last updated:

Feb 9, 2021

[Brain Image]    

PSY 340 Brain and Behavior

Class 02 Introduction: Overview and Major Issues


The Mind-Body Problem: How are they connected?

What is the relationship between your mind (consciousness, thinking) and your brain (the physical organ)? This is called "the mind-body problem (or "mind-brain" problem).

Consider these two illusions. In both of them we see movement ever though nothing actually moves.

Lilac Chaser Illusion

Illusion 1 - Spinning circles

For each of these illusions there is a difference between what is physically present on the screen and what we actually perceive. We are conscious of movement when there is no "real" movement there. Is the reason for this difference that there is something about "the mind" which is special or different than the physical body?

Dualism argues that  mind  AND  body are separate

  • Argued by René Descartes (& this view is called Cartesianism)
  • Almost ALL philosophers and neuroscientists reject this notion even though it often feels like the right answer.

Monism argues that there is only ONE thing. Most scientists accept monism.

  • Materialism: Everything that exists is physical
  • Mentalism: Only the mind really exists 
  • Identity Position: Mind & body are actually the same
    • Consciousness is an emergent property of what the body does
    • Thus, the mind is an activity of the body (that is, the brain).

Easy vs. Hard Problems (David Chalmers)

  • Easy Problems: Describing the different elements of consciousness (sleep vs. awake; orienting in space, etc.)
  • Hard Problem: If you are conscious, you are aware of yourself, your history, your future, etc.? How/why is brain activity associated with consciousness? Why did consciousness develop in the first place? If coping with the environment is all about information processing, then why do we need consciousness?  

The is a course in biological psychology (also known as psychobiology, physiological psychology, or behavioral neuroscience).

It involves

  • Physiology deals with tissues, cells, chemicals, systems of the body
  • Evolutionary Psychology deals with genetics and how the earth's physical & social environments have shaped our behaviors for reproductive and survival purposes
  • Growth & Development: how does the biology of the body interact with the environment to produce both behavior & structures

Fundamental General Points

  • Perception occurs in your brain, NOT on your skin, in your eyes, or somewhere "out there"
    • Some people INCORRECTLY believe that we send out some sort of rays from our eyes in order to see the world. This is untrue.
  • Be careful about what you claim is an explanation for understanding the brain and behavior, especially if it is based on single scientific studies. Correlation ≠ Causation. For example, if someone is depressed and a scan shows some areas of the brain are less active, this does NOT mean that the lack of activity in those areas is causing the depression.

 How Does Biological Psychology Explain How or Why an Animal Looks and Acts Like This?

Let's compare Dogs and Humans once more

Cat and Dog

Human vs.
            Chimpanzee Brain  Early hominins vs.
            homo sapiens
            Animal Brains
(All quotes above describing dogs are taken from Wikipedia entries)
Thus the four explanatory approaches to explain animal behaviors, including human behavior, rests upon physiological, ontogenetic (developmental), evolutionary, and functional points of concern.

Two Important Trends in Contemporary Behavioral Neuroscience (not in book)

Hollow Face Optical Illusion Video1. The "Predictive Brain": The human brain is continually making models of the world around it and updating those models based on moment-by-moment experience (Clark, 2012)
  • Rather than start "fresh" every time we enter into a new situation or environment, our brain predicts what it is that it will encounter. That "model" of what we are perceiving is rapidly altered as sensory data either confirms or corrects what the model predicts.
  • Most of the modeling takes place outside of direct human consciousness. We are generally unaware of the processes going on.
  • Take a look at the "Hollow Face Optical Illusion". As the Wikipedia entry notes, "The Hollow-Face illusion (also known as Hollow-Mask illusion) is an optical illusion in which the perception of a concave mask of a face appears as a normal convex face...According to Richard Gregory (1970) [a very famous experimental psychologist], "The strong visual bias of favouring seeing a hollow mask as a normal convex face is evidence for the power of top-down knowledge for vision." This bias of seeing faces as convex is so strong it counters competing monocular depth cues, such as shading and shadows, and also very considerable unambiguous information from the two eyes signalling stereoscopically that the object is hollow."

2. The "Extended Mind" Hypothesis: The mind uses objects external to our bodies by incorporating them into the mind's own functioning. 

[Doonesbury June 26, 2011]
  • For example, if we decide to move something that is out of the physical reach of our arm/hand, we might take up a stick to complete the task. The brain incorporates that stick as if our arm itself grew longer and calculates how the entire arm-hand-stick needs to move in order to accomplish the task.
  • Another example: Before we go to bed at night, we might arrange a series of objects on the top of our dresser in a particular order in order to remind ourselves the next day when we get up about something we have to do. The presence of our cell phone before our wallet may alert us that we have to make a specific telephone call (where usually the wallet is located before the cell phone).
  • Mary and John are each going to visit the museum. John has early Alzheimer's disease. Mary remembers the directions to the museum and arrives there easily. John has detailed directions to the museum written down in a small notebook, follows those directions, and arrives at the museum. According the "extended mind" hypothesis, the notebook functions as equivalent to the memory processes of the biological brain. (example from Clark & Chalmers, 1998)

Career Opportunities in Biological Psychology


Usually requires Ph.D.
Psychological Practice

Usually requires Ph.D. or Psy.D. though some Master's level jobs are possible

Requires MD & additional postgraduate study

Allied Medical

Requires Master's degree or higher
Work in universities, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and other research settings
Work in universities & colleges, hospitals, private practice
Work in hospitals, clinics, medical schools, private practice
Work in hospitals, clinics, medical schools, private practice
  • Neuroscientist
  • Cognitive neuroscientist
  • Neuropsychologist
  • Neurochemist
  • Comparative Psychologist (animal behavior specialist)
  • Evolutionary Psychologist
  • Clinical Psychologist
  • Clinical Neuropsychologist
  • Rehabilitation Psychologist
  • Health Psychologist
  • Counseling Psychologist
  • School Psychologist (Master's)
  • Neurologist
  • Neurosurgeon
  • Psychiatrist
  • Physical Therapist
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Social Worker

Clark, A. (2012, January 15). Do thrifty brains make better minds? New York Times. Retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/do-thrifty-brains-make-better-minds

Clark, A., & Chalmers, D. J. (1998). The extended mind. Analysis, 58, 7-19.

Gregory, R. (1970). The intelligent eye. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Herculano-Houzel, S. (2016). The human advantage: A new understanding of how our brain became remarkable. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Kindle Edition.
Mayer, E. A., Knight, R., Mazmanian, S. K., Cryan, J. F., & Tillisch, K. (2014). Gut microbes and the brain: Paradigm shift in neuroscience. Journal of Neuroscience, 34(46), 15490-15496. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3299-14.2014

This page was first posted January 18, 2005.