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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. Ethical issues in research with non-human animals in psychology

    Animals technically have fewer rights yet similar biological, hormonal, reproductive, and even comparable brain structures due to evolution of the human from animals and therefore ability to 'scale up' results. Behaviourists are most likely to see animals as having excellent relevance to humans and will be able to justify their use in experimentation. There are a significant number of psychological experiments that over time have used animals as a means of testing various hypotheses, for example psychologists Gardner and Gardner who attempted to teach Washoe, a chimpanzee, American Sigh Language (ASL).

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  2. Discuss issues surrounding the classification and diagnosis of schizophrenia

    However his argument is that the reliability of the DSM in everyday usage may be lower than seen in research studies - meaning that only research studies are recorded with high reliability and non-research studies may have lower reliability. Validity is regarded whether a diagnostic system assesses what it claims to be assessing. However, the boundaries between schizophrenia and other disorders can often be difficult to define, such as, mood disorders and development disorders such as autism. Very different problems can be presented by different patients diagnosed with schizophrenia.

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  3. The development of functional magnetic resonance imaging has made a huge contribution to the field of neuroscience in advancing our understanding of brain functions. The first Fmri study was performed in the early 90s, but since then the technology has ev

    The development of functional magnetic resonance imaging has made a huge contribution to the field of neuroscience in advancing our understanding of brain functions. The first Fmri study was performed in the early 90s, but since then the technology has evolved, it is now widely accepted as a non-invasive tool for identifying brain regions that are associated with certain perceptual, cognitive, emotional and behavioral functions, such as visual, sensory motor, language and memory ( Veitz, 1994). It allows neuroinvestigators to locate the region where the brain activity is taking place using powerfull magnets to measure small changes in the brains blood oxygenation level that occur while a task is performed.

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  4. Study on Stress

    Response includes increased cardiac output, increased pupil size and metabolic changed. At the same time as the SNS is activates the SAM system alerts the animal through the release of adrenaline into the bloodstream which is rapidly transported throughout the body to prepare the animal for fight or fight. The SAM is regulated the SNS and the adrenal medulla.

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  5. Critically evaluate whether Milgrams research on obedience was ethical

    Baumrind produced an article which centred on four main ethical breaches which expressed concern regarding permanent psychological damage to the participants following the experiences of the research. Milgram also did many variations on this research in order to show and prove why he conducted the initial research, to prove obedience and this will also be briefly touched upon. Diane Baumrind a leading Psychologist produced an article which centred on four main ethical concerns. Two of which were that the participants were not given the opportunity to give informed consent to their taking part in the experiment and that the participants were deceived in a number of ways.

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  6. Discuss and evaluate the evolutionary explanations of food preferences

    Umami would indicate a good source of protein. These food tastes would have helped humans evolve as they each either protect from eating harmful foods or they recognise foods that need to be eaten. It would be difficult however to identify most of these tastes as food that is prepared today would have several different tastes. Humans have quite a complex diet and there is good evidence as to why we are carnivores and omnivores. When studies looked at animals such as apes and chimpanzees who mainly eat fruit nuts and plants and are considered 2 be humans closest relatives, they made conclusions that as early humans used to survive solely on vegetation as this was very much easy to obtain.

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  7. The Circadian Rhythm

    He simply woke, ate and slept when he felt like it. The only influence on his behaviour was his internal 'clock' or 'free running rhythm'. Siffre's experiences showed that the free-running cycle settles down to a regular rhythm which is a little more than 24 hours. However, there is an issue of validity relating to Siffre's study. The study of Michel Siffre may be described as a case study as it is the study of one individual and therefore has unique features. His body's behaviour may not be typical of all people and, in addition, living in a cave may have particular effects due to, for example, the fact that it is cold.

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  8. Anxiety Disorders

    As you challenge these negative thoughts, your fears will begin to subside. CBT also teaches you to test the beliefs you have about worry itself, such as "Worry is uncontrollable" or "If I worry, bad things are less likely to happen." Behavioral strategies. Instead of avoiding situations you fear, CBT teaches you to tackle them head on. You may start by imagining the thing you're most afraid of. By focusing on your fears without trying to avoid or escape them, you will begin to feel more in control and less anxious. Time management and problem-solving skills are also effective behavioral techniques for GAD.

