3 Biological Psychology

History of Psychology

  1. Robert E. Clark PhD1,
  2. Jena B. Hales PhD2,
  3. Stuart M. Zola PhD3,
  4. Richard F. Thompson PhD4

Published Online: 26 SEP 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781118133880.hop201005

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

How to Cite

Clark, R. E., Hales, J. B., Zola, S. M. and Thompson, R. F. 2012. Biological Psychology. Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition. 1:3.

Author Information

  1. 1

    University of California, Graduate Program in Neurosciences, La Jolla, California, USA

  2. 2

    University of California, San Diego, Department of Neuroscience, San Diego, California, USA

  3. 3

    Emory University, Yerkes Primate Research Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

  4. 4

    University of Southern California, Department of Psychology and Biological Sciences, Los Angeles, California, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 26 SEP 2012


The great questions of philosophy, the mind–body problem and the nature of knowledge, were also the questions that drove early developments in the pathways to modern psychology. This is especially true of biological or physiological psychology. Wilhelm Wundt, who founded experimental psychology, titled his major work Foundations of Physiological Psychology (1874/1908). William James, the other major figure in the development of modern psychology, devoted a third of his influential text Principles of Psychology (1890) to the brain and nervous system. Both Wundt and James studied medicine and philosophy, and both considered themselves physiologists. Their goal was not to reduce psychology to physiology but rather to apply the scientific methods of physiology to the study of the mind. The other driving force in early biological psychology was the study of the brain and nervous system. The major topics in modern biological psychology are sensory processes, learning and memory, motivation and emotion, and, most recently, cognition—in short, behavioral and cognitive neuroscience. A number of other areas began as part of physiological psychology and have spun off to become fields in their own right. In the text that follows, we begin by briefly sketching the historical roots of the field of biological psychology. We continue by discussing each of these major topics of biological psychology separately in regards to the scientific methods employed and important findings. Finally, we conclude by acknowledging some recent advances that continue to shape our understanding of biological psychology.


  • physiology;
  • memory;
  • medial temporal lobe;
  • amnesia;
  • hippocampus