Paper 1, Topic 4: Psychopathology

Look at that!  We’ve almost finished our detailed overview of all the topics in Paper One.  Give yourself a pat on the back!  And me, please give me a pat on the back, too.

So, Psychopathology, as we’ve already covered, is a fancy word for mental illness.  That means that in this topic, we learn how to define mental illness, and then we learn the characteristics of Phobias, Depression and OCD, then how to explain and treat them!  And then we’re done, sort of.  Without further ado, here’s our bullet-point list of everything in Psychopathology.

  • Definitions of Abnormality
  • Phobias; Depression; Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Behavioural Approach to Explaining and Treating Phobias
  • Cognitive Approach to Explaining and Treating Depression
  • Biological Approach to Explaining and Treating OCD

That’s all of it – onward we go!

Definitions of Abnormality

Before we move on to explaining and treating the three core mental illnesses in this topic, we need to discuss exactly how mental illness is defined.  As it turns out, there are four different definitions of abnormality.

The first one is Statistical Infrequency.  That one is pretty simple to figure out.  You should have gone over measures of central tendency in GCSE Maths, and measures of central tendency are a good place to start here.  See, from your mean average, which should usually be the very middle of the population, you get a spread of different statistics around this mean score.  Usually, an ‘abnormal’ measure is something that is two standard deviations away from the mean.

For example, the most common age for a woman to have a baby is around 30 years old in the UK, and a standard deviation from this point is five years.  This makes having a baby before the age of 20 or after the age of 40 abnormal.

We can define mental illness like this, too.

The next definition of abnormality is Deviation from Social Norms, which is not a maths-based concept.  It’s quite simple, really: showing up to school in a wetsuit unprompted is a deviation from the social norm and is not considered an acceptable behaviour.  Standing in the middle of London Victoria and screaming is a deviation from social norms.  Not shaking the president’s hand is a deviation from social norms.  Some of these rules are unspoken, whilst some are enforced by law.

After this, we have Failure to Function Adequately.  This is when someone is unable to go about their day-to-day life in an effective way, such that it causes them or the people around them to become distressed.  This means things like not eating or not doing the laundry.  It is important to note that this must cause the individual or their peers some distress, as some people are quite content with their living conditions and in these cases a label of abnormality is not considered appropriate.

Finally, we have Deviation from Ideal Mental Health.  This one is pretty widely criticised because of the parameters it lays out for ideal mental health being unrealistic.  It’s based on the fact that according to Jahoda, we diagnose physical illness by looking for an absence of certain signs, which also applies to her theories about mental health.  She claims that an entirely mentally healthy individual will high self-esteem, self-actualisation, integration and an ability to deal with stress, independence, an accurate perception of reality, and a mastery of the environment.

Phobias, Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

The disorders studied in this topic are defined under three different categories of behaviour and distress: cognitive, behavioural, and emotional.

Phobias are defined as an intense fear and avoidance of a specific object or situation.  You might be familiar with arachnophobia, or the fear of spiders.  The emotional characteristics of phobias are persistent and excessive feelings of fear, anxiety and panic cued by the presence of a specific object or situation.  The key behavioural characteristic of Phobia is avoidance of the feared object or situation, with involuntary bodily responses such as the freeze-or-faint response occurring.  The Avoidance will interfere significantly with the individual’s day-to-day life.  The main cognitive characteristic of Phobia is irrational thought and a resistance to rational thought, however it should be noted that most individuals with phobias are usually aware that their thoughts are irrational, and this is the distinguishing factor between Phobia and disorders with an element of psychosis.

Depression is a mood disorder, with varying characteristics.  For Depression to be diagnosed, an individual’s emotional characteristics must comprise of at least five symptoms, and these must include sadness or loss of interest in previously-enjoyed activities.  Anger may also factor into this.  Behavioural characteristics can be observed as the depressed patient having an increased or decreased activity level, amount of sleep, and appetite.  Finally, the main cognitive characteristic of Depression is a negative view of the world, the self, and the future – and this is often irrational.

OCD is another anxiety disorder, with the key emotional characteristics being severe anxiety, with guilt and embarrassment also occurring frequently.  The key cognitive characteristic in OCD is obsessions, which are often very intrusive and upsetting thoughts which cause anxiety.  As with Phobia, it should be noted that individuals with OCD are able to recognise that these thoughts come from their own mind, rather than being inserted in some way, which differentiates it from psychotic disorders.  The main behavioural characteristic of OCD is compulsions, which are often performed to try to ease the distress of obsessions, though there may not be any perceivable link between the action and the thought.

The Behavioural Approach to Explaining and Treating Phobias

We talked about Learning Theory when we covered Attachment, and Learning Theory comes into play again here, so try to keep in mind the general concept of reinforcement that lies behind Learning Theory.

The main way of explaining Phobias is through something called the Two-Process Model, which explains how a Phobia is formed, and then how a Phobia is reinforced.  The first step is called initiation, and focuses on the formation of the Phobia.  It happens through a process called Classical Conditioning, which we didn’t really cover in Attachment, so try to keep an eye on this one.

Let’s say you have a Phobia of balloons.  I use balloons because I have a lot of friends who really hate them.  A lot of the time, the aversion to balloons doesn’t come from the balloon itself, but from either the loud noise they make when they pop or the horrible squeaky noise they make when you rub against them.  (If, by some miracle, you’re using this in class, and if there are balloons in your classroom, do not pop them or rub against them just to distress a classmate.  Also, if you have a classmate with particularly fine hair, don’t rub it against their head.  Getting rid of the frizz is an ordeal – trust me.)  This is called association.  The Unconditioned Stimulus is the noise, and the Unconditioned Response is anxiety (the fight-or-flight-or-freeze response).  The balloon is a Neutral Stimulus, but the association with noise turns it into a Conditioned Stimulus, and an individual has the Conditioned Response of anxiety.

That part is how the Phobia is initiated.  The next bit is how the phobia is maintained.

The phobia is maintained through a process called Operant Conditioning – and this is what we covered in Learning Theory, if you remember, which I hope you do.  It’s based on reward – that part is very important.  The reward in this case is avoiding the discomfort associated with the noise.  This is called negative reinforcement, as the reward is the loss, rather than the gain, of something.  This makes the behaviour more likely in the future.

That’s how the phobia is maintained.  When we cover this in more depth, I’ll tell you about some weird insect stuff – it’s pretty dope.

Now, we move onto how to treat phobias.  This can be done in a couple of ways – through something called Systematic Desensitisation, or through Flooding.  We’ll start with Systematic Desensitisation, because Flooding is… kind of (very) mean.