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  9. Discuss psychological research into body rhythms

    It has since been proved that zeitgebers, such as light and dark, are received via the retina triggering SCN activity. The SCN subsequently generates the secretion of the hormone melatonin from the Pineal Gland, which ultimately produces another hormone called serotonin which modulates sleep patterns. This theory was researched by Michel Siffre (1972) who carried out an experiment known as 'The Cave Study', in which he withdrew all zeitgebers and relied solely on his endogenous pacemaker (internal body clock). Siffre remained in a cave for over six months without any natural light, sounds or any other time determining cues.

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  10. Is a stressful lifestyle a habit as harmful to the body as a long term substance abuse?

    However aroused states also accompany the emotional states of fear and anger. Some evidence suggests that the sensation of arousal appears to interact reflexively with these emotions, with each enhancing the other. As our level of arousal has an effect on our performance at a variety of different tasks. As if we are too relaxed, we become under aroused then we don't perform well and if too anxious we become over aroused or have a hyperactive affect and again performance will suffer. Changes in automatic arousal levels produce a number of physiological changes.

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  11. Pain Disorder

    Migraine headaches is an example of this. Chronic progressive pain persists longer than 6 months and increases in severity over time. Typically, it is associated with malignancies or degenerative disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. Theories of Pain Gate Theory of Pain: The gate theory of pain attempts to account for the specificity of pain, different types of pain, and the important role of physiological factors. The central assumption of this theory is that different parts of the central nervous system are involved in the pain experience.

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  12. disruption of attachment

    This competition was found difficult as the nurses were always busy and the other children were more assertive. When a state of loneliness is apparent due to the inability to find anyone john seeks comfort in an oversized teddy bear. He soon stops playing and cries constantly. The fact the nurses changed shifts regularly made further difficulties for an attachment to be harmonized. In the first week he greeted his father enthusiastically however by the second he meekly sits there and does not say anything upon visits. Observations state that for long periods of time he lies with his thumb in his mouth, cuddling his teddy bear.

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  13. Describe two psychological wxplanations for schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder

    The 'ego' considers the consequences of an action. The third part of the mind is the 'superego' which develops around the age of four. It contains our moral values which we learn from our parents and society. It contains our social conscience and sense of right or wrong. According to Freud the ego and superego dwell largely in the conscious mind while the id is in the unconscious area. Freud saw humans having two drives or instincts. The first one is 'Eros' the s*x drive and represents our drive to live, prosper and produce offspring.

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    "extreme sadness, tearfulness, loss of interest or pleasure, insomnia or hypersomnia, agitation, fatigue or loss of energy, diminished ability to think or concentrate, disturbed appetite, self reproach, guilt or low self esteem, thoughts of death or suicide". (Gross, McIlveen, 2000, p. 33). These symptoms must cause significant distress or impairment of social functioning and cannot be explained by any other factors like drug abuse, medication or bereavement. The psychodynamic approach is interested in the ways in which childhood experiences, particularly those involving relationships with parents, affect psychological well being in later life.

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  15. Grandfather - Like there are two sides of a coin, there are two sides of life, sadness and happiness.

    Three years ago my grandfather came with the hope that life will win over death, from Pakistan, to get treated for his illness. My grandfather, who was unaware of the fact that he had cancer, was living happily until one day he had terrible pain in his bladder. My dad rushed him to hospital and the doctors declared that it was just a minor infection and sent him home with antibiotics. Later on that month his pain increased rather than decreasing.

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  16. Outline and evaluate psychologCardiovascular disorders

    This study shows the link between cardiovascular disorders and certain personality types. It has helped give advice on how to reduce the risks cardiovascular disorders by altering lifestyles. Also it is supported by other large longitudinal studies that found the same results such as Haynes, although there are disadvantages. The participants are an unfair sample as they do not represent a variety of people, they are all men from the same area and of similar age. This makes the study less valid as it does not relate to everyone. Also it doesn't take into account that some people do not have all characteristics of type A but do have some, it is unclear how vulnerable these people are to cardiovascular disorders.

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  17. describe and evaluate three aproahces to f

    Conflict View The conflict rule shows that real crimes are not outlawed and that the law is used to control the under class. This approach is very different. Conflict view is a sociological approach, this approach defends that the law benefits some people more than others. Competing groups within society such as unions, industrialists and professional bodies, are in dispute with each other because numerous are more wealthy and powerful than others. A number of neo-Marxist sociologists feel that the conflict view is too severe and approach and have offered various alteration of it, but they all agree on one point: that crime is the result of deprived social conditions.

