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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

    Discuss research into stress-related illness and the immune system

    5 star(s)

    They looked at chronic and naturally occurring stress in 13 female individuals, who had been caring for a relative with Alzheimer's disease for an average of 8 years. There was a control group for the experiment of 13 females matched to the carers in age and family income. The slowing of wound healing was used as a measure for immune damage, so the experimenters created a small wound in the arm of the participants, close to the elbow. Time taken for the wound to heal was assessed by photographs on a regular basis, and also by adding hydrogen peroxide to the wound, which would show that the wound had healed if there was no foaming.

    • Word count: 1188
  2. Marked by a teacher

    Outline one theory of the function of sleep

    4 star(s)

    This is supported by the evidence that babies sleep longer than older people, as they need more REM sleep to assist the development of the control nervous system and also by the fact that 50% of sleep in newborn babies is REM sleep to encourage rapid brain growth. It has also been found that people who have had electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) for depression or who have taken an overdose have an increase in REM sleep 6-8 weeks afterwards as it takes time for the brain to replace the protein.

    • Word count: 1508
  3. Marked by a teacher

    Memory Consolidation and REM Sleep.

    4 star(s)

    sleep. Electroencephalograph patterns for REM sleep are much like those during wakefulness, and include many fast beta-rhythms (2). It may even be that the brain works harder during REM sleep than when awake (3). REM sleep usually lasts anywhere from 11 to 25 minutes, typically longer in the later sleep cycles of the night (2). REM sleep is most often associated with dreaming, for most dreams occur during this period. One of the first theories linking REM sleep to memory was offered in 1966 by Roffwarg, Musio and Dement and suggested that repetitive firing of neurons during REM sleep in human fetuses was associated with neuron growth and development, and this synaptic reinforcement continued in adult life during REM sleep.

    • Word count: 1385
  4. Marked by a teacher

    Discuss research into Biological Rhythms.

    3 star(s)

    There must be exogenous cues (environmental factors) also known as zeitgebers that keeps this cycle to 24 hours ? this is an explanation for why we adopt a 24.5 or 25 hour cycle during isolation. Although the results of Siffre?s study are supported by Aschoff?s study there is still the major problem of artificiality as it was carried out in a laboratory, so both studies lack ecological validity. Also in Siffre?s study there was only one participant so difficult to generalise results for the rest of the population.

    • Word count: 1409
  5. Marked by a teacher

    Describe and Evaluate Bowlbys theory of attachment. (12 marks)

    3 star(s)

    These are known as ?social releasers? because the point of them is to encourage parental instincts so that an attachment will be formed. It is believed that the origins of attachment behaviours can be found in evolution, as the main purpose of attachment is to keep the child safe, and attachment with adults increases the child?s chance of survival. Once an attachment is formed, the child will display a variety of behaviours ? if their attachment figure is not present they will display separation anxiety and become upset, however pleasure will be shown when the caregiver returns.

    • Word count: 1225
  6. Marked by a teacher

    Clinical characteristics of depression

    3 star(s)

    To be diagnosed as having a moderate depressive episode, the person must have present four or more of the above symptoms, and for a severe depressive episode to be diagnosed the person must have four or more of the above symptoms including suicidal thoughts. The classification and diagnosis of mood disorders such as depression can be difficult for all sorts of reasons, one being that the behaviours outlined in the criteria for depression in ICD-10 are seen as 'normal' behaviours in most people.

    • Word count: 1178
  7. Marked by a teacher

    Outline and Evaluate the Biological Treatments of OCD

    3 star(s)

    Therefore these two studies support the idea that Cingulotomy is an effective treatment of OCD. However it has been argued by Koran (2007) that these studies may have been biased because they are unblended meaning that the researchers know the treatments received by their patients and therefore expectation may influence their judgement. This implies that the internal validity is lower than previously thought due to the presence of demand characteristics as a confounding variable and therefore may not be as effective as we initially thought.

    • Word count: 1452
  8. Marked by a teacher

    Depression. There are several approaches to depression, two of which are psychological and biological.

    3 star(s)

    There is an emphasis on unresolved feelings of hostility when loss has been experienced resulting regression and in internal guilt, in turn leading to depression. Freud bases his theory on case studies which has been accepted as a reasonable source of research as it is on indepth and rich however it is difficult to generalise any findings to the overall population therefore lacking in ecological validity. His research lacks falsifiability as it cannot be scientifically proven for example theres no standardised measurement of loss.