Systematic Desensitisation and Flooding follow the same general concepts.  The first step is always to start with learning relaxation techniques, though, because the anxiety response always involves a release of adrenaline and several bodily processes.  For all my pals who have panic attacks, you might be familiar with these as the breathing exercises your friends and family go through with you to stop you hyperventilating and make your chest hurt a little less.  This works because the patient begins to associate the stimulus with relaxation, not fear.  This is called counterconditioning (this is also called why revising is great, because I did not know that 30 seconds ago, and the exam is in nine days, which is absolutely fine and absolutely does not make me feel faintly nauseous.)

Your warning before scrolling down is that if you’re using the textbook, it’s a good idea to be mindful that in this block, there is a large and slightly gross photo of a tarantula.  I will not be replicating this image.

The process of Systematic Desensitisation works through a hierarchy of five steps.  We’ve been through the first step, which is relaxation.  The next step is having the individual construct the desensitisation hierarchy with their therapist – they’ll go through what’ll cause them a little bit of distress right through to something that causes them a lot of distress.  They’ll take the hierarchy stage-by-stage, going through each step one at a time.  Once they have mastered one step, they can move onto the next.  Eventually, they will have mastered the entire hierarchy.

Flooding has only two steps.  The first one is relaxation again.  The next one is – well – flooding.  The individual is exposed to their phobia outright, through one long desensitisation session in which they practice the relaxation techniques.  This is thought to work because adrenaline can only last out in the body for so long before it is no longer produced, at which point the association can begin to occur.

Cognitive Approach to Explaining and Treating Depression

We haven’t learnt the cognitive approach yet.  Or, we might have – I have, because my A Levels start in nine days – but if you’re using this to learn Psychology, you probably haven’t.  Either way, let’s briefly run over the Cognitive Approach.  The Cognitive Approach focuses on thoughts and why people think like they do.  In Memory, we discussed that Input > Process > Output model, and the Cognitive Approach Focuses on the Process part of that.

The Cognitive Approach to Explaining Depression asserts that Depression is caused by negative and irrational thought processes.  It is explained through Ellis’s ABC model, and through Beck’s Negative Triad.  I’m going to start with the ABC model, because it’s stuck to the wall right in front of me, which means I don’t need to faff about with finding information.  (Occam’s Razor works here, even if it doesn’t in Learning Theory of Attachment.)

So, the ABC Model.  ABC stands for Activation, Belief, Consequence.  In all circumstances, there is an Activating Event.  My form tutor’s voice is reminding me that now is not an appropriate time to cover the philosophy behind that, and – oddly – I think I can hear Aaron Burr saying it as well.  But, yes, there is always an Activating Event.  Let’s use being fired as an example.  This then leads to a belief, and here’s where it varies a bit.  The belief can be either Rational or Irrational.  A rational belief might be something like: “the company was going bankrupt and had to make sacrifices – I’ll find a new job”.  An irrational belief could be: “I will never, ever find another job”.  As with anything, there is a Consequence to this.  The consequence of a rational thought tends to be a healthy emotion, whereas with the irrational thought it will be an unhealthy emotion.  The unhealthy emotion can then lead to depression.

Beck’s negative triad is equally simple.  It asserts that in the development of Depression, an individual has three irrational negative views: a negative view of the self, a negative view of the world, and a negative view of the future.  These all feed into each other and directly worsen each other.  For example, a negative view of the self might be “I’m stupid”, which could lead to a negative view of the future being “I’ll never get a job” and a negative view of the world being “everyone is more successful than me” – do you see how the points of the triad all have an effect on each other?

That’s a rhetorical question, and the answer is yes, you do.  Or you don’t – in which case, leave a comment, and I’ll see what I can do to help.

Now, onto treatment.  The main cognitive treatment for depression is called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  Try to store this one, as it’s pertinent information for when we study Schizophrenia, unless you aren’t studying Schizophrenia.  Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is centred around correcting irrational thoughts, and it is something called a talking therapy.

If you don’t like the sound of CBT, but you’re struggling a little bit, I’m going to urge you to see your GP here anyway.  We don’t cover them in Psychology, but there are other talking therapies which might suit your needs better.

Back onto CBT.  Firstly, Ellis called his therapy RET, or Resolving Emotions Therapy, because that’s what he was focusing on, but that’s not massively important.

Ellis also extended the ABC model to the ABCDEF model, with DEF focusing on how to treat it.  That’s simple, but also kind of inane – how long do you think it took him to extend out that acronym into something workable?  I want to say a lot.

D means Disputing, which means disputing the irrational thoughts.  There are a few kinds of disputing.  These are called logical disputing, empirical disputing, and pragmatic disputing.  Logical disputing follows an ‘is this realistic’ thought pattern, empirical disputing is ‘is there evidence for this’, and pragmatic disputing is ‘is this helpful to me’.

The E is Effective Disputing and Effective Attitude to Life – so everything is basically just super effective.  The F is for the new Feelings after therapy.  See what I mean about it being sort of inane?  You still need to know it though, so – deal, I guess.

Individuals undergoing CBT are also often given homework to do between sessions, such as keeping a mood diary or log.  It is also supposed to focus of Behavioural Activation, or encouraging individuals to engage in activities that they haven’t engaged in, which plays on the common idea that enjoyable activities are an antidote to Depression.  The therapist should also offer the individual Unconditional Positive Regard, in order to convince the individual of their value as a human being and reduce feelings of worthlessness.

Biological Approach to Explaining and Treating OCD

Advance Warning:  This bit’s the science bit – sorry.  I don’t really like it either.

I’m assuming you kind of already know what the biological approach entails – it’s body stuff.  So, in explaining OCD, you have genetic explanations and you have neural explanations.  Genetic explanations refer to the stuff that gets passed down to you from your parents, whilst neural explanations refer to stuff that goes wrong in the brain itself.

There are two main genes in the genetic explanation, and then something called the diathesis-stress model.  The first gene here is called the COMT gene, which regulates dopamine.  Having too much Dopamine is implicated in OCD.  One form of the COMT gene is more frequent in people with OCD, and this form produces lower COMT activity and higher levels of Dopamine.

The next gene is called the SERT gene, which affects serotonin transmission.  The variation of the SERT gene found in OCD is associated with lower levels of serotonin, another neurotransmitter.

The final part, the diathesis-stress model, is important to remember because, like CBT, it comes up in Schizophrenia.  It’s based on the idea that the gene may exist, but the disorder has to be activated by a stressor in the environment.  Someone with a dramatic variation on the COMT or SERT gene might only require a slight stressor to develop the disorder, whereas someone with a slight variation of the gene would require a more drastic stressor.

Now, we move onto neural explanations.  This is pretty fun revision for me, because I can’t remember a thing about these off the top of my head.

Neural explanations have two components to them: abnormal levels of neurotransmitters, and abnormal circuits in the brain.

We’ve already touched on abnormal levels of neurotransmitters.  High levels of dopamine are implicated in OCD, as suggested by animal studies which show that doses of dopamine cause the compulsive moments associate with OCD.  In contrast, low levels of serotonin are implicated in OCD, based on the fact that antidepressants which increase serotonin have been shown to have a positive effect on OCD, whilst those that don’t do not.

