Using Molecular Psychology In Everyday Life

Updated October 3, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

At times, the causes of different mental illnesses can seem incomprehensible. Between the stigma surrounding mental illness and the lack of accessible mental health care, people often struggle to learn about their disorders, let alone receive care. Medical, physical, and psychological causes are often intertwined in complicated ways that vary from person to person. Understanding psychology, the actual study of how the mind works, can be a good first step toward treatment.

However, psychology is a broad field that encompasses a large variety of different sub-disciplines. One of these sub-disciplines is molecular psychology. Although it plays a big role in our everyday lives, there is not much information out there about molecular psychology and molecular psychiatry.

Tied to chemistry, biology, and psychology, molecular psychology is an upcoming field that combines soft and hard sciences. Read on for a better understanding of what molecular psychology is, how it compares to other areas of psychology, and the effect molecular psychology can have on your daily life.

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What Is Molecular Psychology?

Molecular psychology explores how behaviors relate to the physical structures of the brain. Essentially, molecular psychology and molecular psychiatry reveal the ways that biology, genetics, and the physical structures of the brain influence our behavior.

With roots in behavioral genetics, molecular psychology first began by studying behavior in insects and animal subjects before moving onto humans. Behavioral genetics aim to determine the genetic causes of different ways of behaving. This field of study has revealed the ways that genetics affect mental illnesses and disorders.

One method used to better understand behavioral geneticists was through twin and adoption studies. Using twin subjects with similar genetic profiles, these studies revealed how genes could determine behaviors. Adoption studies, similarly, explored the effects of genetics on subjects' behaviors. They also explored the effects of environment on subjects with similar genetic backgrounds, which raised the nature versus nurture question.

Thomas Bouchard's 1979 study is perhaps one of the most relevant in molecular biology. Studying identical and fraternal pairs of twins that had been raised separately due to adoption, this research revealed much about genetics. One study on separated twins indicated that, although different parents had raised them for nearly 40 years, they shared a whole host of preferences and behaviors.

Molecular psychologists also study the brain itself. Related to medical approaches to psychology, molecular psychologists use biochemistry to learn about chemicals in the brain. Molecular psychologists explore physical irregularities in the brain. For example, studies show that patients with depression often have thinner frontal lobes. The frontal lobe is the area in the brain that helps process emotion. Other studies show that subjects with schizophrenia tend to have a smaller amygdala and thalamus, which regulate fear and process pain.

Studies like this help molecular psychologists link brain function to behavior and emotion.

How Does Molecular Psychology Compare To Abnormal Psychology?

To explain molecular psychology, it can be helpful to relate it to other areas of psychology. One of these areas is abnormal psychology, which is of much interest to molecular psychologists. Molecular psychology and abnormal psychology are different in many ways but also share some key characteristics.

Abnormal psychology addresses behaviors, feelings, and ways of thinking that are not considered ordinary. "Abnormal," in this context, could refer to behavior that is exhibited by only a small percentage of people, behaviors that are deemed taboos, or otherwise provoke negative reactions in others. This branch of psychology classifies behaviors as either adaptive or maladaptive. Adaptive behaviors generally aid a person's ability to function, conforming to the standards of a social and cultural environment. In contrast, maladaptive behaviors inhibit a person's ability to cope or participate in society.

Abnormal psychologists treat patients by using cognitive therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and medical intervention. These treatments involve influencing the ways that patients think and how they behave through talk therapy or medication. For instance, studies regarding how the arginine vasopressin gene and oxytocin mediate normal and abnormal behavior are of extreme interest.

Molecular psychology also addresses behaviors, feelings, and ways of thinking, but does not focus entirely on maladaptive or abnormal behaviors. However, abnormal psychologists typically use molecular psychology to help explain or explore the reasons behind their clients' behaviors. Genetic predispositions to specific social behaviors such as human aggression and violence, as well as dysfunctions of the brain, are often at play in abnormal psychology. This makes molecular psychology a particularly useful tool for understanding abnormal psychology.

Molecular psychiatry also contributes to the treatment of maladaptive behaviors. If brain function is determined to be the cause of certain behaviors, psychiatrists often use treatments that interact with the brain itself.

