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AS and A Level: Physiological Psychology

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Five physiological approaches to research

  1. 1 Genetic – seeks to establish the extent to which traits are due to inheritance or environment. Researchers study concordance rates (if one person has a trait or disorder, what is the percentage probability that the relative also has it?) using twin, adoption and family studies e.g. susceptibility to stress.
  2. 2 Evolutionary – seeks to establish continuity between human and other species and explain human behaviours in terms of ecological adaptation, maximising survival and reproduction. Look out for studies on primate or other mammal behaviour that are used to draw conclusions about causes of human behaviour e.g ecological theories of sleep.
  3. 3 Neuroanatomical – seeks to understand the relationship between brain structure and behaviour. Often uses case studies of people with damage to certain parts of the brain or post-mortems of people with abnormal behaviours e.g. case studies of amnesiacs.
  4. 4 Psychobiological – related to the previous approach, but with more of a focus on measuring brain activity using a variety of scanning techniques whilst the individual is engaged in a specific task or activity. Often used for comparisons – eg. the brain activity of diagnosed psychopaths compared against the brain activity of ‘normal’ participants.
  5. 5 Biochemical – related to the previous approach, but with more of a focus on assessing the levels and activity of specified neurotransmitters or hormones and drawing correlations with specific mental states or behaviours e.g. post-natal depression, changes throughout the menstrual cycle.

Five big ideas for physiological psychology essays

  1. 1 Consider the causal nature of research findings – On the other hand, studies that do involve manipulation of an independent variable may require so much control of extraneous variables to produce a robust causal relationship that they can be criticised as being artificial and reductionist.
  2. 2 Consider the scientific nature of claims – Assess the extent to which explanations are supported by scientific research or not. Evaluate the techniques used by psychologists to operationalize mental processes in their research. For example, behavioural responses and psychobiological measures don’t tell us about the nature of thoughts.
  3. 3 Consider determinism – The more scientific the approach, the more determinist it tends to be, because science is the search for causes. Seeking ultimate causes of behaviour or chains of causal links is incompatible with the idea that humans have free will and complete moral responsibility.
  4. 4 Consider reductionism – Reductionism is the principle that one should always seek to understand at the most basic, most fundamental level: e.g reducing our understanding of depression to an explanation about the balance of chemicals in the brain rather than looking at the whole person in their social context. As a rule, the more scientific the approach, the more reductionist it is. Reductionist explanations have the benefit of being able to provide straightforward practical solutions.
  5. 5 Consider the correlational nature of research– Much physiological research is correlational, because it can be unethical to manipulate variables when studying topics such as the relationship between stress and the immune system or extreme sleep deprivation. Such studies can never produce a conclusive causal explanation, no matter how much we would like them to!

Four common brain imaging techniques

  1. 1 fMRI – Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging measures brain activity by measuring blood flow and oxygenation within the brain. When neurons are active they use more oxygen - so higher blood flow in a particular area signifies increased neural activity. fMRI scans are useful for studying the localisation and level of brain activity.
  2. 2 CT– A Computerised Tomography scan builds up an overall picture of the brain based on the way that X-rays are absorbed. Bone and hard tissue absorb more x-rays, soft tissue absorbs less, fluid absorbs very little. CT scans show the main features of the brain but are not so useful for looking at detailed structures.
  3. 3 PET– Positron Emission Tomography uses tiny amounts of radioactive material with very short half-life to map functional processes in the brain. When the radioactive material decays, a positron is emitted and this is detected on the scan. Higher radioactivity is associated with higher levels of brain activity.
  4. 4 EEG – Electroencephalography involves measuring the electrical activity of the brain with electrodes attached to the scalp and coverting the level of activity into an electroencephalogram, which shows the amplitude and frequency of brain waves. EEGs are frequently used in sleep research because it is a non-invasive technique, which can detect minute millisecond length changes in overall brain activity and arousal level.

