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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.

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  1. Why cant one approach explain all human behaviour?

    The id is our innate unconscious that thrives on the ?pleasure principle? without societal restraints; it wants to be satisfied right now regardless of the consequences. The ego develops between the ages of 2-3 during the anal stage and is part of both the conscious and unconscious because it represents the reality of obtaining the ids demands in a less selfish manner by playing the mediator role and the superego consists of a conscious that makes us feel guilt and remorse if we do something wrong and an ego-ideal that strives for perfection it is in absolute opposition of the ids demands.

    • Word count: 1249
  2. Personal Identity

    In view of the fact, that there isn?t an specific answer to solve such puzzle of which of the two mentioned aspects of a human being is more important to define personal identity psychologist and the philosophers of now and then have developed theories to find an answer. According to psychologist; identity is a well organized conception of the self, made up of values. Consequently those individuals who have achieved identity have explored and committed themselves to those specific self-chosen values and goals.

    • Word count: 1338
  3. The purpose of this essay will be to describe and compare the following perspectives of psychology: Psychoanalytical, Humanistic, Cognitive and Behavioural

    Psychology concepts and application?s) He believed that we are controlled by our unconscious mind which is like a reservoir for our feelings, thoughts, urges and memories based on the idea of the id (based on pleasure, very selfish) ego(based on reality weighs up pros and cons) and superego(based on morals, our right from wrong) which are outside of our conscious awareness., with the ego being the strongest, so it can satisfy the id with upsetting the superego with the mind having a conscious,preconcious and unconscious structure. The contents of the unconscious are unpleasant, such feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict.

    • Word count: 1391
  4. Psychology Notes - What are the ethical research practices in psychology? and What is learning?

    (Ciccarelli & White, 2011) Collect: Informed Consent One of the most important components of ethical research in psychology is informed consent. I consider informed consent to be one of the most important components. On the APA?s website, this issue is addressed. ?For persons who are legally incapable of giving informed consent, psychologists nevertheless (1) provide an appropriate explanation, (2) seek the individual's assent, (3) consider such persons' preferences and best interests, and (4) obtain appropriate permission from a legally authorized person, if such substitute consent is permitted or required by law.? ("Ethical principles of," 2010)

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  5. Psychology questions - Evaluate the models of explanation of mental disorders.

    Mood disorder is a general term and not a specific diagnosis. The DSM ? IV distinguishes between two main types of mood disorders ? unipolar depression and bipolar (manic) depression. Mood disorders differ in degree from the ?normal?, natural emotional ups and downs, both in the severity, frequency and duration and may also lead to suicide attempts. Mood disorders are generally episodic, which means they tend to come and go. The duration of the disturbed emotional state and the pattern of its occurrence determine how a mood disorder is diagnosed. 3.

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  6. Psychological Analysis of Students Skipping School (Truancy)

    Theory B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) was only concerned with observable behaviors, not the mental processes behind them. Skinner used animals to study how the use of rewards and punishment can influence behavior, which became known as operant conditioning. He performed the Skinner box experiment, where a rat in a cage must press a button for food to be released into the cage. After the food has run out, the rat stopped pressing the button after a few futile attempts. This is called extinction. Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) studied ?self actualizing? people, which is reaching one's full potential, only after basic needs are met.

    • Word count: 923
  7. Discuss at least one biological explanation of depression

    However, a limitation of the biochemical explanation is that no cause or effect can be established as it cannot be proven if low levels of serotonin cause depression or if depression causes low levels of serotonin this suggests that low levels of serotonin may be an effect of depression rather than a cause. A strength of the biochemical explanation is that the use of SSRIs as a successful treatment supports the explanation because SSRI?s increase the levels of serotonin which limits depression meaning that low levels of serotonin must be the cause in order for the SSRI?s to be successful.

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  8. Outline and evaluate attempts to define abnormality

    If abnormality will begin to be defined by deviation from social norms then this is based on previous social morals and attitudes. This gives the opportunity for mental health specialists to classify people as mentally ill, if they go against basic social morals. Failure to function The most common question against this is who actually judges if you are not functioning ?normally?. We first need to conclude if this actually is the cause or the person may not just be suffering a personal distress.

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  9. Notes on Important Psychology Experiments and Theories.