How Does It Compare To Developmental Psychology?

Originally meant to study how children become adults, developmental psychology now explores the ways that thoughts and behaviors evolve over the course of a one's lifetime. This complex field is split into several areas of research.

Like in cognitive psychology, developmental psychologists focus on a subject's cognitive development, social and emotional development, physical development, and memory development. Between each of these areas of research, developmental psychologists can get a complete picture of a person at any stage of development.

Different theorists, as Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, and Erik Erikson, attempted to define the stages of development. Piaget, for instance, suggested four stages of cognitive development that start at birth all through to age 16 years. Erik Erikson, similarly, suggested eight stages of personality development that start at birth all throughout one's lifetime. Presently, developmental psychologists see value in like theories and often consider them in their practice, however, the strict age ranges of developmental stages is typically downgraded to loosen guidelines.

Overall, this area of psychology reveals the ways that people perceive, interact with, develop relationships to, and remember the world throughout their lives.

Much like molecular psychology, developmental psychology concerns itself with the ways that genetics, biology, and environment affect an individual. In both molecular and developmental psychology, psychologists are concerned with the question of nature versus nurture. Molecular psychology, however, focuses more on internal structures of the body, such as the brain and its chemical interactions. Meanwhile, developmental psychology relies more heavily on observations of behavior rather than observations of the body.

How Does It Compare To Social Psychology?

Social psychology explores how our individual thoughts, feelings and behaviors are influenced others. The research of social psychologists, therefore, illustrates how social situations, group dynamics and social perceptions factor into our decision making and interactions.

Social cognition is a sub-topic of this psychology sub-type that explores how people process, store and apply information about others.

How Does Molecular Psychology Influence Our Lives?

Psychology plays a huge role in our everyday lives. It explains the way we think, how we interact with others and the things that we choose to do. Each field of psychology, then, reveals individual differences of human nature that can be used to better understand the complexity of the world itself.

Abnormal psychology, for instance, can help us comprehend and treat our maladaptive behaviors. We can use this type of psychology to enhance social behavior and interactions and function better. Also, developmental psychology can help us explain the ways that behaviors change over time and throughout the course of a lifetime.

Molecular psychology, then, has much to offer as well. When going through a mental illness, it is often easier to blame oneself. The pervasive and damaging idea that you can simply stop being sad or choose not to be anxious leads to a huge misunderstanding about the causes of disorders. By learning more about molecular psychology, you can begin to recognize the ways that genetic factors have influenced your mental health. For example, if your grandmother, mother, and father all go through depression, molecular psychology can explain why you might be predisposed to develop depression as well. Knowing the genetic factors that play a role in your mental health, can help you better address the problems you may have, as well as to be mindful of the issues to which you might be predisposed.

It can also be freeing to learn that the physical structures of the brain can be involved in your mental disorders. Molecular psychology explains the physical and medical reasons that could be involved in mental illnesses and disorders. From depression to schizophrenia, different disorders can be influenced by the physical structures and chemistry of the brain itself.

What To Do Next

Exploring molecular psychology can make the physical and scientific causes of mental illness much clearer. If you are interested in learning more about this topic or neuroscience more broadly, consider conducting an advance search of the Oxford Library of Psychology handbooks. Oxford Library of Psychology handbooks provide compelling perspectives and cutting-edge research across the many disciplines of psychology, as well as clinical neuroscience and behavioral neuroscience.

“The Oxford Handbook of Molecular Psychology” (Oxford University Press) explains why a broadly defined research methodology is necessary to understand how biology influences our behavior and is key to explaining variation and the neural basis of self.

“Affective Neuroscience The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions (Oxford University Press) explores how brain operating systems organize mammals’ fundamental emotional tendencies.

“The Neurobiology of Social Bonding and Attachment” (Oxford University Press) discusses the basis of social behaviors and the neurobiology of social interactions necessary to form social bonds.

Understanding how genetics can influence your disorders, however, is no substitute for treating those disorders.

Even so, receiving psychiatric or psychological care can be expensive, overwhelming, or inaccessible. If care from a medical doctor is out of reach, there is still a way to seek professional help for your problems.

Want To Learn More About Molecular Psychology And Mental Health?

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