An Introduction to Applied Behavioral Neuroscience
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An Introduction to Applied Behavioral Neuroscience

Biological Psychology in Everyday Life

Laura A. Freberg

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eBook - ePub

An Introduction to Applied Behavioral Neuroscience

Biological Psychology in Everyday Life

Laura A. Freberg

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About This Book

An Introduction to Applied Behavioral Neuroscience explores the connection between neuroscience and multiple domains, including psychological disorders, forensics, education, consumer behavior, economics, leadership, health, and robotics and artificial intelligence.

The book ensures students have a solid foundation in the history of behavioral neuroscience; its applicability to other facets of science and policy, and a good understanding of major methodologies and their limitations to aiding critical thinking skills. Written in a student-friendly style, it provides a highly accessible introduction to the major structural and functional features of the human nervous system. It then discusses applications across a variety of areas in society, including how behavioral neuroscience is used by the legal system, in educational practice, advertising, economics, leadership, the development of and recovery from health challenges, and in robotics. Each of the application-specific chapters present the problems that neuroscience is being asked to address, the methods being used, and the challenges and successes experienced by scholars and practitioners in each domain.

It is a must-read for all advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students in biological psychology, neuroscience, and clinical psychology who want to know what neuroscience can really do to address real-world problems.

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Information

Publisher
Routledge
Year
2022
ISBN
9781000575903

1 Introduction to Applied Behavioral Neuroscience

DOI: 10.4324/9781003195214-1
Learning Objectives
After completing this chapter, you will be able to:
  1. 1. Distinguish between basic and applied research.
  2. 2. Define behavioral neuroscience and explain its relationship to the field of neuroscience.
  3. 3. Discuss the challenges of applying behavioral neuroscience.
  4. 4. Compare major methodologies used in behavioral neuroscience.
  5. 5. Evaluate ethical constraints in applied behavioral neuroscience.

What Can Applied Neuroscience Actually Do?

A quick search of the internet results in many claims for how you can use neuroscience to make a better you and a better world. But how is the public supposed to know what neuroscience can and cannot deliver? To help answer that question, the non-profit Institute for Applied Neuroscience (n.d.) has an ambitious agenda—bridging gaps between academic researchers and policy-makers to provide evidence-based practices based on brain science. The group focuses on healthcare, education, law enforcement, juvenile justice, business, and leadership. These and several additional topics will all be featured in this book. We share the Institute’s goal—using “brain science for good.”
Evaluating neuroscience applications requires us to engage in the very best critical thinking practices. In this book, we hope to explore both the remarkable potential of the brain sciences as well as the limits to our knowledge and our ability to apply that knowledge to practical, real-world situations. You will see situations where neuroscience is applied very effectively, and other situations where the promises simply aren’t as well supported by the current state of knowledge. We will begin that journey with a tour of basic principles of behavioral neuroscience and the strengths and weaknesses of neuroscience research methods.

