The Topic of Our Study and Its Alignment with the Chosen School of Thought
The Topic of the Study and the Questions that Will Be Explored
The general topic of our research is going to be the relationship between the mind and the body. The mind-body problem is one of the oldest questions in Western culture; numerous philosophers, medics, researchers of nature, and other thinkers attempted to answer it. When psychology emerged as an academic discipline in the 19th century, it is only natural that the mind-body problem became one of the issues that psychologists investigated in their studies.
It is important to point out that the division between the mind and the body is perhaps an artificial one, and they are a single, united thing in reality. However, this division is traditional and arguably useful. It reflects the fact that we currently do not exactly understand how the neurons can produce the mind and the consciousness, and because these terms denote two different aspects of, shall we say the “mind-body thing.” However, this term that we have just used arguably means that the mind and the body are equal, but perhaps it is not so, and the mind is something similar to a “user’s interface” (Searle, 2007).
To answer the mind-body problem means to explain how exactly the states of the mind are related to the states of the body. Therefore, if we suppose that they are a united thing (proving this assumption is also a part of the answer), answering this problem entails explaining e.g., whether the mind is a “user’s interface,” what the qualitative influence and interrelations between the psychological and the physiological aspects of the person are, etc. If we accept that the body produces the mind (which needs to be warranted as well), answering the question about the mind-body relationship means explaining how exactly the body produces the mind, what physiological factors affect our mind and how they do it, how the mind can affect the physiological states of the body, etc.
It is possible to sum up the previous paragraph by saying that the mind-body problem is rather general and voluminous and that it requires much thorough and detailed research of a vast amount of smaller questions and topics. Therefore, in our study, we will focus on a narrower question; we will attempt to explore how the psychological and biological factors affect one’s character, attitudes and behaviors, and reactions to various events.
Alignment of the Topic with the School of Thought
In our research, we will use the school of psychobiology’s achievements to explore the topic and seek answers to our research question. It is important to discuss how this school aligns with our topic.
As it is widely known, the school of psychobiology was the one to develop the idea that psychological phenomena have their roots in the biological states of the body. As a rule, the studies conducted by the representatives of this school incorporate factors related to both the mind and body; usually, at least one variable of the research is biological, and at least one variable is psychological. For example, Stein and Vythilingum (2009) study love as a psychological phenomenon and explain what chemical substances initiate and influence this feeling; clearly, both the variables related to mind and to the body are used in the research. This rule means that practically in every study conducted “inside” this school, we will find information that can be used for our topic.
It is known that the representatives of the psychobiological school of thought believe that there exists an interrelationship between psychological and physiological processes that take place in a person. For psychobiologists, it is usually a priority to study this mutual relationship. This belief and the approach based on it must permit us to explain why people behave this or that way by using biological factors. Therefore, the core belief and other values of this school align well with our topic of study.
In their research, psychobiologists focus on the impact of human biology and its influence on human cognition, behavior, etc., and vice versa. As it was already pointed out, they believe that there exists a mutual correlation between the mind and the body, and they attempt to determine this correlation in detail. For instance, Stein (2009) explores what biological processes are responsible for a person’s being resilient, and by which parts of the brain, these processes are mediated. Therefore, the studies conducted by the school representatives usually contain thorough explanations of separate aspects of the interrelationship between the mind and the body. Such content of psychobiologists’ research will allow us to explore the topic of our study better.
Psychobiologists ask questions about the influence of physiological and psychological factors on one another and attempt to find answers to these questions. They may employ both qualitative and quantitative methods in their studies; for example, see Gomez-Marin, Paton, Kampff, Costa, and Mainen (2014). Psychobiologists also often use experimental methods to measure the degree of influence of biological variables on psychological ones, and vice versa. It is important that their methods can be called a part of “hard science” and usually provide concrete and definite results. It means that the psychobiological school of thought will provide us with precise and detailed information to base our study on.
The Currently Existing Knowledge and the Literature Related to the Topic
What Is Known About the Topic
Numerous studies have been conducted to explore the particular correlations and interrelationships between various aspects of the mind and the physiological mechanisms responsible for them. These studies provide rather detailed information on separate “parts” of this relationship. On the other hand, apart from such details, they also provide some basis for imagining the whole picture.
