Biopsychology: Attention and Perception Interactions


We live in a time when psychology continues to become increasingly legitimized, as the instrument of ensuring people’s mental well-being. In its turn, this validates the suggestion that it is only a matter of time before psychology assumes the social function of religion – hence, making the latter quite useless (especially in Western countries).

Nevertheless, for psychology to be considered a thoroughly legitimate science, its methodological apparatus must be axiomatically sound, just as it is the case with one of the so-called “hard sciences,” such as physics, math, or chemistry.

And, there is indeed nothing too challenging about this discursive precondition, because far from being “mysterious” the qualitative essence of perceptual/cognitive processes inside one’s brain, which defines the concerned person’s sense of self-identity and his or her behavioral pattern, is chemo-electrical. This, of course, presupposes the applicability of the quantitative research-paradigm within the context of how psychologists/neurophysiologists go about addressing their professional responsibilities, especially given the well-researched subtleties of the brain’s morphological structuring. What it means is that the emergence of biopsychology has been objectively predetermined.

After all, due to the ongoing progress in the field of neuroimaging/neurophysiology, there can be only a few doubts as to the full viability of biopsychology’s main theoretical premise, “It is possible to understand human behavior by connecting it to the functional apparatus of the brain” (Varvatsoulias, 2015, p. 59). In this paper, I will explore the validity of the above-suggested at length while explaining the overall purpose of one’s endowment with the nervous system, as well as the workings of the perceptual and attentional mechanisms within it.

Nervous System

The presence of the nervous system in animals and insects is yet another proof of the sheer soundness of the Evolutionary Theory, concerned with the “survival of the fittest” principle. The reason for this is apparent – there is a clearly defined evolutionary purposefulness to this system’s functioning, which means that it cannot be discussed as such that represents the value of a “thing in itself”. In essence, the nervous system serves the function of increasing the measure of the affiliated organism’s adaptability to the continually changing environmental circumstances. In its turn, this explains why plants do not have such a system – their environmental adaptability is spatially prolonged (not the least because plants do not move around).

Many parasitic tapeworms, such as Cestoda, do not have the nervous system either (Korneva, Jones, & Kuklin, 2015). It became atrophied due to the narrow parasitic specialization of these worms – there are no changes within the internal “environment” of the host-organism (it is always dark and warm with plenty of nutrients inside), which renders this system impractical. For most animals (especially mammals and especially primates, such as the representatives of the Homo Sapiens species), however, the possession of the properly functioning nervous system (in the sense of how it reacts to the externally induced stimuli) is the crucial precondition for them to be able to survive within the hostile/unpredictable environment.

Structurally speaking, the nervous system/NS consists of the central nervous system/CNS (spinal cord and cerebral cortex) and the peripheral nervous system/CNP (nerves and ganglia/neuro-receptors). The system’s basic unit is called neuron – a cell in charge of modulating and transmitting chemo-electrical signals from neuro-receptors to the brain and vice versa. The NS reacts to the environmentally induced chemical, physical and electromagnetic stimulations – hence, enabling the organism to adjust its behavior to be fully consistent with the newly (and rapidly) emerged circumstances. The faster are the metabolic processes within the system, the quicker (and more adequate) are the organism’s adaptive responses.

However, because the biological purpose of just about the living creature is to extract energy out the surrounding environment and to use it wisely for procreation (as well as for nutrient gathering and ensuring domination) and because the NS’s energetic maintenance-cost is very high, mammals (including humans) keep it in the “stand by” mode most of the time (to preserve energy) – something that defines the qualitative aspects of the brain’s functioning, which will be discussed in the paper’s next part.

Brain

The human brain is probably the most advanced product of biological evolution. Its foremost function is to store and process the data picked up and transmitted by the nervous system’s sensory apparatus. In essence, the brain’s main structural elements consist of the limbic system (or paleocortex), in control of the person’s instinctual drives (food, sex, domination), which psychologists tend to refer as “unconsciousness,” and the cerebral cortex, in charge of controlling the body’s motoric responses to the stimuli while making it possible for the concerned individual to indulge in the casuistic (cause-effect) reasoning and enabling him or her to have visual, auditory and somatosensory perceptions of the surrounding reality.

