Although psychology is typically associated with more “abstract” concepts such as “stress” and “stigma,” the discipline’s shift towards biology has been decisive. Indeed, during psychology’s halcyon days of the 20th century, experiments and theories tried to explain human psychology as a function of outward behavior. With the invention of machines that could better probe the human mind, however, some psychologists started to shift their inquiry to a different question: how does biology influence (or serve as a causal mechanism) for psychological maladies.
Psychology has come a long way since the initial integration of biology. Indeed, while previously psychologists posited that such illnesses as depression and schizophrenia may have biological roots, the development of neuroscience has shed new light on how biology plays a key role in the genesis of these diseases. Schizophrenia, in particular, has evolved from an ostensibly impenetrable disease to one that has solid biological origins. Depression and other mental illnesses are now on a similar trajectory.
Ultimately, the integration of biology into psychology is stalking a larger goal: biological tests that will be able to diagnosis individuals with mental health conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s to depression. The “biology” of the mind has arguably been one of the most important (if not the most important) breakthroughs in psychology over the past century and half. It not only has deepened the foundations of the discipline to take account of biological and environmental factors in the understanding of mental illness, but it will also make it possible (one day) to develop biological tests that will diagnosis mental illness on the spot. Although biology certainly does not have all the answers, there are still many things we do not know regarding the interaction of biology and environment, it is a good start.