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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
  1. 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
  2. Peer reviewed

    Discuss the view that stress is environmentally determined.

    5 star(s)

    Consent and debriefing would have been mandatory, however the sample of government civil servants was biased, which would therefore make it difficult to generalise findings. Nonetheless, Fox et al (1993) also concluded evidence that a personal in a low-control high-demand job would also suffer from stress related illness. The workplace can be deemed stressful due to environmental factors such as noise, temperature, control and workload, which are all potential sources. Life changes and daily hassles are also a cause of stress according to Holmes and Rahe (1967)

    • Word count: 561
  3. Peer reviewed

    Thigpen and Cleckley

    5 star(s)

    of Eve Black. � Over a period of 14 months and around 100 hours of interview time, the two psychiatrists investigated the two Eves, first using hypnosis, but later without the need for it. � Eve White was found not to have access to the awareness and memories of Eve Black (experiencing blackouts when Eve Black took over control), although the reverse was true for Eve Black (who often used the ability to disrupt Eve White's life by taking over and getting her into trouble or by giving her headaches)

    • Word count: 685
  4. Peer reviewed

    Outline and Evaluate research (theories/ and studies) into the relationship between stress and physical illness.

    5 star(s)

    divorce, and the way we feel we are able to cope with things. If we cannot cope with the situation we are faced with, then we experience psychological and physiological responses to the stressor. In the short term, stress can be quite stimulating and motivating. In the long term stress can result in illness and even death. During a state of stress, the sympathetic area of the nervous system stimulates the adrenal medulla to release the hormones adrenaline and non-adrenaline into the bloodstream. These hormones stimulate heart rate and cause the body to use extra energy resources in the body.

    • Word count: 709
  5. Peer reviewed

    Discuss two biological therapies for depression. You should refer to research evidence in your answer.

    4 star(s)

    Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are drugs such as fluoxetine hydrochloride (Prozac), were originally though to be free of side effects and were prescribed extensively. In the last few years, doubts were raised about their safety and in particular, there were reports linking Prozac to suicidal behavior. Despite drugs having a 60% effectiveness rate within individuals with depression, there are a few limitations to this method of therapy. Firstly, all drugs work as a 'chemical straightjacket'. The drugs do not provide a complete cure from depression, as there is some evidence that symptoms return when the drugs are no longer taken.

    • Word count: 835
  6. Peer reviewed

    Critically consider 2 or more psychological explanations of depression

    4 star(s)

    One strength of the psychodynamic model of depression is that it has been supported by research in this area. For example Shah and Waller (2000) reported that many depression sufferers admitted to having affectionless parents. Given this, it could be argued that early loss is active in triggering later depression. In support of this Bifulco (1992) discovered that children were more likely to suffer depression later in life if their mothers had died during their childhood. However although this appears to be the case, we could argue that since their mothers had died, lack of necessary care from parent substitute may have led to depression rather than the actual loss itself.

    • Word count: 815
  7. Peer reviewed

    Dreams - What do dreams mean, why would we have them?

    4 star(s)

    I believe that having dreams is the best way of really discovering who you are. Dreams are uncontrollable, which makes them all the more frightening, tantalizing and vividly expressing who you are. Dreams seem to be the human subconscious speaking out and taking control. Dreams can express happiness, and sadness in ones life. I myself have experienced dreams which have made me come to realizations about myself. In keeping a dream journal you can communicate your ultimate creativity. Although dreams are the best form of communicating ones own wishes, it is the hardest thing to interpret.

    • Word count: 666

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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