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What Is Biological Psychology?

Researchers in the field of biological psychology study the biological basis of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Read on to learn more about this subfield of psychology, educational options, and potential careers.

Biological Psychology Definition

Biological psychology, or biopsychology, is a specialty within the field of psychology in which the mind-body connection is explored through scientific research and clinical practice. Alternative names of biopsychology include behavioral neuroscience and physiological biology. Researchers in this field examine how biology, particularly the nervous system, affects behavior, but they also go beyond that to explore how behaviors affect the brain. They conduct experiments, often using lab animals as a model for humans, to explore the interactions between the environment, behavior, and physiology (the study of how all body processes function, including the electrical and chemical processes necessary for nervous system communication).

When you study biopsychology, you examine memory, perception, cognition, and behavioral disorders through the lens of neural biochemistry, biophysics, and anatomy. Within the scope of this broad field, you may choose to focus on the biological underpinnings of human or animal behavior.

Important Career Facts About Psychologists

Required Education A doctorate or specialist degree is often necessary to become a psychologist ; a master's is acceptable for some positions
Job Outlook (2018-2028) 12% growth (for psychologists, all other)*
Median Salary (2018) $100,770 (for psychologists, all other)*
Work Environment Many research psychologists work for educational institutions, government agencies, and research organizations

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are Biopsychology Research Areas and Methods?

Biopsychology research employs sophisticated scientific methods and may focus on sensory perception, learning, language, psychiatric disorders, addiction, stress, sleep, and memory disorders, among other areas. You may study the nervous system using techniques that include brain imaging, brain stimulation, neuropharmacology, genetic engineering, and electrophysiological recording. As a prospective student, you may choose to seek academic programs with faculty members conducting research in your areas of interest and collaborate in experiments to address issues including:

  • The biological basis of autism
  • The effects of hormones on motivation
  • The relationship between stress and mental illness
  • The functions of sleep

Biological Psychology Educational Paths

Programs in biopsychology are available at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree levels. When majoring in biopsychology, students generally study animal behavior, learning, personality theory, physiological psychology, genetics, and biochemistry. Coursework in anatomy and physiology, statistics, research methods, and laboratory courses in experimental psychology are also typically part of undergraduate programs. When you graduate, you may pursue a master's degree or doctoral program in fields such as clinical psychology and behavioral neuroscience.

Most graduate biopsychology programs are Ph.D. programs that feature varied areas of specialization. As a graduate student, your advanced coursework may include developmental biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience. Training in a variety of research methods and techniques can prepare you for opportunities to participate in experiments at your university's research institutes.

Career Examples in Biological Psychology

Your studies in biopsychology can lead to careers in universities, pharmaceutical companies, and government agencies. Many research and clinical positions require you to hold a doctorate. With clinical psychology training, you may work with patients in rehabilitation facilities and hospitals, focusing on the relationship between brain and behavior as a clinical neuropsychologist. Research-oriented careers include pharmaceutical researcher and neuroscientist.