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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.

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  1. Free essay

    Psychology of sport performance

    Stress and anxiety can affect all performaers in sports however it can affect them in different ways. Stress is either positive or negative. Positive stress is known as arousal, it is an offset of adrenaline in order to prepare for stress. It ensures that we are alert and concentrating. Aggression is when stress is negative and can lead to violence. It can also lead to the muscles tightening and becoming anxious this will have a decrease in performance. Factors that could stress during a performance are: pressure, crowd, prize, big game, type of event, unfamiliar environment, biased referring etc.

    • Word count: 924
  2. Outline two ways in which to body responds to stressors.

    BZs slow down then activity of the central nervous system. They do this by enhancing the activity of a natural biochemical substance called GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid). GABA is the body's natural form of anxiety relief. This enhancement is achieved in several ways. * One way is that GABA slows down nerve cell activity. GABA allows chloride ions to neurons, slowing the activity of the neuron. This causes relaxation. * A second way is that GABA also reduces serotonin activity. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has an arousing effect, i.e. it stimulates some neurons.

    • Word count: 978
  3. evolutionary perspective of mental disorders

    Sherman (2001) created the Evolutionary origin of bipolar disorder (EOBD) hypothesis which states that bipolar depression is the result of adaptations to the selective pressures we experienced from exceptionally long severe winters, and short summers. Price et al (1994) stated that depression is an evolved response to loss of status from the social competition hypothesis. There was an adaptive response to losing rank in status conflict, which results in seeing oneself as a 'loser'. The reason this is adaptive is that it helps the individual to adjust to the fact that they now need to occupy a new position.

    • Word count: 906
  4. Death of a Salesman. Dreams play an important role in unfolding characteristics and are used as themes and structure within the story. w***y pursues the "American dream" but to no avail and we see how he reacts to this through his confusion

    Miller comments how some dreams are unrealistic "w***y: lick the world! You guys together could absolutely lick the civilised world" w***y exaggerates, which suggests that he wants what he cannot have, unattainable dreams lead to w***y not been grounded in reality and his memories "Linda: you called him crazy". This shows that Biff has found out about w***y's confusion between his memories. Miller is criticising the capitalist American dream that w***y has but cannot fulfil and it is killing him because he wants it so badly but he is not "economically viable", he has no customers.

    • Word count: 941
  5. Outline the clinical characteristics of depression or schizophrenia?

    The anger they would have felt towards the person is repressed and becomes anger that they take out on themselves. The feelings of worthlessness occur because they are alone and have lost the dependent feelings they would have when being in a relationship and this creates the anger that they have inside which will make them vulnerable to depression. Freud describes that there are two types of losses and they are one of a relationship such as death and the other is symbolic losses such a job.

    • Word count: 928
  6. Evolutionary Adaptation is the sole reason for sleep

    For example, it has been shown that those animals that were in danger from predators did not sleep much. This was to ensure they remained aware; hence, remained alive. An example would be cattle, which have many natural predators and shrews which have high metabolic rates. These animals sleep very little. Also, cows napped (and still do) for 2 hours at a time. On the other hand, animals that can sleep safely hidden away are more likely to sleep for 14 hours. An example would be squirrels, which have safe burrows to hide in.

    • Word count: 475
  7. Compare and contrast biological and psychological explanations of anxiety disorders

    When evidence is presented it is often inconsistent, for example, Paykel (1981) reviewed studies and found that had half weren't supportive of early loss as an explanation. Freud suggested that development is driven by biological changes. Adult's characteristics are the consequences of the interaction between these and experience. Biological explanations are more scientific and easy to measure as they use three main ways of assessment. These are family studies, win studies and adoption studies. Naturally technology will evolve along with time.

    • Word count: 553
  8. Outline research studies into two forms of biological rhythms

    The world is constantly running, and therefore sometimes we are subject to those who may be performing far below peak due to disruptions to their bodily rhythm. Research can help prevent disruptions to our circadian rhythms, and consequently reducing fatigue, digestive problems, sleep disturbances and a lack of concentration. Shift work is a regular feature to our industrial society. We need people in the industry to work around the clock, in order to maintain the system that underpins our society.

