Discuss How Theory And Research In Health Psychology Has Been Helpful Or Unhelpful In Addressing Human Problems

1338 words - 6 pages

To what extent does biological psychology contribute to our understanding of human emotion?

This essay will briefly consider some definitions and early theories of emotion. It will evaluate evidence from studies which suggests that biological psychology makes a major contribution to our understanding of human emotion. It will, however, acknowledge that there are limitations to the biological aspect of emotion, and that interaction with other areas of psychology including evolutionary, developmental, cognitive and social must also be considered. Finally, it will include ways in which this knowledge can be applied.

Watson (1924, cited in Plutchik 1994, p 3) suggests ‘An emotion is a ...view middle of the document...

Passer and Smith (2007, p387) cite the Lazarus Cognitive Affect theory - cognitive appraisals trigger emotional arousal; the James Lange theory - that our reactions determine the emotion we experience; and the Schacter theory - arousal tells us the strength of our feelings, while cognitions help to identify the emotion.

It is now necessary to consider the biology of emotion. LeDoux (1984, cited in Plutchik, 1994) argues that the measurement of emotional impact of stimuli is unconscious, and takes place in the amygdala. It is believed that the amygdala can create an emotional reaction before the cerebral cortex has interpreted the cause (Passer & Smith, 2007). Delgado (1960, cited in Plutchik, 1994) using electrical brain stimulation techniques, identifies three brain structures that participate in the production of emotional behaviour and response; the midbrain, thalamus, and hippocampus. Henry (1986, cited in Plutchik, 1994) claims that biochemical factors greatly affect reactions of the brain, leading to the activation of emotional circuits. He attributes different emotions to different areas of the brain, associating anger and fear with the amygdala, sadness with the hippocampus. Consequently, the neuroendocrine system is activated causing changes, typically, in blood pressure, pulse, secretion of norepinephrine, testosterone and ACTH. Activation of the adrenal gland in the medulla can increase blood sugar levels in preparation for fight or flight. In response to fear, the hippocampus activates the pituitary gland to produce ACTH resulting in glucose release, increased blood volume and strengthening of the immune system. Pert (1997, cited in Passer & Smith, 2007) states that emotions are activated biochemically, depending on the balance of neurotransmitters. Dopamine and endorphins play a role in pleasurable emotions, whereas serotonin and norepinephrine affect the emotions of anger and fear (Damasio, 2005, cited in Passer & Smith, 2007). Furthermore, drugs that target serotonin are effective in treating depression, indicating a connection between serotonin and emotion (Toates, 2007). Collectively, this evidence contributes positively to the argument that biological psychology plays a major role in our understanding of emotion.

Further studies add weight to this contention. Luan Phan, Wager, Taylor, and Liberzon (2002) conclude that, as a result of neuroimaging techniques (PET & fMRI), individual regions of the brain can be linked with different types of emotion, and that such techniques have revealed ‘emotion-related increases in cerebral blood flow in cortical, limbic and paralimbic regions’(p331). Boiten (1998), studying the emotional effects of film scenes by observing respiratory responses, found that laughter elicited a shallower, quicker, breathing pattern, whereas disgust elicited breathholding. Rhodes, Shenal and Harrison (2000, p723) draw parallels between ‘cerebral asymmetries in the production of emotion’ and ‘hemispheric...

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