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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 research into the factors associated with marriage including a consideration of cultural differences

    Davis concluded that it was the decision to get married that caused the stress but not the process of marriage. The above research does not show that marriage actually causes stress but says that it is the decision that creates the anxiety and depression.

    • Word count: 376
  2. Stress in the Workplace : Why Is it Important to Deal with It?

    Dr Erica Frydenberg, a clinical and organisational psychologist at the University of Melbourne. Anxiety of sufficient strength to warrant a medical diagnosis affects 1 in 10 adults, that is nearly 1.3 million people - females are affected twice as much as males. More than 2.7 million work days are lost annually when people cannot perform their usual activities because of disabling anxiety, according to last year's National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing Report. Everyone experiences anxiety but it is a shape-shifter that blooms in many guises and intensities.

    • Word count: 6012
  3. Discuss issues surrounding the use of Biological (somatic) therapies.

    It is also referred to as 'Positive' symptoms and work by blocking the D2 receptor for dopamine. Unfortunately, Antipsychotics do not work for the 'Negative' symptoms of blunting, slowness of speech, lack of movement and social withdrawal. As with most drugs, Antipsychotics involve side effects including all the EP ones and others, which can be dry mouth, blurred vision, low blood pressure, constipation and hypothermia. Hutton 1998 quotes that even though the side effects are rare, they can be life threatening and can occur anytime.

    • Word count: 1703
  4. Post Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    Concentration may be effected by the constant flashbacks and so the sufferer becomes irritable and angrier. A detachment from other people may occur, leading on to the inability to love. There may be a loss of interest in activities and hyperaltertness, which is where reactions to startling factors are exaggerated. Due to all these increased arousal and severe anxiety, insomnia may result, depression developed and possible maladaptive coping responses of drugs or alcohol (adapted from Gelder et al 1999). Reynolds and Brewin 1997 compared matched samples of patients with PTSD and depression. PTSD sufferers were more likely to have intrusive memories that were vivid and frequent.

    • Word count: 1243
  5. Dreams, every one has dreams and always one dream will always leave a scar on you.

    I could some how feel and taste the blood running down, back of my throat. Even though I have never tasted or even smelled blood I knew I was bleeding. My throat felt like someone or something had reached down to my throat and was tearing it apart to shreds. Each gasping breath was terrifying as I was too scared to even turn back and look. I could feel the wind blowing down through my throat. Continuing would only result in the ripping of my thin membrane of the remaining tissues from my windpipe.

    • Word count: 1182
  6. In Being and Time, States-of-mind show “how one is”.

    Anxiety is related to fear, and fleeing as the likely state of mind that discloses these other states of mind; falling, fear and fleeing. Anxiety as a phenomenon of moods performs the essential function of disclosing things to dasein, much like concern to the ready-to-hand. For anxiety, or fear to manifest itself, there must be some activity, which Heidegger calls "Shrinking away". This is a manifestation of fear as a state-of-mind, and possesses the character of fleeing. A prerequisite for this particular kind of activity is there must be something to be afraid of.

    • Word count: 1471
  7. Sleep or Die

    Exhausted, our speaker in the sonnet's octet, prays for sleep to bless him with its divine forgetfulness. He personifies sleep as a divine being of sorts, and feels that this being is overlooking him do to the fact that he has sinned too greatly to be blessed with the forgetfulness that sleep offers. Our first example of this personification comes in the first line, when he calls sleep the "soft embalmer of the still midnight".

    • Word count: 451
  8. I was being chased again

    But the question is, "Why? Why is he chasing me?" Ever since I can remember, he has been chasing me. I remember not wanting to go to bed, making up all manner of equally unreasonable and unbelievable scenarios in which I would not have to sleep. As everyone knows who has ever experienced someone chasing them in their sleep, going without sleep only adds to the intensity and fear of the situation. So what choice do I have? As the increasingly dramatic events unfold, I am standing at the top of the alleyway, kicking a ball aimlessly at the fence, when all of a sudden the oh-so familiar footsteps beat against the uneven concrete, like a drumstick on a drum.

    • Word count: 878
  9. The Addiction of the Nineties: a Trip through the Dark Realm of Body Modification

    Blood flowing from wounds proves there is life inside the body instead of nothingness" (47). Lindsay doesn't know who she is in her mind, cutting herself helps her with that quest for self awareness and confidence. There are many terms for it; self-mutilation, self-injury, and self-abuse are some. For the purpose of this essay it will be referred to as body modification. Since the beginningsof time, people have engaged in body modification for many purposes. Body modification has been used to demonstrate feats of strength, to adorn oneself, or simply as a rite of passage.

    • Word count: 1328
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. 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
  19. 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
  20. 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
  21. 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
  22. 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
  23. 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
  24. 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
  25. 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

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