Psychology And Physiology Essay, Research Paper
Why do psychologists study physiology in such great detail?Mens Sana in Corpore Sano et Vice Versa.
The study of physiology as an important aspect of psychology goes back a long way. We might say that the ancient Greek, Hippocrates (circa 460 B.C. – circa 377 B.C.) could be considered not only the father of medicine, but also as the father of the physiological psychology. He observed that the brain was the ultimate source of ?our pleasures, joys, laughter, and jests as well as our sorrows, pains, griefs, and tears.? (Wade and Tavris 9) Jumping ahead in history almost two thousand years, we find the French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650) advancing our modern view that psychological activities are related to the body and its functions. He rejected the common belief that human behavior is governed by unknowable forces and searched for a physical explanation of behavior. Descartes advanced an understanding of the physical sources of our behavior. He believed that the body and mind interact in a profound and mysterious way so as to define the essence of our humanity.
Following the French Revolution, psychology (with some notable exceptions, such as that man who abused children and rats) seemed to enter the dark ages of psychoanalysis, as popularized by the films of an angstful Woody Allen and the famous Sigmund Freud, who unfortunately for him never made it to Hollywood. Apres moi le deluge.
Which brings us to today when psychologists study physiology because they want to understand how bodily events affect our emotions, perceptions, memories, and behaviors. (Wade and Tavris 14) Psychologists, physicians, and other men and women of science are now working together to uncover new understandings of the relationships that exist between our behaviors and our body structures and functions.
In chapter 6 of our text, Body Rhythms and Mental States, Wade and Tavris discuss the connection between high levels of testosterone and antisocial behaviors. A study, cited by the authors, of over 4,000 men found that high levels of testosterone were associated with delinquency, drug use, abusiveness, and violence.
Wade and Tavris seem to downplay the role of testosterone in the making of the antisocial man. Our authors feel the body only provides the clay for our symptoms. Learning and culture mold the clay. The Ted Bundy?s of the world are not so much victims of their hormones as they are victims of their environment. I guess this means Wade and Tavris didn?t think ?Natural Born Killers? was a very good idea for a movie title. However, a recent study reported on in the September/October, 1997, issue of the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine seems to suggest something to the contrary.
Researchers in Georgia, fond as they must be of red Georgia clay, believe that the bodily clay of hormones may play a more significant role in the life of a killer than does the sculpting prowess of the environment that is seemingly favored by Wade and Tavris. The Georgia study sought to examine the link between the hormone, testosterone and violent behavior.
Studies done in a Peach Tree State prison, showed that women who were identified as committing violent crimes and showed aggressive dominance in prison are more likely to have significantly higher levels of testosterone than other female inmates. The findings for male offenders mirrored those found in the female prison population. Male prison inmates who had the highest levels of testosterone were those who had also been convicted of violent crimes such as rape, homicide, and assault. The testosterone rich male felons also broke prison rules more often than did their big house brothers. Think of Mike Tyson, the prize fighter, who recently got thrown into solitary because he threw a television across the room.
The researchers were not able to say that the high levels of testosterone were alone responsible for the development of the violent personalities. Other variables such as social factors do come into play. It appears that this might be a chicken or the egg question. Which came first, the violence or the testosterone? The researchers thought both.
There are just some people out there walking around with higher levels of testosterone than the rest of us. The ongoing violence manifested by the criminals has the added effect of increasing their already above normal supply of testosterone. This in turn sets the stage for more aggressive behaviors. Now everybody who has a high level of testosterone is not a criminal, but it seems that most violent criminals have an abnormally high level of this hormone. What?s a psychologist to do? Maybe nothing. Maybe support more prison construction. Maybe some form of anti-hormone therapy could be developed. Maybe, we just need more answers to the questions of how the body and mind interact.
In chapter 14 of our text, The Psychology of Health and Well-being, Wade and Tavris discuss some of the links between emotions and illness. In a longitudinal study of male medical students it was seen that those men who exhibited cynical or antagonistic hostility were five times as likely as nonhostile men to get coronary heart disease. Depression was thought to be a second suspect in the risk of heart disease.
In a 1997 study in St. Louis, researchers found that the survivors of heart attacks have a greater risk of dying if they are also suffering from depression. (Science 1997;275:1793-1795) Now on the surface, it is easy to say that most people who have heart disease can?t be too cheered by that fact and that it would not surprise us too much to know that a number of them ultimately shuffled off this mortal coil from the effects of a bad ticker. However in this study the researchers sought to measure the amount of heart rate variability present in the post heart attack patients. Heart rate variability is a measure of the organ?s ability to effectively handle stress or exertion and is a predictor of heart disease mortality. Half of the patients studied were clinically depressed and had depression well in advance of having heart disease. The other half of the group were not clinically depressed. Individuals with clinical depression have high levels of the catecholamines. In the group tested, a significant number of the depressed patients showed an increase in this stress hormone. This hormone is associated with the autonomic nervous system. The part of the nervous system that controls the heart.
Wade and Tavris posit the view that it is still not known whether depression increases the risk of a heart attack because many depressed people fail to take care of themselves or because depression has a direct biochemical effect on the body. Although some otherwise undepressed people do develop some level of depression following their diagnosis of heart disease, the researchers in the St. Louis study believe that in the main depression precedes and exacerbates the heart disease in both the early and late stages of the disease.
The study presents us with some bad news and good news. The bad news is that we know depression boosts harmful levels of hormones, which can make the heart disease far worse and ultimately hasten your demise. The good news is that depression is very treatable. Proper treatment of depression in pre-heart attack depressives could prevent a coronary and proper treatment of depression in post-heart attack depressives and others can increase the likelihood of survival. Take your prozac and increase your chances of not succumbing to heart disease.
Many times we know and can prove that there is a connection between the body and the psyche. However, the question that is almost always asked, but is not so always answered is ?which came first, the chicken or the egg?? While sometimes it is difficult to establish a cause and effect relationship between the functions of the body and the responses of the mind, it is apparent that a relationship does often exist. Keep striving. Some mysteries will be solved. Many will be helped.
In concluding, my thoughts turn back almost to where we began, remember the ancient Greek. Well, to paraphrase the words of some unknown Roman, who must have been an early physiological psychologist, ?a healthy mind will exist in a healthy body and likewise also the other way around.? A little rough in the translation, but this seems to sum up the import and the goal of the study of physiology relative to the study of psychology.
Wade, Carole & Tavris, Carol (1998). Psychology. New York, New York: Longman
Carney, Robert, & Stein, Phyllis (1997). Science, 275, 1793 – 1795.
Dabbs, James (1997). Psycosomatic Medicine, September/October, 59.