Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior Section: Content Category 6C

Responding to the world
We experience a barrage of environmental stimuli throughout the course of our lives. In many cases, environmental stimuli trigger physiological responses, such as an elevated heart rate, increased perspiration, or heightened feelings of anxiety. How we perceive and interpret these physiological responses is complex and influenced by psychological, sociocultural, and biological factors.

Emotional responses, such as feelings of happiness, sadness, anger, or stress are often born out of our interpretation of this interplay of physiological responses. Our experience with emotions and stress not only affects our behavior, but also shapes our interactions with others.

The content in this category covers the basic components and theories of emotion and their underlying psychological, sociocultural, and biological factors. It also addresses stress, stress outcomes, and stress management.

Topic Level Key:

The abbreviations found in parentheses indicate the course(s) in which undergraduate students at many colleges and universities learn about the topics and associated subtopics. The course abbreviations are:

PSY: one semester of introductory psychology
BIO: two-semester sequence of introductory biology

Please note topics that appear on multiple content lists will be treated differently. Questions will focus on the topics as they are described in the narrative for the content category.

Emotion (PSY)

  • Three components of emotion (i.e., cognitive, physiological, behavioral)
  • Universal emotions (i.e., fear, anger, happiness, surprise, disgust, and sadness)
  • Adaptive role of emotion
  • Theories of emotion
    • James–Lange theory
    • Cannon–Bard theory
    • Schachter–Singer theory
  • The role of biological processes in perceiving emotion (PSY, BIO)
    • Brain regions involved in the generation and experience of emotions
    • The role of the limbic system in emotion
    • Emotion and the autonomic nervous system
    • Physiological markers of emotion (signatures of emotion)

Stress (PSY)

  • The nature of stress
    • Appraisal
    • Different types of stressors (e.g., cataclysmic events, personal)
    • Effects of stress on psychological functions
  • Stress outcomes/response to stressors
    • Physiological (PSY, BIO)
    • Emotional
    • Behavioral
  • Managing stress (e.g., exercise, relaxation, spirituality)

To support your studies, see the following video tutorials below from the Khan Academy MCAT Collection. The videos and associated questions were created by the Khan Academy in collaboration with the AAMC and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.