Brain circuits.  I hate this part.  There’s so much stuff and far too many words.  I’ll try and keep it simple.  The three important parts of the brain here are the Caudate Nucleus, the Orbitofrontal Cortex, and the Thalamus.  In OCD, the Caudate Nucleus does not suppress messages from the Orbitofrontal Cortex.  This means that the Orbitofrontal Cortex doesn’t filter out the stimuli which aren’t worrying when sending worry messages to the Thalamus.  This is called a worry circuit.

Neurotransmitters are implicated here, too, because serotonin is integral in the function of the Caudate Nucleus and the Orbitofrontal Cortex, and dopamine is important in the part of the brain these are located in (the Basal Ganglia)

Now onto treatments.  This is biological, so they’re mostly drug treatments, because lobotomies are considered outdated and unethical.

The first and most common drug treatment is the use of SSRIs.  Unfortunately, you need a bit of biology to know how these work, so here: when an impulse reaches the end of a nerve, it has to move across a synapse to the next nerve.  Sometimes the neurotransmitte gets reabsorbed.  SSRIs focus on serotonin, and they try to stop this from happening by making the next nerve more receptive to serotonin, by inhibiting the re-absorption from the last nerve.

If SSRIs don’t work, an individual might be prescribed tricyclic antidepressants, which also implicate the action of a neurotransmitter called noradrenaline.  These work in the same way as SSRIs, by blocking re-absorption from the pre-synaptic neuron, but it affects two neurotransmitters.  However, it also causes more serious side-effects.

Benzodiazepines, which are anti-anxiety medication, might also be used.  These slow down activity in the Central Nervous System and encourage the activity of a relaxant neurotransmitter called GABA.  This makes it harder for other neurotransmitters to stimulate the neuron, which relaxes the individual.

And – whew – would you look at that!  We’ve whizzed through all of Paper One now, so I’m going to jump onto Social Influence again, topic by topic.  Get your evaluation brains out, pals, because we’re going to be evaluating.

Or, I’m essentially going to be writing short essays, because copying the textbook is kind of boring.


Paper 1, Topic 3: Attachment

And we’re back again!  This one’s on Attachment, just in case you didn’t read the title.  Attachment explores how infants bond with their caregivers – or don’t.  It’ll go through how it happens and why it’s so important, touch on what happens when they don’t, and how attachments affect an infant’s later relationships.

I actually did my EPQ on child development, with a focus on Attachment, so I love this topic a lot!

As always, here’s a rundown of everything in the topic:

  • Caregiver-infant interactions in humans; stages of attachment
  • Animal studies of attachment
  • Explanations of attachment; learning theory, Bowlby’s monotropic theory
  • Ainsworth’s Strange Situation; types of attachment; Cultural variations in attachment
  • Bowlby’s theory of maternal deprivation; Romanian orphan studies and effects of institutionalisation
  • Influence of early attachment on childhood and adult relationships

Caregiver-infant interactions in humans and stages of attachment

So, people communicate with one another.  That’s a fact.  We don’t always do it well, but most of us give it a try, at the very least.

This starts from when an infant is as young as ten minutes old.  The two types of main communication in infants are called interactional synchrony and reciprocity.  None of these involve actually speaking, because apart from an infant in a story that Dick King Smith once wrote, very young infants cannot speak.

Interactional Synchrony is, basically, imitation.  That’s the short form of it, anyway.  If an adult model displays clear and specific facial and hand movements, it’s very likely that an infant will imitate these gestures.

Reciprocity is the conversational rhythm that an infant and a caregiver have in their interactions.  This is a similar rhythm to the one you’d have in an everyday conversation: if the person you’re speaking to is speaking, you don’t speak.  If they smile, you carry on with the same train of thought you started with.  The difference is, of course, that the infant is not speaking.

These are important because they are a way in which infants can bond with caregivers even before they develop speech.

There are also four stages of attachment that an infant goes through before being “attached”, if that is the right way to put it.  The first stage is called indiscriminate attachment, and it refers to the fact that when a child is very young, it will show no stranger anxiety and be as interested in inanimate toys as it is in people.  The next stage is called the beginnings of attachment.  It is the phase in which a child shows a preference towards people, and can distinguish between familiar people and strangers, but doesn’t have any specific attachments.

After this, a child will form a discriminate attachment with a particular caregiver.  The child will become very distressed if separated from this key caregiver.  This caregiver is called the primary caregiver.  After some time, the child will form secondary attachments with people like grandparents and siblings; this phase is called multiple attachments, and usually marks that an infant’s development regarding attachment is complete.

Animal Studies of Attachment

So, it can be pretty hard to study human attachments, because removing infants from their caregivers to see how they respond is considered unethical in most communities.

Something which isn’t considered unethical, apparently, is removing half a clutch of gosling eggs from their mother to see what would happen when they hatched – and this is what a man called Lorenz did.  He made sure that his clutch of goslings saw him first for the first 12 hours of his life, and then he put the goslings back together with the original batch to see who followed the mother goose and who followed him.  Lo and behold – all the goslings who had seen Lorenz first followed him, and all the ones who had seen their mother first followed her.  This is called imprinting, and is considered important because it suggests the presence of something called a critical period for attachment.

The next animal study is considered unethical, and quite rightly so.  It concerns a man called Harlow, who studied eight infant rhesus monkeys in order to see if contact comfort was more important than food.  He did this by giving either group of four monkeys a ‘wire’ mother and a ‘cloth’ mother.  In one condition, the wire mother had the feeding bottle, and in the other, the cloth mother had it.  He found that regardless, the infant rhesus monkeys spent more time with the cloth mother.  This suggests that contact comfort is more important in forming attachments than food.

Explanations of Attachment

We study two explanations for Attachment in Psychology: learning theory, and Bowlby’s monotropic theory.

The first one we’ll go over is learning theory.  Here’s your warning: it’s… kind of cold, and also considered to be mostly wrong.  Learning Theory asserts that food is the most important thing in forming attachments.  Here’s a break to talk about a guy called Pavlov, who you may have already heard of.  He tested dogs’ salivation, and conditioned them so that they’d salivate on the ring of a bell, even if they weren’t given food.  This is they way that learning theorists think attachment forms.

They claim that hunger causes discomfort, and food relieves it.  That part is right.  They claim that the primary caregiver provides food, which relieves the discomfort.  That part is also right.  As such, the primary caregiver becomes associated with the food, which makes them a secondary reinforcer.

You’ll learn briefly about Occam’s Razor later, but for now, please bear in mind that in the above case, simplest is not always best.

Bowlby’s theory of monotropy is a bit more complex, sort of because it’s a concept rather than a process, so we’ll start with the big picture, then narrow down the details.

