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AS and A Level: The Psychology of Individual Differences

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Five big ideas for essays on individual differences

  1. 1 Put the research in your essay in historical context. Each approach developed as a reaction against what had gone before and in response to contemporary events. Referring to publication dates will help you to understand why such a theory developed when it did.
  2. 2 Understand the dominant paradigms. The cognitive approach is dominant in modern mainstream psychology and the cognitive-behavioural approach is dominant in therapy. The biological approach is dominant in medicine and psychiatry. Other approaches are practiced but receive less funding. Anti-psychiatry exists on the fringes but has influenced service user focused models in mental health practice. Modern psychologists tend to take an eclectic approach in working with individuals.
  3. 3 Consider claims to/against science. 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 and we can never rely fully on self-report measures.
  4. 4 Consider free will/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.
  5. 5 Consider reductionism-holism. 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. Those that reject scientific principles and practice often do so because of this reductionism – they want to see and help the whole person.

Five psychological perspectives to look out for in individual differences research

  1. 1 Psychodynamic – The psychodynamic approach rests on the assumption that the psyche is formed and influenced by early childhood experiences. The psyche has three dynamic parts: the id, ego and superego. The ego has to balance the demands of the selfish id and the moral superego, so it experiences conflict if either one is too dominant. It protects itself through abnormal behaviours that disguise this unconscious conflict These are called defence mechanisms. Bringing this conflict into conscious awareness can resolve abnormality.
  2. 2 Behaviourist – The behaviourist approach developed as a reaction to the unfalsifiable psychodynamic approach. Behaviourists emphasise the scientific, experimental manipulation and measurement of observable behaviour – to them, any mental process is inside the ‘black box’ of the mind - which cannot be studied scientifically and so is of no interest. Behaviourism rests on the assumption that all behaviour is learned through interaction with the environment – at birth, the child is a ‘blank slate’. Abnormal behaviours are learned and so can be unlearned.
  3. 3 Cognitive – The cognitive approach developed as a reaction to the behaviourist approach’s ignorance of mental processes. It rests on the analogy that the brain is like a computer – it processes information. So personality or psychopathology can be explained in terms of differences or faults in perception and cognition. Adjusting these processes can rectify any problems.
  4. 4 Humanistic – The humanist approach developed out of the philosophical approach of phenomenology. Humanistic psychologists do not try to objectively measure people, they aim to understand their subjective experiences. They do not search for determinist causes of behaviour but emphasise free will: they focus on the whole person and aim to help achieve personal development.
  5. 5 Anti-psychiatry – The anti-psychiatry movement developed in reaction to the increasing medicalization of mental health in the 1960s. Anti-psychiatrists maintain that mental illness is a myth and that abnormal behaviours are sane responses to a repressive society. It aims to empower the individual – rejecting labels such as ‘patient’.

Five biological perspectives to look out for in individual differences 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.
  2. 2 Evolutionary – seeks to establish continuity between human and other species and explain human diversity 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.
  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.
  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. stress.

  • Marked by Teachers essays 18
  • Peer Reviewed essays 15
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  1. Marked by a teacher

    Describe and Evaluate Psychodynamic, Behaviourist and Humanist Theory of Psychology

    4 star(s)

    (Freud, 1915) Freud asserts that early childhood experiences are important to the development of a healthy adult personality. Freud proposed that childhood development took place in five psychosexual stages; Oral, Anal, Phallic, Latent and Genital. One of the more important stages of this series is the Phallic stage. This stage contains what Freud referred to as the Oedipus complex. This is where the child wishes to posses the opposite sex parent and eliminate the same sex parent. The child becomes fearful of the same sex parent. This conflict can be resolved when the child identifies with the same sex parent.

    • Word count: 1973
  2. Marked by a teacher

    Compare and contrast two psychological approaches

    4 star(s)

    Behaviourism relies on the Stimulus-Response principle which consists of using an object to create a reaction. Edward Thorndike (1874-1949) initially proposed that humans and animals learn behaviours through the association of stimuli and responses. He stated two laws of learning to explain why behaviour occurs the way that it does: The Law of Effect specifies that any time behaviour is followed by a pleasant outcome that behaviour is likely to recur. The Law of Exercise states that the more a stimulus is connected with a response, the stronger the link between the two.

