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21 Key Terms of the Biological Basis of Behaviour

action potential
electrical signal that moves down the neurone’s axon
drug that mimics or strengthens the effects of a neurotransmitter
phenomenon that incoming signal from another neurone is either sufficient or insufficient to reach the threshold of excitation
structure in the limbic system involved in our experience of emotion and tying emotional meaning to our memories
drug that blocks or impedes the normal activity of a given neurotransmitter
auditory cortex
strip of cortex in the temporal lobe that is responsible for processing auditory information
autonomic nervous system
controls our internal organs and glands
major extension of the soma
biological perspective
view that psychological disorders like depression and schizophrenia are associated with imbalances in one or more neurotransmitter systems
Broca’s area
region in the left hemisphere that is essential for language production
central nervous system (CNS)
brain and spinal cord
hindbrain structure that controls our balance, coordination, movement, and motor skills, and it is thought to be important in processing some types of memory
cerebral cortex
surface of the brain that is associated with our highest mental capabilities
computerized tomography (CT) scan
imaging technique in which a computer coordinates and integrates multiple x-rays of a given area
corpus callosum
thick band of neural fibres connecting the brain’s two hemispheres


the process by which an enzyme breaks neurotransmitters in the synaptic cleft down into their components so that they can no longer interact with the receptors on the post synaptic neurone.

branch-like extension of the soma that receives incoming signals from other neurones
electroencephalography (EEG)
recording the electrical activity of the brain via electrodes on the scalp
fight or flight response
activation of the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system, allowing access to energy reserves and heightened sensory capacity so that we might fight off a given threat or run away to safety
largest part of the brain, containing the cerebral cortex, the thalamus, and the limbic system, among other structures
frontal lobe
part of the cerebral cortex involved in reasoning, motor control, emotion, and language; contains motor cortex
functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
MRI that shows changes in metabolic activity over time
glial cell
nervous system cell that provides physical and metabolic support to neurones, including neuronal insulation and communication, and nutrient and waste transport
(plural: gyri) bump or ridge on the cerebral cortex
left or right half of the brain
division of the brain containing the medulla, pons, and cerebellum
structure in the temporal lobe associated with learning and memory
state of equilibrium—biological conditions, such as body temperature, are maintained at optimal levels
forebrain structure that regulates sexual motivation and behaviour and a number of homeostatic processes; serves as an interface between the nervous system and the endocrine system
concept that each hemisphere of the brain is associated with specialized functions
limbic system
collection of structures involved in processing emotion and memory
longitudinal fissure
deep groove in the brain’s cortex
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
magnetic fields used to produce a picture of the tissue being imaged
hindbrain structure that controls automated processes like breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate
membrane potential
difference in charge across the neuronal membrane
division of the brain located between the forebrain and the hindbrain; contains the reticular formation
motor cortex
strip of cortex involved in planning and coordinating movement
myelin sheath
fatty substance that insulates axons
cells in the nervous system that act as interconnected information processors, which are essential for all of the tasks of the nervous system
nervous system’s ability to change
chemical messenger of the nervous system
Nodes of Ranvier
open spaces that are found in the myelin sheath that encases the axon
occipital lobe
part of the cerebral cortex associated with visual processing; contains the primary visual cortex
parasympathetic nervous system
associated with routine, day-to-day operations of the body
parietal lobe
part of the cerebral cortex involved in processing various sensory and perceptual information; contains the primary somatosensory cortex
peripheral nervous system (PNS)
connects the brain and spinal cord to the muscles, organs and senses in the periphery of the body
pituitary gland
secretes a number of key hormones, which regulate fluid levels in the body, and a number of messenger hormones, which direct the activity of other glands in the endocrine system
hindbrain structure that connects the brain and spinal cord; involved in regulating brain activity during sleep
positron emission tomography (PET) scan
involves injecting individuals with a mildly radioactive substance and monitoring changes in blood flow to different regions of the brain
prefrontal cortex
area in the frontal lobe responsible for higher-level cognitive functioning
psychotropic medication
drugs that treat psychiatric symptoms by restoring neurotransmitter balance
protein on the cell surface where neurotransmitters attach
resting potential
the state of readiness of a neurone membrane’s potential between signals
reticular formation
midbrain structure important in regulating the sleep/wake cycle, arousal, alertness, and motor activity
neurotransmitter is pumped back into the neurone that released it
semipermeable membrane
cell membrane that allows smaller molecules or molecules without an electrical charge to pass through it, while stopping larger or highly charged molecules
cell body
somatic nervous system
relays sensory and motor information to and from the CNS
somatosensory cortex
essential for processing sensory information from across the body, such as touch, temperature, and pain
substantia nigra
midbrain structure where dopamine is produced; involved in control of movement
(plural: sulci) depressions or grooves in the cerebral cortex
sympathetic nervous system
involved in stress-related activities and functions
synaptic cleft
small gap between two neurones where communication occurs
synaptic vesicle
storage site for neurotransmitters
temporal lobe
part of cerebral cortex associated with hearing, memory, emotion, and some aspects of language; contains primary auditory cortex
terminal button
axon terminal containing synaptic vesicles
sensory relay for the brain
threshold of excitation
level of charge in the membrane that causes the neurone to become active
ventral tegmental area (VTA)
midbrain structure where dopamine is produced: associated with mood, reward, and addiction
Wernicke’s area
important for speech comprehension


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Key Terms of the Biological Basis of Behaviour by Dalhousie University Introduction to Psychology and Neuroscience Team is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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