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AS and A Level: Physiological Psychology

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Five physiological approaches to 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 e.g. susceptibility to stress.
  2. 2 Evolutionary – seeks to establish continuity between human and other species and explain human behaviours 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 e.g ecological theories of sleep.
  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 e.g. case studies of amnesiacs.
  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. post-natal depression, changes throughout the menstrual cycle.

Five big ideas for physiological psychology essays

  1. 1 Consider the causal nature of research findings – On the other hand, studies that do involve manipulation of an independent variable may require so much control of extraneous variables to produce a robust causal relationship that they can be criticised as being artificial and reductionist.
  2. 2 Consider the scientific nature of claims – 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.
  3. 3 Consider 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.
  4. 4 Consider reductionism – 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. Reductionist explanations have the benefit of being able to provide straightforward practical solutions.
  5. 5 Consider the correlational nature of research– Much physiological research is correlational, because it can be unethical to manipulate variables when studying topics such as the relationship between stress and the immune system or extreme sleep deprivation. Such studies can never produce a conclusive causal explanation, no matter how much we would like them to!

Four common brain imaging techniques

  1. 1 fMRI – Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging measures brain activity by measuring blood flow and oxygenation within the brain. When neurons are active they use more oxygen - so higher blood flow in a particular area signifies increased neural activity. fMRI scans are useful for studying the localisation and level of brain activity.
  2. 2 CT– A Computerised Tomography scan builds up an overall picture of the brain based on the way that X-rays are absorbed. Bone and hard tissue absorb more x-rays, soft tissue absorbs less, fluid absorbs very little. CT scans show the main features of the brain but are not so useful for looking at detailed structures.
  3. 3 PET– Positron Emission Tomography uses tiny amounts of radioactive material with very short half-life to map functional processes in the brain. When the radioactive material decays, a positron is emitted and this is detected on the scan. Higher radioactivity is associated with higher levels of brain activity.
  4. 4 EEG – Electroencephalography involves measuring the electrical activity of the brain with electrodes attached to the scalp and coverting the level of activity into an electroencephalogram, which shows the amplitude and frequency of brain waves. EEGs are frequently used in sleep research because it is a non-invasive technique, which can detect minute millisecond length changes in overall brain activity and arousal level.

  • Marked by Teachers essays 33
  • Peer Reviewed essays 14
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  1. Marked by a teacher

    Discuss research into stress-related illness and the immune system

    5 star(s)

    They looked at chronic and naturally occurring stress in 13 female individuals, who had been caring for a relative with Alzheimer's disease for an average of 8 years. There was a control group for the experiment of 13 females matched to the carers in age and family income. The slowing of wound healing was used as a measure for immune damage, so the experimenters created a small wound in the arm of the participants, close to the elbow. Time taken for the wound to heal was assessed by photographs on a regular basis, and also by adding hydrogen peroxide to the wound, which would show that the wound had healed if there was no foaming.

    • Word count: 1188
  2. Marked by a teacher

    Outline one theory of the function of sleep

    4 star(s)

    This is supported by the evidence that babies sleep longer than older people, as they need more REM sleep to assist the development of the control nervous system and also by the fact that 50% of sleep in newborn babies is REM sleep to encourage rapid brain growth. It has also been found that people who have had electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) for depression or who have taken an overdose have an increase in REM sleep 6-8 weeks afterwards as it takes time for the brain to replace the protein.

    • Word count: 1508
  3. Marked by a teacher

    Describe and evaluate the recovery/restoration theory of the function of sleep.

    4 star(s)

    This can explain why new-borns spend a great deal of time sleeping, due to the fact that REM sleep reflects brain recovery and the few months before and after birth are times of rapid brain growth- babies spend 50-60% of their 'sleep time' in REM sleep. Shapiro et al (1981) studied runners who had taken part in an ultra-marathon. They found that the runners slept for around an hour and a half longer than usual for two nights after the marathon.

    • Word count: 673
  4. Marked by a teacher

    Memory Consolidation and REM Sleep.

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    sleep. Electroencephalograph patterns for REM sleep are much like those during wakefulness, and include many fast beta-rhythms (2). It may even be that the brain works harder during REM sleep than when awake (3). REM sleep usually lasts anywhere from 11 to 25 minutes, typically longer in the later sleep cycles of the night (2). REM sleep is most often associated with dreaming, for most dreams occur during this period. One of the first theories linking REM sleep to memory was offered in 1966 by Roffwarg, Musio and Dement and suggested that repetitive firing of neurons during REM sleep in human fetuses was associated with neuron growth and development, and this synaptic reinforcement continued in adult life during REM sleep.

