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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

    Compare and contrast the main approaches - Biological and Behaviourist, biological and cognitive, Psychodynamic and Behaviourist.

    4 star(s)

    This represents that both approaches are similar in terms of usefulness. A further similarity is that both approaches are seen to be deterministic. Freud believed that our behaviour is determined by innate forces, id, ego and superego, and childhood experience. It therefore believes that we have no free will (choice) on who we become and how we behave. The psychodynamic approach sees our personality as shaped (pre-determined) by forces that we cannot change nor have any control over. The cognitive approach has also been criticised for being deterministic.

    • Word count: 4162
  2. Marked by a teacher

    Compare and Contrast the five main perspectives in psychology

    3 star(s)

    Scientists can now look at the effects of brain damage, drugs, and disease in ways that were simply not possible in the past. Recent advances in research and practice on biological psycology analyse phisyological basis of stress and their effects. Biological approach investigated the role of genetics in schizophrenia, comparing 47 adopted children whose biological mother had schizophrenia, with control group of no schizophrenia history. The result was that none of the controls were diagnosed, 16% of the schizophrenic mothers?? offspring had the illness.

    • Word count: 3508
  3. Free essay

    Discuss the range of methods available to the psychologist.

    Primarily because of the disadvantages shown psychologists are more likely to use other non-experimental methods and in particular more qualitative methods. One way in which you can change the laboratory experiment is to reduce demand characteristic by using a single blind procedure or a double blind procedure. This is where either the participant do not know exactly what they are being tested for, or both the participants and the researcher does not know exactly what they are being test for.

    • Word count: 3638
  4. Define different theoretical perspectives used in counselling. Analyse the advantages and disadvantages of different theoretical perspectives in health and social care

    This was so as his clients could have an insight into their problems and try to overcome them with psychoanalytical support and to bring them to a better state of mental health. Through his work, Freud discovered that the mind consists of three interrelated systems, which for Freud, was a useful way of thinking about how personalities develop. These three systems are; the id, which is a mass of powerful pleasure-seeking instincts, the ego, which acts according to the reality principle and has to find safe and acceptable ways to satisfy the id's basic demands, and the super ego, which is like our conscious.

    • Word count: 3311
  5. Consider the Problems Faced by Psychologists in the Definition of Abnormality

    However, this definition is also limiting due to a number of factors. Statistical infrequency cannot measure abnormality, merely the characteristics that may contribute to the view and general understanding of abnormality (the behaviour must already be deemed to be abnormal). The variable being measured (such as the frequency of hearing a separate voice in one's head, or shoe size) is taken out of context, and so must be further interpreted in order to determine whether this characteristic is linked to mental abnormality- whilst an above average shoe size would not often- in the Western world- be considered to show a mental disturbance, frequently hearing voices would be.

    • Word count: 5265
  6. Outline and Evaluate the Biological, Psychodynamic and Cognitive Explanations of Abnormality

    Brain damage is where the structure of the brain has been permanently altered, resulting in mental deterioration. The damage may be due to trauma or disease, but once the deterioration has started it cannot be reversed or stopped. A psychological disorder which is an example of this would be Alzheimer's disease. Infection is where a pathogen (harmful bacteria or viruses), which would normally cause a physical illness such as influenza, transmit a mental illness by having adverse affects on the brain as well as the rest of the body. In the nineteenth century Syphilis was known to have such effects; the infection would cause decline in the brain and would lead to symptoms of a mental illness (referred to as 'general paresis').

    • Word count: 6017
  7. Investigation to find out which gender is better at recognising faces

    The results are shown below in a bar chart; from the result you can see there is 1 odd result from participant 20. The experiment shows the experimental hypothesis was stated wrong however if the researcher removes one result (participant 20) it would bring down the female average and prove the experimental hypothesis correct. The mean average for males and females including participant 20 is males 28.6 and females 34.7, however without participant 20 the female average goes down to 25.2r.

    • Word count: 4576
  8. Abnormality Revision Guide

    : : What are the Disadvantages of this definition? : : ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ - Our concept of deviation changes with time, e.g. abortion, homosexuality, etc - If we adhere to this definition, it excludes non-conformists, people who don't agree with the rest of society or the way it is run. Did You Know? - Szasz, a famous psychologist, believes that the "government incarcerates non-conformists by labelling them as mentally ill". - Culturally Relative (what is abnormal in what culture may be normal for another), for example the DSM - Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses - 3.

    • Word count: 3312
  9. Describe and evaluate the concepts of abnormal behaviour When we talk about abnormal behaviour it is not always clear what we mean, as the definition of abnormality

    Why that would be a frankly ridiculous accusation. However based on this definition of mental illness it would be perfectly reasonable to suggest so. Although if you take this to be a definition simply of mental abnormality and not of mental illness then yes, having a high IQ is a mental abnormality, but surely this argument would also lead to the point that mental illness and mental abnormality are two completely different things and should in no way be linked together.

    • Word count: 3206
  10. Psychopathology, Theories and Treatment Revision notes (Psychology AS)

    It has been suggested that this may lead to disproportionate numbers of people from certain groups being diagnosed as "abnormal." Biological approach to abnormality BING * Brain Injury * Infection * Neurotransmitters * Genetics Brain * Phineas Gage * Pole in his head * Before ? best worker, lovely man * After ? aggressive, impulsive, different person * Don?t know if it was frontal cortex * Korsakoff Syndrome - Caused by heavy drink and drugs and effects the brain Infection * Cause one illness that could lead to a secondary illness that has psychological symptoms * Influenza virus was linked

    • Word count: 3131
  11. EVALUATE THE MEDICAL MODEL AND THE BEHAVIOURAL MODEL OF ABNORMALITY

    The second possible cause looks at the link between biology and mental illness, where a physical illness such as malaria if untreated would eventually cause mental health issues. We know the brain has no immune response and relies on the body to provide a barrier against infection (bacteria or viruses), however if this barrier is breached, it could result in serious brain damage. This was recognized in explaining ?General Paresis? where syphilis left untreated over a period of time would eventually damage the brain resulting in mental illness.

    • Word count: 3506
  12. Level 2 Counselling skills. Theories -CBT, Psychodynamic and Person Centred.

    ? Id - This is the impulsive (and unconscious) part of our personality, and is present at birth. It demands immediate satisfaction, which can be referred to as the pleasure principle. The main aim of the id is to gain pleasure and gratification at any cost. ? Ego - This is the conscious, rational part of the mind that develops around the age of two years. Its function is to work out realistic ways of balancing the demands of the id in a socially acceptable way. It is governed by the reality principle.

    • Word count: 3265
  13. The contents of this essay will explain different psychological approaches to health and social practice

    Additionally, a positive reinforcer could possibly be having good time when consuming alcohol, and so desiring to endure this on a additional instances. In spite of this, these specific reinforcers also have the capability to be detrimental, as when an individual consumes alcohol; they have a tendency to disregard other anxieties, and subsequently are reinforced to consume alcohol to neglect problems. A behaviourist Psychologist can begin with the individual with alcoholism by assessing the types and degrees of problems the individual has experienced.

    • Word count: 4806

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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