  • Marked by Teachers essays 33
  • Peer Reviewed essays 14
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  1. Marked by a teacher

    Describe and evaluate the recovery/restoration theory of the function of sleep.

    4 star(s)

    This can explain why new-borns spend a great deal of time sleeping, due to the fact that REM sleep reflects brain recovery and the few months before and after birth are times of rapid brain growth- babies spend 50-60% of their 'sleep time' in REM sleep. Shapiro et al (1981) studied runners who had taken part in an ultra-marathon. They found that the runners slept for around an hour and a half longer than usual for two nights after the marathon.

    • Word count: 673
  2. Marked by a teacher

    Outline and evaluate psychological explanations of OCD

    3 star(s)

    Salkoius found that when asking participants to suppress thoughts and on other days not to, the participants kept a diary of more intrusive thoughts when they had to be suppressed these findings support the idea that a deliberate attempt to suppress thoughts leads to an increase in these thoughts; supporting the main ideas of the approach. This is a strength because the two studies have found similar findings and are therefore externally reliable. This makes the cognitive approach reliable as a whole because it can be checked and verified and the theory has sound foundations for further research.

    • Word count: 965
  3. Marked by a teacher

    Outline and Evaluate 2 Biological Explanations of OCD

    3 star(s)

    This is supported by Carey and Gottesman (1981) who found an 87% concordance rate in identical twins for OCD, whereas schizophrenia had only a 46% concordance rate. Therefore this research suggests that there is a strong link between family history and OCD showing that is you have a relative with OCD you are more likely to develop the illness yourself. However one weakness of this is that the results found by Carey and Gottesman (1981) found only a 87% concordance rate and therefore this suggests that genes is not the only factor that is causing OCD otherwise it would be 100%.

    • Word count: 868
  4. Marked by a teacher

    To what extent does research support the link between stress & illness

    3 star(s)

    Levels of cytokines were also taken from all participants. The participants in the experimental group, consisted of 13 women aged between 47 & 81 years old looking after a relative with Alzheimer's disease. The control group were matched with the carers on age & income. The tests indicated that the experimental group showed higher levels of stress than the control groups. Healing wound time was assessed by photographing the wound regularly & by observing the response to hydrogen peroxide.

    • Word count: 576
  5. Marked by a teacher

    Discuss two or more explanations for the success and/or failure of dieting

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    The results indicated that whereas the non-dieters showed compensatory regulatory behaviour and ate less during the taste test after the high-calorie preload, the dieters consumed more in the taste test if they had had the high-calorie pre-load than the low-calorie preload. So it would appear that attempting not to eat can, paradoxically, increase the probability of eating. Similarly, Wardle and Beales (1988) carried out an experiment to investigate whether dieting resulted in overeating. They randomly assigned 27 obese women either to a diet group, an exercise group or a control group for seven weeks.

    • Word count: 696
  6. Marked by a teacher

    Outline and evaluate the biological approach to abnormality (12 marks)

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    Neuroanatomy refers to the different activities and structures of the brain regions and tissue. This is often tested through MRI scans of normal people and comparing to those mentally ill. One example is schizophrenia where the ventricles appear enlarged and the amount of grey matter in the brain is reduced. It is however hard to differentiate between causation and effect, as not knowing which proceeds which can only lead to guess work in terms of causation. Another issue is not every mentally ill person has the same structural abnormalities, and where one schizophrenic shows marked differences to a normal person, another schizophrenic can show little to none.

    • Word count: 700
  7. Marked by a teacher

    Depression- Biological Explanations

    3 star(s)

    This can be caused genetics which can predispose the individual to the disorder. Furthermore we would expect to find that relatives have similar chances of developing the disorder. Evidence from this can come from twin studies; MZ twins share 100% of their genes whereas DZ twins only have 50%. If genes are to be a facto in depression we would expect a higher number of MZ twins to share the disorder. One study based on nearly 200 pairs of twins found that when an MZ twin was diagnosed with unipolar disorder, there was a 46% chance that the other twin would receive a similar diagnosis.