The cerebral cortex is commonly referred to as the most important part of one’s brain – all due to its sheer size. As Varvatsoulias (2015) noted, “The cerebral cortex or grey matter is the regulatory system of brain… It covers almost 80% of the entirety of it. Something about 90% of it is called neocortex because it has derived from the recent evolution of the brain – something about 40000yrs ago” (p. 59). In its turn, the neocortex consists of the frontal lobes (motoric functions, associative reasoning), parietal lobes (somatosensory associations), occipital lobes (vision), and temporal lobes (memory).

While accounting for only about one-fiftieth of a person’s bodily mass (the brain’s average weight is 1100 grams), it consumes up to 25% of nutritional energy within the body when addressing various psycho-cognitive tasks in the “fully activated” mode (Falkowska et al., 2015). This is exactly the reason why most people find intellectual pursuits (such as studying) utterly exhausting and generally unpleasant – the brain does not tolerate thinking (energetically “costly” process), for as long as this activity does not serve the purpose of making it more likely for the concerned person to succeed in addressing his/her primary biological functions: propagating its genome (sex), gaining access to nutrients (food), and imposing its authority on others (domination).

The above-mentioned substantiates the “dualistic” conceptualization of one’s psycho-cognitive domain. On the one hand, the brain’s limbic system endorses (by releasing endorphins) biological/anti-social behavior in an individual. On the other hand, however, the neocortex’s associative centers deem such behavior “dangerous” – all because of the objective laws of evolution favor “societal-mindedness” in humans, as the socially integrated beings (Devor, Rappaport, & Rappaport, 2015). This, of course, creates the objective precondition for people to be prone to neuroses.

Perception (Visual)/Attention

Even though there is a certain phenomenological quality to how the brain processes visual information, there is nothing too complex about the involved physiological processes. Initially, the electromagnetic signal enters the person’s eye, with the received information being sub-sequentially modulated (in the form of a chemo-electrical impulse) within the hypothalamus and sent for additional processing by the occipital lobes.

The process is enabled by the neurons’ facility to form synaptic connections with each other, on the one hand, and the fact that the membrane of each individual neuron has a certain “superconducting” capacity, on the other. The speed with which chemo-electrical impulses are transmitted within the nervous system is about 100 meters per second (Farley, Johnstone, Hendry, & McLafferty, 2014). Consequently, a visual image is formed in the occipital lobes, even though the person gets the impression that he or she actually sees it with its eyes (not the brain). Nevertheless, this image is essentially a mental construct – something best illustrated by the spatial integrity of visual images, despite the fact that there is a large blind spot on the human eye’s retina.

The mentioned specifics of the visual signal’s route through the brain help to explain the functional particularities of the associated attentional mechanism. The most prominent of them has to do with the fact that this mechanism is there to help the person to instinctively prioritize the biologically pertinent data inputs. As Schröger, Marzecová and SanMiguel (2015) aptly observed, “Attention is a hypothetical mechanism in the service of perception that facilitates the processing of relevant information and inhibits the processing of irrelevant information” (p. 641).

And, it is namely the visual inputs that appeal to the limbic instincts in humans (especially the ones that convey the messages of “sex” or “danger”) that the brain automatically singles out as the most relevant (Asma, 2014). To illustrate the validity of this suggestion we can refer to the case of the fashion brand French Connection United Kingdom having been able to achieve a dramatic increase in sales, following the managers’ decision to use the abbreviation FCUK in the brand’s advertisement posters (Minowa, Maclaran, & Stevens, 2014).

This again shows that the representatives of the Homo Sapiens species are, in fact, nothing but hairless primates with the overdeveloped cerebral cortex. The suggestion’s main implication is that the key to productive cognition/memorization is providing the person with the circumstantially sound incentives to think of the process as being inseparable from his or her biological priorities in life (Rodgers, 2015).

Discussion

In light of what has been said earlier, there appears to be very little rationale to doubt the discursive legitimacy of biopsychology – a scientific discipline that promotes the idea that one’s behavior and the intrinsic quality of his or her mental anxieties should be discussed in conjunction with the anatomical subtleties of the concerned individual’s brain. As Getz (2014) pointed out, “A biopsychology or neurophysiology course is now offered in most universities’ psychology departments, whether at an undergraduate, master’s, or doctoral level” (p. 15).

