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Biopsychology: Biological Rhythms - Evaluating Endogenous Pacemakers & Exogenous Zeitgebers

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 10 Apr 2017

Here are some key evaluation points relating to endogenous pacemakers & exogenous zeitgebers.

The importance of the SCN has been demonstrated in research. Morgan (1955) bred hamsters so that they had circadian rhythms of 20 hours rather than 24. SCN neurons from these abnormal hamsters were transplanted into the brains of normal hamsters, which subsequently displayed the same abnormal circadian rhythm of 20 hours, showing that the transplanted SCN had imposed its pattern onto the hamsters. This research demonstrates the significance of the SCN and how endogenous pacemakers are important for biological circadian rhythms.

However, this research is flawed because of its use of hamsters. Humans would respond very differently to manipulations of their biological rhythms, not only because we are different biologically, but also because of the vast differences between environmental contexts. This makes research carried out on other animals unable to explain the role of endogenous pacemakers in the biological processes of humans.

There is research support for the role of melanopsin. Skene and Arendt (2007) claimed that the majority of blind people who still have some light perception have normal circadian rhythms whereas those without any light perception show abnormal circadian rhythms. This demonstrates the importance of exogenous zeitgebers as a biological mechanism and their impact on biological circadian rhythms.

There is further research support for the role of exogenous zeitgebers. When Siffre (see above) returned from an underground stay with no clocks or light, he believed the date to be a month earlier than it was. This suggests that his 24-hour sleep-wake cycle was increased by the lack of external cues, making him believe one day was longer than it was.  This highlights the impact of external factors on bodily rhythms.

Despite all the research support for the role of endogenous pacemakers and exogenous zeitgebers, the argument could still be considered biologically reductionist. For example, the behaviourist approach would suggest that bodily rhythms are influenced by other people and social norms, i.e. sleep occurs when it is dark because that is the social norm and it wouldn’t be socially acceptable for a person to conduct their daily routines during the night. The research discussed here could be criticised for being reductionist as it only considers a singular biological mechanism and fails to consider the other widely divergent viewpoints.

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