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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. Methodological Evaluation of Milgram & Hoflings Studies

    This lack of mundane realism could and will have influenced the actions of the participants and the overall results of the experiment as well as its reliability. It can be said, however, that Hofling's study proves Milgram's study in an ecologically valid environment. The mundane realism of the situation almost ensures that the reactions of the nurses are what they would have been in any other similar situation.

    • Word count: 528
  2. Analyse the role of a psychologist. There are many areas of psychology that covers areas such as human development, sports, health, industry, media and law.

    (Smith 2007). Psychologists also investigate the underlying physiological and neurological processes. There are many areas of psychology that covers areas such as human development, sports, health, industry, media and law. There are a number of areas in psychology, which include: * clinical psychology * counselling psychology * developmental psychology * forensic psychology * health psychology * occupational psychology * teaching and research in psychology "During the 19th and early 20th centuries, developmental psychologists were concerned primarily with children, which included the social and mental development concerned with infants and children, this field then expanded to include adolescence and adult development, aging, and the entire life span". (Slater, Alan and Bremner, Gavin)

    • Word count: 631
  3. Explain current ethical guidelines for counsellors and supervisor practitioners.

    (Nelson-Jones, 2002) Six major ethical principles of the BACP are; self-respect, individual autonomy, beneficence (benefiting the client), non-maleficence (not harming the client), justice (fair distribution of services within the society) and fidelity (honouring promises and underpinning trust). These can be viewed for underpinning the practice of counsellors and superior practitioners.

    • Word count: 487
  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. Outline the aims & context of Rosenhans (1973) study on being sane in insane places

    as it explains & treats abnormality in terms of diseases, in the same way that doctors explain & treat physical illness. Consequently, psychiatry is a recognised branch of medicine which specialises in treating psychological disorders. In order to properly apply these treatments, the psychiatric profession has developed a classification system. All systems of psychiatric classifications stem from the work of Emil Kraepelin (1913). The system is the diagnostic & statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM), which classifies different types of abnormal behaviour - & prescribes its treatment - based on the symptoms presented by the patients.

    • Word count: 508
  6. 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.

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  7. IA - Griffiths - 1994

    * DV - Subjective 1. Cognitive activity - Measured by 'thinking out loud' 2. Perception of skill - Measured by post-experiment semi-structured interview. -Objective (behavioural) 1. Total number of plays in session 2. Total minutes of play in session 3. Total plays per minute in session 4. End stake - total winnings 5. Total number of wins in session 6. Win rate (time) - time between wins. 7. Win rate (plays) - number of plays between wins Procedure: * In Arcade each participant given �3 to gamble on machine that gave 30 free gambles * Objective: To stay on machine for 60 gambles * To break even & win back the �3 * If

    • Word count: 808
  8. Discuss ethical issues involving human participants in psychology

    84% of participants were glad they took part in the experiment, however we are unsure whether this was out of all the participants, or just the ones he followed up on, and there is still an ethical issue with the other 16%. He also debriefed the participants afterwards about the aim of the experiment and the results. However, this could have harmed the participants more because they would then be aware that, if they did go up to the highest voltage, they had just been willing to kill someone because someone in a white coat told them to.

    • Word count: 829
  9. 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
  10. Psychological explanations of schizophrenia

    due to faulty leaning, as liberman said "due to child receiving little or no social reinforcement in early life due to parental disinterest. Makes child behave in a deviant way and focus on irrelevant environmental cues. E.g. the sound of a word rather than its meaning, thus making a person seem abnormal, as this would affect a person verbal and physical behaviour AO2 Supported by the success of behavioural therapies, used in treating schizophrenia.

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  11. 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
  12. discuss issues relating to the ethics of socially sensitive research

    This is a danger because those who do not fit into this 'norm' are considered inferior which could lead to issues such as racism. Kohlberg's theory of moral understanding is seen as a universal description of human behaviour. This theory was applied to all cultures and the stages were to fit all cultures around the world. When it was compared to eight different countries, it was found that not all boys aged between 11 and 16 had reached the higher levels, 5 and 6 and they were therefore considered as not morally developed.

    • Word count: 711
  13. 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
  14. Bio explanations of schizophrenia

    Concordance rates were also studied by Cardano et al using the Maudsley twin register. They found concordance rates to be 40% for MZ twins and 17% for DZ twins. This provides strong evidence in which genetic factors play a key role in schizophrenia. However because concordance rates are not 100%, it is said that there must be some kind of environmental input. Loehlin and Nicholas argued that the reason for higher concordance rates in MZ rather than DZ twins was due to DZ twins being treated more similarly so therefore producing a greater environmental similarity.

    • Word count: 658
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. Discuss the view that psychology offers a gender bias

    that does not represent the two sexes equally. An example of an alpha-biased theory is Freud's psychosexual theory. Freud represented women as being less morally mature than men, in that their super-egos were less well developed (because they had not experienced castration anxiety). By representing women in this way, Freud was legitimising the treatment of women as second-class citizens in Victorian society. It is not surprising, therefore, that women were excluded from many professions in Freud's time, and were even denied the vote.

    • Word count: 814
  18. 2a outline two or more clinical characteristics of schizophrenia

    Negative symptoms often persist during periods of few positive symptoms. 2 b Discuss two or more biological explanations of schizophrenia (25 marks) Family studies have found that schizophrenia is more common in the biological relatives of a schizophrenic, and the closer the degree of genetic relatedness, the greater the risk (Gottesman, 1991). Twin studies have shown that identical twins have a 48% risk of developing schizophrenia if their twin has the disorder compared to 17% for non-identical twins (Janicak et al, 2001). Adoption studies have shown that 14% of the biological relatives of adoptees with schizophrenia were classified as schizophrenic, compared to only 2.7% of their adoptive relatives (Kety el al 1988).

    • Word count: 753
  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. Discuss the view that Depression can primarily be explained through Psychological factors

    However, it is not clear how hormones affect depression yet. Allen supported the view that depression has a genetic cause by carrying out a twins study aimed at proving that depression can primarily be explained through biological, not psychological, factors. Allen studied monozygotic, or identical, twins, and he found that the concordance rating for major depression in monozygotic twins was 40%, while it was only 11% for dizygotic twins. For bipolar depression, the figure for dizygotic twins was modified to 72%. This study suggests that one can inherit major depression, a finding corroborated by a study from Egeland.

    • Word count: 862
  21. 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
  22. stress essay

    These findings demonstrate that, there is a clear association between stress and lowered immune response, although this may have been due to other stressors involved and can lead to the suppression of the immune system. For this reason critics argue that the taking of the blood sample itself maybe a cause for stress in the students meaning that the procedure was a confounding variable and so could be the cause for the stress foremost and so effected the outcomes. Furthermore, using questionnaires may inhibit social desirability bias and so effect the students answers when answering particular questions thus, the data maybe false which would affect the results.

    • Word count: 875
  23. 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
  24. 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
  25. 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

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