Humans are on earth because they survived.  Babies are on earth because humans want to carry on surviving.  Babies cannot survive on their own, which is where caregivers enter the picture to try and keep their offspring alive.  However, this caring has to happen within the critical period we explored above, with Lorenz, or an attachment cannot form.  This is very important, because attachments form something called an internal working model, which impact how the child considers relationships in later life.

There’s sort of a quid pro quo in all of this, in that it’s believed that easier babies have more secure attachments than fussy or sickly babies.  This is because “easy” babies are likely to use social releasers, like smiling, to elicit caregiving behaviours from their primary caregivers, in order to form attachments.  Similarly, the caregiver has to be sensitive and responsive to the child’s needs, or attachments won’t form as easily.

Ainsworth’s Strange Situation

Earlier I said that human attachment studies were usually considered unethical, but this one: the Strange Situation, has been in use for a while.

Ainsworth developed the experiment, whose many stages I will go over in a later post, to develop three different types of attachment.  In order to determine these, she took measures of infants’ separation anxiety, stranger anxiety, willingness to explore, and reunion behaviour.

Eventually, she developed three types of Attachment: Secure, Insecure-Avoidant, and Insecure-Resistant.  The three types have different characteristics to each other.

Securely Attached children are often considered to be the type with the most cooperative and harmonious interactions with their caregivers.  They often show moderate separation and stranger anxiety, a high willingness to explore, and eager and cooperative reunion behaviour.

Insecure-Avoidant children are recognisable by their indifference in attachment behaviours.  They show little to no separation and stranger anxiety, a high willingness to explore, and will avoid the caregiver on their return.

Insecure-Resistant children have an anxious disposition, and will seek and resist contact from caregivers.  They show very high separation and stranger anxiety, a very low willingness to explore, and seek, then resist contact from the caregiver on their return.

A researcher called Van Ijzendoorn studied the Strange Situation in the context of other cultures.  He found that whilst a Secure attachment was the most prevailing type of attachment, other types of attachment did not necessarily hold the negative connotations in other cultures as they did in the United States.  For example, cultural differences mean that children in West Germany held a higher percentage of Insecure-Avoidant attachments, whilst in Japan there were a higher percentage of Insecure-Resistant attachments.

Bowlby’s Theory of Maternal Deprivation

Bowlby, whose theory of monotropy we explored above, also examined what happened when children were continually apart from their mothers in the development of early attachment, specifically during the critical period.

There’s already a key question here, and its lack of an answer is one of the main criticisms of the study: we aren’t quite sure if Bowlby means that a child forms an attachment, and then the mother is removed, or if the child never forms an attachment at all.  For the sake of ease, most people go for the former for Bowlby, as a researcher called Rutter covers the latter.

Nevertheless, Bowlby’s research is very important.  See, when Bowlby proposed that emotional warmth and a secure environment were as important for a child’s development as physical healthcare, it was the first time anyone had suggested as much.  As some of you may well be aware, in science, when something is suggested for the first time, the natural next step is to test the theory.

Bowlby conducted a study called the 44 Thieves study, to test the effects of early separation on a child’s later development.  He found that amongst “normal” juveniles, normal thieves, and affectionless thieves, it was the affectionless thieves who had the highest percentage of time apart from their mothers in early childhood.  This supports Bowlby’s theory that simple physical care isn’t enough to sustain a child’s development.

A different psychologist, Rutter, then posed the question of what would happen if a child didn’t form any attachments at all in the critical period.  Luckily for him, he rather had the opportunity to find out without being accused of unethical conduct, in the form of a case study.

I’m going to go through exactly why this was, because I’m a history buff and I find it really interesting, but for the sake of keeping things easy to read, I’ll put it in italics, so you can easily skip the section if you’d like.

In 1966, a dictator called Nicolae Ceausescu took power in Romania.  He wanted to boost populations, so he illegalised things like contraception and abortion, supposedly for a greater number of workers.  However, he didn’t improve healthcare to correspond with these changes, which left many mothers dead, and many children orphans.

Rutter studied the Romanian orphans compared to a control group of British children adopted before the age of six months.  He found that the Romanian Orphans adopted to the age of six months caught up developmentally to their British counterparts.  However, those who were adopted after this often had long lasting deficits: they were physically smaller and intellectually weaker.  Additionally, they also had trouble forming discriminate attachments, and often found parenting difficult in adulthood.  This supports both Bowlby’s theory above, as well as the theory we studied a few paragraphs up touching on internal working models and the continuity hypothesis.

Influence of Early Attachment on Childhood and Adult Relationships

The influence of early attachment on childhood and adult relationships sort of works like getting used to school does.  You have your first day at a new school, so you think about your first day at an old school to make things easier: you know you’ll have lessons for most of the day, and a break in the morning and a break at lunch, and you also know that now is a good time to start talking to people.

The internal working model kind of works like that as well: you base your current relationships on that first proper attachment.  Someone with a secure attachment will show these behaviours in later attachments, with the same applying to people whose first attachments were Insecure-Avoidant or Insecure Resistant.

This is reflected in a study by Hazan and Shaver which assessed the Internal Working Model using a questionnaire published in a small town magazine.  They found that people rated as having more secure attachments as children tended to have more positive attitudes towards love, as well as happier and longer-lasting relationships compared to Insecure-Avoidant and Insecure-Resistant individuals.

A study called the Minnesota Parent-Child study found similar results in childhood relationships, with children who had secure attachments in infancy supposedly being more popular than peers with insecure attachments.  Furthermore, a study by Quinton found support for Rutter’s findings, as it also found that children who fail to form secure attachments in infancy are usually poorer parents.

That’s a wrap on Attachment! Next up is Psychopathology, and then we’ll start again from Social Influence, but in much, much more depth!

Paper 1, Topic 2: Memory

Okay, so we’ve flicked through Social Influence, which means that we are officially ready to move on to Memory.  In Psychology, we don’t just consider memory to be the stuff stored in the brain – we take it as a process.  First, there’s the information that goes into the brain, then there’s what happens in the brain itself to store that information, and then there’s what you’d think of as memory, which is retrieval of information.

Here’s a rundown of the topics in memory:

  • Multi-Store Model of Memory
  • Types of Long-Term Memory
  • Working Memory Model
  • Explanations for Forgetting
  • Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimony
  • Improving Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimony

So, the first thing you need to know is that I’m not going through these in this order.  The first thing I’m going to do is give you a rundown of long- and short- term memory because you need to know them, even though they aren’t on this list.  I wouldn’t recommend trying to shortcut your revision by skipping straight to the Multi-Store Model of Memory – it’ll have negative consequences in the long run – trust me.

