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You must discuss approaches, issues and debates in your essays in order to demonstrate good evaluation skills, to meet the assessment objectives AO2 and AO3. You must show an understanding of why an issue/debate is important for a particular topic and why it might influence our thinking about a particular approach or study.
· The Biological Approach: Believes us to be a consequence of our genetics & physiology – we become ill, medically and/or psychologically, because of physiological or genetic damage, disease or accident – it is the only approach in psychology that examines thoughts, feelings & behaviours from a medical/biological viewpoint.
· The Behavioural Approach: Assumes all behaviours are learnt (via operant & classical conditioning) & that our experiences & environment make us who we are.
· The Cognitive Approach: A relatively modern approach that focuses on how we think, with the belief that such thought processes affect how we behave.
· The Psychodynamic Approach: Proposes that our behaviour is influenced not just by conscious experience but by experiences & processes buried in our unconscious – says our personality is made up of 3 components – ID (pleasure complex – reservoir of basic inherited instincts e.g. sex & aggression), SUPEREGO (represents our moral conscience which develops during childhood), EGO (tries to protect us from anxieties using defence mechanisms e.g. repression into the unconscious).
Issues and Debates
· Psychology as a science: Science emphasises objectivity. However, psychologists are people doing experiments usually on other people. They may have beliefs & expectations which in turn may influence the findings of an experiment. Also, the participant may react to the presence of the experimenter in unexpected ways.
· Methodological issues: E.g. sampling, demand characteristics, social desirability.
· Reductionism in psychology: Reductionism refers to explanations at the lowest & most detailed level. In psychological terms it is the belief that our behaviour can be explained entirely by one factor or group of factors. E.g. a common criticism of Evolutionary Psychology is that it does not consider our conscious thoughts or external influences. Similarly, the Behavioural approach only considers external stimuli and not evolved, predetermined behaviours.
· Free will & determinism: We assume that individuals take responsibility for their actions & therefore have the free will to choose whether to do wrong or right. However, if behaviour is fully caused by factors outside the person’s control, then they do not have free will and cannot be responsible for their own actions.
· Nature vs nurture: Central question is the extent to which our behaviour is determined by our genes we inherit from our parents vs. the influence of environmental factors e.g. home, school & friends. Extreme position is that behaviour is entirely determined by genes or conversely by our environment. Topics which are hotly debated under the nature vs. nurture argument include attachments and aggression.
· Ethical issues: Most psychological studies involve ethical issues e.g. deception, privacy, psychological & physical harm. It is therefore important that BPS has strict guidelines that psychologists should follow when conducting research to protect participants from any harm.
· The use of non-human animals in psychological research: Issue of generalizability of animal research findings to humans. The basic principles of behaviourism were largely based on Skinner’s work with rats and pigeons – can we really apply animal behaviour to human behaviour?
· Gender bias: There are a number of consequences of committing this bias in psychological theories & studies – including:
§ Scientifically misleading
§ Upholding stereotypical assumptions
§ Validating sex discrimination
§ Avoiding gender bias does not mean pretending that men & women are the same.
o Alpha bias: Theories that acknowledge real differences between men & women. These can be promoting or devaluing either sex i.e. Freud’s theory of psychosexual development view that women in many respects are ‘failed men’.
o Beta bias: Theories that ignore or minimise differences between men & women. E.g. a study which only uses male participants & applies the findings to females, attachment theory ignores role of fathers.
o Androcentrism: Taking male thinking/behaviour as normal, regarding female thinking/behaviour as deviant, inferior, abnormal etc.
· Cultural bias: Psychology is predominantly a white, Euro-American enterprise. In some texts, more than 90% of studies have US participants, samples are predominantly white middle class.
o Emics: Constructs particular to a specific culture i.e. an example of cultural relativism.
o Etics: Constructs that are universal to all people, allowing cultural differences to be ignored.
o Ethnocentrism: Occurs when a researcher assumes that their own culturally specific practices or ideas are ‘natural’ or ‘right’. E.g. early theories of relationship formation such as social exchange theory – heavily influenced by western capitalist ideas of personal possessions and worth.