    • Word count: 1851
  3. Marked by a teacher

    Psychology the factors of Smoking

    4 star(s)

    The psychodynamic explanation for smoking is when a child has been over indulged in the oral stage they tend to be oral fixated in this particular stage which can dominate them as adults later in life in the form of smoking, (wanting to pleasure the mouth with a cigarette). This theory can be supported by evidence to back this up but it still does not explain why some people who are oral fixated do not smoke when they are in adulthood this can be seen as a limitation of the psychodynamic perspective.

    • Word count: 1139
  4. Marked by a teacher

    Personality in Sports

    3 star(s)

    He came up with a way to measure these traits, on a Personality Inventory. He identified two major personality dimensions which can be viewed on a continuum: Unstable Introvert Extrovert Stable It is said that extroverts need increased levels of stimulation to maintain optimum levels of attention and brain functioning. Introverts are said to have naturally high levels of excitement within them, therefore tend not to need external stimulation or excitation. An example of an extroverted performer is Roy Keane, and an example of an introverted performer is Theo Walcott. This means that introverts tend to: - Prefer individual sports - Prefer a low level of excitement - Work hard in training - Get

    • Word count: 1442
  5. Marked by a teacher

    Classical and Operant Conditioning

    3 star(s)

    The responses of relaxation and fear are incompatible, and the fear is eventually dispelled. The use of Systematic Desensitisation was first developed by Wolpe in the 1950s. Systematic Desensitisation enables individuals to overcome their anxieties by learning to relax n the presence of stimuli that once made them unbearably nervous and afraid. Wolpe's basic idea was to replace one response (fear) with another (relaxation). This is particularly useful for treating psychological problems in which anxiety is the main difficulty - for example phobias, shyness etc. The mode of action of Systematic Desensitisation is that in the early days of Systematic Desensitisation, patients would learn to confront their feared situations.

    • Word count: 1179
  6. Marked by a teacher

    Compare and contrast idiographic and nomothetic approaches to the study of Personality.

    The study of clinical psychology focuses on each person in depth, and the role of the clinical psychologist is to try to help them through therapy. There is an idiographic approach to studying personality, by which the study of an individual is carried out independently and without comparison to others. People like Freud, Jung and Rogers were theorists, but also clinicians. In contrast with clinical psychology, academic psychology is primarily focussed on the study of groups of people. For example, psychologists may study the level of aggressiveness in a group of people that are the same age, share the same culture, the same gender or have the same occupation, in a variety of situations.

    • Word count: 1072
  7. Schizophrenia. This essay shall discuss the various theoretical causes of schizophrenia including; biological explanations such as genetics and chemicals in the brain, Freud`s psychodynamic explanations of the illness, and the family relationships that ca

    twins, who share one hundred per cent of their DNA, have a much larger risk factor of forty eight per cent. The twin studies indicate that genetics do play a key role in the development of schizophrenia. However, as identical twins share one hundred per cent of their DNA, a twin should be at one hundred per cent risk, (they should 'have' the illness) if their twin has it. This suggests that there must be other participating causes that perhaps interact with our biology to bring on the illness.

    • Word count: 1715
  8. Personality and Motivation. In this assignment, I will be talking about the many different theories that attempt to explain where your personality comes from and how it can change you as a person. It will also link this with where motivation comes from.

    However, I think that this is the downfall of this theory because I believe that there will be some situations where this wouldn't be true. One example of this is that if you were in an unfamiliar place with people you had never met before, you would come over much more shy. However, if you were playing football with close friends, you will be much louder. On the other hand, there are theories that say you learn your personality from others in social situations.

    • Word count: 1331
  9. Describe the value of the humanistic approach to health and social care service provision

    For example, people that go on long walks write a long essay or learn how to ride a bike can never achieve these things without the basics, such as water, food and sleep etc. When the lower points have been completed then someone can build their way up to the higher hierarchy needs. The Development in human beings does apply to Maslow's theory. According to the Humanistic approach (2010) 'This applies equally to the development of individuals: babies are more concerned with their bellies than with their brains....

    • Word count: 1000
  10. Discuss research into one error of attribution (self serving bias)

    This is a useful study as its demonstrates the use of self serving bias in qualitative data that has been gathered in the real world and not as part of a laboratory study, suggesting that the conclusions may be considered to be high in ecological validity and less likely to result from demand characteristics where participants are aiming to please the interviewer by answering in a way which they believe suits the purpose of the study. Another strength of the study is that the fact they analysed the explanations given by the sportswriters meaning that they also have some baseline data with which to compare the explanations given by the coaches and players.