    • Word count: 1385
  5. Marked by a teacher

    Outline and evaluate psychological explanations of OCD

    3 star(s)

    Salkoius found that when asking participants to suppress thoughts and on other days not to, the participants kept a diary of more intrusive thoughts when they had to be suppressed these findings support the idea that a deliberate attempt to suppress thoughts leads to an increase in these thoughts; supporting the main ideas of the approach. This is a strength because the two studies have found similar findings and are therefore externally reliable. This makes the cognitive approach reliable as a whole because it can be checked and verified and the theory has sound foundations for further research.

    • Word count: 965
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    Discuss research into Biological Rhythms.

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    There must be exogenous cues (environmental factors) also known as zeitgebers that keeps this cycle to 24 hours ? this is an explanation for why we adopt a 24.5 or 25 hour cycle during isolation. Although the results of Siffre?s study are supported by Aschoff?s study there is still the major problem of artificiality as it was carried out in a laboratory, so both studies lack ecological validity. Also in Siffre?s study there was only one participant so difficult to generalise results for the rest of the population.

    • Word count: 1409
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    Describe and Evaluate Bowlbys theory of attachment. (12 marks)

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    These are known as ?social releasers? because the point of them is to encourage parental instincts so that an attachment will be formed. It is believed that the origins of attachment behaviours can be found in evolution, as the main purpose of attachment is to keep the child safe, and attachment with adults increases the child?s chance of survival. Once an attachment is formed, the child will display a variety of behaviours ? if their attachment figure is not present they will display separation anxiety and become upset, however pleasure will be shown when the caregiver returns.

    • Word count: 1225
  8. Marked by a teacher

    Biological Explanations for Eating Behaviour

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    A study that provides evidence for the role it plays and explains the significance of this evidence is Hetherington and Ranson, they summarised that rats with lesions to Ventromedial Hypothalamus became overweight. They concluded that destruction of the VH which was responsible for controlling feeding behaviour this then lead to an increase in feeding and body weight. It was then assumed that the rat's satiety centre was not working correcting which usually indicates when we're full. At the time of the study it couldn't be said whether or not the study accurately showed the role of the VN however later studies have had similar outcomes and supported this studies findings.

    • Word count: 622
  9. Marked by a teacher

    Managing stress through Exercise and Therapy

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    Following long-continued exposure to the same stressor, to which the body had become adjusted, eventually adaptation energy is exhausted. The signs of the alarm reaction reappear, but now may be irreversible, and the individual may experience symptoms of adrenal burnout, which in rare cases cause the immune system to shut down and result in death. In conclusion if the individual can cope than the stress can go away and they may return to normal. If the individual can't cope then the stress can get out of control and the individual can show signs of losing touch with reality and in some cases burnout.

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  10. Marked by a teacher

    Clinical characteristics of depression

    3 star(s)

    To be diagnosed as having a moderate depressive episode, the person must have present four or more of the above symptoms, and for a severe depressive episode to be diagnosed the person must have four or more of the above symptoms including suicidal thoughts. The classification and diagnosis of mood disorders such as depression can be difficult for all sorts of reasons, one being that the behaviours outlined in the criteria for depression in ICD-10 are seen as 'normal' behaviours in most people.

    • Word count: 1178
  11. Marked by a teacher

    Outline and Evaluate 2 Biological Explanations of OCD

    3 star(s)

    This is supported by Carey and Gottesman (1981) who found an 87% concordance rate in identical twins for OCD, whereas schizophrenia had only a 46% concordance rate. Therefore this research suggests that there is a strong link between family history and OCD showing that is you have a relative with OCD you are more likely to develop the illness yourself. However one weakness of this is that the results found by Carey and Gottesman (1981) found only a 87% concordance rate and therefore this suggests that genes is not the only factor that is causing OCD otherwise it would be 100%.

    • Word count: 868
  12. Marked by a teacher

    Outline and Evaluate the Biological Treatments of OCD

    3 star(s)

    Therefore these two studies support the idea that Cingulotomy is an effective treatment of OCD. However it has been argued by Koran (2007) that these studies may have been biased because they are unblended meaning that the researchers know the treatments received by their patients and therefore expectation may influence their judgement. This implies that the internal validity is lower than previously thought due to the presence of demand characteristics as a confounding variable and therefore may not be as effective as we initially thought.