Long- and Short-Term Memory

Long- and Short-Term Memory are sort of what they sound like: you’ve got stuff that you remember from when you were five, and stuff you remember from seconds ago.  For example, I have a distinct memory, from when I was five, of my older brother telling me that our parents had died (I almost forgot to clarify here that my parents had not, in fact, died – my brother was winding me up).  In the short term, I vaguely register the sensation of air from the fan in my bedroom hitting my skin, and then I discard it.

There are some main things in Long- and Short-Term Memory that contribute to how they’re processed.  These things are Capacity, Duration, and Coding, and the different types of memory have different ways of dealing with these things.

Firstly, capacity.  Capacity is much stuff the brain can have in it at once.  For the Long-Term Memory, capacity is supposedly limitless.  The Short-Term Memory’s capacity is thought to be limited to five to nine items (remember: seven is the magic number for STM).

Duration.  Duration is how long information can stay in the brain.  The Long-Term Memory can supposedly retain information for an unlimited amount of time (we’ll go into whether this is true when we cover the topic in detail), whilst the short term memory’s duration is supposed to be less than 18 seconds.  We’ll cover whether that second bit is true later, as well.

Finally, Coding.  There are two different types of coding: acoustic and semantic.  Acoustic coding is based on the way things sound, and is thought to have more of an impact on the Short-Term Memory.  Semantic Coding is based on what things mean, and is thought to have more of an impact on the Long-Term Memory.

The Multi-Store Memory Model

This part is fun.  No, really – it’s every number process machine you ever filled out in primary school maths, but with words instead.

So, the Multi-Store Memory Model is kind of the prototype to how we view memory, and there are a few different stages to it, and in diagrams, there are a lot of arrows.  Maybe I’ll make a video for it later.

So, part one is Environmental Stimuli, which is the stuff around you.  For me, right now, some environmental stimuli is the Harry Potter soundtrack, and also my fan.  Environmental Stimuli naturally goes into your Sensory Register, and if you pay attention to that, it’ll go into your Short-Term Memory.

If you rehearse the information in your Short-Term Memory, either through elaboration or maintenance rehearsal (more on these later), they’ll go on into the Long-Term Memory.  If you don’t rehearse them, they’ll just kind of drop out of the Short-Term Memory, and you won’t be able to retrieve them anymore.  If you want to retrieve something from the Long-Term Memory, you need to retrieve it and pull it back into the Short-Term Memory.

The Multi-Store Memory Model was criticised by psychologists, and then developed into the Working Memory Model.

The Working Memory Model

The Working Memory Model is kind of like Multi-Store Memory Model 2: Electric Boogaloo: The Reboot: The Second.  That is to say, it’s supposed to be based on the multi-store memory model, but they’re very different.

The Working Memory Model has a few different components to it: a Central Executive, A Phonological Loop, A Visuo-Spatial Sketchpad, and an Episodic Buffer.

The Central Executive supposedly governs over all of these different functions, and will step in to help if things go wrong – and they do go wrong, sometimes.  The Phonological Loop concerns information that is heard, and is split into two different parts.  One part is the phonological store, which holds words you hear, and the other part is an articulatory loop, which is when you read words in your head.  The Visuo-Spatial Sketchpad concerns things that you see, and is split into a Visual Cache and an Inner Scribe.  The Visual Cache stores information about objects, like colour and shape, whilst the Inner Scribe takes in details about the placement of objects.

These things lead to the Long-Term Memory.

The episodic buffer was added later, and provides a communication point between the Long-Term Memory and the Central Executive.

Types of Long-Term Memory

There are three types of Long-Term Memory: episodic, semantic, and procedural.  These are divided into implicit and explicit memories: procedural is implicit, whilst episodic and semantic are explicit.

Episodic memories are memories of events that have happened, and they have three specific components: detail, context, and emotion.  So, earlier, I mentioned the time my brother convinced me our parents had died.  I remember the details of this as it being a school night, and my brother and I were sitting in the living room.  He was on the sofa, and I was on the floor, between the sofa and the door.  I remember my mother coming in afterwards, and I remember feeling very distressed.  This is an example of an episodic memory.

A Semantic Memory is knowing something like a fact – it is knowledge about the world.  It may concern the functions of objects, but it may also concern knowing things like appropriate behaviour in a particular situation.  One example of a Semantic Memory is knowing that the Sun is a star, whilst another example of a Semantic Memory is knowing that screaming into the void is usually only considered acceptable if you are alone.

A Procedural Memory is a little different to the other two: it’s knowing how to do something.  Usually, you don’t think about procedural memories as you carry them out.  Things like tying your shoelaces are procedural memories, because you are just able to do them – you don’t need to think about them.  These usually start off as semantic or episodic.

Here’s a burr that might help you remember Procedural Memories: I still rely on semantic memories to help me tie my shoelaces, because I have coordination problems.  This means it takes longer.

Explanations for Forgetting

We all forget stuff.  I forget loads of stuff.  I forgot how to open Microsoft Word, once, and this was only a few months ago.  It just happens – but it doesn’t ‘just happen’.

There are two main explanations for forgetting: interference and retrieval failure.

Let’s start with interference, because it’s quite confusing, and I don’t like it very much.  Interference is when a memory stops you from retrieving another memory, and there are two types: retroactive interference, and proactive interference.

Retroactive interference is interference going backwards.  So, imagine this: you’re filling out a form for financial aid, and they ask for your surname as of January 2017.  You got married in February 2017, and so instead of writing Doe, which was your old surname, you write Smith, your new surname.  This is the way that current learning interferes with past learning.

Proactive interference is interference going forwards.  You’re filling out a form and they ask for your surname, which is Smith, now that you’re married – but you write Doe, because you still remember your old surname more.  This is how past learning interferes with current learning.

The next bit, retrieval failure, is a bit easier.  It’s about the way that cues help us remember.  Generally, it goes by the idea that if a certain cue is missing when you try to recall a piece of information, that piece of information will be harder to recall.  That’s why, when you read study tips, they’ll tell you to chew gum when you study and when you take an exam.  It’s obviously useless advice, because anyone who has ever attended a school will know that if you chew gum, that’s an offence more serious than bullying and general teenage manipulativeness, and you shall be exiled.  The science behind it is there, though, so maybe get used to glancing down at that HB yellow and black stabilo pencil.

Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimony

This bit is fun.  I said that about the Multi-Store Memory Model, too.  What can I say?  I like Memory.  It’s a good topic.

So, Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimony is what we’re hoping for when we pull a witness into court to ask them what they saw.  We want the information on which we judge people to be guilty or innocent of a serious crime to be as close to accurate as possible.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case.  There are a number of possible reasons for this.  One of them is contamination, which is what happens when a witness speaks to other witnesses.  The information ends up crossing wires with the information you actually knew, and it gets very confused.  Think of it as a kind of deja vu – you know it isn’t real, but it feels real, and if you’re particularly suggestible, you’ll believe the false information.

