Biological Psychology


Profound complexity of the nervous system

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … scope of possible actions and interpretations
  • Knowing is … higher-order functions, located mainly in the brain
  • Learner is … the brain and any complex system within the brain
  • Learning is … systemic changes, located mainly in the brain
  • Teaching is … triggering learning




Neuroscience is a multidisciplinary branch of biology that focuses on the structure, functions, and development of the nervous system. With a scope that spans the thousands of distinguishable substructures between the molecular to the cognitive, Neuroscience combines domains as varied as molecular biology, physiology, and psychology (among many others) while it has given rise to many other disciplines, including Neuroeducation. Specific subdomains of Neuroscience with relevance to education include:
  • Behavioral Neuroscience (Biological Psychology, Biopsychology, Psychobiology) – applies the principles of biology to study genetic, physiological, and developmental mechanisms in behavior
  • Cognitive Neuroscience – focuses on the biological processes that underlie cognition
  • Positive Neuroscience – studies valued cognitive qualities that enrich existence, rather than focusing on pathologies or mental illness
  • Social Neuroscience – uses biological concepts and methods to study how social processes arise among biological systems
  • Social Cognitive Neuroscience – uses tools of neuroscience to study social behavior and competence, focusing particularly on mental processes and constructs
  • Cultural Neuroscience – studies the interrelations between neurobiological systems and cultural environments
  • Neuroanthropology – studies the coupling of brain and culture, including how brains give rise to cultures and how cultures influence brains
  • Affective Neuroscience – inquires into the neural dynamics associated with emotions – which, given the central role of affect in robust and deep learning, is of increasing interest to educators


Among educationists, there are few criticisms of Neuroscience, but concerns are frequently voiced about enthusiastic embraces and uncritical applications of its medically focused insights. With relatively little attention to social, culture, and ecological matters, Neuroscience is simply too narrow to address the many and varied issues that surround learning.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning

The scientific status of Neuroscience can’t be questioned, but it is fair to ask if the words “theory” and “learning” can be applied to describe it. We are classifying it as a theory of learning here because the field has provided insights into the complex dynamics of learning that surpass almost every other entry on our map. That said, with specific regard to formal education, Neuroscience does fall short on formatting many of its insights in ways that are immediately useful.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Among its core foci, Neuroscience is interested in how the nervous system can be changed. Thus, while it is not a theory of teaching, it has contributed substantially to discussions. (See Neuroeducation.)

Status as a Scientific Theory

The scientific status of Neuroscience can’t be questioned.


  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cultural Neuroscience
  • Neuroanthropology
  • Positive Neuroscience
  • Social Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Social Neuroscience

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Neuroscience” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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