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Behavioral neuroscientists

(biopsychologists) Psychologists who specialize in considering the ways in which the biological structures and functions of the body affect behavior


Nerve cells, the basic elements of the nervous system


A cluster of fibers at one end of a neuron that receives messages from other neurons


The part of the neuron that carries messages destined for other neurons

Terminal buttons

Small bulges at the end of axons that send messages to other neurons

Myelin sheath

A protective coat of fat that wraps around the axon

All-or-none law

The rule that neurons are either on or off

Resting state

The state in which there is a negative electrical charge of about -70 millivolts within a neuron

Action potential

An electric nerve impulse that travels through a neuron's axon when it is set off by a "trigger", changing the neuron's charge from negative to positive.

Mirror neurons

Specialized neurons that fire not only when a person enacts a particular behavior, but also when a person simply observes another individual carrying out the same behavior


The space between two neurons where the axon of a sending neuron communicates with the dendrites of a receiving neuron by using chemical messages.


Chemicals that carry messages across the synapse to the dendrite (and sometimes the cell body) of a receiver neuron.

Excitatory message

A chemical message that makes it more likely that a receiving neuron will fire and an action potential will travel down its axon.

Inhibitory message

A chemical message that prevents or decreases the likelihood that a receiving neuron will fire


The reabsorption of neurotransmitters by a terminal button.

Central nervous system

The part of the nervous system that includes the brain and spinal cord.

Spinal cord

A bundle of neurons that leaves the brain and runs down the length of the back and is the main means for transmitting messages between the brain and the body


An automatic, involuntary response to an incoming stimulus

Sensory (afferent) neurons

Neurons that transmit information from the perimeter of the body to the central nervous system.

Motor (efferent) neurons

Neurons that communicate information from the nervous system to muscles glands.


Neurons that connect sensory and motor neurons, carrying messages between the two.

Peripheral nervous system

The part of the nervous system that includes the autonomic and somatic subdivisions; made up of neurons with long axons and dendrites, it branches out from the spinal cord and brain and reaches the extremities of the body.

Somatic division

The part of the peripheral nervous system that specializes in the control of voluntary movements and the communication of information to and from the sense organs

Autonomic division

The part of the peripheral nervous system that specializes in the control of voluntary movements ad the communication of information to and from the sense organs.

Sympathetic division

The part of the autonomic division division of the nervous system that acts to prepare the body for action in stressful situations, engaging all the organism's resources to respond as a threat

Parasympathetic division

The part of the autonomic division of the nervous system that acts to calm the body after an emergency has ended.

Evolutionary psychology

The branch of psychology that seeks to identify behavior patterns that are a result of our genetic inheritance from our ancestors.

Behavioral genetics

The study of the effects of heredity on behavior

Endocrine system

A chemical communication network that sends messages throughout the body via the bloodstream.


Chemicals that circulate through the blood and regulate the functioning or growth of the body.

Pituitary gland

The major component of the endocrine system, or "master gland", which secretes hormones that control growth and other parts of the endocrine system.

Central core

The "old brain", which controls basic functions such as eating and sleeping and is common to all vertebrates


The part of the brain that controls bodily balance

Reticular formation

The part of the brain extending from the medulla through the pons and made up of groups of nerve cells that can immediately activate other parts of the brain to produce general bodily arousal


The part of the brain located in the middle of the central core that acts primarily to relay information about the senses.


A tiny part of the brain, located below the thalamus, that maintains homeostasis and produces and regulates vital behavior, such as eating, drinking, and sexual behavior.

Limbic system

The part of the brain that controls eating, aggression, and reproduction

Cerebral cortex

The "new brain", responsible for the most sophisticated information processing in the brain; contains four lobes


The four major sections of the cerebral cortex: frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital.

Motor area

The part of the cortex that is largely responsible for the body's voluntary movement.

Sensory area

The site in the brain of the tissue that corresponds to each of the senses, with the degree of sensitivity related to the amount of tissue

Association areas

One of the major regions of the cerebral cortex; the site of the higher mental processes, such as thought, language, memory, and speech.


Changes in the brain that occur throughout the life span relating to the addition of new neurons, new interconnections between neurons, and the reorganization of information-processing areas.


The creation of new neurons


Symmetrical left and right halves of the brain that control the side of the body opposite to their location.


The dominance of one hemisphere of the brain in specific functions, such as language.


A procedure in which a person learns to control through conscious thought internal physiological processes such as blood pressure, heart and respiration rate, skin temperature, sweating, and the constriction of particular muscles.

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