Behavior is the ultimate function of the nervous system, and the study of it is very multidisciplinary. Encyclopedia of Behavioral Neuroscience is the first and only multi-volume reference to comprehensively cover the foundation knowledge in the field. This three volume work is edited by world renowned behavioral neuroscientists George F. Thompson, University of Southern California and written by a premier selection of the leading scientists in their respective fields. Each section is edited by a specialist in the relevant area. The important research in all areas of Behavioral Neuroscience is covered in a total of chapters on topics ranging from neuroethology and learning and memory, to behavioral disorders and psychiatric diseases.
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Instructors who teach in extremely selective institutions, where most students have very high SAT scores and strong verbal abilities, may not have felt a need for such a text. However, faculty at institutions, where some of our students are less well prepared, will likely share my need. Over the years I have examined many of the available biological and physiological psychology texts. I found many exciting texts that were unfortunately written beyond the abilities of many of my students.
I use the Freberg text in my level physiological psychology class, the only such class offered at Slippery Rock University. I believe this text would also be appropriate for an introductory-level course, at a level, for instance, at an institution where there are two levels of biological psychology courses taught. Discovering Biological Psychology is comprehensive in that it covers everything that one would wish to cover, without adding a level of detail more appropriate to an upper-level course, and at what I feel is an appropriate depth for institutions that offer a single biological psychology course.
Several things make the Freberg text stand out from the many other texts on this topic. The first, as mentioned, is the accessibility of the material.
It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction. She respectfully disagrees and believes that an expert should be able to present the material to a novice without sacrificing rigor or accuracy.
She has done exactly that; the results I received the first semester I used the textbook indicate that the students found it so. The mean grade in my class was higher than normal with only one failure, an unusual circumstance for this class of nearly all psychology majors.
Further, although the text does make the material accessible to students, it is presented in a scholarly manner. Not only is the material accessible to the students, it is made salient. Rather than just tell students that action potentials propagate down the axon, she tells them why.
Her goal is understanding, not rote memorization. One example is the inclusion of a section on thirst and sports drinks in the chapter on motivation. This gives students information to which they can relate.
Many of these real life examples are included in the illustrations in the text. The illustrations, graphs, and artwork in the text are excellent. They are not only helpful in clarifying the material being presented, but in addition, they make the information meaningful. For instance, in the chapter on motivation, which includes hunger, thirst, and body temperature, there is a photo of Korey Stringer, the Minnesota Vikings football player whose life was taken by heat stroke, and an accompanying caption explaining what happened.
The chapter on psychological disorders includes John Nash, the Nobel Prize winning mathematician who was the subject of the film A Beautiful Mind. The chapter on sexual development includes a wonderful set of photos illustrating 5-alpha reductase deficiency males before and after puberty.
Such illustrations and examples make the material meaningful to students and emphasize understanding over memorization, a learning strategy that most instructors favor. Freberg comments that she was creative with the standard table of contents to reflect the current state of biological psychology. Examples of this are given below.
The first chapter of the Freberg text introduces biological psychology and briefly covers various research methods and research ethics. It does not go into detail about the history of the field as do some other texts, but within each chapter the history of that particular topic is included where appropriate.
Including historical information within the topic where it applies may make it more salient to the student.
Chapter two covers the anatomy of the nervous system, and chapter three introduces the cells of the nervous system and includes the action potential and synapses. They seemed to grasp the concepts in the chapter on the cells of the nervous system more easily after having an overview of the anatomy. The explanation of the action potential is particularly understandable, something that I feel is extremely important for this foundational information. Chapter four covers pharmacology and does a very good job of explaining both drug actions at the synapse and the basic principles of drug effects.
In chapter five Freberg fits together the topics of genetics, evolution, and the development of the human brain. The genetics of behavior and the development of the human brain in such adaptive ways create a coherent presentation. This is an example of one of the ways Freberg has been creative with her table of contents to reflect the state of the discipline.
The next two chapters are the usual vision, non visual sensation and perception. These are followed by an excellent chapter on movement. There is enough information given to be challenging in each of these chapters, and it is presented in a clear and understandable manner.
Chapter nine addresses motivation, and includes temperature, thirst, and hunger. I was pleased with the fact that this text is much more up to date on the research on hunger than many I have read.
Sexual behavior has a chapter to itself and it includes topics I have not seen in other biopsychology texts, including attraction and parental behavior. Chapter 11 covers sleep and waking and chapter 12 covers learning and memory.
The topics of learning and memory may contain some of the most rapidly changing material in the field. I found that when I read this chapter it gave me a better understanding than I previously had of some of the latest research. Chapter 13 covers lateralization, language, and intelligence, three topics that I think fit together wonderfully well. Others have put language in a chapter by itself and many do not even cover intelligence.
Chapter 14 covers emotion, aggression, reward and stress, another creative linking of topics that seems to work well. Chapter 15 covers neurological disorders, with sections on assessment of brain damage, recovery from brain damage, and another on various therapies for brain injury. Chapter 16 covers psychological disorders. However I suspect we will have to continue to make the distinction for some time between illnesses that have clearly organic origins and those that are less clearly physiological.
That said, the chapter is as up to date as a text book can be on the most recent work on many of the most important illnesses, including schizophrenia, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, autism, ADHD, and antisocial personality disorder. Sixteen chapters seem about right for a one-semester course for psychology majors.
I did skip over some of the material in order to make it through the first semester I used the book, but I expect that with proper planning one could cover all the chapters in a semester. The ClassPresent CD contains animations the same ones that are on the student web site. I especially appreciate these because they allow me to teach from the PowerPoint without having to make separate lecture notes.
Some instructors may find the PowerPoint presentations too complete but slides that are not needed can be deleted. The test bank is also on this CD. In the interest of full disclosure, I contributed application questions to the test bank. I noted that when the final version of the test bank arrived, not only are the questions I wrote included, but others were added. A good, fair test bank is very important because nothing is more frustrating to a student than ambiguous or tricky questions on an exam.
I think that for the most part the questions on the test bank are very clear. This CD also includes sample lecture outlines, ideas for classroom demonstrations and handouts, and ideas about outside resources one could use in the classroom.
The pedagogical aspects of the book include vocabulary words in bold in the text with definitions in the margins. There are learning objectives at the beginning of each chapter and a chapter outline on one of the first two pages of each chapter. Interim summaries are included throughout each chapter where appropriate to help students organize the material. Each chapter also ends with thought questions, recommended reading, key terms, and recommended web sites. A study guide and comprehensive student web site are also available for students.
Discovering Biological Psychology
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