What is Psychobiology?

| Staff Writers

Unlike its broad parent discipline of psychology, psychobiology attempts to situate psychological factors, such as the existence of Mind, within a biological and testable context. General psychology has been aptly critiqued as a culturally restricted, soft science at best. However, given that it is a relatively young discipline, aspects of it may evolve to utilize a deeper understanding of the neurological and bodily processes that impact less tangible aspects of the human experience.

The Seat of Conscious Experience

Psychobiology is also known as behavioral neuroscience, which provides a helpful distance from the ghosts of Freudian psychoanalysis in the disciplinary pursuit to blend physical and experiential phenomena. While this does not entirely remove psychology from its cultural fetters, considering that even reactions of disgust at unfamiliar foods may spur a chemical response in the brain, it does place it more firmly in the camp of legitimate science. It also may provide a link between cultures when it comes to exploring how the overarching human experience is enacted at the neurological level.

It also provides insights into how biological processes impact how individuals think and feel. A keener understanding of how the human body influences the formation and expression of thoughts and stimulates neurochemical reactions that humans interpret as emotions have several potential permutations. The first and most apparent may be the study of diet and cognition since the link between gut flora and neurochemistry is a known phenomenon.

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To Eat and To Think

According to a 2017 paper published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass, psychobiologists may now explore how the diets of individuals and coinciding epigenetics impact the expression of disorders related to anxiety, depression, behavioral and cognitive impairments, and other phenomena. However, the insights provided may extend into the distant human past.

While it is well established that cultural differences often negate transference of psychological pronouncements, humans were not always culturally distinct from each other. That is a relatively recent development, given the potential 300,000-year old history of Homo sapiens. It is at this nexus of two sub-fields of psychology that scientists may find some startling answers to questions of public health, mental stability, and even how humans feel emotions.

Behavioral neuroscience and evolutionary psychology can both offer explanations for how emotional states, abstract thoughts, and complex systems of kinship developed in the distant ancestors of all humans alive today. Intangible as thought, feeling, and consciousness may seem, sober analysis of known biological features to which they may correspond, such as the brain-gut microbiome axis, offers a testable matrix in which to examine these features of human life.

The sub-discipline shows immense promise for cross-cultural application precisely because it seeks testable correlations between physical and biological factors—from diet to hormone production—and behavioral or emotional traits. In addition to the gut-brain axis, some psychobiologists study features such as risk-taking behavior and its impact on sterol production. These applications offer a deeper understanding of the previously nebulous realm of human experience, human motivation, and even the general expression of cultural behaviors.

This more scientific, rational approach to human mentality is a hallmark of an evolving discipline. It offers more profound insights into how humans experience culture on both an intellectual and a physical level—a realm of study long dismissed as fanciful—and how cultural experiences have real, tangible impacts. In sum, psychobiology provides insight how humans process the physical world and create networks of thought, emotion, and even reactive responses for future occurrences.

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