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Discovering Biological Psychology 'Highlights!'

Dear Colleagues and Students of Biological Psychology,

I would like to take this opportunity to ask you to spend a few minutes looking over our new text, Discovering Biological Psychology (link: "Cover Photo"). I just received my first copy of the text in the mail (after working on the text for five years!), and I am delighted with the results. 

You might be wondering why anybody would want to write a new text in this area. After 30 years in the classroom, I had a lot of ideas about how to write a text that met the needs of both instructor and student.

For any textbook to be successful, it must be have a high degree of currency (link: "Currency"), cover the basic areas of the discipline, include emerging areas of the field, and be accessible yet challenging to students with varying degrees of preparation.

Our text was designed in a familiar format with input from around North America. We wanted the FORM of our Table of Contents to reflect current thinking as well as the wishes of our faculty. We also believed that Discovering Biological Psychology could FUNCTION best by addressing the needs of the faculty and our students. Lastly, we felt that Discovering Biological Psychology needed to be FUN, this in turn would make learning and teaching easier for both student and instructor.


We employ a clear, concise and an easily understood writing style. We don’t need to “dummy down” content in order to make the material accessible and interesting to students.

A quick review of our
table of contents (link: "Table of Contents") will show you that we cover the topics you expect to see, plus a number of “bonus” topics. For instance, we offer a neurological disorders chapter and a genetics, evolution, and development chapter. Our sexuality chapter includes a section on the evolutionary psychology of attraction.

At the same time, reviewers are telling us that our accessible writing style and pedagogy make this material very “student friendly.”  My writing style role model is Matt Ridley, and I have sought to communicate the same enthusiasm here as Matt brings to his science writing in the field of genetics.

Among the unique pedagogical features we included are margin definitions of key terms with pronunciation guides, flowcharts accompanying pathway illustrations, and summary tables that gather key concepts into one place
(link: "Interim Summary Table") . In this example, we have a table that compares and contrasts major features of action potentials, IPSPs, and EPSPs. Another table organizes mechanoreceptors according to encapsulation, rate of adaptation, receptive field size, and the quality of stimulus sensed. These tables, found within the text and in interim summary sections, will help students master the material more efficiently. Instructors should be freed from the task of “translating” the text during lecture.

We use a “How Things Work” approach.

Sometimes, this means we use MORE words, but student understanding should be enhanced.
   The text features a “how things work” approach that demystifies concepts. We don’t just tell students what happens, we tell them how and why. (link: "How Things Work")

Many texts simply inform students that action potentials propagate down the length of axons, but the reasons for this occurrence remain unclear. Here's a quote from Discovering Biological Psychology regarding 'action potentials':

“Due to the same diffusion pressure and electrical force that brought them into the cell, the sodium ions will drift to the adjacent axon segment. At the same time, incoming positive sodium ions will also push positive potassium ions ahead into adjacent axon segments due to their like electrical charges. The arrival of these positively charged ions depolarizes the next segment. If this segment reaches threshold, the events leading to an action potential will be reproduced.”

We reward students for their hard work by showing how the concepts they’ve learned help them understand everyday occurrences. If you understand sex hormones, you can understand how proposed male oral contraceptives work and what the pitfalls may be. If you understand neural signaling, you can understand what happens when people are sometimes poisoned at sushi bars while eating fugu (pufferfish). Watching the New Zealand national rugby team “psych up” by doing Maori prewar rituals makes more sense if you understand the relationship between the physical aspects and conscious feelings of emotion.

Medical Quality Illustrations are Key to Understanding

Few areas in psychology are so dependent on the quality of illustrations as biological psychology. NEW! Samples from the Art Program (the real deal, not scanned)

Our "medical quality illustrations" feature clear labels comprised of terms featured in the body of the text, key-to-slice locator brains, and sequential magnifications. A particularly nice example of the art program may be found on pages 192-193. This image progresses from the outer ear to an actual electron micrograph of the inner and outer hair cells
(link: "Medical Quality Illustrations").

A major goal was to provide original illustrations that answered common student questions and assist in mastery of key concepts. Think of the art program as a visual FAQ. For example, Figure 3.13 on page 74 shows students where the absolute and relative refractory periods occur relative to the typical “spike” of the action potential. A chart in the Psychopharmacology chapter shows the relationships of different classes of neurotransmitters (serotonin is an indolamine, monoamine, and small molecule neurotransmitter, etc.)

When studying neural pathways and various anatomical structures, it's easy for a student to get 'lost'. We consistently used key-to-slice locator brains to help the student reorient themselves when they began new material
(link: "Ascending Pain Pathways). This sample image also demonstrates our flowcharts, which help students navigate pathway figures.

Illustrations of sequential processes feature “talking boxes” that assist the student in understanding the order of events. Figure 6.11 on page 163 (Transduction in the Rod) traces events beginning with the absorption of light by a rod to its reduced release of glutamate.

