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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
  1. Biological approach and treatments for abnormality (12marker)

    For instance, McGuffin et al?s twin study found a link with genetics and depression. And Weissman et al also provided a genetic link. However, same family studies reduce the strength of the support for the approach as they are under the same environment. Another strength this that brain scanning and tech has identified biological aspects of many conditions. Also biological treatments are very effective for treating biological aspects with abnormality. However, a weakness is that the approach is Reductionist which simplifies complex disorders to a simple set of factors and ignores other approaches. This reduces the validity of the approach.

    • Word count: 581
  2. Evaluate an example of a snapshot study . Dematte, Osterbauer and Spencer (2007)

    This procedure was repeated on 40 trials where the participant had to describe the picture as attractive or unattractive after smelling the spray. Therefore, this experiment can be described as a snapshot study as it is reliable and can be presented as a pilot research before conducting a complete study.

    • Word count: 413
  3. Outline and Evaluate evolutionary explanation for food preference

    Therefore this preference was passed down in the form of genetic information resulting in the human population have a preference for sweet tasting food. The preference for salty tasting food, according to the evolutionary theory explanation, is due to the positive effect of the sodium being able to help human cells function efficiently. The sodium in salt also results in the chemicals in human bodies being correctly balanced and the blood being kept at a certain level. However, too much salt can lead to health problems and an increase in blood pressure.

    • Word count: 939
  4. Discuss neural mechanisms in eating behaviour

    This indication is followed by feelings of hunger causing us to carry out food seeking behaviours. The use of these systems along with homeostasis, according to this theory, regulates our eating behaviour. Another neural mechanism theory of eating behaviour involves the use of 3 hormones known as CCK, Ghrelin and Leptin, These hormone levels are detected in the brain and help to regulate the feelings of hunger and satiety. According to this theory, Ghrelin is a hormone released from the stomach and as the levels of ghrelin in our body increase, the feelings of hunger increase.

    • Word count: 1090
  5. Unit 1 psychology revsion notes (memory, attachment, research methods)

    sound even when presented visually * Lack of ecological validity * Reliable ? lab setting ? highly controlled and can be repeated Baddeley ? LTM Encoding * List of familiar words * Acoustically similar and dissimilar * Semantically similar and dissimilar * Worlds that sounded the same where harder to recall * STM codes acoustically * LTM codes semantically * Lab ? reliable ? high control * Lacks ecological validity Working memory model ? For short term memory Baddeley and hitch * Multi- component short term memory system ? replaces unitary stores in MSM * Active processing system * Central

    • Word count: 4835
  6. The biological approach suggests psychological disorders have an organic or physical cause and tend to include brain injury, infection, neurotransmitters and genetics.

    For instance, McGuffin et al?s twin study found a link with genetics and depression. And Weissman et al also provided a genetic link. However, same family studies reduce the strength of the support for the approach as they are under the same environment. Another strength this that brain scanning and tech has identified biological aspects of many conditions. Also biological treatments are very effective for treating biological aspects with abnormality. However, a weakness is that the approach is Reductionist which simplifies complex disorders to a simple set of factors and ignores other approaches. This reduces the validity of the approach.

    • Word count: 581
  7. Neural and Hormonal Causes of Aggression

    A strength of using animal to investigate the relationship between aggression and testosterone is the variables have been directly manipulated by the investigator which shows a direct effect. This is good because we can then conclude that levels of testosterone can effect aggression. However, these studies are conducted on animals and is reductionistic. This is because research is over simplified as they are comparing animals to humans which can be criticised for lacking validity. But humans are more complex and cannot be generalised with animal studies.

    • Word count: 961
  8. Discuss Genetic Factors in Aggressive Behaviour

    Christianson?s research provides strong support due to the large sample size used. This means that it has high population validity and can be generalised to the population. Yet, it should be noted that they were all Danish twins and is subjected to cultural bias and lacks ecological validity and they cannot be generalisable to outside Denmark. Also, using criminality as a measure of aggression can be questioned as not all crimes are aggressive such as shop lifting. Therefore, it lacks sample bias. Additionally, another weakness is MZ twins get treated alike because they look the same.

    • Word count: 825
  9. Discuss sex differences in parental investment (24 marks)

    Males are unable to breastfeed as thus the female?s role is much more dominant and explains why they have high levels of investment at this stage and why she may seek a man with good genes and commitment to the relationship. This supports Buss?s cross cultural findings that women value material resources in potential partners, whereas males, who make less parental investment, have multiple mating?s with young females. This greater investment of females can be further explained by parental certainty.

    • Word count: 724
  10. Discuss the relationship between sexual selection and human reproductive behaviour in relation to the evolutionary theory (24 marks)

    In addition, it has been argued that men prefer a youthful female because of social power. Younger women are easier to control and are therefore preferable as mates. But Kenrick et al found that that teenage males are attracted to females who were 5 years older. This therefore goes against the evolutionary explanation. Buss?s study also may not provide strong support for the relationship between sexual selection and human reproductive behaviour because answers they gained may be what they preferred but not what they had because they may have compromised.