The influence of physiology on states of the mind
Practically all the reviewed studies show how different biological processes affect the state of a person’s mind. Let us discuss some of these influences. For example, such phenomena as aggression and behavior are associated with the hormone testosterone, which is a factor in struggles for sexual partners and is also correlated with the amygdala activity. Importantly, the amygdala has a mutually inhibitive relationship with the frontal lobe, which means that the active amygdala “turns off” the mechanisms related to morality and various social norms (Díaz, 2011). Thus, socially learned behaviors can be inhibited or even “turned off” when one’s amygdala is active enough.
The noteworthy, amygdala, together with the neuroendocrine axis and some other “old-brain” systems, is also related to the mental states of fear and anxiety (Kim & Gorman, 2005). But not only socially learned behaviors can be turned off; such a phenomenon as the total absence of pleasure, or anhedonia, is also possible, and it is associated with the dysfunction of dopaminergic systems, meaning that the absence of dopamine deprives a person of happiness (Martinotti et al., 2012). Such a condition as burnout also might be related to low dopaminergic function (the other possible cause is a low serotonergic function) (Tops et al., 2007). It is also interesting that the general degree of activity of amygdala and hippocampus, on the one hand, and the dopaminergic system, on the other, is responsible for such a trait as resilience, the ability to retain psychological health despite being exposed to serious stress (Stein, 2009).
On the other hand, love and psychological attachment to another person are associated with dopamine, as well as some other chemical substances such as oxytocin, serotonin, vasopressin, oxytocin, and opioids. Moreover, different types of love (romantic, maternal, etc.) depend on distinct brain centers’ activity, through the centers responsible for these separate types overlap (Stein & Vythilingum, 2009). Another interesting point is that adverse behavioral and biological responses in babies resulting from separation from their mothers are a consequence not of the emotional attachment of babies to their mothers, but the loss or change in variations of certain regulations connected to the interaction between the mother and the child, such as touch and warmth (Hofer, 2005).
The influence of states of the mind on physiology
Not only the body influences what people feel or think, emotions and states of mind also have an important effect on one’s physiological condition. For instance, it is known that stress has a neurotoxic impact on the brain (Alim et al., 2012, p. 511). Another example: Nencini and Grant (2010) state that one’s personal beliefs, views, and cultural experience can significantly influence and modify the effects of drug use; even though it is further explained that this may be because personal beliefs affect the interpretation of drug-induced experiences, the results of drug use are still impacted by one’s beliefs. Also, it has been noted that religious faith is capable of activating certain parts of the brain (Han et al., 2008) and reducing pain (Wiech et al., 2008). It also should be mentioned that child neglect affects the development of the brain. Still, it is unclear to which extent the development is adversely affected by psychological and emotional factors, and to which extent it is a result of other problems that usually accompany child neglect, e.g., poor nutrition, prenatal exposure to drugs, violence, etc. (De Bellis, 2005).
Summing up, it can be seen that the influence of the body and the mind on each other is mutual. Indeed, certain parts of the brain’s activity or passivity can amplify, decrease, or even turn on or off certain emotions, feelings, and other states of mind. In contrast, one’s emotions, thoughts, views, and experience can affect how the body reacts to certain substances. However, it seems that the body plays a more important role here than the mind, for the absence or presence of certain substances determines the absence or presence of certain states of mind (e.g., the dopaminergic dysfunction might result in anhedonia (Martinotti et al., 2012)). In contrast, in the reviewed studies, one’s thoughts (in fact, produced by the body) were only able to modify chemical substances or perhaps decrease their amount. However, as it was noted, it is still unclear to which degree the mental states caused by child neglect affect the brain’s physiological development (De Bellis, 2005).
How the Literature Supports the Chosen School of Thought
It can easily be seen that the discussed literature written by the representatives of the school of psychobiology is suitable for our research. Therefore, it is clear that this literature supports our choice of the school of thought. The reviewed articles show some particular sides of the relationship between the mind and the body, thus providing important details about this relationship. The knowledge contained in the reviewed studies will certainly be of use in researching the mind-body problem. It can be viewed as separate pieces of a puzzle that need to be put together to produce what might be called a fuller picture of the mind-body relationship.
Gaps in the Literature to be Filled In by our Study
It is important to point out that the reviewed literature only provides some details about the relationship between the mind and the body, showing particular correlations and cause-effect links between the states of the body and the states of the mind. However, exploring these particular connections does not provide us with the full picture of the mind-body relationship. To produce a full picture, these numerous findings should be put together into one, detailed account that would explain what is responsible for what. Once such an account is created (although it may be rather voluminous), it should be possible to move closer to the full picture of the relationship between the mind and the body. Even though it is unlikely that we will be able to create such an account while carrying out our research (not only because of the amount of work involved but also because many discoveries are still to be made), we hope that our study will serve as a step towards its creation.
