Did you know that a treatment for Alzheimer’s could be developed in the next decade or two, based on the frequency 40hz? Maybe you did. Did you know that people can only remember the names of about 150 people? Maybe you did. Those facts were from the fields of neurology and psychology, respectively. Most people know a little bit about them. But do you know what the physical mechanisms in your brain are that make you consider someone a friend? That sort of thing falls in between psychology and neurology, into the field of psychobiology.
Psychobiology is the study of the biological mechanisms and bases of behavior and psychological phenomena. If psychology studies the big-picture of the mind, and neurology studies the really small-picture of how neurons work and how the brain is organized, psychobiology’s frame of operation lies somewhere in between. What are the larger patterns and chemical ratios that create emotion and decision-making? When they go wrong, how and where do they? It looks at the intersection of the mind and the brain.
Psychobiology is a fairly new field, newer than both psychology and neurology. However, it’s grown quickly within the last twenty to thirty years. SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) have been around as a treatment for depression for about thirty three years. Endorphins were discovered only around ten years before that. Different neurological profiles and varieties of depression have been categorized for a long time, but it’s only now that we’ve discovered that for every 5,000 cases, there can be over 3,000 different profiles. Each of those varieties could use a different kind of treatment; advancements in psychobiology tell us when to use DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy), SSRIs, talk therapy, and how and where we need to develop different treatments.
We asked PhD student Sarah Charles where she thinks the field will be in ten years. At first we asked for twenty, but she said that given the rate of growth and how little we know, she could only speculate out to ten years. She said that the first thing would be a much better understanding of what causes the symptom-group we currently label “depression.” She used the analogy of a doctor calling all abdominal pain “tummy ache disease” and always prescribing either laxatives or ipecac; in the future, we’ll better understand the many many factors which cause mental illness. As for treatment, she expects that “personalized medicine” will become much more prevalent. Advances in technology and machine learning could create medical tech that can do things like genome sequencing with relation to sociological and environmental factors. It might be possible to use Artificial Intelligence to create personalized drugs!
Currently, Sarah Charles is working on studying the psychobiological mechanisms for social bonding. For example, they found that blocking mu-opioid receptors decreases the amount of social bonding during religious rituals. If that sort of thing interests you, consider looking into this field.