schools

      i appolgies for my bad english as i am not a native speaker

      ps. i am still young and as such am still forming my own opinion that is why a word from an expert like you would be of great influance

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