Biological Psychology Term Paper

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Behavioral Psychology

The main link between the brain and the mind is through the nervous system. It processes information from various regions in the body and transmits it via electrical and chemical signals. The study of the relationship that the brain has on the mind, consciousness and behavior is called behavioral psychology. Decades ago, scientists would use electrodes to stimulate various regions of the brain to understand how it affected the body. Today psychologists use modern radiological techniques to understand mental processes and behaviorism in diseases ranging from Huntington to Epilepsy. (Nobus, 2000)

Although many interesting stories and interpretations have led to the evolution of biological psychology, a great contribution to this field was made by the famous psychologist, Signmund Freud.

Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 and spent most of his life in Vienna. From early on in life, Freud had a strong inclination towards human concerns, and even though, under the influence of his friend, Freud wanted to become a lawyer, he eventually gained inspiration from Darwin's theories and a beautiful essay on nature by Goethe, eventually landing into medical school. (Sigmund, 1925)

When he joined the University of Vienna, in 1873, Freud had to put up with the disappointment of being excluded as an active fellow worker. This non-acceptability was because of his Jewish decent, which according to Freud had also denied him success in many of the departments of science. (Sigmund, 1925)

Eventually landing to the physiology laboratory, Freud was given a project to work on by Ernst Brucke, an inspirational figure in Freud's life. The subject of investigation was related to the spinal cord of one of the lowest fish, Ammocoetes Petromyzon. After graduating from Medical school in 1881, he continued his study, proceeding to the medulla oblongata in the human brain. Deeper research on neuronal pathways in this region of the brain eventually caused him to shift his specialty to Anatomy. (Sigmund, 1925)

Continuing his research, Freud began to study nervous diseases. At that time, the available literature on this subject was limited and neuropathology had not been singled out from other sub-specialties. In the following years, Freud published a number of clinical observations on organic diseases in the nervous system. He was able to localize lesions in the medulla oblongata accurately and was the first person in Vienna to send an autopsy with the diagnosis of polyneuritis acuta. (Signmund, 1925)

In the frame of accurate diagnoses, histological and clinical publications, Freud was appointed as a lecturer in Neuropathology. Eventually, Freud travelled to Paris to purse his studies. Here, as a German translator, he had the opportunity of working closely with Charcot on many projects related to hysteria, the frequent attacks in men, the production of hysterical paralyses and contractures by hypnotic suggestion and the fact that such artificial products showed, down to their smallest details, the same features as spontaneous attacks, which were often brought on traumatically. (Sigmund, 1925)

Upon returning to Vienna, he settled down as a specialist in nervous diseases. Here, he presented a report to the Society of Medicine regarding his learning experience in Paris and eventually became actively involved in finding similar cases at home. Most of his findings were rejected by authorities, who led him into opposition and he eventually became excluded from his academic career. He also found disappointment in the field of organic nervous diseases. He used two main modalities to treat such conditions: electrotherapy and hypnotherapy, both which did not yield promising results. (Sigmund, 1925)

His career remained static until 1891, when he published a study on cerebral palsy and began to investigate the theory of aphasia. Later, he also published several observations regarding sexuality and etiology of neurosis. His view on the subject was that a person's unconsciousness is the source of their motivation, whether they are simple desires for food or more complex neurotic compulsions. (Signmund, 1925)

A major contribution to psychology by Freud was his psychoanalytic techniques. He used this method to study the mind and overcome areas of unconscious resistance that block mental growth and cause neurotic behavior. Earlier views on mental illnesses were to define it based on a physiological perspective. Freud approach towards the subject was based on his belief that neurotic behavior is not random or meaningless, but is goal directed. Thus, by looking for the purpose behind abnormal behavioral patters, Freud based an approach that defined behavior as informative, without denying its physiological aspects. (Nobus, 2000)

Freud's account of the sexual genesis and nature of neuroses led him to develop a clinical treatment for treating such disorders. He compiled several aspects of his theories into a mode of treatment known as psychoanalysis. He based this theory on discovering the inner workings of the mind. He encouraged his patients to use free association and used dream analysis to gain insight into his clients' subconscious. He also used other cues from body language and parapraxes. Parapraxes, also known as Freudian slips, were defined to be a client's slip of the tongue. (Sigmund, 1925)

The psychoanalytic technique employed by Freud had several features. First, he provided his patients a relaxing environment by carefully placed lights, couches, and soothing colors. Patients were allowed to lie down on the couch until total relaxation caused the subconscious to emerge. Clients were encouraged to speak anything that came into their minds, no matter how foolish or repetitive the thought was. In psychoanalysis, resistance was a key theme. Freud felt that changing the subject of speech or falling asleep were ways in which the unconscious mind would express that a certain idea was threatening. Moreover, Freud also encouraged his clients to express dreams, using dreams as a key to the unconscious mind. In the final stages of therapy, Freud felt that catharsis, or when a client had a sudden outburst of emotions, was when a client cold finally gain insight into their true problems. The main goal of these techniques employed by Freud was to allow the unconscious mind to become conscious, thus allowing patients to gain an insight into their problems and to be able to control it. (Nobus, 2000)

Several features of Freud's psychoanalytic technique are still used in clinical practices today. The physical aspects of Freud's psychoanalytical setting still remain the same. The patient comes to daily sessions at pre-arranged times and lies on the couch while the analyst sits in a chair behind the couch. The room is dimly lit and a quite environment is maintained. The establishment of this secure setting, together with reliable and predictable adherence to it by the psychoanalyst, is very important as it provides a containing structure within which the patient and analyst are able to explore and think about the patient's difficulties. (Nobus, 2000)

The psychoanalytical concepts put forward by Freud were further developed with time. However, key concepts presented by Freud have helped analysts and clinicians today understand mental functioning and human relationships. For example, Freud's discovery of a child's relationship to parental figures being the prototype of all subsequent relationships have allowed scientists to research on the traumatic effects of prolonged separation between mother and infant, as during prolonged hospitalization. This has led to changes in the management of children in hospitals. (Nobus, 2000)

The last thirty years of neurosciences have negated earlier disregard related to psychoanalysis. Behavioral psychologists are now looking for answers beyond cognitive disabilities and organic disorders. As was once argued that Freud's theories could not be verified, this statement may not hold true in modern times. Recent developments in neurosciences offer the possibility of integrating sophisticated models of thought and memory to study the dynamic and clinical outcomes. One such experimental design focused on the development of neurons in relation to the quality of early relationships, the location of specific capacities with functional scans, and the discoveries of molecular and behavioral genetics. (Westen & Gabbard, 2002)

Apart from ongoing researches on the gene-environment relationship, studies have also documented psychoanalytic therapies on tapes for the treatment of many mental conditions. One such study, conducted by Ablon & Jones (1999), used this method to evaluate its effectiveness in depression. Results of this study revealed that brief therapies that resembled psychoanalysis more, had better outcomes and was more likely to be effective.

As Freud continued to treat his patients using his theories of psychoanalysis, he went deeper and deeper into his patients' past. He realized that even though the impressions of early life are in most parts, buried in amnesia, they leave ineradicable traces on the individual's growth. During these sessions, he also noticed that all of these childhood experiences were related to sexuality and reactions against them. (Signmund, 1925)

The realization that sexual function existed from the very beginning of an individual's life led Freud to outline stages of psychosexual development. Freud named his new theory, the Oedipus complex after the famous Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. Freud considered each stage as a progression into adult sexual maturity. Initially sexual function is non-centralized and is predominantly auto-erotic. The first stage…[continue]

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