Methods, Ethical Aspects of our Study, and its Contribution to Scientific Knowledge
Methods of the Research
Our study will be based on a literature review. As we have already mentioned, the mind-body problem is rather general. Even our research question (“to what extent do psychological factors and physiological factors influence a person’s character, reactions, and behavior?”) is still quite a broad one. To answer such a question, it is important to employ a wide range of knowledge related to the topic and theoretically integrate it to create a general picture.
The data will be gathered from scholarly literature, mainly recent scholarly articles containing reports about psychobiological studies and published in peer-reviewed academic journals. The articles used so far were obtained by performing a search in the university’s electronic library. Since no human sample will be involved, no recruiting methods, interviews, etc., need to be employed or discussed.
Because our study will be based on a literature review, we will not directly work with any human subjects, which means that we will not have to face ethical problems while conducting our research. However, it still might be possible to say that our research will fulfill the principle of beneficence, for it will perhaps be a step towards “maximiz[ing] possible benefits” (“The Belmont report,” 1979, Part B, 2) of the studies that we will review.
The Contributions of Our Study to Scientific Knowledge
It is also our hope that our study will contribute to the existing scientific knowledge. While we will be unlikely to uncover some new, previously unknown empirical facts, our research will summarize the current knowledge and generalize it. Such types of research are useful because they permit “to see the forest through the trees.” Also, it is important to point out that the mind-body problem has been investigated in the Western culture for a very long time, and it is arguable that if it is to be solved, this solution is to be found by synthesizing the results uncovered by the methods of the “hard science.”
Our study might also be of assistance to the representatives of the psychological profession. Indeed, summarizing the currently existing knowledge about a topic might help to understand better what is currently known and see the gaps in that knowledge. Having identified the gaps in the knowledge, one might more easily realize which of them need to and can be filled, which may prove useful for future scholars investigating this field.
The Expected Results of the Study and its Practical Usefulness
What Will Be Found in the Research
As we have already mentioned, the literature that we will use in our research will contain reports about studies conducted using the school of psychobiology methods. Because our study will be based on a literature review, the result will be a synthesis of the already uncovered data. The synthesis will be aimed at producing a “fuller” picture of the relationships between the body and the mind. It will show how physiological and psychological factors affect one’s character, behavior, and reactions.
For instance, it is possible to integrate the following facts to conclude the mind-body relationship. The significant activity of the amygdala is a physiological factor associated with increased levels of aggression and the inhibition of the mechanisms responsible for behaving according to social norms (Díaz, 2011). Low dopaminergic function or dopaminergic dysfunctions are associated with the lack of pleasure and happy emotions, which in severe cases and combination with other causes might result in anhedonia or burnout (Martinotti et al., 2012; Tops et al., 2007). Simultaneously, certain combinations of activity of the amygdala and hippocampus, and the dopaminergic system, are associated with such a trait as resilience (Stein, 2009). On the other hand, the negative psychological states resulting from child neglect might adversely affect the brain’s physiological development (De Bellis, 2005).
Our study will sum up these and other similar facts uncovered by psychobiologists to provide a general account of biological and psychological factors on how people behave. We also expect that our research results will be inclined towards confirming the point of view that the mind and the consciousness are the products of the body, but that the former and the latter have a mutual influence on each other.
The Practical Usefulness of the Results of our Study
Our research might be useful in understanding what has been called by some scholars “human nature.” The knowledge obtained in our study may prove useful in a wide range of different spheres of human activity. For example, it might be utilized in medicine (because a better understanding of the relationship between the mind and the body may help to decide how to more effectively help people who e.g., suffer from depression), in law (knowing what mechanisms are responsible for what types of behavior should help to rehabilitate former criminals more effectively), education (for understanding what factors affect one’s behavior might be of assistance when it comes to teaching children), and, quite likely, in several other areas. Of course, for each of these spheres, specific knowledge about the specifics of the relationship between the mind and the body will be significantly useful. Still, we believe that such specific knowledge should also be complemented by more general knowledge, for it will allow the specialists to see the general picture and understand not only the specific problem they are dealing with but also the related issues, which would permit them to address these issues as well. Therefore, we hope that the results obtained in our research can be of help to a wide range of professionals.
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