    • Word count: 851
  8. Marked by a teacher

    Outline and evaluate two methods of stress management

    3 star(s)

    They may learn to take deep breaths which slows down the heart rate and makes them feel relaxed. Relaxation acts as a reward and encourages the person to repeat this as an involuntary action. As a final step the person is then taught to use this in a real life stressful situation. It has been discovered that biofeedback is especially useful on children and teenagers where a drug therapy would not have been suitable. Children who went through biofeedback have gained control over the symptoms of stress such as migraines and also showed an increase in enthusiasm and more positive attitudes.

    • Word count: 686
  9. Marked by a teacher

    Stress in the work place

    3 star(s)

    These include, the noise in which the workplace is at, the heat of the room, Poor lighting within your workplace making barriers of seeing, an overcrowded workplace The effect of unpredictable noise was demonstrated in a study by Glass et al. (1969). Sixty undergraduates completed various cognitive tasks in one of 5 conditions; loud or soft noise that was either random (unpredictable) or at fixed intervals (predictable), there was also a no-noise condition. Stress was measured using GSR. After the task participants were asked to complete 4 puzzles, two of which couldn't be solved, in order to create frustration.

    • Word count: 830
  10. Marked by a teacher

    Outline one theory of the function of sleep.

    3 star(s)

    The two most important kinds of core sleep are slow wave sleep and REM sleep. It is possible that each serves a different adaptive purpose. One of the key criticisms made, in relation to evolutionary theories of sleep, is that many of them suggest that animals sleep in order to waste time. Whereas the restoration view is that sleep is not wasting time but offers the opportunity for key functions to take place. A second criticism is that evolutionary theories may not be suitable for explaining human sleep.

    • Word count: 714
  11. Marked by a teacher

    The Racist Mind

    In studying these groups thriving on hate and racism, Raphael Ezekiel would attend get-togethers, rallies and group meeting and observes and interacts with them. Through attending these events and with his observations, Ezekiel learned many things about these groups. First, he discovered that for these white racist leaders and groups, there was absolutely no grey area. Meaning, you were either Black person or you were White person, with nothing in-between. "A truck is a truck, a car is a car, a cat is a cat, a dog is a dog, a black is black, a white is white" (Ezekiel).

    • Word count: 844
  12. Marked by a teacher

    Discuss the consequences of disrupting biological rhythms

    rhythms; this makes a person's exogenous zeitgebers out of place which make it harder for a person to sleep in the day making them less alert at night. Soloman, 1993 found that it is difficult to meet friends and spend time with family and divorce rates are as high a 60% among all-night workers. Shift work can lead to sleep deprivation, workers who have to sleep by day often experience sleep problems because when the finish work its daylight and there are other distributions such as noise

    • Word count: 581
  13. Marked by a teacher

    Outline and evaluate two physiological approaches to stress management.

    Drugs offer a quick fix and are sometimes cheaper than using biofeedback. Drugs are brilliant at fixing acute stress problems, drugs also allow for the window of opportunity where they can clam the patient down and offer them an alternative to drug therapy. There are problems though with using drug therapy as you can become addicted to them, patients start to depend on them and can't go with out them.

    • Word count: 441
  14. Marked by a teacher

    S.A.D. is seasonal affective disorder also known as the winter blues.

    these are the people whose episodes are sever and can be controlled with a mood stabilizer such as lithium, the individual might also be diagnosed with bipolar disorder (formerly called manic depressive illness). Six percent of patients are severe enough to require hospitalization. People with S.A.D. whose depression and lack of energy become debilitating to the point that it affects their work and relationships.

    • Word count: 599
  15. Peer reviewed

    Discuss the view that stress is environmentally determined.