    • Word count: 1980
  11. Black is Beautiful

    The 160 participants aged between four and eight years all attended primary schools in Lincoln, Nebraska. 89 of the children were Black (60% of the Black children attending school in Lincoln) 71 of the children were White. These children were randomly selected from the classrooms containing black respondents. In the town of Lincoln at the time 1.4% of the total population were Black, and in the first five schools used in the study the proportions of Black children were 3%, 3%, 3%, 7% and 18%. Also, 70% of the Black children in the study reported that they had White friends.

    • Word count: 1471
  12. Free essay

    What are the effects and reasons for human Eating Behaviour?

    This can be explained through SLT. Parents, especially the mother, provide the key role models for the child. A common technique, used by many parents and based on operant conditioning, rewards consumption of a disliked food with a desired food- 'you can have some ice cream if you eat your dinner' Religion - Some forbid the eating of certain foods, or food has to be prepared in a particular way E.g. In Judaism, dairy and fish are carefully controlled and the eating of both together is forbidden. Although some non-religious families have religious family traditions e.g. in Christianity - fish dish on Fridays.

    • Word count: 1252
  13. Outline and evaluate biological treatments of depression (15 marks)

    This suggests that, in severe cases rather than mild ones, SSRIs are more effective than placebos. Similarly, Furukawa et al, in a meta-analysis of thirty-five studies found that antidepressants were more effective than placebos. There have been studies which have shown a rise in suicidal thoughts and tendencies in children aged six to eighteen who are taking antidepressant drugs. Olfson et al concluded this after carrying out a study in 2006 when he found that the incidence rate of adolescent and childhood suicide was significantly increased during drug-based treatment.

    • Word count: 1466
  14. Child Psychology Questions

    The procedure also lacks ecological validity, since the child is not being observed in their normal surroundings, and there could be ethical issues with causing unnecessary distress to children by removing the care giver and placing them with a stranger. However, there are relatively few demand characteristics, since the children are too young to understand and guess what the purpose of the observation is. c) The Strange Situation has been developed from Bowlby's theory of attachment, including the evolutionary basis of attachment.

    • Word count: 1042
  15. Forensic Psychology and the Prison Service

    In the United Kingdom, for instance, the average suicide rate is two per week (Howitt, 2006). One of the most disturbing features of suicide in prison is the fact that those awaiting trial, who have not been sentenced, are at very high risk of suicide. Serious self-injury is also more common in prison than among the general public, as are stress-related disorders and acute physical ailments. Depression and anxiety seem to develop as imprisonment continues. While there is ample evidence to suggest that there is a higher incidence of mental health difficulties among prison populations there is a dispute over whether these problems are due to imprisonment or whether the prisoners bring the problems 'in with them'.

    • Word count: 1934
  16. Using two different psychological approaches explain one aspect of human behaviour

    Recent research has proven that there are definite links between depression and low serotonin levels, as well as other physical effects on the body such as low/high blood pressure and imbalances of specific hormone levels (Rice et al 2002, p.156). These effects can be measured using medical equipment and biological tests. To support their theory that mental illness can be inherited, research was conducted to prove that genetics are a major factor in the predisposition to mental illness. One such study was conducted by McGuffin et al (1996), in which 177 sets of twins completed diagnostic assessments.

    • Word count: 1873
  17. Use of non humans

    Different species have different requirements, lifestyles e.t.c. so therefore we cannot just assume that we know about their suffering without studying them species by species Brady placed monkeys in restraining chairs and conditioned them to press a lever. They were given shocks every 20 seconds unless the lever was pressed during the same time period Shows that stress may be a casual factor in stomach ulcers If an animal is capable of suffering, humans shouldn't feel that they have the right to inflict suffering upon them Charles Darwin composed a theory to account for the fact that animal species have

    • Word count: 1034
  18. Describe two research studies into the causes of schizophrenia. Evaluate them in terms of whether schizophrenia is a genetic or social illness.

