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biological psychology

a branch of psychology concerned with the links between biology and behavior


a nerve cell; the basic building block of the nervous system

sensory neurons

type of neuron that carries INCOMING MESSAGES FROM THE SENSORY RECEPTORS (found in the eyes, ears, skin, etc.) to the brain or the spinal cord; known also as afferent neurons

motor neurons

neurons that carry outgoing information from the central nervous system to the muscles and glands; also known as efferent neurons


neurons within the brain and spinal cord that communicate internally and intervene between the sensory inputs and motor outputs.


the bushy, branching extensions of a neuron that RECEIVE messages and conduct impulses toward the cell body


the extension of a neuron, ending in branching terminal fibers, through which messages pass to other neurons or to muscles or glands

cell body

the neuron's life-support center; also known as the soma

myelin sheath

a layer of fatty tissue segmentally encasing the fibers of many neurons; enables vastly greater transmission speed of neural impulses as the impulse hops from one node to the next

action potential

a neural impulse; a brief electrical charge that travels down an axon


the level of stimulation required to trigger a neural impulse


the junction between the axon tip of the sending neuron and the dendrite or cell body of the receiving neuron


chemical messengers that traverse the synaptic gaps between neurons. When released by the sending neuron, they travel across the synapse and bind to receptor sites on the receiving neuron, thereby influencing whether that neuron will generate a neural impulse.


a neurotransmitter's reabsorption by the sending neuron

acetylcholine (Ach)

enables muscle action, learning, and memory; with Alzheimer's disease, the neurons that produce it deteriorate


a neurotransmitter associated with movement, attention and learning and the brain's pleasure and reward system; excess activity of this neurotransmitter is linked to schizophrenia, and the lack of it is related to the decreased mobility and tremors of Parkinson's disease


a neurotransmitter that affects hunger, sleep, arousal, and mood; it appears in lower than normal levels in depressed persons


helps control alertness and arousal; an undersupply can depress mood; while an oversupply can lead to mania

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid)

a major inhibitory neurotransmitter; an undersupply linked to seizures, tremors, anxiety and insomnia


a major excitatory neurotransmitters: involved in memory. Oversupply can overstimulate brain,producing migraines or seizures (which is why some people avoid MSG (monosodium glutamate) in food


natural, opiatelike neurotransmitters linked to pain control and to pleasure


a drug that is similar enough in structure to a neurotransmitter molecule to mimic its effects (e.g., morphine mimics the action of endorphins)


a drug that is similar enough in structure to a neurotransmitter to occupy its receptor site and block its action, but not similar enough to stimulate the receptor (e.g., the poison called curare paralyzes its victims by blocking the receptor sites for Ach)

Resting potential

State in which a neuron is NOT transmitting a nerve impulse. A neuron in this state has a net negative charge relative to its outside environment, and this state of potential energy prepares it to be activated by an impulse from an adjacent neuron.

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