I'm an engineering student who is doing some subjective tests.

  • What are the difference between psychophysics and neurophysiology?
  • Is it correct that in the latter case, we have to implant to read the brain signals?

1 Answer 1


I'm glad you asked! The two fields are really quite different, but I think people get them confused since the terms both make reference to physics and something vaguely mental.

Psychophysics is basically the measurement of subjective percepts corresponding to physical stimuli (e.g. measuring pain thresholds or visual acuity). So here the 'physics' refers to the physical reality we're trying to represent in our mind.

Research here is almost exclusively behavioral, with the classic paradigm being to try and determine the 'just noticeable difference' between two stimuli. Signal detection theory has also been hugely influential for data analysis in the field. I find it helpful to think of psychophysics as experimental cognitive psychology at its least abstract.

Neurophysiology, on the other hand, investigates the anatomical structures underlying the brain (e.g. categorizing the types of neuron, figuring out what glia are made of). Thus the 'physics' referred to here is the physical structures underlying the brain.

Here the methodology involves various sorts of neuroimaging, tissue sampling, and other ways of probing human and animal brains at various levels of intrusiveness.

Note that these definitions paint the two fields with very broad strokes, so I'd do further research if you want to differentiate say, neurophysiology from neurobiology, but I think this suffices for the purposes of your question.

Hope that helps!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I would say neurophysiology also included emergent behavior, like breathing or heartbeat, not just underlying anatomical structure. That's essentially the difference: psychophysics (as you say) pertains to subjective experience, while neurophysiology pertains to objective processes. $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2013 at 11:25
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Physiology really only refers to the study of function. Physics and physiology share a common root word, and there are many physical principles studied in physiology (pressure, fluid dynamics, adhesion, etc.), but I wouldn't say that they are synonymous. $\endgroup$ Apr 21, 2013 at 1:21
  • $\begingroup$ (it's a good answer regardless, but (over)oversimplifying might be hampering when the OP tries to look for more information) $\endgroup$ Apr 21, 2013 at 1:22
  • $\begingroup$ Physiology is strictly functional, not anatomical. $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2016 at 12:40

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