Another reason, very closely linked to contamination, is when the interviewer asks biased questions.  These are things like asking “what colour hair did the man have?”, as this implies two key things: one, that the criminal was a man, and two, that the criminal had hair.  This can also cause crossed wires with the information in the witness’s mind.

The third reason is anxiety.  Specifically, something called The Weapon Focus Effect.  The Weapon Focus Effect suggests that when a person sees an attack, they will focus on the immediate threat.  In most cases, this is the weapon, not the attacker’s face.  As such, it is more difficult to obtain accurate eyewitness testimony in these cases.

Improving the Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimony

Mercifully, there are ways of improving the accuracy of eyewitness testimony, which means that we aren’t too likely to be constantly giving life sentences to the wrong person.

The main way of doing this is by implementing something called the Cognitive Interview.  This is a way of interviewing witnesses which helps them to recall as much information as possible.  There are a number of different steps to the Cognitive Interview.

The first step is Mental Reinstatement of Original Context.  This takes us back to earlier, when we spoke about episodic memories and retrieval failure.  If we ask someone to remember the cues around them, such as the time, what they were doing beforehand, and the weather, this may help them to recall the circumstances.  The next step is asking the witness to Report Everything, even if it doesn’t seem relevant.  This is for the same reason as the first: because something may act as a cue and trigger the retrieval of important information.

The next two steps are Change Order and Change Perspective.  For Change Order, you might ask a witness to recall the events as they happened, but in backwards chronological order.  This is because it helps to get rid of any preconceptions the witness may have about the way things should be.  The same applies to Change Perspective, which has the witness try to describe the event, but as if they were on the other side of the road to where they really were, for example.

And that’s a wrap on Memory!  We’ll go through these in more depth later, but first, we’re going to give an overview of Attachment, then Psychopathology.  See you then!

Paper 1, Topic 1: Social Influence

I’m hoping that after the last post, you’ll know what’s in Paper One, now – so I’m going to delve deeper into what I’ve covered there before moving on to doing things topic-by-topic.  Hey, I know it’s tedious, but this is my revision, and it works for me!

I’ll go back over exactly what Social Influence is, just in case you haven’t looked at the last two posts.  Social Influence is about how groups of people, or social circumstances, can change the behaviour of an individual.  It also briefly covers how a larger group of people might be influenced by a smaller group of people.

As with the previous two posts, I’m going to give you a list of what’s included in this topic.  This is a bit longer than the other two, just so you know.

  • Types of conformity and explanations for conformity
  • Conformity to social roles
  • Explanations for obedience; agentic state and legitimacy of authority; situational variables; dispositional explanations (phew)
  • Resistance to social influence; social support, locus of control
  • Minority Influence
  • Role of Social Influence in social change

We’ll start from the beginning, because not doing that wouldn’t be particularly productive.

Types of Conformity and Explanations for Conformity

Here, we talk about why individuals might go along with a majority.  It’s sort of like the scientific basis behind every smoking talk you ever had to sit through between Year 7 and Year 11 – or, the social aspect of it, not the stuff about tar in your lungs.

So, there are three different types of conformity and two explanations, which sounds a bit stressful to learn, but I’m just going to give a quick overview of them here – we’ll go into more depth later on.

The first one is Compliance.  That’s when a person doesn’t really agree with what a majority is doing, but goes along with it anyway.  The second is Internalisation, which is when a person totally agrees with what the majority is doing, and they are going to show everyone that as much as possible.  The third one is Identification, which is sort of a mixture of both: it’s when you imitate someone’s behaviour because you want to be associated with a group of people, for whatever reason.

Then, for your explanations, you’ve got Normative and Informational Social Influence.  Normative Social Influence is when you behave in the same way as a group of people to avoid judgement and disapproval.  Informational Social Influence is when you look to a group of people for information on how to behave.

The next thing you’ll learn in this part is some stuff on a researcher called Asch, who studied conformity directly.  I’ll give a general overview on his findings here.  He found that participants in his study did conform to the group as a whole, but maintained their own opinions in private.  He did find that there were variations here, depending on whether the size of the majority, the unanimity of the majority, and the difficulty of the task.  This is an example of Normative Social Influence causing Compliance.

Conformity to Social Roles


Here, we’re talking about why you might behave differently in different social contexts.  You’ll do things differently if you’re in a student’s role, for example, than if you’re in a teacher’s role.  This has been used to explain things like why people behave with so much cruelty in prisons like Abu Ghraib.

The main researcher you’ll learn about here is a researcher called Zimbardo, and his famous Stanford Prison Experiment.  As with Asch, I’m only going to give this a quick, general description here.  There’ll be more on him when I go into the topic in more depth.  Zimbardo found that the people in his study conformed wholeheartedly to their social roles, sometimes dramatically altering their behaviour from usual.

Zimbardo is kind of the cornerstone of this study, and you really learn the concept of conformity to social roles through the Stanford Prison Experiment.


There’s a lot to cover here, but in general, this part goes through obedience in general, and then onto why people might be obedience – and there are a fair few reasons why.

Firstly, you’ll learn about a researcher called Milgram, who’s famous for the electric shock experiments.  He found in his study that almost every participant was fully obedient to the instructions they were given.  There were variations on the levels of obedience depending on Uniform, Proximity, Location, and Legitimacy of Authority.

A strong Legitimacy of Authority makes it more likely that a person will slip into an Agentic State.  An agentic state is a state in which a person no longer feels that they are responsible for their own actions, instead feeling that the legitimate authority figure is responsible for all of their actions.  This is one explanation for obedience, but it is far from the only explanation.

The dispositional explanations for obedience once again come from Milgram.  Milgram suggests that people with a strong Authoritarian Personality are more likely to be obedient to authority.  These people often score highly on something called the California F-Scale.  The three things thought to define an Authoritarian personality, as defined as ‘Right-wing Authoritarianism’, are Conventionalism, Authoritarian Aggression, and Authoritarian Submission.  All three of these can essentially be reduced down to one main concept: follow the rules (Conventionalism) like I do (Authoritarian Submission) or I will be aggressive and disapproving of you (Authoritarian Aggression).

Resistance to Social Influence

As with anything, in some situations, some people are more likely to resist social influence than others.  The two explanations given for this are people having a high internal locus of control, and people being given a lot of social support from the people around them.

Locus of Control refers to where someone places the responsibility for the things that happen to them.  People with a high external locus of control tend to believe that the things that happen to them are outside of their control, and that they are not responsible for them.  People with a high internal locus of control believe that they are the main person responsible for the things that happen to them.  People with a high internal locus of control are thought to be better able to resist social influence due to the high level of responsibility they feel for their own actions.

Social support is when someone has an ally to their internal opinions, who either believes the same thing as the person does, or just disagrees with the majority.  This brings us back to Asch, who found that most people were less likely to conform when they had social support.  Social Support is thought to increase resistance to social influence because it breaks the unanimity of the majority and makes universal disapproval seem less likely.