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  18. Evolutionary Explanations of Anxiety Disorders

    The ritual behaviours which are associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) could be considered to be an extension of the mechanisms that drive more adaptive behaviour. Marks and Nesse (1994) proposed examples of this such as a concern for others, hoarding and grooming behaviour; if the needs of other members of a group are ignored, the likelihood of ostracism from the group increases, individuals with OCD may often be overly concerned with the fear of harming others; hoarding in animals guards against future shortages and protects the individual from periods in which the resource may be scarce, this may be excessively

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  19. Psychology Physiological

    This stimulates the adrenal medulla to release adrenaline and noradrenalin into the blood stream. This all leads to an increase in heart rate, blood flow and blood pressure. Survival Value In modern society stressors are more likely to be psychological than physical than physical and are more long term such as the stresses of working at a desk, commuting etc and therefore the physical response is not really needed, but can still be harmful to our bodies. Long-Term Stress Can Affect your Cardiovascular System 1) When you are exposed to a stressor, glucose is released as a form of energy to your blood stream.

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  20. "The biological approach tells us all we need to know about schizophrenia" with reference to the quote discuss genetic explanations of schizophrenia.

    This implies that concordance rates between twins aren't reliable as the children will have been treated similarly therefore environmental factors can be an explanations for the development of schizophrenia in a pair of monozygotic twins. The same can be said for first degree relatives; they will still share a similar environment which could provide an explanation for concordance rates. As a solution to this problem adoption studies have been proposed; adoption studies won't face this problem as the children will have been raised in a different environment but will still share the same genes.

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  21. Physiological Psychology: 2

    ==> On both occasions, the students were given a questionnaire measuring psychiatric symptoms, loneliness and life events. Findings: ==> Natural killer and T cell activity declined between the low-stress and high stress conditions. Thus, the assumption was correct. ==> The questionnaires revealed that immune system responses were particularly suppressed in participants who reported that they were experiencing psychiatric symptoms, loneliness, or stressful life events. Conclusions: ==> Stress is associated with suppression of the immune system and the effect is stronger when there are more sources of stress. ==> Only associations were established. Implications include the importance of stress management to good immune functioning.

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  22. Outline and evaluate biological therapies to treat mental disorders.

    Other neuroleptics simply inhibit the functioning of the hypothalamus which dampens the effect of the dopamine. Another form of drug available is anti-anxiety drugs, which act as depressants which suppress the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Anti-anxiety drugs help reduce symptoms of general anxiety and are usually used in conjunction with other therapies. They also help to alleviate withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol or drug addictions. As well as neuroleptics and anti-anxiety drugs there are also anti-depressant drugs which treat depression, OCD and eating disorders, usually by working to help an increase in serotonin. Another biological treatment is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

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  23. psychology: the practical project

    were warned of the side-effects of the adrenalin injection, Adrenalin Misinformed Group were told inaccurate side-effects of the adrenalin injection and the Control Group were given an injection that would have no effect and were given no instructions of what to expect. Participants were then either allocated to the anger condition (Stooge annoyed the participants) or euphoria condition (Stooge entertained the participants). Schacter & Singer found that in the euphoria condition the misinformed participants were happier than all the others.

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  24. the function of sleep

    The evidence from sleep deprivation studies suggests some negative effects. Oswald identified SWS as being important in the recovery process, especially because it has been linked with the release of a growth hormone and protein synthesis. Stern and Morganne (1974) propose that the function of REM sleep is to restore levels of neurotransmitters after the day's activities. This evidence is supported. People on antidepressants show decreased REM; this is probably due to the drugs increasing their neurotransmitter levels. Therefore, this evidence suggests that REM sleep provides a function of restoration. However, restoration occurs during waking hours but is less effective.

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  25. Outline and evaluate one neurobiological theory of dreaming and one psychological theory of dreaming

    PET scans show the brainstem is active during REM sleep (Braun et al., 1997). PET scans have also shown that other areas of the brain are active during REM sleep such as those responsible for more complex mental processes such as emotion, memory reinforcement, hearing and vision. At the same time, areas in the prefrontal cortex associated with things such as rational thought and other more sophisticated mental processes appear to be shut down. This supports the activation-synthesis hypothesis because it shows that parts of the brain are still active whilst other parts are inactive.

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