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@Clues 2024

The Biological Model of the Mind

"The brain is a three-pound universe." - David Eagleman

The biological model of the brain says that our behavior, thoughts, and emotions come from how the brain physically functions. It suggests that the brain has different parts that do different things, like how a car engine has different parts. These parts include the cortex, the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the basal ganglia. When these parts work together, they generate our behavior, thoughts, and emotions. If something changes in one of these parts, it can affect how we act or feel.

The nervous system is another part, and it helps the brain send information to the rest of the body. The endocrine system is a network of glands that make hormones that control things like growth, metabolism, and mood. Lastly, genes are what we get from our parents that can affect how our brains and bodies work. All of these units combine to form and interconnected system according to the biological model.

One example of how the biological model works is a condition called CTE. It's a brain disease that happens to people who play football, boxers, and anyone else with significant or recurring brain injuries. When someone gets CTE, a protein called tau builds up in their brain and causes problems. The tau makes tangles in the brain, which hurts or kills brain cells. This causes things like memory loss, confusion, aggression, depression, and other problems. (source)

Interesting Examples

In 1953, a patient known as HM had surgery to remove parts of his hippocampus and other brain regions to cure his epilepsy. The surgery successfully reduced his seizures, but it also resulted in severe memory impairment, attributed to the damage to his hippocampus. This case has been fundamental in understanding the role of the hippocampus in memory formation. (source)

phineas gage missing an eye
Phineas Gage missing an eye

Another example is a person named Phineas P. Gage. He was a railroad construction worker who had a severe brain injury when an iron rod was accidentally driven through his skull. Despite surviving the injury, Gage's personality underwent a dramatic change. He became impulsive, irresponsible, and unable to hold down a job, which was a stark contrast to his previous reputation as a reliable and responsible worker. (source)

Important People in the Biological Model

If you want to study the biological model more, here are a few experts you can turn to.

  • B.F. Skinner: developed the theory of operant conditioning, which explains how rewards and punishments influence behavior.
  • Eric Kandel: was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology for his research on the neural basis of learning and memory.
  • Steven Pinker: a prominent cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist who has written extensively on the biological basis of the mind.

Questions for Self-Inquiry

With this high-level context in mind, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to apply the biological lens to self-inquiry.

  1. Are there any genetic factors that may contribute to my mental health struggles?
  2. Are there any medical conditions that may be affecting my mental health, such as a hormonal imbalance or a neurological disorder?
  3. How does my brain's reward system affect my behavior and motivation, and how can I promote healthy rewards and habits?
  4. What are the positive and negative consequences of my behaviors that may be reinforcing or punishing those behaviors?
  5. How can I work with my mental health provider to better understand how biological factors may be influencing my present condition?