    Nevertheless, this is a time of hope for people with schizophrenia and their families. Many people with the disorder now lead rewarding and meaningful lives in their communities. There have been a lot of studies that have tried to define the causes of schizophrenia. Whether or not schizophrenia is influenced by social and environmental factors or is genetically associated with you has been a great debate in psychological theories. One theory that claims that schizophrenia is triggered by social issues is Gregory Bateson's double bind theory. Although considered practically useful, the double bind construct is typically seen as difficult to investigate empirically.

    • Word count: 1965
  19. Reductionism is useful, but only on simple systems rather than complex systems, as we need to focus on other variables such religion, socio-biology and culture.

    The scientific approach has added to the credibility and status of psychology- as seen in the beginning of the 20th Century for Behaviourism with Watson. Reductionism contributes to parsimonious explanations. E.g. phobias and how they are linked to being learned. Physiological factors clearly play an important part in much psychological functioning- serotonin linked with depression. There are practical difficulties in trying to take a more holistic or interactionist approach when investigating psychological questions given the difficulty of such a method. It seems to create the possibility of fully scientific psychology with all behaviour and experience being ultimately explained by physiology.

    • Word count: 1009
  20. Sexual Selection and Human Reproductive behaviour

    An example of this might be the peacock's tail, which has evolved over time to become lengthy and beautiful. However, rather than aiding the survival of the species, a long and vibrant tail actually hinders the survival of the peacock, since it renders him more visible to predators and slows him down. Since the tail offered no survival advantage, Darwin concluded that it continued due to female choice - i.e. they find big, colourful tails attractive and are therefore naturally selected through reproduction/reproductive success of those with the desired characteristic. These theories are considered deterministic because it suggests that genes control behaviour, which doesn't take into consideration an individual's free will.

    • Word count: 1808
  21. Describe and Evaluate Explanations of Depression. Refer to Issues Such as Those Raised in the Quotation Above

    study which used PET scans to observe patients brains, which showed impaired transmission of serotonin. However, such results cannot prove causation as low serotonin levels could be either a cause or an effect of the depression. If the reduction of serotonin in the brain was caused by the depression, it would not explain how raising levels artificially can be seen to alleviate the symptoms of depression though- it would be expected that under these circumstance there would be no effect. This may lend more weight to the assumption that lower levels of serotonin are a cause rather than an effect.

    • Word count: 1591
  22. Outline and Evaluate One Biological and One Psychological Explanation of Schizophrenia

    One of the first post-mortem studies was carried out by Owen et al. (1978) who found that schizophrenic brains had a higher density of dopamine receptors than expected. This was support by Inversen's (1979) findings of higher levels of dopamine than normal. It could be debated that perhaps as these findings were from deceased patients that the results do not represent what is occurring in living brains. It could be argued that death itself may cause the increase of dopamine that had been observed.

    • Word count: 1765
  23. case study of psychopath

    A storage space was found within were it was discovered that Debardeleben was a sadistic murderer. Amongst his things in the storage compartment was a police uniform, a list of women's numbers and addresses, counterfeiting material and a bag. The bag contained handcuffs, a dildo, shoelaces, a chain, bloody panties, and lubricant. There were hundreds of sexually explicit photos of females, and several audiotapes. The tapes recorded extreme torture were the female victims begged to stop or to be murdered. Early victims who survived the torture say they did not come forward because DeBardeleben threaten to show explicit pictures of them and some simply did not come forward due to shame.

    • Word count: 1636
  24. invesigating stroop effect

    Automatic processing is fast, does not require a lot of attention, and happens involuntarily. Controlled processing, however, is slow, requires a lot of attention and in voluntary. Schneider and Shiffrin also showed that some automatic processes develop with practice. However, they do not fully explain how this happens. They further concluded that while automatic processes are faster than controlled, and can operate in parallel, they are also more inflexible, making it difficult to modify them in response to challenges in the environment. The Stroop Effect illustrates this theory made by Schneider and Shiffrin, as reading is an automatic activity to accomplished readers.

    • Word count: 1922
  25. Cross-Cultural Variations

    Different factors have an effect on cross-cultural variations in attachment such as the role of the mother and whether the culture is individualist or collectivist. The mother-infant relationship is an important concept of how an attachment is formed and affects all humans, including all cultural boundaries and/or ethnic child rearing practices. In some cultures, the child-care duties are taken on mainly by the mother leading to a strong attachment between mother and infant. However, in some cultures the mother works away from home and may have to let the infant be looked after by another person (other relative or childcare)

    • Word count: 1008

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?

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