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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.


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.

Myelin sheath

A layer of fatty tissue segmentally encasing the fivers of many neurons

Action potential

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


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.

Acetylcholine (ACh)

A neurotransmitter that enables learning and memory and also triggers muscle contraction.


Natural, opiate-like neurotransmitters linked to pain control and to pleasure. (Natures morphine)

Nervous system

The body's speedy, electrochemical communication network, consisting of all the nerve cells of the peripheral and central nervous systems

Central nervous system (CNS)

The brain and spinal cord.

Peripheral nervous system (PNS)

The sensory and motor neurons that connect the CNS to the rest of the body


Neural "cables" containing many axons. These bundled axons connect the CNS with muscles, glands, and sense organs.

Sensory neurons

Neurons that carry incoming information from the sense receptors to the CNS.

Motor neurons

Neurons that carry outgoing information from the CNS to the muscles and glands.


CNS neurons that internally communicate and intervene between the sensory inputs and motor outputs

Somatic nervous system

The division of the PNS that controls the body's skeletal muscles. Also called the skeletal nervous system

Autonomic nervous system (ANS)

The part of the PNS that controls the glands and the muscles of the internal organs.

Sympathetic nervous system

The division of the ANS that arouses the body, mobilizing its energy in stressful situations.

Parasympathetic nervous system

The division of the ANS that clams the body, conserving it's energy.


A simple, automatic, inborn response to a sensory stimulus.

Neural networks

Interconnected neural cells.

Endocrine system

The body's "slow" chemical communication system; set of glands that secrete hormones into the bloodstream.


Chemical messengers, mostly those manufactured by the endocrine glands, that are produced in one tissue and affect another.

Adrenal glands

A pair of endocrine glands just above the kidneys.

Pituitary gland

The endocrine system's most influential gland.


Tissue destruction.

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

An amplified recording of the waves of electrical activity that sweet across the brain's surface. These waves are measured by electrodes placed on the scalp.

PET (positron emission tomography) scan

A visual display of brain activity that detects where a radioactive form of glucose goes while the brain performs a given task.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)

A technique that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce computer-generated images that distinguish among different types of soft tissue; allows us to see structures within the brain.

fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging)

A technique for revealing blood blow and, therefore, brain activity by comparing successive MRI scans. Shows brain function.


The oldest part and central core of the brain, beginning where the spinal cord swells as it enters the skull.


The base of the brainstem; controls heartbeat and breathing.

Reticular formation

A nerve network in the brainstem that plays an important role in controlling arousal.


The brains sensory switchboard, located on top of the brainstem; it directs messages to the sensory receiving areas in the cortex and transmits replies to the cerebellum and medulla.


The "little brain" attached to the rear of the brainstem; its functions include processing sensory input and coordinating movement output and balance.

Limbic system

A doughnut-shaped system of neural structures at the border of the brainstem and cerebral hemispheres; associated with emotions such as fear and aggression and drives such as those for food and sex. Includes hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus.


Two lima bean sized neural clusters that are components of the limbic system and are linked to emotion.


A neural structure lying below the thalamus; it directs several maintenance activities (eating, drinking, body temperature), helps govern the endocrine system via the pituitary gland, and is linked to emotion.

Cerebral cortex

The intricate fabric of interconnected neural cells that covers the cerebral hemispheres; the body's ultimate control and information processing center.

Glial cells

Cells in the nervous system that support, nourish, and protect neurons.

Frontal Lobes

The portion of the cerebral cortex lying just behind the forehead; involved in speaking and muscle movements and in making plans and judgments

Parietal lobes

The portion of the cerebral cortex lying at the top of the head and toward the rear; receives sensory input for touch and body positions.

Occipital lobes

The portion of the cerebral cortex lying at the back of the head; includes the visual areas, which receive visual information from the opposite visual field.

Temporal lobes

The portion of the cerebral cortex lying roughly above the ears; includes the auditory areas, each of which receives auditory information primarily from the opposite ear.

Motor cortex

An area at the rear of the frontal lobes that controls voluntary movements

Sensory cortex

The ares at the front of the parietal lobes that registers and processes body touch and movement sensations.

Association areas

Areas or the cerebral cortex that are not involved in primary motor or sensory functions; rather they are involved in higher mental functions such as learning, remembering, thinking, and speaking.


Impairment of language, usually caused by left hemisphere damage either to Broca's area or to Wernicke's area

Broca's area

Controls language expression- an area of the frontal lobe, usually in the left hemisphere, that directs the muscles movements involved in speech.

Wernicke's area

Controls language reception- a brain area involved in language comprehension and expression; usually in the left temporal lobe.


The brain's capacity for modification, as evident in the brain reorganization following damage and in experiments on the effects of experience on brain development.

Corpus callosum

The large band of neural fibers connecting the two brain hemispheres and carrying messages between them

Split brain

A condition in which the two hemispheres of the brain are isolated by cutting the connecting fibers between them.

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