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Biological Approach in Psychology: Definition, Lesson & Quiz

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Taught by

Chris Clause

In this lesson you will learn what the biological approach to psychology is and how it is used to better understand the human experience. Following completion of this lesson you will have an opportunity to test your knowledge with a short quiz.


The biological approach to psychology is one way to conceptualize and explain the human experience. The biological approach seeks to explain mental processes and behavior by focusing on the function of the nervous system at the cellular and structural level.


Most people conceptualize the field of psychology as being the study of mental processes and behavior. While mental processes and behavior are distinct entities that can be examined and studied independently, they are directly linked to one another. Even more than that, they have a strong influence on each other. As an example, think of the last time you had the blues. Maybe your best friend moved away, or you didn't do as well as you hoped on your last psych exam. Whatever the case, I'd bet that your mood had some impact on your behavior. Maybe you didn't feel like going out dancing with your friends that weekend, or going for a drink with your co-workers after work. This type of experience is something that we can all relate to and is a normal part of the human experience. So how does it happen?

The answer to that question has a lot to do with the approach you choose to take. Based on your own knowledge and experiences, how do you prefer to explain the interaction of mental processes and behavior? There are a lot of ways to conceptualize and explain the human experience. Psychologists have explained the interactions of mental processes and behavior from a variety of approaches. Many psychologists prefer to explain human behavior from an evolutionary approach to psychology, while others attempt to explain the human experience from a cognitive or behavioral approach. People like Sigmund Freud popularized the psychodynamic approach. And still others will focus on sociocultural influences to explain mental processes and behavior. The focus of this lesson will be on a different approach from all of these, one that most people don't initially associate with psychology: biology.


Biology is, of course, its own distinct field of study, focusing on cells and structures of living organisms, among other things. Much like mental processes and behavior, biology and psychology are separate entities, but strongly influence one another. In fact, the two are so closely linked that the biological approach to psychology has its own name: neuropsychology. Neuropsychologists examine mental processes and behavior using a biological approach. They want to know what is happening at the cellular and structural level within the nervous system and how it is influencing the way that people think and subsequently behave.

The human brain is made up of a network of billions of interconnected cells, or neurons, as well as numerous brain structures that are designed to carry out various tasks. These billions of neuronal connections and associated brain structures are responsible for the thoughts that we have running through our mind and the behaviors that we subsequently engage in as a result of those thoughts.

Thinking back to our example, while Freud might explain your reluctance to hanging out with your friends after work as a result of some sort of unresolved childhood experience, a neuropsychologist would focus on things, like the cellular communication processes and involved structures of the brain and nervous system, to explain what you are thinking and feeling. The neuropsychologist would want to know about any changes in how your neurons are communicating, or what structures of your brain are more or less active when you are experiencing changes in your mood. A neuropsychologist would not necessarily discredit the psychodynamic approach, but the neuropsychologist is more interested in how your neurons are communicating and if the structures of your brain are functioning properly. Both approaches can be correct, it just depends on how you want to look at it.

The biological approach is one of many approaches used to explain human mental processes and behavior. The discoveries of neuropsychologists have led to the development and advances of treatment of a variety of mental conditions. Things like psychiatric medication and a variety of surgical interventions would not exist had it not been for the biological approach to psychology. As with the other approaches to psychology, the biological approach has played an important role in better understanding the human experience.

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