“…in teaching, you must simply work your pupil into such a state of interest in what you are going to teach him that every other object of attention is banished from his mind; then reveal it to him so impressively that he will remember the occasion to his dying day; and finally fill him with devouring curiosity to know what the steps in connection with the subject are.” --William James (1899, p. 10)


James’ goals for the classroom instructor might seem lofty to some, but many of us who teach neuroscience have enjoyed the peak experience of seeing students “turn on” to the material in just the way James describes.

This is an exciting time to be a neuroscientist. Every day, science newsfeeds announce some new and dramatic breakthroughs in our knowledge about the nervous system and the human mind. Important questions raised in the past now have definitive answers. In 1890, James also commented that “Blood very likely may rush to each region of the cortex according as it is most active, but of this we know nothing” (vol. 1, p. 99). With today’s technology, it is safe to say we now know much more than “nothing” about this phenomenon James described.


            Much has changed in the field of neuroscience since our first edition of this textbook in 2006. More than half of the four-year universities in the United States now offer bachelors degrees in neuroscience, and most offer at least a minor in the discipline. Neuroscience reflects a general academic trend of the 21st century, in which the walls separating specializations are giving way to new, transdisciplinary research teams, courses, and educational programs. In recognition of these changes, we have decided to modify the title of the third edition of this textbook from Discovering Biological Psychology to Discovering Behavioral Neuroscience: An Introduction to Biological Psychology. A greater emphasis on the neurosciences in general is also achieved by renaming some chapter titles. Psychology, of course, still provides a foundation for the study of behavioral neuroscience, as without the ability to ask the right questions about behavior and mental processes, all of the technology on the planet wouldn’t do us much good. Our current behavioral neuroscience students, however, are just as likely to be preparing for careers in the health professions, biomedical engineering, or even scientific journalism as they are in psychology.

            A major reflection of the transdisciplinary approach exemplified by the neurosciences is the inclusion of psychology and behavioral neuroscience content in the revised edition of the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) beginning in 2015.  One hundred years ago, the leading killers of humans were infectious diseases. Today’s top killers—heart disease, diabetes, and cancer—have far stronger relationships with behavior, not only in their causes but also in their treatments. A simple five-minute conversation with a health professional about the need to quit smoking is sufficient to lead to abstention for one year by 2 percent of patients (Law & Tang, 1995). This might not sound like much, but given the 20 percent or so of American adults who smoke and the billions of dollars their healthcare and lost productivity represent, the stakes are very high. Imagine what could be accomplished by healthcare providers who have a deep understanding of learning, motivation, and social influences on behavior. In response to these and similar trends, the current edition of the textbook explores relevant applications to students pursuing fields of study other than psychology whenever these are relevant.

            This third edition continues and expands upon the goals of the previous two:

To provide challenging, very current content in a student-friendly, accessible form.

To stimulate critical thinking about neuroscience by presenting controversial and cutting-edge material.

To promote active student engagement and excitement about the neurosciences.

To integrate across chapters rather than treating them as stand-alone modules; to encourage students to see the connections among the topics. For example, connections are made between glutamate as a chemical messenger, its role in learning, the effects of psychoactive drugs on glutamate, its role in psychosis, and its importance to the causes and treatments of stroke and epilepsy.


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