Examples of applying approaches, issues & debates to specific topics
· Biological rhythms (Biological rhythms & sleep):
o Issues: Culture bias – many cultures have a siesta so their sleep rhythm is not circadian; case studies & small samples are not generalizable; animal studies may or may not be generalizable.
o Debates: Siesta behaviour suggests nurture is also involved in circadian sleep rhythm.
o Approaches: Very biological, but some research suggests individual differences.
· Clinical characteristics & issues surrounding classification + diagnosis (Psychopathology):
o Issues: Ethical issues are concerned due to the sensitivity of researching disorders, such as the giving of informed consent. There are also methodological issues such as the artificiality of criteria & the cut-off between normal & disordered. There are also cross-cultural differences in what is considered abnormal behaviour.
o Debates: The classification systems could be argued to be deterministic in action.
· Factors affecting addictive behaviour (the psychology of addictive behaviour):
o Issues: There are cultural issues as to which behaviours (and their extent) count as addictions.
o Debates: Nature & nurture interact, as some factors are innate e.g. personality, & others are environmental e.g. advertising & social norms.
o Approaches: Cognitive explanations are important, e.g. in attributional style, but there are many factors involved, as the biopsychosocial explanation suggests.
Practice going through specific research studies/theories relevant to each topic, and picking out the relevant issues/debates or approaches.see more
You should definitely include your hobbies, such as extracurricular activities you do at school or outside of school. Include the activities which you can use to demonstrate important skills you may have or may have gained from these activities, or important character/personality traits that they demonstrate. It is good to show your strengths and abilities which are not simply academic, and explain how you can utilise these at university, and specifically on your chosen course. Here is a section from my personal statement I wrote when applying for my Psychology degree where I discuss relevant extracurricular activities: "Outside of my curricular activities and studies, I have contributed to the wider community, having volunteered at GIFT charity, Jewish Care, and at my local synagogue as a teaching assistant for young children. Working with children had allowed me to display patience and specific communication skills."see more
For any essay, whether it is for an exam or for a piece of coursework, planning is essential for giving a coherent structure to your essay. For exams, you should not spend more than 5 minutes planning as you are very much restricted on time. For coursework, however, it is a very good idea to make a detailed plan before you start writing the essay so you aren’t deciding how to structure it and what to include as you go along. It will save you time in the long run and make it easier to write the essay if you make a good detailed plan of both the essay content and structure. My plans were always organised as bullet points of what I was going to include in each paragraph of the body of the essay.
The first thing to do when planning your essay is to read the question carefully and work out what exactly it is asking you to do. The question will have key words that should make it clear what to do, such as ‘describe’, ‘explain’ or ‘compare’. The more you practise questions and look at mark schemes, the easier it will become to know what the questions are asking of you.
Once you have worked out what the question is asking you, you should come up with your main points in your argument, which could be organised by theme, by text, whatever works for the question or for you. I would always try to come up for 5 main points which would form a paragraph each.
Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence, which is the main overarching point of the paragraph. Next in your plan, for each paragraph you should include all the key quotes which illustrate your point. Include some brief analysis of the quotes in your plan such as looking at looking at the language e.g. metaphor, alliteration, and its effects. Or form/structure/meter if looking at poetry such as the effect of enjambment, iambic pentameter etc. You must link back each point to the question, answering it explicitly and referring back to specific elements of the question, to make it clear to the marker that you are answering the question directly.
Here is a good basic structure to use within your essay to make it coherent, to ensure you analyse your quotes and that you answer the question, in each paragraph: P E A L: POINT, EVIDENCE (quote), ANALYSIS (explain), LINK. You must first make a point, then back it up with evidence (a quote), explain what it means and make further comments about the language/techniques within that quote. At the end of your point you must refer back to the question. This structure should run within each paragraph, with the topic sentence being the overarching point, and the paragraph including sub-points which are backed up by quotes. Do not include a specific analysis of a quote if it is not relevant to the question, it must add to the point you are making.
You can always write your introduction first if it helps you to structure your argument, but I tend to find it best to write it after you have formulated the structure in your detailed plan. Your introduction should lay out your argument, and can be made more effective by including a simple, blunt statement about the style, genre, purpose or tone of the text you are writing about. Whereas your conclusion should summarise each topic sentence/point plus answer the question directly.
Where possible, it’s a good idea to look at example A* essays and to see how they structure their essay, how they analyse language etc. so you can practise improving on these elements in your essays. Practise practise practise!see more