What is the neurobiological approach to psychology, and how does it relate to personality and anti-social behaviour?

Expert Answers
M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The neurological approach," as it pertains to psychology and behavior, is a basic physiological (based on how the human body works) study of the mind that aims to correlate the work of the chemical and electrical impulses in our brain and nervous system to the ways that humans behave. It is not just a mere study of what we feel and think, it is an actual root-cause analysis of the influence of the nervous system and brain on our behavior. 

In The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance and Empower the Mind, physicist Michio Kaku says,

There is a struggle, then, between different parts of the brain concerning the future, which may have desirable and undesirable outcomes. Ultimately it is the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex that mediates between these and makes the final decisions. Some neurologists have pointed out that this struggle resembles, in a crude way, the dynamics between Freud's ego, id, and superego.  

This quote entails that there are several powers at work when behavior manifests. Lots of sources, connections, impulses, and even predictions are put together in the making of one behavioral event. Moreover, there have already been specific locales (such as the aforementioned dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) that have been identified as active participants in the behavioral processes of individuals. In all, behavior is not a mere product of reaction and instinct. There is much more at stake. 

Hence, neurobiology is essential in understanding preexisting conditions, potential diseases, and anything related to the nervous system. It even helps to understand why some people are prone to certain behaviors, compared to others. The neurological approach has also been very influential in the field of education because, thanks to brain studies, we can almost sketch a map of how humans can learn and how they can adopt new behaviors more efficiently. 

Remember that what is known about the brain and its power is limited in comparison to all there is yet to be discovered. Neurological approach studies have been the trying to close the gap in terms of understanding how the brain truly functions. Therefore, it is through neurological studies that we can obtain enough data and documentation to amplify what we know about cognitive psychology and other cognitive sciences. 

As for the other part of the question, personality and behavior are intrinsic. Your personality is a composite of the different behaviors that surface when you are exposed to a variety of environments. It is a combination of nature and nurture because you are born with some inherited traits, and then you adopt, abandon, enhance or transform behaviors depending on what you need them for. That being said, behavior itself is what helps mold someone's personality. This is why they are so intrinsic to your being. If someone does not react to the environment and act on it, there is little to no chance to build the unique personality traits that will define you as a person. 

As such, neurobiology studies help predict, sometimes explain, and sometimes justify some behaviors, personality disorders (such as anti-social behavior) and types of personalities. The study of how the brain works and how we react to things is essential to understand what it is like to be human. 

Included is a list of the top neuroscientists today. eNotes also has a great study guide on cognitive neuroscience, which can help you answer any questions on the topic.

psyproffie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The neurobiological approach to psychology is when we look at how the neural functioning of neurons and neurotransmitters shape and affect the behavior of a person. In the case of mental illness you are looking at how a biological basis plays a part in the cause of the maladaptive human behavior. It is especially focused on how learning and the processing of information occurs within the patient.

This is related to anti-social personality disorder because this is a disorder that affects the way an individual thinks, perceives external events, and relates to others within their environment. People with this disorder typically have little regard for concepts of right and wrong and will not feel remorse for the pain of others. When applying the neurobiological approach to this disorder you would see how neural functioning affects the moral centers of the brain as well as the areas of the brain that control emotion.

pgerber | Student

Attributing human behavior to physiological causes, like chemical reactions, brain activity, and nervous system functioning, is considered a neurobiological or neuroscientific approach to psychology. For example, a neuropsychologist might explain how the brain receives electrical impulses from sensory organs, like the eyes, ears, or nose, and processes it to explain the nature of memory. In fact, this approach to psychology rests on the belief that all or most behavior is the result of biology.


A neurobiological approach to psychology is familiar in the context of alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, for example.  In this approach, alcoholism is considered a congenital disease, which causes chemical changes to the brain. Psychological, social, and environmental contributing factors may co-exist, but the brain’s dependency on alcohol to produce chemical reactions is the main thrust of the disease biologically.


Similarly, concussion treatment is often guided by physiology led by the neuropsychologist who gathers a team that treats the sufferer’s physiological and psychological symptoms. Often the protocol begins with drug therapy for anxiety and depression while the blood vessels and axons repair. Memory loss due to the brain damage can be explained in terms of how nerves communicate. Other behavioral symptoms, like anger, confusion, or hyperactivity, can likewise be traced to biological causes.


Neurologically speaking, everything we are—what we sense, feel or think—is the result of the body, which science proves and confirms by tests, scans, and data both anecdotal and empirical. In other words, emotions and thoughts are not subjective but objective realities, explained by chemical and electrical causes and reproduced in the lab or other controlled proving grounds.


Other evidence of this type of approach is in drug therapy. The prevalence of prescriptions for serotonin inhibitors commonly known as anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications that target specific areas of the brain, either toning them down or lighting them up to produce mood demonstrates the stronghold of this approach.


Complemented with other psychology disciplines, like cognitive, behavioral, social, cultural or other psychological approached, neurobiology proves useful to understanding how the workings of the body correlate to daily behaviors for research and therapeutic purposes. However, scientists and doctors are not unanimous in the belief that all behaviors can be traced to biological causes—at least not now.


sbanerjee1 | Student

The neurobiological approach to psychology focuses on how the functionality of the brain and overall nervous system affects a person's cognition and behavior. This relates to personality because certain personality traits may be linked to abnormal brain and/or neural activity. You mention anti-social behavior, which generally does not refer to people who are averse to socializing, as the name suggests. Rather, antisocial behavior is the behavioral aspect of antisocial personality disorder; those with antisocial personality disorder are more commonly known as "psychopaths" or "sociopaths." As an example of how certain behaviors have a neurobiological basis, let us analyze one behavior specific to this disorder. A lack of empathy for people they victimize is one prominent characteristic of those with antisocial personality disorder. 

A research study conducted in the UK had both individuals with antisocial personality disorder and individuals without the disorder undergo a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) brain scan and noted the following differences: 

the psychopaths’ brains had significantly less grey matter in the anterior rostral prefrontal cortex and temporal poles than the brains of the non-psychopathic offenders and non-offenders.

The aforementioned areas of the brain are responsible for relating to the emotions of others. Due to a lack of grey matter in these areas, those with antisocial personality disorder commonly display a lack of empathy towards the pain and suffering of others. This is just one example, but it provides a clear correlation between neurobiology and personality traits.

rakib | Student

The neurobiological approach to psychology uses the Life Sciences of anatomy,

physiology, biochemistry, and the nervous system to study how they are related to

behavior and learning. (mind-body dualism): Simply put, how the mind affects the

body and how the body affects the mind.

rachelepotter | Student

The neurobiological approach focuses on how the body reacts to the enviornment.  It is a more scientific way of looking at Psychology.  Thus, their understanding of personality disorders and anti-social behavior would be that there is something wrong with the physical part of the brain, perhaps a chemical imbalance or nerves that are not firing correctly.  Neurobiological Psychologists would treat these disorders with medication.