You already know that psychologists study the mind - but do psychologists also study the brain?
There is a difference here. In psychology, the “mind” typically refers to the thoughts, images, and emotions that we can’t physically see. When you read these words in your mind - well, your mind is at work. The “brain” refers to the physical organ that sits inside of your skull. When we study the “brain,” we study the neurons, nervous system, and the areas of the brain that light up when our bodies and minds undergo different experiences.
Studying the brain is usually the job of neuroscientists while studying the mind is the job of psychologists. But there is a group of people who study both the brain and the mind together. This field is known as biopsychology. The people who work in biopsychology are known as biopsychologists, biological psychologists, or behavioral neuroscientists.
If this type of career interests you, read on. You will learn what a biological psychologist does, what type of degree is necessary for this position, and access interviews with biopsychologists who are working in their field right now.
What Does a Biological Psychologist Do?
A biological psychologist studies how the physical brain and the psychological mind work together to influence human behavior. Their research looks at the entire nervous system as well as our thought processes and the results of those processes. Biopsychologists may also act as teachers and consultants, depending on their job.
This isn’t the most popular field of psychology, but it does have its place in the psychology world.
In order to become a biopsychologist, you have to attend school for quite a few years. After you have earned your Bachelor’s, you can enter a graduate program that combines psychology and neuroscience. Many colleges have a School of Neuroscience and Psychology, although some programs keep these two degrees in separate schools.
Most psychology jobs (and licenses) require that you not only earn your Master’s degree but also your Ph.D. As you work toward your PhD. or PsyD (Doctor of Psychology,) you can intern at various labs, pharmaceutical companies, and other organizations that might be interested in hiring you once you have completed your degree.
Research experience, licensure, and other certifications may be required to earn your dream job. Check your state’s requirements to practice as a psychologist as you make your plans.
There isn’t a lot of data on biopsychology salaries, especially when you consider the number of different titles that biopsychologists hold. In general, it is possible to live comfortably as a biopsychologist and reach a point in your career where you are making six figures.
Biological Psychologist Reported Salary
Schools for Biological Psychology Degrees
Looking to earn a biopsychology or behavioral neuroscience degree? Look no further than these schools. They have been ranked as some of the top schools in the country for biopsychology majors:
- Augsburg University (Minneapolis, MN)
- Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA)
- Davis and Elkins College (Elkins, WV)
- Geneva College (Beaver Falls, PA)
- Grand Valley State University (Allendale, MI)
- Liberty University (Lynchburg, VA)
- The University of Michigan - Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, MI)
- Baylor University (Waco, TX)
- Stanford University (Stanford, CA)
- University of California - San Diego (La Jolla, CA)
Companies That Hire Biological Psychologists
When you look for biopsychology jobs online, you are likely to find a lot of college research facilities looking for assistants and other roles related to research. But this isn’t the only type of organization that looks for biopsychologists. Pharmaceutical companies want to know how certain drugs may affect the biology and psychology of the patients who are using them. Healthcare institutions may hire biopsychologists to work with patients who have undergone brain trauma. Any of these organizations may be on the lookout for a biopsychologist:
- Research institutes
- Pharmaceutical companies
- Colleges and universities
- Healthcare institutions
- Government organizations
Interviews from a Biological Psychologist
Biological psychologists can offer an interesting look into the brain and our behavior. Just read this interview with Meike Bartels, a biological psychologist in the Netherlands. She argues that some people were able to increase their well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic!
You can also listen to interviews with biological psychologists, like this interview with Dr. Robert Paul.
YouTube has an interview with biological psychologist Bonnie Nagel, PhD. YouTube actually has plenty of options for exploring biological psychology - you can even watch an Introduction to Biological Psychology lecture held by Mississippi State University! Get deeper into the mind of a biological psychologist by listening to this TedxRochester Talk from biological psychologist Jon Schull!
Famous Biological Psychologists
Jon Schull is a well-known biological psychologist, but he’s not the only one! The study of the mind-body (or mind-brain) connection goes back to the world’s early philosophers, from Plato to Descartes. The following biopsychologists (and similar figures in the field) have shaped the way we view the mind-body connection or at least have some fun stories to tell from their experiences.
Dr. John Martyn Harlow, a biopsychologist in the 1800s, is most known for his work with Phineas Gage. Phineas Gage is a classic case in biopsychology; after enduring a traumatic brain injury, friends and family of Gage observed that his personality changed. Biologically, he mostly recovered from the incident. Psychologically, he would never be the same.
Another classic in the world of biopsychology is the book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales. This book was written by neurologist Oliver Sacks and is frequently discussed in early biopsychology classes.
Lisa Feldman Barrett has been named one of the most influential biological psychologists of today. She has authored or co-authored six books and been a crucial part of over 200 peer-reviewed papers! Her work focuses primarily on emotions and the brain.
Biological Psychology Examples
What can you find a biological psychologist doing every day? The answer depends on where they are working and who they are working for. Biological psychologists can be found:
- Running experiments in a university lab
- Presenting their findings at conferences around the world
- Using software to simulate different workings of the brain or analyzing data from previous studies
- Preparing materials and findings in order to ask for grant money
- Working directly with patients who have endured traumatic brain injuries
- Collaborating in research experiments across multiple disciplines and with other teams