Psychology and Physiology Essay

This essay has a total of 1457 words and 8 pages.

Psychology and Physiology



Robert Potter

Why do psychologists study physiology in such great detail?
Word count:1396
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
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