    • Word count: 782
  11. Genetic and environmental factors affecting intelligence

    Once the gene becomes defective, it seems to be linked to Alzheimer's which has sever cognitive dysfunction. Some genes for example: CHRM2, linked to schizophrenia have been thought to be linked to intelligence. Perhaps dysfunctional genes produce the sever cognitive dysfunction seen in thought disturbance which is a category A symptoms of schizophrenia. COMT gene has also been linked to schizophrenia a lower level functioning version has shown poor performance on "stroop" tasks. DZ twins are no more genetically similar than brothers and sisters born at different times so there should be less of a relationship between IQ scores of non identical twins.

    • Word count: 1180
  12. Evolutionary explanations can explain aggression in many ways, including infidelity and jealousy

    Supporting research from Thornhill and Thornhill suggest that women who refuse sex may be signalling that she is unfaithful, thus increasing males sexual jealousy and fear of cuckoldry consequently leading to aggression. In addition, more supporting research by Goetz and Shackelford found that women who reported their partners being sexually coerced were more likely to have been unfaithful. This is significant because its men who fear of being cuckolded not women. A major limitation of this research is that it only explains why males are aggressive.

    • Word count: 931
  13. Neural and Hormonal Explanations of Aggression

    This is good because we can then conclude that levels of testosterone can effect aggression. However, these studies are conducted on animals and is reductionistic. This is because research is over simplified as they are comparing animals to humans; but humans are more complex and cannot be generalised with animal studies. Nevertheless, there has been supporting research conducted into humans which shows the effect of hormones on aggression. Kreuz and Rose conducted research into males and found that there were higher levels of testosterone in criminals with violent behaviour than those without a record of violence.

    • Word count: 982
  14. Examine Genetic Explanations for Aggression

    Also another weakness is MZ twins get treated alike because they look the same. Evans et al argued that findings within twin studies had low validity as MZ twins get treated in the same way which could contribute to aggression. Furthermore, its measures was in criminality. Not all criminal offenses show aggressive behaviour such as stealing. Therefore, the findings validity is reduced. Alike, twin studies fail to consider the environment and how it may impact the likelihood of twins carrying out aggression.

    • Word count: 734
  15. Psychological Explanations for Schizophrenia

    Perhaps recent events that cause stress are a more important factor rather than childhood. Lastly, the approach focuses on the unconscious which is difficult to falsify which means we cannot be completely certain that the unconscious plays a role in the development of schizophrenia. Because there is no evidence that proves that this is how schizophrenia occurs we cannot rely upon this explanation. Therefore other explanations provide more convincing explanations. An alternative explanation is family models. Recent research has centred on the concept of expressed emotion (EE). Families that are hostile, show criticism and are over concerned place vulnerability to schizophrenia because they class as a high expressed emotion family.

    • Word count: 1002
  16. Biological Treatments for Schizophrenia

    Thus, those who don?t respond to Chlorpromazine are prescribed atypical antipsychotic drugs such as Clozapine. This acts on the dopamine system as well blocking serotonin receptors, suggesting that serotonin is implicated with schizophrenia as well as dopamine. Clozapine has less side effects than Chlorpromazine but negatively affects the immune system. These effects can be counteracted by other drugs but they are costly for the patient. Both drugs have limitations. It has also been found, mostly with conventional antipsychotic drugs that tariff dyskinesia is a major side effect and roughly 30% of those taking it will develop the disorder, irreversible for 75% of those taking them.

    • Word count: 628
  17. Biological Approach to Schizophrenia

    Although twin studies show a strong genetic link with schizophrenia they do not use the same diagnostic criteria. McGuffin found that different definitions produce different concordance rates and therefore comparisons cannot be made within these studies. Another limitation is that MZ twins are very rare. 1% of the world are schizophrenics and only a small portion of these are MZ twins. This sample is small and we cannot have lots of research to then successfully generalise these findings. One of the main criticism is that both twins live in the same environment and therefore we cannot determine whether it is all down to genes or if there are environmental factors that contribute to developing schizophrenia.

    • Word count: 588
  18. Issues with the Classification of Schizophrenia

    Despite no object tests there are diagnostic manuals that highlight the clinical characteristics of the disorder that clinicians can use to inform their diagnosis in attempt to objectify schizophrenia. However, discrepancies exist between the two manuals DSM and ICD. The main flaw is differences between the two. For instance, the DSM specifies that signs of disturbance have to be present for at least 6 months, compared to the ICD which says 1 month. Additionally, the DSM emphasises social impairments as a key symptom whereas the ICD doesn?t acknowledge any social aspects further exacerbating the issues with reliability and validity.

    • Word count: 779

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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