Learn about the links between the physical and psychological conditions in a human being

Biopsychology is also known as "Physiological Psychology", "Psychobiology" or "Biological Psychology".

Physiology is the study of the way living organisms function. It can encompass the way things move, chemical and bodily processes, growth, atrophy, and anything else that supports or causes physical or chemical changes to occur within the body. Therefore, it differs from anatomy, which is the study of the physical structure of the body.

There are obvious, observable or measurable associations between the physiology and the psychology of a person. For example, the mind and emotions can be affected by chemical processes caused by different foods, such as the soothing effects of bananas and carbohydrates. Intake of other substances, such as alcohol or other drugs, can affect the psychological state of a person. On the other hand, emotions can cause physiological responses. For instance, when people become stressed, their blood vessels may contract and the heart rate may increase. It has also been shown that focusing on positive thoughts such as love, appreciation or gratitude can cause immediate improvement in immune system function and regulate heart rhythm.

This certificate is designed for people who already have knowledge of psychology, but are limited in their knowledge of biopsychology. They may be a graduate of another course at certificate, diploma or even degree level.

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The anatomical and physiological state of a person does affect their psychology. When you are physically unhealthy; you inevitably will tend to be more negative in your psychological outlook. Also, when you are psychologically unhealthy, your physical body can begin to exhibit effects.

  • Practitioners who are involved in physical health (eg. Doctors, Physiotherapists, Nurses, Natural Therapists) need to understand these interactions just as much as practitioners who deal with the psychological well being of people.
  • Sports therapists, athletes, fitness Professionals and Life Coaches can enhance their abilities greatly through this course

This is a course that has the potential for being immensely valuable to any health practitioner who has not previously studied biopsychology.

Course Structure and Contents

There are 6 modules in this course:

Module 1

Human Anatomy and Physiology
This course provides a sound foundation in human biology in six lessons:
1. Cells and Tissues - Explains the human body at a microscopic level, including the structure and
function of cells, tissues and membranes.
2. The Skeleton - Examines features of the human skeletal system.
3. The Muscular System - Describes the human muscular system, in terms of structure and basic
4. The Nervous System - Looks at the human nervous system, in terms of structure and basic functions.
5. Digestion and Excretion - Explains different physiological systems of digestion and excretion in
the body.
6. Physiological Systems - Focuses on the different physiological systems of the body.

Module 2

Biochemistry 1(Humans and Animals)
This introductory course is similar to Biochemistry I (Plants); except for the fact that is deals with animals. Students should choose either the Animal or Plant version - not both.
Some secondary school chemistry will be helpful though it is not essential. Lessons include and introduction to biochemistry, lipids, proteins, enzymes, nucleic acids, thermo regulation, carbohydrate metabolism, absorption, acidity, alkalinity, chemical analysis, and industry applications.

Module 3

Biopsychology 1
Biopsychology studies the interaction between psychology and the physical body. It would benefit
anyone working in the fields of fitness or health, and most areas of psychology.
1. Introduction - Types of external and internal stimuli, mind-body debate, introduction to the nervous system.
2. The Senses - Sensory input, sensory perception, description of the major senses.
3. The Nervous System - Description of the neurons, the central nervous system, peripheral nervous
system, including the autonomic nervous system.
4. The Endocrine System - Effect of hormones behaviour and physiology, association of endocrine
system and nervous system, connection between external and internal stimuli.
5. Stress- Types of stressors, physical affects of stress, personality and stress.
6. Emotions - Homeostasis, eating disorders, physiological responses to emotions, theories of
7. Consciousness - Degrees of consciousness, awareness and attention, altered states of

Module 4

Biopsychology 2
This course builds on the foundation of Biopsychology I, and covers the following topics:

  1. Evolution, genetics and experience
  2. Research methods in biopsychology
  3. Brain damage
  4. Recovery from brain damage
  5. Drug dependence and the brain
  6. Memory
  7. Language

Module 5

There are ten lessons in this module as follows:
1. Foundations of Neuropsychology
2. Neurophysiology
3. Neuroanatomy
4. Laterality and Callosal Syndromes
5. Cognition, personality and emotion
6. Perception Disorders
7. Motor Disorders
8. Language
9. Dementia
10. Neurodevelopment

Module 6

Psychopharmacology (Drugs and Psychology)
There are eleven lessons as follows:
1. Introduction: history of use and misuse of drugs
2. Effects of drugs on the individual and society
3. Legally restricted drugs: Stimulants and narcotics
4. Legally restricted drugs: Hallucinogens and marijuana
5. Legally restricted drugs: Steroids
6. Legal drugs: Alcohol
7. Legal drugs: Tobacco, caffeine and solvents
8. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs
9. Sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs
10. Prescription drugs for schizophrenia and disorders
11. Treatment and preventative education

Course Duration:  600 hours of self paced study


When someone suffers from chronic stress or the ongoing trauma from a negative life changing event, it is very physically exhausting. If you imagine your body continuously in a fight or flight response state then it should become obvious that this will quickly drain your physical and emotional resources. It takes so much energy that our bodies simply cannot maintain this level of alertness indefinitely.    

