Psychology as a field of study has evolved from the human need to understand ourselves and the causes behind our behaviours. Philosophy tried its hand first, attempting to describe it as a complex interaction between the mind and the body – between the mental and the physical. This basic idea resonates through this field of exploration through the years. While there have been diversions from this line of thought, tending towards behavioural or psychoanalytic thought, there have always been those that tried to understand the human being through the human body. Thus, the field of biological psychology evolved.
Today, there is a wide range of knowledge that is accepted as fact in the study of biology. The central nervous system is the controlling agent in bodily behaviour. It is composed of the brain and the spinal cord and its basic unit is the neuron. The neuron communicates with other neurons using action potentials and neurotransmitters (Carlson, 2004).
Neurotransmitters from the synaptic vesicle of the terminal button of a neuron can cause a graded potential. Unlike action potentials which are always depolarization, graded potentials may be either depolarization (excitatory) or hyperpolarization (inhibitory) (Kalat, 2007). Depending on whether the neurotransmitter hyperpolarizes or depolarizes the neuron, there are two basic postsynaptic potentials that take place in the human body – Inhibitory postsynaptic potential (IPSP) and excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP).
During EPSP, the sodium channels are opened and sodium ions enter the cell and but that from a single synapse is not enough to reach the threshold of excitation. Thus, the EPSP decays over time and space. An IPSP on the other hand involves the opening of potassium channels allowing the potassium from inside the cell to leave and also for the negatively charged chloride ions to enter. Thus, the cell
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