Both neuroscience and psychology are ancient scientific branches, dating back to ancient Egypt, Greece and Persia. Although in a very different manner compared to modern psychology and neuroscience, people back then also conducted their forms of “research” on people regarding their nervous system and behavior in different situations.
What is Psychology and What Does It Do?
Most are familiar with psychology as either their high school subject or something they saw on the TV (usually psychiatrists from movies and series), but the exact definition and field which it researches remain unclear.
By definition, psychology is the science of behavior and mind, which means that it researches how people react and behave in different situations, and what is the correlation between the stimuli they receive from the “outer world” and their reaction in their “inner world”, or their mind.
In its earliest days, psychology was approached purely philosophically (technically it didn’t even exist as a separate science, but, like most other sciences, was researched through philosophy), with the most noticeable “psychologists” being Thales and Aristotle. However, back then, their methods were very crude, and usually meant simply watching how people behave in their everyday situations. This could give barely any result, so the method for researching people’s behavior evolved over time to the form it has today.
Today’s method for researching people’s behavior and reactions is fairly similar, if not exactly the same, to the scientific method, as it’s largely dependent on experiment which is done in carefully isolated environment. The two main problems psychologists encounter when experimenting in this field are:
- Many outer stimuli they may not have accounted for
In our everyday situations, we actually process much more information than we’re aware. Every color we see, every sensation we feel, whether it be by touch, smell or hearing, impacts our behavior and changes it slightly. When performing experiments in this area, it’s very important to make sure that the only stimulus people will experience is the one that is researched, because otherwise the results become invalid.
- The moral issues of doing experiments on people
This one is pretty straightforward – performing experiments on people isn’t the same as performing experiments on mice or other animals, you have to keep strictly inside the boundaries set by what’s morally acceptable as an experiment and what’s not, and you have to have consent from the people you perform the experiment on.
What is Neuroscience and What Does It Do?
Neuroscience is a scientific field dedicated to the research of human nervous system, and the most important and most interesting part of the nervous system is the brain. From 1700BC, when “doctors” cracked open people’s skulls in order to “cure” headaches, we’ve come a long way, and now there is modern equipment that is able to scan and track the activity in our brains with high precision – without any damage to the skull!
MRIs, EEGs… the list goes on. All of them can be implemented in research to get very precise results about which parts of the brain “light up” when people are exposed to different stimuli.
What’s the Difference?
The main difference here would be the scale each field researches. While psychology may not give the most precise results compared to neuroscience, it can still fairly accurately explain very complex behavior, which is still out of scope for neuroscience. Neuroscience, on the other hand, gives very detailed information, but only about the less complex, if not basic, reactions to outer stimuli. The other differences are provided in the table below:
Finally, another question might arise when looking at these differences – do we still need psychology when we have neuroscience. Admittedly, neuroscience does seem like the more advanced and superior “tool” for researching human behavior. However, the most important difference mentioned above should be taken into account here, and that is the scale that is researched. Psychology mostly researches large-scale behavioral patterns, while neuroscience focuses on the small-scale.
It’s largely accepted that both psychology and neuroscience are still needed, since, with the combined knowledge from the two fields, a much more detailed and precise picture about the human behavior can be developed, than if only one of them existed.
Author: Dr. Howard Fields
Dr. Howard is a Clinical Psychologist and a Professional Writer and he has been partnering with patients to create positive change in their lives for over fifteen years. Dr. Howard integrates complementary methodologies and techniques to offer a highly personalized approach tailored to each patient.