    • Word count: 1452
  13. Marked by a teacher

    Depression. There are several approaches to depression, two of which are psychological and biological.

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    There is an emphasis on unresolved feelings of hostility when loss has been experienced resulting regression and in internal guilt, in turn leading to depression. Freud bases his theory on case studies which has been accepted as a reasonable source of research as it is on indepth and rich however it is difficult to generalise any findings to the overall population therefore lacking in ecological validity. His research lacks falsifiability as it cannot be scientifically proven for example theres no standardised measurement of loss.

    • Word count: 1420
  14. Marked by a teacher

    To what extent does research support the link between stress & illness

    3 star(s)

    Levels of cytokines were also taken from all participants. The participants in the experimental group, consisted of 13 women aged between 47 & 81 years old looking after a relative with Alzheimer's disease. The control group were matched with the carers on age & income. The tests indicated that the experimental group showed higher levels of stress than the control groups. Healing wound time was assessed by photographing the wound regularly & by observing the response to hydrogen peroxide.

    • Word count: 576
  15. Marked by a teacher

    Discuss two or more explanations for the success and/or failure of dieting

    3 star(s)

    The results indicated that whereas the non-dieters showed compensatory regulatory behaviour and ate less during the taste test after the high-calorie preload, the dieters consumed more in the taste test if they had had the high-calorie pre-load than the low-calorie preload. So it would appear that attempting not to eat can, paradoxically, increase the probability of eating. Similarly, Wardle and Beales (1988) carried out an experiment to investigate whether dieting resulted in overeating. They randomly assigned 27 obese women either to a diet group, an exercise group or a control group for seven weeks.

    • Word count: 696
  16. Marked by a teacher

    Biological Explanations of Addiction

    3 star(s)

    Dopamine is involved with our pleasure/reward system. Anything we do of our volition that is pleasurable increases Dopamine. It is the release of dopamine that makes us feel Euphoria/pleasure. Drugs such as Cocaine, Alcohol and Heroin make Dopamine receptors release enormous amounts of Dopamine, so the user may feel intense pleasure. This however, does not explain addiction as many people drink or recreationally use cocaine and don't become addicts. The main idea of the theory is that individuals biologically susceptible to addiction have more sensitive Mesolimbic/ reward pathways in their brain, e.g. drugs may have a more profound (wow factor)

    • Word count: 1033
  17. Marked by a teacher

    Classification and Diagnosis of Depression

    3 star(s)

    On the other hand DD requires three or more symptoms, including depressed mood but not suicidal thoughts. Patients cannot be without these symptoms for more than two months. There is also a distinction between two types of depression that is embedded within psychiatric thinking. These are endogenous, which is referred to depression arising from biochemical disturbances in the brain. It is thought to arise from within the person, independent of external events or reactive (exogenous) referred to depression arising from external events such as a reacton to stressful events outside ourselves e.g. the death of someone close, redundancy or failing exams.

    • Word count: 1719
  18. Marked by a teacher

    Outline and evaluate the biological approach to abnormality (12 marks)

    3 star(s)

    Neuroanatomy refers to the different activities and structures of the brain regions and tissue. This is often tested through MRI scans of normal people and comparing to those mentally ill. One example is schizophrenia where the ventricles appear enlarged and the amount of grey matter in the brain is reduced. It is however hard to differentiate between causation and effect, as not knowing which proceeds which can only lead to guess work in terms of causation. Another issue is not every mentally ill person has the same structural abnormalities, and where one schizophrenic shows marked differences to a normal person, another schizophrenic can show little to none.

    • Word count: 700
  19. Marked by a teacher

    Describe and Evaluate Research into Infradian Rhythms

    3 star(s)

    The same procedure was done on a control group, but the cotton pads were without pheromones. The participants didn't know whether they were in the experimental or the control group, to reduce experimenter effects. By the end of the experiment, 4 out of 5 women in the experimental group had menstrual cycles that synchronised within 24hours of the donor's. This shows that when several women live together (and do not take oral contraceptives), they tend to menstruate at the same time every month.

    • Word count: 1197
  20. Marked by a teacher

    Outline and evaluate research into the effects of stress on the immune system and coronary heart disease.

