As the name would imply, behavioral neuroscience is the study of behavior as it is influenced by the brain. It is a specific discipline within the parent field of neuroscience which seeks to find answers to how the transmission of neurons affects the ways organisms behave, usually with a special emphasis on finding ways to control abnormal behavior. However, behavioral neuroscience has also directly impacted our understanding of certain medical conditions.
The Main Focus of Behavioral Neuroscientists
It has long been known that there is a direct correlation between certain physiological processes within the brain and their effect on the behaviors of organisms. Although we tend to associate behavioral neuroscience with human behavior, the field itself is much broader and encompasses all types of organisms. Even so, behavioral neuroscientists study areas within the brain (receptor sites) that may be damaged in some way which prevents neurons from passing through to elicit appropriate responses to stimuli. This science also studies the neurotransmitters themselves which may be faulty.
Behavioral Neuroscience and Neurodegenerative Diseases
It is largely through the efforts of these men and women that science could be on the verge of understanding, treating and/or curing such conditions as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, schizophrenia and even clinical depression. Each of these is thought to be a neurodegenerative disease or disorder in which the body fails to respond normally to stimuli or becomes over responsive to stimuli. It is all tied into damaged or diseased areas of the brain where neurons are unable to reach the appropriate receptor sites.
Behavioral Neuroscience and Pharmacology
Through the study of behavioral neuroscience pharmaceuticals are being developed which can restore neurotransmission so that the neurons can reach the appropriate receptor sites. However, it isn’t always the receptor which is deficient as sometimes it is the neurotransmitter that fails. Psychotropic pharmaceuticals have been developed which act as neurotransmitters while others have been created to inhibit transmission by blocking the neurotransmitter from attaching to the receptor. One such psychotropic family of drugs that block transmission is phenothiazines.
Research Methods Employed in Behavioral Neuroscience
Quite obviously scientists do not experiment on human subjects, at least in the initial stages of a study. For this reason animals with similar biological constitutions are chosen such as primates, rats and mice. In some studies the scientist will damage specific areas within the brain to observe consequent changes in behavior and/or biological functions. There are a number of ways in which damage is caused such as surgical, chemical or trauma and the resulting damage may simply be studied from a behavioral perspective. Other times scientists use experimental methods of treatment to observe the effectiveness and side effects of a given ‘treatment.’
Although behavioral neuroscience is but a single discipline within the much larger field of neuroscience, it is the hope of our future for curing a good many physiological and psychological disorders which have long eluded medical science. By seeking to understand how to control neurotransmission in specific areas of the brain, finding effective treatments and cures can progress from possible to probable in the not so distant future.