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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
  1. Marked by a teacher

    Behavioural Study of Obedience - Stanley Milgram

    5 star(s)

    The subjects were chosen from volunteers who had responded to a newspaper article. This means the sample was self-selecting. We must question whether or not Milgram had a representative sample, by using this study. Milgram chose to study only men, but from a variety of backgrounds and different ages. You might say that by using men this produced a sample that was biased, or did not reflect the general population. Men are thought to be more aggressive than women, so it would make sense to begin a series of experiments with them. Many of the war criminals had been men, so Milgram's sample was representative of the target population.

    • Word count: 2859
  2. Estimating IQ Psychology Research

    has demonstrated that when people are asked to estimate their own IQ, men give higher estimates than women. Over the past decade there have been many studies on self-estimates of intelligence, sparked mainly by the research of Hogan (1978) and Higgins (1987). These studies have focused primarily on gender differences in self-estimated intelligence and, with few exceptions have shown that males give higher overall IQ estimates than females. Various studies have focused on self-estimates of multiple intelligences, as defined by Gardner (1983). These studies demonstrated that significant gender differences tend to be confined to mathematical and spatial intelligence.

    • Word count: 2055
  3. Free essay

    abnormal psychology/depression

    In other words, it is called average. High intelligence is as abnormal as low intelligence." J Cullberg (2006:09) Not all abnormal behaviours are undesirable, for example if a person is abnormally intelligent this is seen as desirable. Failure to function adequately could be classed as abnormal behaviour. Normal behaviour such as brushing teeth and getting dressed are judged as what a 'healthy' person is capable of doing. Abnormal behaviour in this case is when a person is unable to function properly.

    • Word count: 2221
  4. Psychology - Nature/Nurture Debate

    Each cell in the body contains a nucleus, which contains a substance called DNA. The main role of DNA molecules is the long-term storage of information. DNA is organised into long strands called chromosomes, and each chromosome is made up of thousands of genes. Genes are the basic unit of hereditary transmission and direct the way that growth and development happen within a plant or animal. Just after an animal is conceived, it is made up of a tiny group of cells. As these grow and divide, each gene acts as a code or set of instructions for making a particular protein.

    • Word count: 2495
  5. Do pre information affect impression formation

    This means that Asch's studies cannot be used to explain occurrences revolving around impression formation in real life. This is due to the fact there is a large amount of artificiality and therefore results may have been susceptible by demand characteristics exhibited by participants. This is because the words cold and warm may be associated with something within a different dimension and not central traits such as warm meaning happy and vice versa. Harold Kelley improved upon Asch's research and created the co-variation theory, whereby Kelley argued we gain our information and make judgements of people from information gained from two sources of data.

    • Word count: 2021
  6. Do pre information affect impression formation

    He varied the 'central trait' however, in the same manner as Asch did in his experiment, that is, by swapping a single trait within the set with another trait - 'cold' became 'warm'. Kelley then asked the students to evaluate the lecturer, and received different impressions according to which central trait was given to the students present at a particular lecture. Another theory was the 'halo effect', best demonstrated in studies by Dion and Walster (1972) suggests that a person can be labelled as 'good' by the presence of one particular trait for e.g.

    • Word count: 2275
  7. The Gestalt Approach to Psychology

    As Yontef (1973) said "Behaviour is a function of the field of which it is a part. Experiencing is also a function of the field of which it is a part". Each field is organised into a gestalt by the dominant need of that moment. As a personal or social need arises, a figure/ground formation develops with whatever is perceived as being able to meet the need becoming figure. The cycle of gestalt formation and destruction, of needs arising and being met, has taken several different forms. One of the earliest models was a four-phase process called the "cycle of contact" (Perls et al, 1973).

    • Word count: 2376
  8. The Gestalt Theory

    Therefore, focusing on the process of what is happening rather than what is being discussed. It emphasis on what is being done, thought and felt at the moment rather than on what was, might be, could be or should be. Gestalt Therapy regards the client as an ever changing, self-adapting, human being who is in a process of continuous change and development. Gestalt Therapy is used for the natural change in the client through the constant interacting with others and everyday challenges, such as opportunities, possibilities and the inevitable problems that are put upon us.

    • Word count: 2201
  9. Defining abnormality

    Many consider the failure to function adequately definition as being the most useful single approach, and the one closest to common sense. However, none of the above on its own constitutes an adequate definition of abnormality, since bizarre behaviour, for example, might actually allow a person to function adequately in a particular context. Another way of defining abnormality is in terms of a deviation from social norms. Abnormality is seen as behaving in ways society disapproves of, or not behaving in ways it approves of.

    • Word count: 2202
  10. Eating disorders

    People with anorexia are not simply obsessed with weight but fearful of weight gain. Weight: Weight loss is considered abnormal when it drops below 85% of the individual's normal weight, based on the age and height. People with Anorexia develop unusual eating habits, such as avoiding food and meals, picking out a few foods and eating these in small quantities, or carefully weighing and portioning food. individuals with anorexia may repeatedly check their body weight, and may engage in other techniques to control their weight, such as intense and compulsive exercise. Body image distortion: People with Anorexia do not see their own thinness.

    • Word count: 2058
  11. Examine 'The Five Precepts' in the context of 'The Eightfold Path'

    It would enable one not only to see the true meaning behind the wrongdoing of taking life, but also to be aware of the consequences of their actions for themselves and their victim, which is that if anyone kills another human being, they are preventing them from making spiritual progress and consequently themselves also. Right Understanding would help the enrichment of comprehension for The Second Precept which is not to take things which are not given, because they would learn not only that it is wrong to steal but the reason why it is wrong.

    • Word count: 2098
  12. The human condition can be defined as the interpretation of humans in the world, physically and psychologicallyinfluenced by the social and political environment. It describes the nature andbehaviour of humans, and the habitual developments involved ...

    These two texts convey mutual ideas of the resistance of conformity and the appreciation of life; a positive segment of the human condition, contrasting the two abovementioned poems. 'Something that doesn't love a wall' and so begins the poem Mending Wall by Robert Frost. The first line immediately gives the impression that the speaker is opposed to the idea of constructing a wall. He is yet to explain why he is not so keen on this event, and so it seems that he holds a natural distaste towards fences.

    • Word count: 2148
  13. Psychological Abnormality

    Agovi Another factor is when psychological states may be distressing to others. For example a person who tries to assassinate the Prime Minister might not experience any personal distress but however the fact that such a person is a threat to others establish a failure to function adequately. If such is the case, then when can we say that one is being abnormal or merely being non-conformist? Such a case is the incident on the 11th of September 2001 in New York in which some people bombed the World Trade Centre by flying planes into them.

    • Word count: 2193
  14. In this essay the biological, cognitive and the psychodynamic approach will be explored and compared on how they explain human behaviour.

    The brain can be examined through many methods such as CAT scans, X-rays etc. (Collin, et al., 2012). Gottesman looked at twin?s studies and the likelihood of the other twin developing schizophrenia. Evaluation of twin studies revealed 48% concordance for monozygotic (MZ; identical) twins and only 17% for dizygotic (DZ; fraternal) twins. Gottesman also reported that the concordance rate for identical twins raised apart was very similar to that for identical twins raised together?suggesting that the high concordance rate for identical twins is not due to being treated in a similar way at home (Gottesman & Shield, 1976).

    • Word count: 2619

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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