    3 star(s)

    Brady's findings showed that the 'executive' monkeys were more likely to develop an illness (ulcers) and later die. The illness and death was not due to the shocks, but due to the stress that the executives felt by trying to delay/avoid them. In the long-term, this stress reduced the immune system's ability to fight illness. However, there were ethical considerations that could have been questioned in Brady et al's study. The experiment was very cruel to the monkeys and would not be allowed by the BPS today. Also, it is hard to generalise findings from animals to humans.

    • Word count: 1387
  21. Marked by a teacher

    Depression- Biological Explanations

    3 star(s)

    This can be caused genetics which can predispose the individual to the disorder. Furthermore we would expect to find that relatives have similar chances of developing the disorder. Evidence from this can come from twin studies; MZ twins share 100% of their genes whereas DZ twins only have 50%. If genes are to be a facto in depression we would expect a higher number of MZ twins to share the disorder. One study based on nearly 200 pairs of twins found that when an MZ twin was diagnosed with unipolar disorder, there was a 46% chance that the other twin would receive a similar diagnosis.

    • Word count: 851
  22. Marked by a teacher

    Outline and evaluate two methods of stress management

    3 star(s)

    They may learn to take deep breaths which slows down the heart rate and makes them feel relaxed. Relaxation acts as a reward and encourages the person to repeat this as an involuntary action. As a final step the person is then taught to use this in a real life stressful situation. It has been discovered that biofeedback is especially useful on children and teenagers where a drug therapy would not have been suitable. Children who went through biofeedback have gained control over the symptoms of stress such as migraines and also showed an increase in enthusiasm and more positive attitudes.

    • Word count: 686
  23. Marked by a teacher

    Stress in the work place

    3 star(s)

    These include, the noise in which the workplace is at, the heat of the room, Poor lighting within your workplace making barriers of seeing, an overcrowded workplace The effect of unpredictable noise was demonstrated in a study by Glass et al. (1969). Sixty undergraduates completed various cognitive tasks in one of 5 conditions; loud or soft noise that was either random (unpredictable) or at fixed intervals (predictable), there was also a no-noise condition. Stress was measured using GSR. After the task participants were asked to complete 4 puzzles, two of which couldn't be solved, in order to create frustration.

    • Word count: 830
  24. Marked by a teacher

    Peer Pressure Speech

    3 star(s)

    Cigarettes, like alcohol, are an acquired taste but over eight per cent of people who smoke in their teens become permanently hooked. Often adolescents drink to feel less uncomfortable and more relaxed with friends and peers and because they are encouraged to do so by other teenagers. Regular excessive drinking can lead to poor school work, social and emotional problems, the use of other drugs and sometimes even suicide, The main difference between alcohol or cigarettes and other drugs is that once you are over a certain age you can legally buy alcohol and cigarettes.

    • Word count: 1533
  25. Marked by a teacher

    Outline one theory of the function of sleep.

    3 star(s)

    The two most important kinds of core sleep are slow wave sleep and REM sleep. It is possible that each serves a different adaptive purpose. One of the key criticisms made, in relation to evolutionary theories of sleep, is that many of them suggest that animals sleep in order to waste time. Whereas the restoration view is that sleep is not wasting time but offers the opportunity for key functions to take place. A second criticism is that evolutionary theories may not be suitable for explaining human sleep.

    • Word count: 714

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?
  • Compare and contrast biological and psychological explanations of anxiety disorders

    "The behavioral view is that individuals are active in determining their behaviour. There is evidence to support the behavioral views. Behaviorists argue that phobias are learnt by classical conditioning and reinforced by operant conditioning. In concerning depression, according to, Lewinsohn (1974), a depressed person becomes trapped in a cycle of withdrawal which leads to a lack of positive reinforcement, perpetuating depression. Socially unskilled people may be more prone to depression. The problem with the behavioral account as we have seen is it has difficulties accounting for why people all over the world are similar."

  • To What Extent can psychological research provide useful forms of stress management techniques?

    "In conclusion, psychological research highlights the variety of stress management techniques and programmes as well as their respective strengths and weaknesses. However, the most appropriate method of stress management appears to depend on individual differences so a clear determination of the most useful method can not be reached."

  • Discuss the genetic and biochemical explanations of schizophrenia

    "In conclusion, dopamine is probably of importance in understanding schizophrenia. However, it looks increasingly as if there are various complex differences in dopamine functioning between those with schizophrenia and healthy individuals. There is also the causality issue. If we find an association between having schizophrenia and having high levels of dopamine, the excessive dopamine levels might have played a part in causing the schizophrenia. However, it is also possible that elevated dopamine levels are in part a consequence of having schizophrenia."

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