Minority Influence

Minority Influence is when a smaller group of people influences the majority to change their stance on an issue.  One of the most famous examples of minority influence is the suffragette movement.

Minority influence requires three main behaviours in order to take place.  These are Commitment, Consistency, and Flexibility.  Commitment means that people maintain the minority’s point of view for a considerable period of time, and is considered important because the perceived cost of staying with a minority is greater than defecting to the majority.  Consistency means that that someone sticks with the same point of view without changing too much, which causes the majority to reassess their opinions.  Flexibility means that a person negotiates their position on an issue with the majority, rather than trying to force the majority to take their stance entirely.

The main study here is by Moscovici, and the main finding to take away is that the key factor in causing the majority to change their stance is flexibility above consistency and commitment.

Role of Social Influence in Social Change

Social Change can happen through minority influence or majority influence, with a different process occurring in either one of these.

When the minority influence is the key factor in social change, the main thing to consider is that the majority viewpoint starts off as being different to the minority’s.  As such, the first step in this social change is drawing the majority’s attention to an issue, which then causes cognitive conflict, as the majority tries to reconcile their opinions with the minority’s.  As above, the minority position has to show consistency in their stance, or it is much more difficult to bring about social change.  They must also show that they are willing to suffer for their beliefs, which is called the Augmentation Principle.  Finally, the majority stance begins to shift as more people begin to agree with the minority.  This is called the Snowball Effect.

Majority Influence can also cause social change.  This usually occurs in a different way to minority influence.  Because most people already hold the view that the majority is trying to assert, social change through majority influence happens through correcting a faulty perspective on how many people perform a certain behaviour, such as smoking, which can lead to a person no longer engaging in this behaviour.

And that was a quick rundown of Social Influence.  I would recommend adding a few of the ideas here to the notes you already have from the last spread, with gaps to add information to later on.  We’ll expand on these ideas once I’ve covered the rest of Paper One – you’ll do great, I promise!  Remember to do your own revision, too – I can make this as a revision aid, but I can’t revise for you!



Paper One: Introductory Topics in Psychology

Here, I’m going to give a full rundown of Paper One before moving onto an in-depth page on every module, and then every topic in every module.

We’ve already discussed the content of Paper One, but here it is again, if you’d like it again:

  • Social Influence
  • Memory
  • Attachment
  • Psychopathology

Social Influence

As I explained in my previous post, Social Influence refers to the way in which groups of people influence the behaviour of individuals.  There are some key concepts implicit in Social Influence.  The first one of these is Conformity.

Conformity is whether an individual’s behaviour corresponds to a majority’s behaviour.  It can take place for a few reasons.  One reason is that people don’t want disapproval from the people around them.  Another reason could be that they are using the majority’s behaviour to inform the way that they’re acting if they aren’t sure how to act.

A second important concept is Conformity to a Social Role.  Some psychologists believe that if an individual is placed into a situation where they have a clear social roles, they will behave according to their pre-conceived ideas of how people in that role usually behave.  This is important in examining why people behave in ways that they would not behave in otherwise.

The next concept is Obedience.  It is believed that when faced with authority, some individuals will bend to the will of the authority figure.  Social influence wants to discover why this is and how this happens.  It is believed that both individuals and situations have different variables which can impact whether or not they will obey an authority figure.

Resistance to Social Influence is also important.  It discusses why sometimes people don’t conform to the majority or comply to the authority figure.  There are multiple explanations for this, with some suggesting that support from the people around the individual is crucial for Resistance, whilst others suggest that it is to do with a person’s Locus of Control – or the amount of responsibility they feel for their behaviour.

Minority Influence is one of the ways in which we bring about social change.  It considers the process by which a minority group can alter the general stance of the majority group on a given issue.  Historically, some examples of Minority Influence include Stonewall and the Suffragette movement.


Memory refers to how information is retained by the brain.  It considers the processes by which information is input, stored and output.

There are two different types of memory, Long- and Short-Term, both with subtypes within them.  Long-Term Memory lasts for a greater period of time and has a far greater capacity than Short-Term Memory, but it is much harder to make a Long-Term Memory.

The explanation of how memory works starts with the Multi-Store Memory Model, which was later refined in the form of the Working Memory Model.  The Multi-Store Memory Model provides a linear diagram of how information passes through the Short-Term Memory and onto the Long-Term Memory.  The Working Memory Model suggests that there are other functions implicit in memory, and divides the memory into a group of processes split into auditory and visual coding governed by a ‘Central Executive’ control centre in the brain.

After this, we discuss the different types of Long-Term Memories.  These vary depending on the type of information that is being processed.  This is necessary because knowing a fact is very different to knowing how to make a cup of tea.

The next step is explanations for forgetting.  There are two explanations in the textbook: interference and retrieval failure.  Interference is when older information means that you can’t remember newer information, or vice versa.  Retrieval Failure is when the cues accessible to you aren’t enough to remind you of what you need to know.

Accuracy of eyewitness testimony discusses studies on eyewitness testimony, and why eyewitness testimony is not always accurate.  Some of the reasons why eyewitness testimony isn’t always accurate include contamination by other witnesses, or leading questions from the interviewer.  The accuracy of eyewitness testimony is very important in applied psychology.

Following on from this is how to improve the accuracy of eyewitness testimony.  We cover how police usually question witnesses, and something called the cognitive interview, which is thought to improve memory.


Attachment is focused on how babies and children form relationships with adults and other children.

Firstly, you’ll learn about basic caregiver-infant interactions, called reciprocity and interactional synchrony.  These are the ways that babies communicate with their caregivers before they can speak, which helps them form attachments.  Attachments are formed in different stages before completion.

After this, you’ll explore animal studies of attachment.  The main study concerns ‘imprinting’, and it suggests the presence of a critical period in attachment.  The other main study also suggests a critical period, along with the importance of contact comfort in attachment.

This leads onto the explanations for attachment.  One of these suggests that infants attach to their caregivers because their caregivers provide food, which reduces the discomfort of hunger.  The other suggests that attachment is an innate way of staying safe, and that attachments form the basis for attachments in later life.

Ainsworth’s ‘Strange Situation’ explores the types of attachment and the behaviours that distinguish them from each other.  This is to indicate whether or not a child is securely attached, and the implications this has for their behaviour.  Following on from this, there is discussion about whether Ainsworth’s Strange Situation is applicable only to certain western cultures.

Bowlby’s theory of maternal deprivation explores the impact of an infant not bonding with their caregiver during the aforementioned critical period.  Following this, you will learn about Rutter’s elaboration on Bowlby’s theory using studies of Romanian orphans.  This has implications on a child’s later behaviour and relationships.

As such, we follow on to the influence of early attachment on childhood and adult relationships after this, which brings together the rest of the topic to briefly discuss why early attachment is so important in a child’s formative years.