Therefore, it may seem somewhat odd that many of the axiomatic premises of biopsychology, as well as some strategies of biopsychological intervention, continue to be criticized by psychologists on account of being much too “reductionist” and “mechanistic”. Such a situation, however, can be explained with ease – the affiliates of the non-biological (phenomenological) paradigm in psychology feel threatened by the biopsychology’s potential ability to render most conventional psychotherapies quite unusable.

After all, unlike what it is the case with these therapies (such as “cognitive therapy”, “gestalt therapy”, “hypnotherapy”, “feminist therapy”, “Freudian psychoanalysis”, “person-centered therapy”, etc.), biopsychology presupposes the possibility for the therapeutic interventions to be quick, methodologically consistent and utterly efficient. To exemplify the validity of this statement, we can refer to the sheer ineffectiveness of the currently deployed psychotherapeutic approaches (concerned with “nutritional counseling”) to treating anorexia – “a debilitating psychiatric disorder characterized by abnormal eating behaviors, severe weight loss, intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat (despite being underweight)” (Danielsen, Rekkedal, Frostad, & Kessler, 2016, p. 161). As practice indicates, this disorder often results in causing the affected individuals (particularly women) to die from malnutrition. And yet, there is nothing too impossible about relieving the affected person of anorexia once and for all.

A quick surgical intervention (lobotomy) does the “miracle” (Getz, 2014). It is understood, of course, that many people still find the practice of performing lobotomy morally objectionable. The reason for this is that the discourse of political correctness continues to have a strong effect on how people assess the significance of curative practices. There are, however, a number of indications that this discourse will cease being considered discursively viable in the near future – an eventual development that is going to provide yet additional momentum to the proliferation of biopsychology in the West.

Conclusion

I believe that the provided insights, regarding the technicalities of the brain’s perceptual processing and the overall significance of biopsychology, correlate well with the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, it is indeed thoroughly appropriate to suggest that the concept’s emergence was dialectically predetermined by the need to provide psychology with the set of the universally recognized axiomatic premises – the actual prerequisite of enabling it to attain the status of a fully legitimate scientific discipline.

References

Asma, S. (2014). Monsters on the brain: An evolutionary epistemology of horror. Social Research, 81(4), 941-968.

Danielsen, Y., Rekkedal, G., Frostad, S., & Kessler, U. (2016). Effectiveness of enhanced cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT-E) in the treatment of anorexia nervosa: A prospective multidisciplinary study. BMC Psychiatry, 16(342), 161-175.

Devor, M., Rappaport, I., & Rappaport, Z. (2015). Does the golem feel pain? Moral instincts and ethical dilemmas concerning suffering and the brain. Pain Practice, 15(6), 497-508.

Falkowska, A., Gutowska, I., Goschorska, M., Nowacki, P., Chlubek, D., & Baranowska-Bosiacka, I. (2015). Energy metabolism of the brain, including the cooperation between astrocytes and neurons, especially in the context of glycogen metabolism. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 16(11), 25959-25981.

Farley, A., Johnstone, C., Hendry, C., & McLafferty, E. (2014). Nervous system: Part 1. Nursing Standard, 28(31), 46-59.

Getz, G. (2014). Applied biological psychology. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Korneva, J., Jones, M., & Kuklin, V. (2015). Fine structure of the copulatory apparatus of the tapeworm Tetrabothrius erostris (Cestoda: Tetrabothriidea). Parasitology Research, 114(5), 1829-1838.

Minowa, Y., Maclaran, P., & Stevens, L. (2014). Visual representations of violent women. Visual Communication Quarterly, 21(4), 210-222.

Rodgers, D. (2015). The biological basis of learning. Simulation & Gaming, 46(2), 175-186.

Schröger, E., Marzecová, A., & SanMiguel, I. (2015). Attention and prediction in human audition: A lesson from cognitive psychophysiology. European Journal of Neuroscience, 41(5), 641-664.

Varvatsoulias, G. (2015). Cerebral cortex and psychological functions: The role of lobes in the human brain. Education Sciences & Psychology, 35(3), 58-68.