Our high quality photos add interest and clarity to the text. Even when some were hard to acquire (such as the outtake of Christopher Reeve’s “walking” Super Bowl commercial), we persisted. One of my students’ personal favorites, however, remains the "brain worm" picture on page 440.

Incidentally, these illustrations come across really well in our PowerPoints®.

An emphasis on "currency"

Being a first edition, as opposed to an 8th or so, we had the luxury to design a structure based on current approaches to the field. We didn't start from zero in organizing Discovering Biological Psychology, but we did not just add current content to a text organization that hasn’t changed much in 20 years. We took a fresh approach by asking ourselves 'where is the field today' and 'where do we see it going?'

A quick overview of our references section will show you a preponderance of 2000 or later references augmented by the classic work in the field. (link: "Currency")

Our 'how things work' approach is highlighted by currency, medical illustrations and clear writing.


Margin definitions and pronunciation guides for key terms

Definitions and pronunciation guides are just where our students need them. They're conveniently located in the margins of the text. You can check out the placement of margin definitions in (link: "Interim Summary Table") (link: "Medical Quality Illustrations")

Interim Summary Tables

I have found that students need a place to catch their breaths midway through a chapter or after major subsections, so I placed "Interim Summary Tables" at logical intervals. Interim summary tables and within-chapter tables gather together key information that students need to see in one place. You can see an example of one of our tables in
(link: "Interim Summary Table") 

Test Banks and ancillaries that work!

Over the years, I have written a variety of test banks and ancillaries for myself and other authors. Good test banks provide a true learning experience and minimize student dissatisfaction. One publisher's marketing materials referred to a previous ancillary project of mine (a test bank, student study guide and instructor's manual in biological psychology) as 'the best in the business.'

We’ve worked hard on our ancillary materials. I confess to being particularly fussy about test banks—most seem quite dreadful—so I wrote 1600 multiple choice items for the test bank myself. Gayle Brosnan Watters of Slippery Rock University did yeoman’s work helping me with this “fun” task. I piloted many of the questions in my own classes, and empirical item results are provided for your review.

The art program will be available to instructors electronically, along with PowerPoints® that are easily modifiable. At the risk of appearing like a micromanager, I participated in the development of the PowerPoints®, too. In addition, our animations are based on the illustrations in Discovering Biological Psychology and are produced by the same medical illustrators, providing great continuity. If you would like further info about the ancillaries, please let me know.

   FUN :

Most of us are in this business because we love what we teach. Sharing our enthusiasm for biological psychology with our students makes the whole learning process pain-free.


Have you ever seen a Brain Worm? Do you know what they are? Most students want to know if they can 'catch' them!

Our world is an interesting place and full of interesting things. We worked hard to fit in the most interesting and most relevant material into "Discovering Biological Psychology"!

(Link: "Brain Worms")

Teaching Biological Psychology (my APS powerpoint presentation) .  Through the use of relevant, interesting, timely and exciting examples, we add interest to even the most difficult and challenging areas of our field.

We use “high interest” content to teach major principles. Here are some examples:

How does male chemical contraception work?
Why would elite athletes use anabolic steroids?
How does poisoning result from fugu (puffer fish), black widow spider venom, curare, and cobra toxin?
How does Botox work?
What do cats, dogs, and infants “see?”
What was the effect of exposure to American TV on eating habits in the Fiji islands?
Why are football and baseball players dying of hyperthermia?
Why are repeated mild head injuries now considered dangerous?
What happens when young children must have a complete hemisphere removed in order to treat their seizure disorders?
The all-time favorite….what is a brain worm, and how do you get one? (Link: "Brain Worms")
What is mad cow disease and how does it spread to humans?
What does the HIV virus do to the brain?
Do sports drinks really help?

We also talk about 'new directions' that are current, sometimes controversial, but always make us think.

Ethics of stem cell research
The autonomic nervous system and stress
Tetanus and the lack of inhibition
Designer drugs
Can we stop the aging process?
The effect of vision on flavor
Yellow smoky voices and sounds like briny pickles
How much stronger and faster can we get?
Mood and food
Why have sex? (the advantages of sexual over asexual reproduction)
Can we modify our sleep-waking cycles?
Can we prevent age-related memory loss?
The relationship between music and language
Coping with stress
Using virtual reality (VR) for rehabilitation following brain injury
The roles of nature and nurture in psychopathology

Building on a line from Frank Lloyd Wright, we have tried to combine form, function, and fun in Discovering Biological Psychology to provide a very user-friendly experience.


I would be happy to discuss the text and ancillaries with any interested faculty. Feel free to email me.

By the way, our Biological Psychology Community is expanding--we have a message board where faculty and students can discuss issues related to biological psychology or psychology in general.
I am particularly interested in using information competency and problem based learning to teach biological psychology, and I have posted some resources on these topics on the website.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and please feel free to let me know if you have any further comments and suggestions.

Best regards,

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updated: 05/01/2008

© 2007,  Laura Freberg , animations © 2007, Karla Freberg