Psychopathology explores different kinds of mental illnesses and how they are treated.

Psychopathology starts with Definitions of Abnormality, which forms a basis for how we define mental illness.  This is an important starting point as it means that we can discuss why different disorders are considered to be disorders.

After this, you’ll learn the emotional, behavioural and cognitive characteristics of the three disorders covered in this topic.  An emotional characteristic refers to feelings, behavioural refers to observable actions by an individual, and cognitive refers to someone’s thought processes.  These are Phobias, Depression, and OCD.  You need to know the characteristics of the disorders as they form a basis for outlining how to treat and explain them.

The first disorder you’ll focus on is Phobias, which you’ll study through the lens of the Behavioural Approach.  You’ll learn why the Behavioural Approach, and specifically the two process model are used to explain phobias, and you’ll learn about the two main treatments, which are systematic desensitisation and flooding, which both focus on exposing an individual to the feared situation.

The next disorder you’ll focus on is Depression, which is studied through the Cognitive Approach.  The two explanations you’ll learn are Beck’s Negative Triad and Ellis’s ABC model, which assert that the reasoning behind Depression is faulty thinking. The treatment you’ll focus on is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT, which is a talking therapy centred on correcting an individual’s irrational thoughts.

The final disorder you’ll focus on is OCD.  This uses the Biological Approach.  You’ll learn genetic and neural explanations, or which things go wrong in the body and brain to cause the disorder.  The main treatment you’ll learn about is drug therapy, which is targeted at correcting the various things that can go wrong in the body and brain.

And that’s Paper One!  Hopefully, you’re a bit clearer on what you’re learning, now.  I’d recommend that you begin taking notes from here, as this page offers the main ideas for what you’ll need to know in each topic.

The A Level Psychology Syllabus, Paper-by-Paper

If you’re here, I assume you’re an A Level psychology student.  Regardless, welcome, and thank you for visiting.

This first post is concerned with exactly what’s on the syllabus, and in what order – but first, I think it’s important for me to clarify that I am also a student, and so when it comes to Paper Three, we may be taking different modules.  This blog will cover Aggression, Schizophrenia, and Gender.

Without any further ado, here are the papers, and everything that comes under them.

Paper One

Paper One consists of Introductory Topics in Psychology.  These are:

  • Social Influence
  • Memory
  • Attachment
  • Psychopathology

These topics should all be covered in your Year One textbook, in the above order.

If you need a quick refresher on these, look no further.  Social Influence is concerned with the way that individuals are affected by groups of people.  This can include anything from conforming to a group because you agree with them, or conforming because you’re worried about social rejection.  It’s an introductory topic because it studies a lot of the big, interesting questions like why people commit atrocities, or how social change occurs.

Memory is – well – memory.  It studies the way that information is put into the brain, stored, and expressed.  This module goes through the core concepts, like Long- and Short-Term memory, and then adds to them by explaining how we remember things, why we forget things, and how to make memory more effective when applied to real-life.

Attachment considers how babies and children grow up to form relationships.  It starts in infancy, and follows through to adulthood.  It starts by exploring key concepts – the things we think we already know – and then moves on to different people’s theories.  It also considers what happens when attachments are not allowed to form properly, and this impact this has on children in later life.

Psychopathology studies the different ways that things can go wrong in the brain – it’s a fancier way of saying ‘mental illness’.  The A Level psychology course focuses specifically on Phobias, OCD and Depression.  It demonstrates the characteristics of these disorders, along with explanations of how they develop, and ways of treating them.

Paper Two

Paper two is on how we go about carrying out studies, forming and proving theories. It consists of:

  • Approaches in psychology
  • Biopsychology
  • Research Methods
  • Scientific Processes
  • Data Handling and Analysis
  • Inferential Testing

Here’s your warning: I hate Paper Two with all my heart.  That being said, I’ll do my best for you.

Approaches in Psychology describes the different takes different people have had on psychology over the years.  It describes the origins of the discipline, then goes on to give short descriptions of a few of them.  I will be doing this in a different order to the textbook, as I don’t think the textbook necessarily follows a logical pattern through for developing students’ understanding of these.

Biopsychology is not psychology.  Biopsychology is biology.  When starting biopsychology, bring your most science-y brain, and be prepared for things to get difficult.  Mercifully, biopsychology does follow a fairly logical pattern, and once you get the core ideas, everything else follows on naturally from those core ideas.

Research Methods is fairly self-explanatory: it goes through… research methods.  You’ll go through the different ways of carrying out a study, and all the subcategories within these, as well as their advantages and drawbacks.

Scientific Processes follow on naturally from research methods, and they’ll teach you how to develop a good experiment.  Back when coursework was around, these would have been important factors in helping to set up your study.  You’ll learn the basic foundations of how to form a theory and choose a sample, then you’ll move on to the basics of designing the experiment and controlling its different variables, and then you move on to controlling for any ethical issues and issues with validity.

Data Handling and Analysis refers to what you do when you actually have your data.  It goes through the different types of data, how to display them and how to interpret them.  After this, it goes through the levels of measurement in preparation for Inferential Testing.

Inferential Testing refers to how you figure out if a study is significant or not.  It’s a mess of numbers, charts and tables, and if you’re anything like me, it’s your worst nightmare – and I’m writing this in a loft at Ridiculous Degrees Celsius and just accidentally poked myself in the eye with a pencil (brown).  It starts with one fairly easy test, teaches you how to interpret errors… and then throws a whole lot of test names at you, and the only way to really, really learn them is by drilling.

Paper Three

There are small mercies in this world, and one of them is that Paper Three is nothing life Paper Two.  I do, however, reiterate here that I am doing Gender, Aggression and Schizophrenia, and those are the modules I will be writing about.  Paper Three consists of:

  • Issues and Debates in Psychology
  • Gender
  • Schizophrenia
  • Aggression

Issues and Debates in Psychology is concerned with how different factors affect psychological research, and the related criticisms.  Issues and Debates in Psychology works a lot like Approaches, in that it sort of cycles through topics without any kind of logical thread.  It concludes by returning to Ethics.  This is a topic that you just have to learn: you can’t find a thread and logic your way through things, unfortunately.

Gender studies how gender, alongside gender stereotypes, develop.  Gender starts with an explanation of exactly how gender is defined, and then goes through a number of explanations for gender development.  It concludes with a discussion on atypical gender development.

Schizophrenia considers how to explain and treat the illness.  It starts with classifying the disorder in terms of positive and negative symptoms, moves on to the different explanations, and then moves onto different treatments.

Aggression explores the different factors involved in aggressive behaviours.  It’s a nice one because it’s one that follows a logical progression, like Biopsychology.  Like Biopsychology, it’s also fairly science-y.

This concludes our brief rundown of all the topics in A-Level Psychology, paper by paper.  Next up is a more in-depth briefing on Paper One.