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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.

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  1. Discuss theories of sleep

    However, there are numerous problematic anomalies involved in the evolutionary theory as it leaves many topics open for dispute. It is argued that in reality and in contrast to the theory- the species most at risk such as herbivores sleep the least whereas those at minimum risk such as big cats can sleep for most of the day. Thus, it is evident that species at risk do not essentially sleep for protection as if this was the case, then they?d be sleeping for longer than those species at little risk.

    • Word count: 2159
  2. Psychology essay: Outline and evaluate biological therapies for schizophrenia

    Monozygotic twins are biologically identical so if schizophrenia was solely the result of genetics than the concordance rate between identical twins should be 100%. As this is not the case the development of schizophrenia must also be due to differing environmental factors. Furthermore, it is near impossible to distinguish between genetic and environmental factors if the twins share the exact same environment. As well as this, even twins reared apart shared the same environment in the womb before birth; this includes receiving the same nutrients, oxygen and being affected if the mother becomes unwell.

    • Word count: 928
  3. In this essay I will cover explanations of dreams including Freuds theory of repressed subconscious, Hobson and McCarleys activation synthesis and Crick and Mitchisons theory that we dream in order to forget.

    Common of the Psychodynamic approach Freud believed that we are driven by our unconscious desires, mostly sexual. Those desires or urges which are considered inappropriate are suppressed and are then later represented in our dreams. Through dreaming we are able to gain an insight into our unconscious, which occur in two ways; the manifest and the latent content. The manifest content is the actual content of the dream and the latent content which is the hidden meaning behind the dream. For example climbing up a set of stairs or shooting a gun may represent sexual intercourse. Freud stated that elongated objects that appear in our dreams such as weapons all symbols for the penis; similarly hallow objects such as tunnels are representative of the vagina.

    • Word count: 1000
  4. Discuss biological explanations of aggression

    They said that ?inmates with higher testosterone levels violated more rules in prison, especially rules involving overt confrontation. Supporting that testosterone acts on areas of the brain which control aggression. However, the research lacks ecological validity because it is based on prisoners so it is not based on people doing ?normal? day-to-day activities. The study has gender bias and lacks population validity, this is because the study was only done on males so cannot be generalised to women as they are unlikely to be the same, also, because it was only done on adults it does not account for aggression in children, meaning it lacks population validity.

    • Word count: 580
  5. Neural Mechanisms in Eating and Satiation

    The lateral hypothalamus contains the feeding centre and initiates eating behaviour. It responds to a number of things such as the decrease in blood sugar and an increase in the hormone ghrelin, which is a hormone which is produced then the stomach is empty. There are limitations of the LH. One limitation is that damage to the LH has found to cause problems with other bodily functions such as thirst and sex. This shows that the LH may still play a part in eating behaviour but it may not be the body?s ?feeding centre?.

    • Word count: 566
  6. Lifespan and sleep

    This shows that there may be a correlation between the immaturity of the brain and REM sleep. By the age of 5 it is known that children have already developed EEG patterns similar to adults. However they sleep more than most adults, around 10 hours and day, they also have more REM sleep (around 30%). It is also common that a child will suffer from sleep disorders such as Sleep walking. Although childhood sees a decrease in the amount of sleep, during adolescence sleep with increase slightly, to 10-12 hours. Circadian rhythms also change. Teenagers suffer from phase delay, this means that they find it hard to get to sleep at night and find it hard to wake up in a morning.

    • Word count: 636
  7. I will talk about the history and what the psychological and physical aspects of hypnosis are. Further to that I will be discussing the role of relaxation in hypnotherapy

    Corydon Hammond) This supports the idea that under hypnosis the conscious mind takes a back seat and the sub conscious mind takes over, e.g. when you are driving yourself along a familiar road past your exit, or you suddenly became aware of yourself behind the wheel and wondered where you were going. Everything we learn is stored in our subconscious. Because we have already learned to drive, our driving skill is stored in our subconscious (p11 hypnosis for change by Hadley and Staudacher)

    • Word count: 2245
  8. Marked Essay - Discuss biological explanations of schizophrenia.

    to move to the presynaptic membrane. They then fuse with the presynaptic membrane. The vesicles release the dopamine into the synaptic cleft by exocytosis. The dopamine diffuses across the cleft and binds to specific D2 receptors on the postsynaptic membrane. It is this process which is thought to be amplified, either by over-sensitive/amount of D2 receptors and the amount of neurotransmitter being released susceptible to binding. / this is great but maybe a bit long for just one mark however obviously it would give you marks for depth and breadth (are you sure you would be able to write this without your notes?)

    • Word count: 1342
  9. Discuss two or more biological therapies for phobic disorders

    It reacts to the GABA receptors, making it harder for the neurone to be stimulated by other transmitters, so this slows down the activity and makes a person feel more relaxed. However there is evidence to show the effectiveness of BZs,Kahn et al (1986( found that BZs were more effective than a placebo treatment in reducing anxiety, and Hidalgo et al (2001) found that BZs were more effective than antidepressants. A limitation of using BZs is that they can cause lots of side effects for example aggressive and memory loss.

    • Word count: 926
  10. Compare the explanations for relationship breakdown given by exchange and equity theory. Which do you consider the most convincing and why?

    Another explanation for relationship breakdown was given by Walster eta al 1978 called the equity theory. Messick and Cook (1978) suggested that people strive to achieve fairness in their relationship and feel distressed if they perceive unfairness. People who give a great deal into a relationship and gets very little in return would perceive inequity and therefore dissatisfied in the relationship. However, the same applies for those who give very little in relationship but receive a great deal in return.

    • Word count: 985
  11. Depression. I have read an article on the BBC News website asking Is living alone bad for your mental health?.

    1,695 of the subjects were men and 1,776 were women. The average age of the subjects was 44.6. To obtain the relevant information needed the subjects were asked to complete a survey asking whether they lived alone, or if there were other people within their household. Environment factors taken into consideration were their income, employment, working environment, education, housing conditions and social support. Alongside health factors such as smoking, drinking habits and their exercise routine, if any.

    • Word count: 529
  12. Discuss the Concepts of Nature and Nurture in Relation to Gender Development. Refer to evidence in your answer.

    In this theory because sex shares the same physiology and anatomy they have similar traits and characteristics. To support the nature side, we could use obvious physical difference between women and men, for example their sexual organs, which serve an evolutionary action. These actions allow men and women to unit and reproduce; reproduction is a basic human instinct. Masculine and feminine are also very distinctive. A research study for the Nature side of the debate was performed by Buss in 1994. Buss?s aim was to investigate the heterosexual mate preference of men and women. This links to the nature side of the debate because it researches what mates look for in other mates, as in traits and characteristics which are biological.

    • Word count: 1056
  13. Discuss two of the following methods that have been used to investigate areas of cortical specialisation in the brain: post-mortem examinations, EEG and scanning techniques

    Post mortem aids in finding out missed diagnoses and help in preventing repetition of these medical errors in future cases. Thus it helps in improving the quality of medical care for other similar patients. Mortality statistics can be created, and prevents death certificates, in the absence of post mortem findings, yielding inaccurate data. As a result of two separate post mortems, Paul Broca and Karl Wernicke discovered their own respective areas- Broca?s area and Wernicke?s area. Broca used many subjects, and learnt that his area was linked to speech production, and consequently aphasia.

    • Word count: 1487

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