The Understanding of Behavior and the Brain
The trend of neurobiology and physiology predicting and causing behavioris not a new fact. So many illnesses and diseases are now attributed to biological mechanisms. A recent article in Newsweek comments on how those in the field of psychology and neuroscience are beginning to stress the fact that certain brain mechanisms account for mental illnesses and particular behaviors. Doctors seem to blame their patients peculiarities on a biologically based mental illness, rather then seeing them as individual responses to lifes circumstances (Begley 1998). It then becomes more common to prescribe drugs to alleviate the symptoms rather than understanding the behavior. Two recent developments have helped to strengthen the association of biology causing behavior. The first is the technology of brain imaging (MRI, CT, and PET scans) which search through the structures and the activity of the brain and find real physiological correlations with behaviors. The second is genetics. In recent years, researchers have found genes that seem to increase the risk of particular mental illnesses.
Does the brain influence behavior? This class is titled Neurobiology and Behavior. Another textbook for my Behavioral Neuroscience class was titled Physiology of Behavior and another book I have is titled Biological Psychology. One can observe that in both of these titles, the biology related term is first, followed by the word behavior. It is not surprising that many think that the first term always causes the other, and not the opposite. Being a psychology major, I tend to think that behavior comes first in a lot of examples. I would like to think that in many cases behavior causes biology. In class many examples describe how neurons interact with one another to produce behaviors. It is also important to observe how behaviors can change the biology of a person. This parallels the concepts learned in class that the input/output mechanism is bi-directional. Outputs (behaviors) can influence inputs (physiological mechanisms). Instead of observing behaviors like our leg muscles moving to cause changes in the firing of neurons, one example of an output influencing an input is the reaction to stress and how they affect our biological mechanisms.
Viewed from an evolutionary standpoint, in early times stress caused the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system resulting in an outpouring of the hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and glucocorticoids that were essential to the life-preserving fight or flight reactions of primitive man (Anthony 1988). However, the nature of stress for the individual today is different. It is only occasionally and unexpectedly that one is confronted with overwhelming, life-threatening stresses. Present stresses arise from everyday stresses of work, finances and school. The problem is that the body still continues to respond in the same fashion as primitive times. This makes the large...