Over the years, a number of researchers have examined the relationship between long-term stress and our body's ability to fend off disease or illnesses. Of interest here is a study by Selye (1956) in which the author made reference to a General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS).

Following studies with animals, Selye proposed that there are several phases to our adaptation to long-term stress. 

Alarm Phase - Firstly, we experience an alarm phase which represents the typical fight or flight response and involves activation of the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system.  When this occurs adrenaline is released to prepare the body and muscles for action. 

Resistance Phase - Under normal circumstances the release of adrenalin would cease as the cause of the stress dissipates and we would use less energy maintaining a state of arousal, but if the stress continues then we experience a resistance phase. During this phase the body tries to go back to normal but it must continue to deal with high level of adrenalin and our physiological alertness. If we are exposed to an additional new stressor during this phase then we produce much less resistance to it because we don't have the energy to combat it.

Exhaustion Phase - Finally, our energy reserves become so depleted that exhaustion ensues. Although our physiological arousal levels return to normal resting levels there is still a high level of adrenalin in the bloodstream. When someone reaches this phase not only are they less resistant to further stressors but they also have a heightened response to them because of the higher levels of adrenalin in their blood. They might display an abnormally strong stress reaction to what most would regard as a minor stressor.       

Following on from this work, many other researchers have investigated the link between long-term stress and physical illness or disease. For instance, Solomon (1963) observed that individuals experiencing the general adaptation syndrome not only had a raised likelihood of developing a physical illness, but were more likely to experience feelings of physical weakness and general fatigue.

Some long term health risks associated with ongoing stress include: 

  • Heart attack
  • Heart disease
  • Strokes
  • Cancer 
  • Ulcers
  • Increased susceptibility to infection
  • Diabetes
  • Infertility
  • Obesity - due to comfort eating 

Occasionally we hear people use the pithy saying "they died of a broken heart'. However, there is some logic behind this seemingly ridiculous saying since some people do indeed die very quickly following the death of their partner. A 2012 study by Dr Mittleman et al at Harvard University found that people are 21 times more likely to have a heart attack within a day of becoming bereaved.  The risk drops to six times higher than normal in the days following the death, eventually declining in the following month to normal levels.  

We shall now review some well documented associations between stress and physiological conditions.

Gastric Ulcers

Stomach ulcers are one of the more commonly cited physiological responses to stress. At one time they were largely considered to be psychosomatic in origin - that is, caused by stress and other psychological disturbances. Nowadays, it is accepted that gastric ulcers are caused by a particular bacteria in the gut but that the effect of these bacteria is exacerbated by stress. The reasoning is that most people have bacteria (Helicobacter pylori) present in their guts but do not develop ulcers. Furthermore, whilst ulcers usually improve following treatment with antibiotics, they also improve following treatment to reduce stress.

It seems that the immune system may be compromised under stress and so the stomach wall becomes more susceptible to infection from these bacteria.

Immune System

Many studies have found a positive correlation between stressors and diminished immune system function. In laboratory animals stressors such as loud noises, overcrowding and, somewhat disturbingly, electric shocks have been manipulated to incur stress and demonstrate a depressed immune system through increased susceptibility to infectious diseases. In humans, stressors which have been found to positively correlate with depressed immune system function include divorce, taking exams, caring for a terminally ill relative and bereavement. 

For instance, Glaser et al. (1987) found that medical students were more likely to report having coughs or colds during exam periods than at other times. In a study by Irwin et al. (1988) bereaved women who had lost their husbands had significantly lower levels of natural killer cells in their blood during the first six months after their loss.

Given that stress causes many physiological changes in bodily systems it is not possible to specify exactly how it affects the immune system, only that there is an association. It should also be noted that in much the same way as stress can influence physiological systems in the body infections themselves can affect psychological functioning.

Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary heart disease is the biggest killer of people in Western countries. It is a disorder of the blood vessels which carry blood to the heart which are usually affected by atherosclerosis.  A number of studies using those with Type A and Type B personalities (which we shall come to in the next chapter) have implicated type A personality patterns in increased susceptibility to coronary heart disease. 

Those with Type A personalities are more competitive and hostile, and have higher levels of arousal of the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system.




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