The Role of the Biological Perspective in Psychology

There are many different ways of thinking about topics in psychology. The biological perspective is a way of looking at psychological issues by studying the physical basis for animal and human behavior. It is one of the major perspectives in psychology and involves such things as studying the brain, immune system, nervous system, and genetics.

One of the major debates in psychology has long centered on the relative contributions of nature versus nurture. Those who take up the nurture side of the debate suggest that it is the environment that plays the greatest role in shaping behavior. The biological perspective tends to stress the importance of nature.

The biological perspective in psychology
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

The Biological Perspective

This field of psychology is often referred to as biopsychology or physiological psychology. This branch of psychology has grown tremendously in recent years and is linked to other areas of science including biology, neurology, and genetics.The biological perspective is essentially a way of looking at human problems and actions.

The study of physiology and biological processes has played a significant role in psychology since its earliest beginnings. Charles Darwin first introduced the idea that evolution and genetics play a role in human behavior.

Natural selection, first described by Charles Darwin, influences whether certain behavior patterns are passed down to future generations. Behaviors that aid in survival are more likely to be passed down while those that prove dangerous are less likely to be inherited.

Consider an issue like aggression. The psychoanalytic perspective might view aggression as the result of childhood experiences and unconscious urges. The behavioral perspective considers how the behavior was shaped by association, reinforcement, and punishment. A psychologist with a social perspective might look at the group dynamics and pressures that contribute to such behavior.

The biological viewpoint, on the other hand, would involve looking at the biological roots that lie behind aggressive behaviors. Someone who takes the biological perspective might consider how certain types of brain injury might lead to aggressive actions. Or they might consider genetic factors that can contribute to such displays of behavior.

Main Topic Areas

Biopsychologists study many of the same things that other psychologists do, but they are interested in looking at how biological forces shape human behaviors. Some topics that a psychologist might explore using this perspective include:

  • Analyzing how trauma to the brain influences behaviors
  • Assessing the differences and similarities in twins to determine which characteristics are tied to genetics and which are linked to environmental influences
  • Exploring how genetic factors influence such things as aggression
  • Investigating how degenerative brain diseases impact how people act
  • Studying how genetics and brain damage are linked to mental disorders

This perspective has grown considerably in recent years as the technology used to study the brain and nervous system has grown increasingly advanced.

Today, scientists use tools such as PET and MRI scans to look at how brain development, drugs, disease, and brain damage impact behavior and cognitive functioning.

Example of the Biological Perspective

An example of the biological perspective in psychology is the study of how brain chemistry may influence depression. Antidepressants affect these neurotransmitter levels, which may help alleviate depression symptoms.

However, research on biological psychology has also disputed the idea that serotonin levels are responsible for depression, so more research is needed in this area to better understand the impact of brain chemicals on depression symptoms.

The use of brain imaging to understand how the brain and nervous system influence human behavior is another example of the biological perspective in psychology.

The Biological Perspective of Personality

The biological perspective of personality is another example of how looking at biological and genetic factors can be used to understand different aspects of psychology. The biological perspective of personality focuses on the biological factors that contribute to personality differences.

This perspective suggests that personality is influenced by genetic and biological factors. Temperament, which is the biologically-influenced pattern that emerges early in life, is one example of how the biological perspective can be used to understand human personality.

Strengths of the Biological Perspective

One of the strengths of using the biological perspective to analyze psychological problems is that the approach is usually very scientific. Researchers utilize rigorous empirical methods, and their results are often reliable and practical. Biological research has helped yield useful treatments for a variety of psychological disorders.

Weaknesses of the Biological Perspective

The weakness of this approach is that it often fails to account for other influences on behavior. Things such as emotions, social pressures, environmental factors, childhood experiences, and cultural variables can also play a role in the formation of psychological problems.

For that reason, it is important to remember that the biological approach is just one of the many different perspectives in psychology. By utilizing a variety of ways of looking a problem, researchers can come up with different solutions that can have helpful real-world applications.

A Word From Verywell

There are many different perspectives from which to view the human mind and behavior and the biological perspective represents just one of these approaches.

By looking at the biological bases of human behavior, psychologists are better able to understand how the brain and physiological processes might influence the way people think, act, and feel. This perspective also allows researchers to come up with new treatments that target the biological influences on psychological well-being.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Beauchaine TP, Neuhaus E, Brenner SL, Gatzke-Kopp L. Ten good reasons to consider biological processes in prevention and intervention researchDev Psychopathol. 2008;20(3):745-774. doi:10.1017/S0954579408000369

  2. Moncrieff J, Cooper RE, Stockmann T, Amendola S, Hengartner MP, Horowitz MA. The serotonin theory of depression: A systematic umbrella review of the evidenceMol Psychiatry. 2022. doi:10.1038/s41380-022-01661-0

Additional Reading
  • Hockenbury, DH & Hockenbury SE. Discovering Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers; 2011.

  • Pastorino, EE, Doyle-Portillo, SM. What Is Psychology? Foundations, Applications, and Integration. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning; 2015.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."