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What is biopsychology, and why is it so popular?

Mackenzie Mahler '15
10/06/2011
Stephanie Leddy '12 shows Korri Crawford '15 and Nicole Hurst '13 some of the inner workings of the brain.
 Added in 2003, biopsychology is one of Monmouth College’s newest majors, and it’s gaining more and more attention each year.

But what, exactly, is biopsychology? The blatantly obvious answer is that it combines biology and psychology, but it’s so much more than that, said associate professor of psychology Marsha Dopheide.

“It’s a way to look at the function and structure of the brain to understand human behavior,” she explained.

Students are catching on to the subject, due in large part to the versatility of the field. Biopsychology majors can go in a number of different directions with their bachelor’s degree, including occupational therapy, physical therapy, drug or behavior counseling and psychiatry.

“One reason we added it has to do with the number of students who are interested in going into health-related careers,” said associate professor Joan Wertz, coordinator of the biopsychology program and chair of the psychology department, who also mentioned becoming a nurse or physician’s assistant as possible postgraduate choices. “Biopsychology seems to meet a lot of the prerequisites for professional training in these areas, and it seems to be a popular choice for our students so far.”

One major difference between biopsychology and psychology is the way in which research is conducted. Biopsychology students conduct more research with rats than do regular psychology majors, for example. This allows them to actually investigate what part the brain plays in certain behaviors, instead of just investigating the behaviors exhibited.

“Interest in biopsychology and neuroscience has greatly increased over the past 20 years or so,” said Wertz. “Advances in technology have allowed us to better understand the connections between the brain and behavior, and between the brain and people’s thought processes. So, there’s a lot of research in this area, as well as a lot of graduate school opportunities.”

Senior Stephanie Leddy of Lake in the Hills, Ill., is excited to be a part of MC’s biopsychology program. Originally a biology major, she eventually realized that discipline didn’t have all the elements she was seeking. She said her interest in learning about the brain and neurons isn’t the only factor that drew her to the major.

“I love the way the professors convey a message in class,” said Leddy, who serves as president of Psi Chi, the psychology honors program. “They are able to bring in relevant concepts that really get you thinking.”

Highlights of her studies have included the opportunity to present research at a meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association and traveling on a departmental trip to Italy and France. When she graduates next May, Leddy is planning to pursue a master’s degree in occupational therapy with a concentration on neuro-rehabilitation.

Among the psychology faculty, Wertz teaches many of the courses, as does Dopheide. Leddy isn’t the only student who seems to enjoy the professors, as the Mind, Brain, and Behavior class, a requirement for the biopsychology major, is absolutely packed this year.

“In the future, we are hoping to add more sections of popular upper-level biopsychology courses such as Drugs and Behavior, offering them once a year, rather than on an every other year basis,” said Dopheide.

Leddy might have figured out why the demand for biopsychology courses has become so great.

“We all just love what we do,” she said. “It’s inevitable. You become fascinated because of the passion that the professors have for the subject.”

Whether it’s simply scientific interest or the enthusiasm of the professors, MC students are taking notice of the biopsychology program. Already on an upward trend, the major could really make a jump at Monmouth in the fall of 2013, when the Center for Science and Business is completed.

“We don’t have any plans for changes to the major, except for the move to the new academic building two years from now,” said Wertz. “The new facilities will provide better spaces for student research compared to what we have right now, so we’re really looking forward to that.”