    • Word count: 1420
  9. Marked by a teacher

    Biological Explanations of Addiction

    3 star(s)

    Dopamine is involved with our pleasure/reward system. Anything we do of our volition that is pleasurable increases Dopamine. It is the release of dopamine that makes us feel Euphoria/pleasure. Drugs such as Cocaine, Alcohol and Heroin make Dopamine receptors release enormous amounts of Dopamine, so the user may feel intense pleasure. This however, does not explain addiction as many people drink or recreationally use cocaine and don't become addicts. The main idea of the theory is that individuals biologically susceptible to addiction have more sensitive Mesolimbic/ reward pathways in their brain, e.g. drugs may have a more profound (wow factor)

    • Word count: 1033
  10. Marked by a teacher

    Classification and Diagnosis of Depression

    3 star(s)

    On the other hand DD requires three or more symptoms, including depressed mood but not suicidal thoughts. Patients cannot be without these symptoms for more than two months. There is also a distinction between two types of depression that is embedded within psychiatric thinking. These are endogenous, which is referred to depression arising from biochemical disturbances in the brain. It is thought to arise from within the person, independent of external events or reactive (exogenous) referred to depression arising from external events such as a reacton to stressful events outside ourselves e.g. the death of someone close, redundancy or failing exams.

    • Word count: 1719
  11. Marked by a teacher

    Describe and Evaluate Research into Infradian Rhythms

    3 star(s)

    The same procedure was done on a control group, but the cotton pads were without pheromones. The participants didn't know whether they were in the experimental or the control group, to reduce experimenter effects. By the end of the experiment, 4 out of 5 women in the experimental group had menstrual cycles that synchronised within 24hours of the donor's. This shows that when several women live together (and do not take oral contraceptives), they tend to menstruate at the same time every month.

    • Word count: 1197
  12. Marked by a teacher

    Outline and evaluate research into the effects of stress on the immune system and coronary heart disease.

    3 star(s)

    Brady's findings showed that the 'executive' monkeys were more likely to develop an illness (ulcers) and later die. The illness and death was not due to the shocks, but due to the stress that the executives felt by trying to delay/avoid them. In the long-term, this stress reduced the immune system's ability to fight illness. However, there were ethical considerations that could have been questioned in Brady et al's study. The experiment was very cruel to the monkeys and would not be allowed by the BPS today. Also, it is hard to generalise findings from animals to humans.

    • Word count: 1387
  13. Marked by a teacher

    Peer Pressure Speech

    3 star(s)

    Cigarettes, like alcohol, are an acquired taste but over eight per cent of people who smoke in their teens become permanently hooked. Often adolescents drink to feel less uncomfortable and more relaxed with friends and peers and because they are encouraged to do so by other teenagers. Regular excessive drinking can lead to poor school work, social and emotional problems, the use of other drugs and sometimes even suicide, The main difference between alcohol or cigarettes and other drugs is that once you are over a certain age you can legally buy alcohol and cigarettes.

    • Word count: 1533
  14. Peer reviewed

    Outline and evaluate two social psychological explanations for aggression

    5 star(s)

    While both are a form of operant conditioning, the direct approach parallels the ideas much closer. Bandura outlined the following four steps in the modelling process of SLT: Attention, retention, reproduction and motivation. Attention is increased if the model is more prestigious, attractive or similar. This causes the person (Bandura's work was largely focused on children) to remember the aggressive behaviour through cognitive processes, thus retention. Furthermore, vicarious reinforcement is not enough; imitation can only occur if the person possesses appropriate skills to reproduce the behaviour. And finally, the child requires motivation to act out the aggressive behaviour as imitation is related to direct and indirect reinforcements and punishments.

    • Word count: 1094
  15. Peer reviewed

    Outline the clinical characteristics of one anxiety disorder

    4 star(s)

    Social phobia can be related to shyness. The anxiety reduces the phobic's ability to cope with the social surroundings and interferes with the individuals' ability to function in at least some areas of daily life. Approximately 1-2% prevalence of the population meets the criteria of social phobia. The phobia can be triggered by actual or perceived judgement from others. Agoraphobia is a fear of leaving a familiar area, which can be open or closed. It is the only phobia that is treated as a medical condition. The prevalence of the population is 2-3%.

    • Word count: 1815
  16. Peer reviewed

    Compare and contrast two explanations of depression.

    3 star(s)

    Somatic symptoms include decreased need of sleep as well as being fidgety and more talkative with rushed speech. Finally Motivational symptoms include an increase in pleasure orientated activities that may have painful consequences. One explanations of depression is the biological explanation of Genetics. The genetic explanation suggests that depression us due to inheritance of genes from parents or family members which has resulted in the development of depression also within that individual. Evidence illustrating this explanation comes from that of family studies for example; Gershon (1990) did studies on families looking at first degree relatives of patients with Unipolar and Bipolar depression.

    • Word count: 1562
  17. Free essay

    Explain how neurons transmit information. Our knowledge of the ways neurons function helps us to understand human behaviour. Discuss

    This essay explains neuronal activity in information transmittal and how knowledge of the nervous system has contributed to understanding of human behaviour. Information is processed through the nervous system which exerts an integral role in controlling behaviour by coordinating the inputs to the brain from highly specialized neurons that extend throughout the periphery. The principle component of the nervous system, the neuron, utilises electrochemical messaging to affect a repertoire of behaviours from simple reflex actions to complex emotional experiences such as depression.

