Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior Section: Content Category 7A

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Individual influences on behavior

A complex interplay of psychological and biological factors shapes behavior. Biological structures and processes serve as the pathways by which bodies carry out activities.

They also affect predispositions to behave in certain ways, shape personalities, and influence the likelihood of developing psychological disorders. Psychological factors also affect behavior, and consequently, health and well-being.

The content in this category covers biological bases of behavior, including the effect of genetics and how the nervous and endocrine systems affect behavior. It also addresses how personality, psychological disorders, motivation, and attitudes affect behavior. Some of these topics are learned in the context of non-human animal species.

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.

Biological Bases of Behavior (PSY, BIO)

  • The nervous system

    • Neurons (e.g., the reflex arc)

    • Neurotransmitters

    • Structure and function of the peripheral nervous system

    • Structure and function of the central nervous system

      • The brain

        • Forebrain

        • Midbrain

        • Hindbrain

        • Lateralization of cortical functions

        • Methods used in studying the brain

      • The spinal cord

  • Neuronal communication and its influence on behavior (PSY)

  • Influence of neurotransmitters on behavior (PSY)

  • The endocrine system

    • Components of the endocrine system

    • Effects of the endocrine system on behavior

  • Behavioral genetics

    • Genes, temperament, and heredity

    • Adaptive value of traits and behaviors

    • Interaction between heredity and environmental influences

  • Influence of genetic and environmental factors on the development of behaviors

    • Experience and behavior (PSY)

    • Regulatory genes and behavior (BIO)

    • Genetically based behavioral variation in natural populations

  • Human physiological development (PSY)

    • Prenatal development

    • Motor development

    • Developmental changes in adolescence

Personality (PSY)

  • Theories of personality

    • Psychoanalytic perspective

    • Humanistic perspective

    • Trait perspective

    • Social cognitive perspective

    • Biological perspective

    • Behaviorist perspective

  • Situational approach to explaining behavior

Psychological Disorders (PSY)

  • Understanding psychological disorders

    • Biomedical vs. biopsychosocial approaches

    • Classifying psychological disorders

    • Rates of psychological disorders

  • Types of psychological disorders

    • Anxiety disorders

    • Obsessive–compulsive disorder

    • Trauma‐ and stressor‐related disorders

    • Somatic symptom and related disorders

    • Bipolar and related disorders

    • Depressive disorders

    • Schizophrenia

    • Dissociative disorder

    • Personality disorders

  • Biological bases of nervous system disorders (PSY, BIO)

    • Schizophrenia

    • Depression

    • Alzheimer’s disease

    • Parkinson’s disease

    • Stem cell-based therapy to regenerate neurons in the central nervous system (BIO)

Motivation (PSY)

  • Factors that influence motivation

    • Instinct

    • Arousal

    • Drives (e.g., negative feedback systems) (PSY, BIO)

    • Needs

  • Theories that explain how motivation affects human behavior

    • Drive reduction theory

    • Incentive theory

    • Other theories (e.g., cognitive, need-based)

  • Biological and sociocultural motivators that regulate behavior (e.g., hunger, sex drive, substance addiction)

Attitudes (PSY)

  • Components of attitudes (i.e., cognitive, affective, and behavioral)

  • The link between attitudes and behavior

    • Processes by which behavior influences attitudes (e.g., foot-in-the door phenomenon, role-playing effects)

    • Processes by which attitudes influence behavior

    • Cognitive dissonance theory

Additional Review: Khan Academy MCAT® Collection Tutorials

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.

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