The Basic and Applied Science of the Brain

When you hear the term “neuroscience,” what comes to mind? A person in a white lab coat poring over images of the brain? Another scientist carefully placing recording electrodes on the scalp of a research participant? A preserved brain in a tray waiting to be examined? A rat freezing in place as it hears a tone that has been previously paired with electric shock?
These are images of basic research, or the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Scientists conducting basic research are driven by their own curiosity, spending relatively little time wondering how their findings might be used by others. Astrophysicists spend entire careers carefully examining black holes on the edge of our galaxy, with no real expectations that their results will fundamentally change the way people live today. Basic research provides the foundation of what is “known.” In contrast, applied research is directed at solving particular problems. The explicit goal is to improve the human condition rather than just gaining knowledge. While a scientist conducting basic research might be curious about the chemical composition of an asteroid, a scientist conducting applied research wants to learn how the path of the asteroid could be altered so that catastrophic collisions with Earth can be prevented.
The distinction between basic and applied research is usually somewhat blurred. You might be driven by the curiosity of basic science to find out what causes schizophrenia, but in the pursuit of this information, you are likely to learn things that will lead to new preventive or treatment strategies. Many scientists, although not all, carefully consider the “so what” factors driving their work as an important motivation, even if applications are not yet clearly in view. Their funding sources are likely to take a similar perspective. Nobody wants their work to be the example of useless research raised in Congressional budget hearings or perhaps the recipient of an Ig Nobel Prize. At the same time, the applied researcher cannot function without a firm understanding of the basic science of a field. It’s all fine and good to say that you want to revolutionize education, but you are going to need a solid foundation in cognition, learning, memory, and development before you meet your goals.
Where does neuroscience fall in this continuum from basic to applied science? The answer clearly depends on which scientist you’re asking. Libraries are full of books outlining the basic science of neuroscience. The purpose of this book is to introduce and evaluate some of the current and potential applications of neuroscience, and behavioral neuroscience in particular.
Neuroscience is the interdisciplinary study of the nervous system, whose ultimate goal is to understand brain and nervous system function and neurological disease at many levels (UCLA, 2021). Neuroscientists zoom in to the molecular level of the very building blocks of the system, and then zoom out again to look at cells, connections, networks, and ultimately behavior. Behavioral neuroscience is the study of the relationships between the nervous system and behavior, emotions, and mental processes (Freberg, 2019).
When considering applications of behavioral neuroscience, it is critical to recall that the relationship between brain and behavior is not a one-way street (see Figure 1.2). Most of us are very familiar with the concept that changes in our brains can have profound effects on our behavior. Reading about the famous case of Phineas Gage, the unfortunate railway construction foreman whose iron tamping rod shot through his brain, makes this point in a dramatic fashion. Many people take medications or know those who do which are designed to change how the brain manages mood or attention.
An unfinished bridge over water
FIGURE 1.1 Applied neuroscience attempts to build bridges between the best academic research and practices and policies for the greater good.
Source: www.flickr.com/photos/davidstanleytravel/31099123226
The reciprocal relationship between brain and behavior
FIGURE 1.2 The relationship between the brain and behavior is reciprocal. Changes in the brain can affect behavior while changes in behavior can affect the brain.
Source: author.
What is less familiar, and perhaps less comfortable, is the opposite process—your behavior, emotions, and mental processes are perfectly capable of changing the way your brain and nervous system operate. This ability to change brain function by changing the way people think forms the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT; see Chapter 3). CBT changes the unrealistic ways a person thinks through cognitive restructuring, such as learning that you are unlikely to be killed by a spider. After undergoing CBT, patients with phobias and obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) showed changes in brain activity that were very similar to those that resulted from medication (Linden, 2006).
Why do we sometimes consider this part of the brain–behavior relationship uncomfortable? In some instances, people prefer a more deterministic perspective of the brain and nervous system. For example, it might be more comfortable to think of depression as a “brain disease” resulting from disruptions in serotonin systems well outside our personal control rather than something we can influence ourselves through our own thoughts and behavior. Psychology’s own William James (1899), who suffered from profound depression most of his life, wrote that “To feel cheerful, sit up cheerfully, look around cheerfully, and act as if cheerfulness were already there” (p. 153). James’s approach might feel empowering to some (I’m not a victim of my biochemistry and there’s something I can do to feel better) but to others, this might be an example of blaming the victim (If you just controlled your thoughts better, you wouldn’t be depressed).
The solution to this dilemma is to avoid either–or thinking. Our outcomes are rarely a simple matter of our biology operating in isolation. There are fortunately very few human afflictions like Huntington’s disease, where a single allele has a 100% probability of producing the disease. If you inherit the allele from a parent, you get Huntington’s disease, regardless of your inheritance from your other parent, your lifestyle, or any other factors. There is no variation.
Our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are also inseparable from our biology. Neuroscientists follow the philosophy of monism—the mind is the work of the brain—rather than the dualism proposed by Renaissance philosopher René Descartes, shown in Figure 1.3. For Descartes, the mind represented something more or different from the workings of the physical body. Western thought has been heavily influenced by this Cartesian approach, and you might find yourself rebelling against the idea that the “you” that includes your memories, hopes, and dreams is nothing more than patterns of firing in some special cells. We do not propose talking you out of following the dualistic approach, as long as you recognize that this is not the way neuroscientists think about the mind.
A portrait of Renaissance philosopher Rene Descartes
FIGURE 1.3 Renaissance philosopher René Descartes viewed the mind as neither physical nor subject to scientific inquiry. This dualistic approach is rejected by most neuroscientists, who view the mind as “what the brain does.”
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren%C3%A9_Descartes#/media/File:Frans_Hals_-_Portret_van_Ren%C3%A9_Descartes.webp
As is so often the case, taking an either-or approach in thinking about the relationship between brain and behavior (the brain causes behavior OR behavior controls the brain) is likely to fail. The relationship between the brain and behavior is reciprocal, intertwined, and nuanced. Attempting to separate these functions is not likely to lead to useful conclusions. Perhaps you have already learned something new or thought about the brain differently from reading these first few pages. While you think about what you have read, the connections between nerve cells in your brain are being shifted and strengthened and physical changes are taking place in the structure of your nerve cells. These processes will support your memories for what you have read, which then become changed again when you respond to a question asked by your professor or share what you have learned with your roommate. Then you must repeat the physical changes to reconsolidate your memories yet again. Over the course of this process, as you read, think, remember, and explain, physical processes in your brain interact with each step, both influencing and being influenced.
The reciprocal relationship between brain and behavior is a major theme that will inform our discussion of applications throughout this book. If one route in this relationship is neglected, the efficacy of an application is likel...

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