    • Word count: 1058
  18. What treatments are available for schizophrenia and are they effective?

    These include stress, viral infection in early childhood, a lack of oxygen during birth, and the use of illegal or 'street' drugs. (2) Biological treatments for schizophrenia Over the past few years, many different medications have been developed for use in the treatment of schizophrenia which are referred to as neuroleptics or antipsychotic drugs and were developed in the 1950s. Antipsychotic drugs alter the balance of neurotransmitters and are used to relieve the symptoms of schizophrenia and to prevent relapses, meaning that antipsychotic medicine is usually taken on a long-term basis.

    • Word count: 1908
  19. Discuss two or more psychological explanations of one eating disorder.

    -Jones and Crawford found that overweight girls and underweight boys were most likely to be teased. Commentary � Support for media influence -Becker studied attitudes and behaviors after the introduction of TV in Fiji in 1995. -Found that girls desired to lose weight, however other factors make these particular people vulnerable. -Cachelin & Regan found no difference in prevalence of eating disorders between Black and White females. -Roberts found that the view that white females have a higher likeness to anorexia is only true for late teens. -Focus is still on western industrialized societies, therefore this indicates cultural bias.

    • Word count: 1627
  20. Discuss The Biological Explanation for Depression and Biological Treatments for Depression

    One strength of the research into the genetic explanation for depression comes from the empirical support it provides; twin studies in monozygotic twins and dizygotic twins provide strong evidence to suggest genetic causation for depression and other disorders such as schizophrenia ( Gottesman and Shields). For example Bertelsen found a concordance rate of 80% of bipolar with MZ twins, but a rate of only 16% for DZ twins. This evidence suggests that there is a wider academic support that genetics play a part in affective disorders such as depression.

    • Word count: 1393
  21. Outline Clinical Characteristics of Schizophrenia and discuss psychological explanations of Schizophrenia

    One psychological explanation of SZ was put forward by Bateson et al (1956) who looked at childhood as a base for developing SZ, for example the interactions children have with their mothers. His explanation, the Double Bind theory, states that SZ can occur due to conflicting messages given from parents to their children, for example when a parent expresses care but does so in a critical way. This means that the child will become confused as the message they are given is conflicting, as one message effectively invalidates the other.

    • Word count: 1499
  22. Outline and evaluate evolutionary explanations for food preferences.

    He believed that an adaptive mechanism calculates salt preferences as a function of the risk of dehydration as indicated by past experience of dehydration and maternal salt intake. There has been no key research to support Fessler's theory and so it may not be reliable in explaining why humans incorporate salt in their diet. Salt is also key for animals as high sodium concentrations maintain the body's nerve and muscle activity and water balance. Dudley et al (2008) found that ants prefer salty snacks to sugary ones in inland areas that tend to be salt poor.

    • Word count: 1038
  23. Outline and evaluate two approaches used in the treatment of mental disorders.

    The Behaviourist Approach explains that all behaviour is learned therefore mental disorders are learned. The process in which behaviour is learned is known as conditioning. There are two main processes of conditioning which are known as classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning involves learning an association between two stimuli. Learning through association was first discovered by Pavlov (1903) with his study famously known as Pavlov's Dogs. During this study, Pavlov's Dogs were given a meat powder and had their saliva collected by a surgically implanted tube. A bell was used to make noise when the dogs were fed, over time Pavlov noticed that the dogs began salivating just by hearing the noise of the bell.

    • Word count: 1533
  24. Biological Rhythms (Sleep)

    These explanations can therefore be praised for taking a more holistic approach. However, a weakness of explanations of circadian rhythms is that they are often nomothetic. This means that they assume circadian rhythms are the same for everyone. For example, Siffre's research suggests a free-running sleep/wake cycle of 25 hours, but research since has shown some have a 24 hour cycle. This is problematic because it appears a more idiographic approach would be more suitable, and by being nomothetic the explanations may be too simplistic.

    • Word count: 1424
  25. Biological Explanations of Aggression

    This means that by focusing solely on biology (genetics), the theory ignores the role learning may play in aggression. For example, Bandura demonstrated children learned through Social Learning Theory to be aggressive towards a Bobo Doll after observing an adult being aggressive. This is a problem because it suggests that learning also plays a role in aggression, so a purely biological approach may be too narrow. Another weakness of the theory is that it is deterministic. This means that it assumes that every XYY male will be aggressive. For example, since this time, it has been shown that males with this gene aren't aggressive if they choose not to be (it should also be noted recent research shows that the gene isn't strongly linked to aggression).

    • Word count: 1249

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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