    5 star(s)

    Consent and debriefing would have been mandatory, however the sample of government civil servants was biased, which would therefore make it difficult to generalise findings. Nonetheless, Fox et al (1993) also concluded evidence that a personal in a low-control high-demand job would also suffer from stress related illness. The workplace can be deemed stressful due to environmental factors such as noise, temperature, control and workload, which are all potential sources. Life changes and daily hassles are also a cause of stress according to Holmes and Rahe (1967)

    • Word count: 561
  16. Peer reviewed

    Thigpen and Cleckley

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    of Eve Black. � Over a period of 14 months and around 100 hours of interview time, the two psychiatrists investigated the two Eves, first using hypnosis, but later without the need for it. � Eve White was found not to have access to the awareness and memories of Eve Black (experiencing blackouts when Eve Black took over control), although the reverse was true for Eve Black (who often used the ability to disrupt Eve White's life by taking over and getting her into trouble or by giving her headaches)

    • Word count: 685
  17. Peer reviewed

    Outline and Evaluate research (theories/ and studies) into the relationship between stress and physical illness.

    5 star(s)

    divorce, and the way we feel we are able to cope with things. If we cannot cope with the situation we are faced with, then we experience psychological and physiological responses to the stressor. In the short term, stress can be quite stimulating and motivating. In the long term stress can result in illness and even death. During a state of stress, the sympathetic area of the nervous system stimulates the adrenal medulla to release the hormones adrenaline and non-adrenaline into the bloodstream. These hormones stimulate heart rate and cause the body to use extra energy resources in the body.

    • Word count: 709
  18. Peer reviewed

    Discuss two biological therapies for depression. You should refer to research evidence in your answer.

    4 star(s)

    Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are drugs such as fluoxetine hydrochloride (Prozac), were originally though to be free of side effects and were prescribed extensively. In the last few years, doubts were raised about their safety and in particular, there were reports linking Prozac to suicidal behavior. Despite drugs having a 60% effectiveness rate within individuals with depression, there are a few limitations to this method of therapy. Firstly, all drugs work as a 'chemical straightjacket'. The drugs do not provide a complete cure from depression, as there is some evidence that symptoms return when the drugs are no longer taken.

    • Word count: 835
  19. Peer reviewed

    Critically consider 2 or more psychological explanations of depression

    4 star(s)

    One strength of the psychodynamic model of depression is that it has been supported by research in this area. For example Shah and Waller (2000) reported that many depression sufferers admitted to having affectionless parents. Given this, it could be argued that early loss is active in triggering later depression. In support of this Bifulco (1992) discovered that children were more likely to suffer depression later in life if their mothers had died during their childhood. However although this appears to be the case, we could argue that since their mothers had died, lack of necessary care from parent substitute may have led to depression rather than the actual loss itself.

    • Word count: 815
  20. Peer reviewed

    Dreams - What do dreams mean, why would we have them?

    4 star(s)

    I believe that having dreams is the best way of really discovering who you are. Dreams are uncontrollable, which makes them all the more frightening, tantalizing and vividly expressing who you are. Dreams seem to be the human subconscious speaking out and taking control. Dreams can express happiness, and sadness in ones life. I myself have experienced dreams which have made me come to realizations about myself. In keeping a dream journal you can communicate your ultimate creativity. Although dreams are the best form of communicating ones own wishes, it is the hardest thing to interpret.

    • Word count: 666
  21. Free essay

    Outoline and evaluate two biological theories of dream

    3 star(s)

    This seems to be apparent in people deprived of REM sleep when they show bizarre behaviour. Crick and Mitchinson also suggests that reverse learning provides an adaptive feature. REM allows smaller brains in mammals that sleep and larger neural networks for those that do not to absorb more information. The theory would explain why forget our dreams 95% of the time. But it would not explain why sometimes our dreams are significant and meaningful since this theory suggests our dreams are nothing but biological processes within the brain. There is evidence in which researchers found that dreams related to our current emotional problems in awake-state (Domhoff, 1996).