    • Word count: 895
  9. The long term effects of stress

    There have been very few studies into this area of stress as the effects can be life threatening. However Friedman and Rosenman conducted a study into CHD's. The study showed that people who did not cope well with stress were more likely to conduct a CHD (coronary heart disease). Ganster et al (1991) added to the study, concluding that 'chronic elevations in the sympathetic nervous system lead to deterioration of the cardio vascular system'. Another effect of continued stress on the human body is problems with digestion and ultimately ulcers. The human body develops problems with digestion because when under stress we use energy, lowering out blood sugar level.

    • Word count: 608
  10. Responses to stressors present different impacts on each individual.

    Type B are calmer and laid back putting them in a lower category for long term stress related illness. Gender differences in coping with stress are also very apparent. Women are said to live longer than men because their approach to stressors show less physiological arousal than men. Culture differences have a massive impact on stress. Third world counties are faced daily with the stress of finding safe and suitable food and water for their families and their own survival whereas in developed countries food and water is taken for granted almost and career goals and suitable schooling for our children is seen as a formidable stressor.

    • Word count: 774
  11. Outline two Biological explanations into Depression.

    Family studies point towards the idea that depression runs in the family. Herrington et al (1993) estimate that up to 29% of the relatives of people diagnosed with depression are also affected, in comparison to the 5-10% of those in the general population. Twin studies suggest that as like schizophrenia, depression has a higher concurrence rate when it comes to monozygotic (MZ) twins compared to dizygotic (DZ) twins. Research by Bertelsen et al (1977) estimated that in a Danish sample the concordance rate for MZ twins was 43% in comparison to the 20% in DZ twins.

    • Word count: 723
  12. One physiological method of stress management is the use of Anti Anxiety Drugs. These are drugs taken to try and contradict the bodys natural hormones,

    Fight or flight is less affective now, so strategies such as denial are used instead. Exhaustion Stage: Eventually the resistances of the last two stages break down and the original states of ANS are regained (sweating, increased heart rate etc). The body's immune system breaks down, and the participant becomes susceptible to disease. b) The type of culture that you belong to will try to modify the effects of stressors by using different methods. One culture, a more developed culture, may use scientific methods such as Anti-Anxiety Drugs to try and combat the effects of stressors on the body.

    • Word count: 661
  13. 'The brain' theory.

    The brain says: "Hey! Why are you asleep? You have a problem to solve!" And you wake up, disturbed, thinking: "What was it? I need to sleep." But you cannot: the brain does not allow you to. And you try to think of the reason why you slept badly. That is the point where you have to think about your life and find a "point of disruption".

    • Word count: 499
  14. Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).

    for this reason, G.A.D. is sometimes called free floating anxiety. GAD is said to be caused either by genetics, where 'anxious personalities' are inherited. It could also be caused by childhood trauma such as r**e, abuse or parental death. The disorder usually starts in the late teenage years, to early twenties. It is rather rare to see GAD start in mature individuals, although it can. Doctors and psychologists do not know for sure how or why GAD comes about, although many believe GAD roots in the 'lack of stability at childhood.'

    • Word count: 767
  15. The Relationship between Appearance and Fear of Animals.

    There are a variety of different explanations and theories of phobic anxiety disorders. These include genetic explanations, neurological explanations and the behavioral theory. The genetic explanation basically studies whether or not phobias are hereditary via family history studies (relying on interviews), adoption studies and the most common - twin studies that examine the role of concordance of a disorder. Neurological explanations of phobias are based on the function of the automatic nervous system where people who develop phobias have a high level of physiological arousal making them sensitive to their external environment.

    • Word count: 628
  16. Discuss psychological studies into sleep deprivation.

    Towards the end of his feat, Tripp showed some disturbing symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions. The delusions were so intense that it was impossible to give him any tests to assess his psychological functioning. In 1965, William Dement studied Randy Gardner, a 17-year-old student stayed awake for 264 hours and 12 minutes (more than 11 days), aiming to get himself into the Guinness Book of Records. Gardner had difficulty in performing some tasks but his lack of sleep did not produce anything like the disturbances experienced by Peter Tripp.

