Neuroscience, Psychology, and the Brain!
Updated: May 6
Audience: Middle and High School Students
Both neuroscience and psychology have a strong connection to the functions of our brain. Read on to learn more! Image by @geralt from Pixabay.
Neuroscience, psychology, neurotechnology, psychiatry, neurology… such complicated terms! But don’t worry… all of them have a connection to how the brain functions. This article will explain these different fields of study that have to do with the brain and corresponding professions. You will also learn about how these subjects overlap, and why it’s so important to study them!
Why do we need to study the brain?
The brain is one of our body’s most vital organs. Everything from involuntary bodily functions, like breathing, to our thoughts and feelings are controlled by the brain. Studying the brain helps us better diagnose and treat neurological conditions, psychiatric disorders (read more about this below), and help us better understand how our body’s organ systems are connected to each other through the nervous system!
What is neuroscience?
Neuroscience has to do with the functions of our physical brain and the biological and chemical processes behind it.
What is psychology?
Psychology is the study of human behaviors and the thought processes that lead us to thinking, feeling, and acting the way that we do.
Mental Health and Mental Disorders
Mental health is the emotional and psychological wellbeing of an individual. Mental disorders are conditions such as anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, depressive disorders, and others. They are a range of often debilitating (exhausting and weakening) conditions that negatively affect someone’s emotional and psychological health. Mood, behavior, and thinking are all affected by mental disorders.
Depression, generalized anxiety disorder, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychopathy, and dementia are all types of mental disorders. They can be caused by family history/genetics, biological predispositions, life experiences, brain injuries, and other factors.
According to the World Health Organization, about ⅓ of all adults worldwide struggle with a mental disorder. This shows that mental disorders are more common than one might think, and acknowledging this is an important first step in destigmatizing mental disorders and encouraging people to seek help when they need it. Psychiatrists and psychologists are trained to help people with mental disorders.
Overlap of Neuroscience and Psychology
Believe it or not, there is a great overlap between psychology and neuroscience! Our behaviors and the way we think and feel (psychology) are closely connected to the biological and chemical processes in our brain that allow it to function (neuroscience).
For example, some research has shown that people who suffer from mental disorders may have chemical imbalances in their brains. Having either too much or not enough of a specific neurotransmitter (common neurotransmitters include dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) could be part of the reason why individuals could experience a mental disorder like an anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, etc. Chemical imbalances are by no means the only reason why mental illness may occur, but being aware of them could allow scientists and doctors to develop better therapies and medications to help patients battling with mental or nervous system disorders (neuropsychiatric conditions).
Neurotechnology–what is it and how does it affect research and medicine?
New brain-related technology is changing the way we study and understand the brain, as well as how we diagnose and treat mental illnesses.
Let’s start off by answering the question: What is neurotechnology? By definition, neurotechnology is technology that directly connects the nervous system with computers, electrodes, or other technical components. It offers a way to help us better study the functions of the brain and conduct scientific research, which could ultimately lead to breakthroughs in science and medicine!
For example, wireless brain sensors are a form of wearable technology that help us monitor conditions including the temperature, pressure, and pH of the brain at any given time. Wireless brain sensors monitor electrical transmission, represented as brain waves, as well. This new technology can also help treat neuropsychiatric conditions through the production of neural electrical signals.
Overall, the crossover between technology, neuroscience, and psychiatry is advancing our ability to help those with neuropsychiatric conditions and understand the brain in more detail.
What do neuroscientists do?
A neuroscientist is a scientist that studies the way the brain and nervous system work. Like in psychology, there are many specific areas that a neuroscientist can focus on within the field of neuroscience, including neurological disorders, brain stimulation, chemical balances, etc. This job is very research heavy.
What do psychologists do?
A psychologist is a mental health and psychology specialist with a PhD (a non-medical doctor). There are many different kinds of psychologists. Clinical psychologists (who mostly work with patients with mental disorders), research psychologists (who focus more on the research-based part of psychology), counseling psychologists (who do a lot of things, including helping people work on personal development), and others have different responsibilities but all work in equally important jobs.
How can I become a neuroscientist or psychologist?
The general path to becoming a neuroscientist or psychologist consists of the following steps:
Earn a bachelor’s degree at a college or university. This step happens after high school and generally requires four years.
Earn a degree from a graduate program. Since there are many different types of psychology and neuroscience, not all the people who work in these professions will get the same degree.
Obtain a doctorate in psychology or neuroscience (most psychologists/neuroscientists have this).
For psychologists - do an internship after earning your doctorate and get licensed. There are certain criteria you will need to meet in order to get licensed as a professional psychologist, but once you do you will be officially recognized as a psychologist!
Who are neurologists and psychiatrists and how can I become them?
Neurologists and psychiatrists are different from neuroscientists and psychologists. The former are medical doctors that have the ability to prescribe medicine and usually focus more on patient care (although they can also work in research, academia, and other practice formats).
Neurologists and psychiatrists are doctors with an M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) degree from medical school. Once they obtain their undergraduate degree from a college or university, they go to a medical school and then complete a residency in either psychiatry or neuroscience. Afterwards, some complete a fellowship to further specialize in their field.
What do psychiatrists do?
Generally, psychiatrists focus on patients with mental disorders. While psychologists focus on finding therapy methods and behavioral interventions for their patients, psychiatrists usually spend more time prescribing medication.
What do neurologists do?
Neurologists focus on treating patients with neurological and nervous system disorders. While some neurologists choose to lead more research-oriented careers, many focus on treatment of nervous system disorders (neurology) rather than the study of the entire nervous system (neuroscience).
In conclusion, if you are curious about the brain and how it works, there are many jobs and fields of study that might interest you! Each one is fascinating in its own way, and the overlap of these fields is changing the way we understand the brain, arguably our body’s most complex and essential organ.
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Sahakian , Barbara Jacquelyn. “Mental Health Is a Global Issue – Here's How Neuroscience Can Cross International Boundaries.” The Conversation, 24 Mar. 2021, theconversation.com/mental-health-is-a-global-issue-heres-how-neuroscience-can-cross-international-boundaries-35987.
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