    Pavlov set up a series of trials over the next few days. Each time the dog was fed, a bell was rung for a few seconds and the amount of saliva produced was measured. Then the bell was rung and no food was given. He discovered that the amount of saliva produced on this trial was the same as when food was given. So, Pavlov realised that dogs had learned to salivate to a new event ? the sound of the food buckets. This encouraged him to investigate whether dogs could learn to salivate to other events.

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  10. 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.

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  11. Are gender differences fact or fiction? Discuss with respect to at least two distinct measures or traits.

    The majority of people believe gender differences to be fiction as they may be influenced by social background. There are several gender differences within masculinity and femininity within family and friends. We should note that these differences are increasing with age as children?s intellectual biases are being exaggerated and intensified by gendered cultures within a social community. Parents treat their children the way they would expect a boy or girl to be, so the children adopt and learn this concept. Traditional education creates an image on family?s gender roles. Children would see their parents in ?separated worlds?, for example a mother could be seen as doing the laundry or cooking and taking care of the child, and their farther as working or fixing things.

    • Word count: 534
  12. What is procrastination? Why do we procrastinate? How do we procrastinate? How can we stop procrastinating?

    Who am I kidding? It is quite shocking actually, just how many times I have procrastinated just today. Instead of getting out of bed this morning, I reached under my pillow and told myself I would just read one chapter, then get out of bed.. "there's no rush" I said. What happened?... Yes, I finished the whole book. By the time I dragged myself out of bed it was 11.30am. By that time, it's just a little too late for breakfast, yet a little too early for lunch. So what did I do? I decided that it would be silly to start my work before lunch, now it was so close, so I may as well wait until about 12 to have lunch, then start my work promptly afterwards!

    • Word count: 805
  13. Outline and evaluate attempts to define abnormality

    Even though this definition allows quick diagnosis, it varies according to time in history, context or circumstance and degree of deviation. Therefore identification of abnormal behaviour using this classification is not always accurate and this may lead to wrong treatment. A more extreme but somewhat more realistic and practical explanation is that ?failing to function adequately?, as in not being adaptive or being unable to cope with the state of affairs.

    • Word count: 480
  14. Critically discuss the emergence of psychology as a separate discipline

    However, the area of social psychology does look specifically at society. Wilhelm Wundt, credited as the father of psychology, was a physiologist, elements of physiology still being found within today?s schools of psychological thought. He opened the first psychological laboratory in 1879 in Leipzig, Germany. He formed the Structuralist school of thought, whose underlying belief was that consciousness can be broken down into components; perception, sensation and affection (Gross, McIlveen, Coolican, Clamp and Russell,2000). The main method he used was introspection, careful observation of one?s own conscious experiences (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2011).

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  15. Describe and evaluate the Cognitive Approach

    Another difference is that the approach advocates the importance of mental processes such as beliefs, desires and motivation in determining behaviour unlike the behaviourist approach. Cognitive psychologists focus mainly on the internal mental processes like memory. Interest is taken in how individuals can learn to solve problem and the mental processes that exist between stimulus and response. A certain model of this is the information processing approach. The information processing approach can be compared to a computer in terms of the mind the software and the brain being the hardware, this is just like a computer.

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  16. Different psychological approaches to explaining criminal behaviour.

    This has been proven by the use of identical twins (or monozygotic twins) and their genes. If one parent has a mental disorder, it is around 45% more likely that both of the twins will have the same mental disorder. However, as this concordance rate is quite low and generalised, it suggests that the environment could play a bit part in his behaviour. Another way could be infection - if an infection is caught from another person, it may have affected Geoff's brain badly, leading to an abnormality and making Geoff act out.

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  17. Psychology AS revision - Stress and Workplace theories

    Indeed, smoking was found to be common along those who got sick, so perhaps there is a link between a perceived lack of control and smoking (and then an obvious and proven link between smoking and heart disease) that caused the above correlation. Furthermore, since this survey was conducted on office workers it cannot be reliably generalised to the wider population, as there are many different types of jobs. However, since office work is by no means a rare phenomenon, we can confidently assume that this study is relevant to many people.

    • Word count: 769
  18. Research and Evaluate the Psychodynamic Approach to Psychopathology

    them, and Regression ? reverting back to an earlier stage in development (for example, a child acting like a baby when getting a new younger sibling). Because of these mechanisms, mental disorders can be the result of unresolved childhood conflicts. Freud believed that we repressed the painful memories from our childhood into the unconscious section of our minds. For instance, anorexia might be a result of sexual abuse as a child.

    • Word count: 543

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