    • Word count: 717
  17. Discuss the role of the endogenous and exogenous factors in biological rhythms.

    such as winter or night-time, so that leaf opening and hibernation happen at exactly the right time. These external events are called zeitgebers. Behaviour has to respond to zeitgebers to adapt to what is happening in the natural world. Endogenous are sometimes called biological clocks. The main one in mammals (human beings), is the supra-chiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This is situated in the hypothalamus. The SCN has an inbuilt circadian firing pattern. This pattern continues even in cells of the SCN that have been removed from the brain and kept alive artificially. This proves that it is the SCN and not some other brain area generating them.

    • Word count: 878
  18. Why do we dream?

    Although most dreams do not have overt s****l imagery, Freud believed that most dreams of adults are traced back by analysis to 'erotic wishes'. In Freud's view, a gun for example might actually be a disguised representation of the p***s, and a dream in which a person is being robbed at gunpoint, might be seen as expressing a wish for s****l surrender.

    • Word count: 368
  19. My grandparents.

    Her habits also influenced me, she always told me, not to waste things when I was little. The food she liked to eat, mostly I liked it too. When I was only in nursery sometimes I was a little naughty girl because every afternoon we had to go to bed and sleep. I remembered one afternoon when everyone went to sleep only me couldn't get into sleep. I was trying not to annoy anyone but after two minutes I gave up.

    • Word count: 699
  20. Anxiety Disorders.

    When a person's anxieties are out of control he or she simply cannot stop worrying. Types of anxiety based disorders : 1. Generalized anxiety disorder: A person with this disorder are excessively anxious and worried for at least six months and suffers typical complain of sweating, racing heart, clammy hands, dizziness, upset stomach, rapid breathing, irritability and poor concentration. Women are more prone to his disorder. 2. Panic disorder: A kind of disorder where people have sudden attacks of intense fear or unexpected panic.

    • Word count: 485
  21. Periods of Biological Rhythms - Circadian Cycle.

    There is no single time of peak performance on mental tasks, but rather different peak times for different tasks. A Chronobiologist's Tips for Organizing Your Day 7-8 A.M. If one maintains a regular rising time, it can be the most effective means of maintaining the body rhythms in tune. Exposure to light or an artificial light of equivalent brightness for fifteen minutes of rising will help in instilling these rhythms. Exposure to bright light generally has an energizing effect. Other methods to improve alertness are exercise, which will raise the body temperature, and eating some protein at breakfast.

    • Word count: 468
  22. Discuss the possible effects of stress on the immune system.

    However the GAS had its limitations. Most of Seyles work was based on rats so the research is very restricted, and it may not apply to other animals including humans. There is overemphasis on the physiological responses to stress and the model does not take into consideration that there are other human cognitive factors such as personality, which suggest that person's capability to stress. The model also implies a passive response to stressors, despite the fact that people react differently to the same stressor and the reaction depends on the individual, the situation and the particular source of stress.

    • Word count: 952
  23. 'Critically consider the view that depression has psychological origins.'

    This suggests that genetics play a significant role in levels of inherited susceptibility. The real problem does not lie so much with separating nature and nurture as with our limited understanding of the nature of genes themselves. It is the assumptions made in this area that hinder the research. For example, the results from the study on Amish families showed a certain variation on chromosome 11. These findings where not replicated elsewhere but neither has it been shown that in gene alone would cause depression. Scientific and technological advances are required in this area before research can be more conclusive. The psychological models offer the major explanations of the causes of depression.

    • Word count: 533
  24. Discuss research into the contribution of genetic and neurological factors to depression.

    Twin studies provide more convincing evidence. Price looked at seven twin studies and found much higher concordance rates for manic-depressives in MZ twins than DZ ones. The most revealing factor was that the concordance rate for MZ twins raised together and raised the apart was almost the same. Twin type Concordance rate (%)

    • Word count: 398
  25. I plan to examine where I fall in relation to Selye's theory and how stress has positively impacted my life along with the adverse emotions that are evoked as a response to stress.

    and are only happy with a vigorous, fast-paced lifestyle; and 'turtles,' who in order to be happy require peace, quiet, and a generally tranquil environment"(Weiten, pp.538). With that, I plan to examine where I fall in relation to Selye's theory and how stress has positively impacted my life along with the adverse emotions that are evoked as a response to stress. First, I would like to preface this by giving a brief summary of my family background. I was raised in a family of six, my mother and father, and three older brothers.

    • Word count: 923

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