    • Word count: 733
  22. Peer reviewed

    Describe and evaluate one method/approach of managing the negative effects of stress.

    3 star(s)

    tension in the shoulders). This method will then calm down the effects of stress in terms of an illness. Anti - anxiety drugs - This is used to counter control the body's hormones and Nero - transmitters (which are used to give information between the nerves and cells). Drugs such as Valium can be used to control the natural body processes, but however there are side - effects. These can be an addiction to drugs or feeling drowsy. Lazarus and Folkman (1984) saw the differences between problem focused and emotion - focused strategies of stress management.

    • Word count: 548
  23. Peer reviewed

    Compare and contrast one biological explanation and one psychological of depression.

    3 star(s)

    In the cases of manic or major depression, sufferers may experience hallucinations or delusions. Other symptoms include; disturbed thinking, apathy, social withdrawal, anhedonia and possible suicidal thoughts. A biological explanation for depression is the genetic explanation. This theory suggests that you are more likely to suffer from depression if you have a relative who as also suffered from depression. For example, monozygotic twins and dizygotic twins has a higher risk than the general population of developing, particularly bipolar if their paired twin had the disorder.

    • Word count: 879
  24. Discuss the research methods used to investigate biological approaches for behaviour

    However, one weakness of the study above is that it only shows age-related differences in the brain structure by looking at children and adolescents - to increase its validity, it would need to follow the same group through children and adolescence to study the brains in the same group over time - therefore, minimising the effect on participant variables. However, one strength of the study is that the use of MRI scans ensures that the results are objective and not bias in interpretation.

    • Word count: 724
  25. Outline and evaluate one or more psychological approaches to one eating disorder.

    Although, Ogden (1994) suggested that obesity may not be caused by overeating, overeating may be a consequence of obesity if restraint is recommended as a treatment. She also suggests that if trying not to eat leads to overeating then how do anorexics manage to starve themselves? This then raises the question as to whether there are other contributing factors as to why obese individuals can not restrain their food intake and maintain a diet without eventually overeating. Research such as Kern et al; suggest that for some people, dieting will always be difficult due to a genetic predisposition of obesity.

    • Word count: 652

Conclusion analysis

Good conclusions usually refer back to the question or title and address it directly - for example by using key words from the title.
How well do you think these conclusions address the title or question? Answering these questions should help you find out.

  1. Do they use key words from the title or question?
  2. Do they answer the question directly?
  3. Can you work out the question or title just by reading the conclusion?
  • Compare and contrast biological and psychological explanations of anxiety disorders

    "The behavioral view is that individuals are active in determining their behaviour. There is evidence to support the behavioral views. Behaviorists argue that phobias are learnt by classical conditioning and reinforced by operant conditioning. In concerning depression, according to, Lewinsohn (1974), a depressed person becomes trapped in a cycle of withdrawal which leads to a lack of positive reinforcement, perpetuating depression. Socially unskilled people may be more prone to depression. The problem with the behavioral account as we have seen is it has difficulties accounting for why people all over the world are similar."

  • To What Extent can psychological research provide useful forms of stress management techniques?

    "In conclusion, psychological research highlights the variety of stress management techniques and programmes as well as their respective strengths and weaknesses. However, the most appropriate method of stress management appears to depend on individual differences so a clear determination of the most useful method can not be reached."

  • Discuss the genetic and biochemical explanations of schizophrenia

    "In conclusion, dopamine is probably of importance in understanding schizophrenia. However, it looks increasingly as if there are various complex differences in dopamine functioning between those with schizophrenia and healthy individuals. There is also the causality issue. If we find an association between having schizophrenia and having high levels of dopamine, the excessive dopamine levels might have played a part in causing the schizophrenia. However, it is also possible that elevated dopamine levels are in part a consequence of having schizophrenia."

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