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Psychology A Level (Block D) at St John's Catholic Comprehensive School

Course description

What makes people tick? Why do some people behave the way they do?  Why do different things affect your mood and confidence?

If you've ever spent time thinking about these puzzles, psychology might be for you. Psychologists could hold the answers. And if they don’t yet, you can be sure they are looking for them. 

Psychology is all about human behaviour and what dictates it.  Why do people react to certain things in certain ways?  What can make people happy or sad, and how can we use that in the modern world?

Learning psychology will teach you all about the behaviour of people and how their minds work, which can be useful everywhere.

Course content

The new AQA specification provides you with a broad overview of psychology. This will ensure you have a firm grounding in the subject which will prepare you for further study at university if you desire.

Main topics at AS level include:

Paper 1:

Social Influence -  How and why does the presence of others affect our behaviour?

  • Types of conformity: internalisation, identification and compliance. Explanations for conformity: informational social influence and normative social influence, and variables affecting conformity including group size, unanimity and task difficulty as investigated by Asch.
  • Conformity to social roles as investigated by Zimbardo.
  • Explanations for obedience: agentic state and legitimacy of authority, and situational variables affecting obedience including proximity, location and uniform, as investigated by Milgram. Dispositional explanation for obedience: the Authoritarian Personality.
  • Explanations of resistance to social influence, including social support and locus of control.
  • Minority influence including reference to consistency, commitment and flexibility.
  • The role of social influence processes in social change.

Memory -    How do we remember? Why do we forget?

  • The multi-store model of memory: sensory register, short-term memory and long-term memory. Features of each store: coding, capacity and duration.
  • Types of long-term memory: episodic, semantic, procedural.
  • The working memory model: central executive, phonological loop, visuo-spatial sketchpad and episodic buffer. Features of the model: coding and capacity.
  • Explanations for forgetting: proactive and retroactive interference and retrieval failure due to absence of cues.
  • Factors affecting the accuracy of eyewitness testimony: misleading information, including leading questions and post-event discussion; anxiety.
  • Improving the accuracy of eyewitness testimony, including the use of the cognitive interview.

Attachment – Why do we attach to caregivers? Does this vary across cultures/species?

  • Caregiver-infant interactions in humans: reciprocity and interactional synchrony. Stages of attachment identified by Schaffer. Multiple attachments and the role of the father.
  • Animal studies of attachment: Lorenz and Harlow.
  • Explanations of attachment: learning theory and Bowlby’s monotropic theory. The concepts of a critical period and an internal working model.
  • Ainsworth’s ‘Strange Situation’. Types of attachment: secure, insecure-avoidant and insecureresistant. Cultural variations in attachment, including van Ijzendoorn.
  • Bowlby’s theory of maternal deprivation. Romanian orphan studies: effects of institutionalisation.
  • The influence of early attachment on childhood and adult relationships, including the role of an internal working model.

Paper 2:

Approaches in psychology- Why don’t psychologists agree on what causes behaviour?

  • Learning approaches: the behaviourist approach, including classical conditioning and Pavlov’s research, operant conditioning, types of reinforcement and Skinner’s research; social learning theory including imitation, identification, modelling, vicarious reinforcement, the role of mediational processes and Bandura’s research.
  • The cognitive approach: the study of internal mental processes, the role of schema, the use of theoretical and computer models to explain and make inferences about mental processes. The emergence of cognitive neuroscience.
  • The biological approach: the influence of genes, biological structures and neurochemistry on behaviour. Genotype and phenotype, genetic basis of behaviour, evolution and behaviour.

 

Psychopathology- Depression, OCD, phobias and how they are treated.

  • Definitions of abnormality, including deviation from social norms, failure to function adequately, statistical infrequency and deviation from ideal mental health.
  • The behavioural, emotional and cognitive characteristics of phobias, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • The behavioural approach to explaining and treating phobias: the two-process model, including classical and operant conditioning; systematic desensitisation, including relaxation and use of hierarchy; flooding.
  • The cognitive approach to explaining and treating depression: Beck’s negative triad and Ellis’s ABC model; cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), including challenging irrational thoughts.
  • The biological approach to explaining and treating OCD: genetic and neural explanations; drug therapy.

 

Research Methods- Why is research important? Why do we use scientific techniques?

  • Experimental method. Types of experiment, laboratory and field experiments; natural and quasiexperiments.
  • Observational techniques. Types of observation: naturalistic and controlled observation; covert and overt observation; participant and non-participant observation.
  • Self-report techniques. Questionnaires; interviews, structured and unstructured.
  • Correlations. Analysis of the relationship between co-variables. The difference between correlations and experiments.

At A2 level you will also study:

Biopsychology

  • The divisions of the nervous system: central and peripheral (somatic and autonomic).
  • The structure and function of sensory, relay and motor neurons. The process of synaptic transmission, including reference to neurotransmitters, excitation and inhibition.
  • The function of the endocrine system: glands and hormones.
  • The fight or flight response including the role of adrenaline. • Localisation of function in the brain and hemispheric lateralisation: motor, somatosensory, visual, auditory and language centres; Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas, split brain research. Plasticity and functional recovery of the brain after trauma.
  • Ways of studying the brain: scanning techniques, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); electroencephalogram (EEGs) and event-related potentials (ERPs); post-mortem examinations.
  • Biological rhythms: circadian, infradian and ultradian and the difference between these rhythms. The effect of endogenous pacemakers and exogenous zeitgebers on the sleep/wake cycle.

 

Issues and debates in psychology

  • Gender and culture in psychology – universality and bias. Gender bias including androcentrism and alpha and beta bias; cultural bias, including ethnocentrism and cultural relativism.
  • Free will and determinism: hard determinism and soft determinism; biological, environmental and psychic determinism. The scientific emphasis on causal explanations.
  • The nature-nurture debate: the relative importance of heredity and environment in determining behaviour; the interactionist approach.
  • Holism and reductionism: levels of explanation in psychology. Biological reductionism and environmental (stimulus-response) reductionism.
  • Idiographic and nomothetic approaches to psychological investigation.
  • Ethical implications of research studies and theory, including reference to social sensitivity.

 

Gender

  • Sex and gender. Sex-role stereotypes. Androgyny and measuring androgyny including the Bem Sex Role Inventory.
  • The role of chromosomes and hormones (testosterone, oestrogen and oxytocin) in sex and gender. Atypical sex chromosome patterns: Klinefelter’s syndrome and Turner’s syndrome.
  • Cognitive explanations of gender development, Kohlberg’s theory, gender identity, gender stability and gender constancy; gender schema theory.
  • Psychodynamic explanation of gender development, Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, Oedipus complex; Electra complex; identification and internalisation.
  • Social learning theory as applied to gender development. The influence of culture and media on gender roles.
  • Atypical gender development: gender identity disorder; biological and social explanations for gender identity disorder.

 

Schizophrenia

  • Classification of schizophrenia. Positive symptoms of schizophrenia, including hallucinations and delusions. Negative symptoms of schizophrenia, including speech poverty and avolition. Reliability and validity in diagnosis and classification of schizophrenia, including reference to co-morbidity, culture and gender bias and symptom overlap.
  • Biological explanations for schizophrenia: genetics, the dopamine hypothesis and neural correlates.
  • Psychological explanations for schizophrenia: family dysfunction and cognitive explanations, including dysfunctional thought processing.
  • Drug therapy: typical and atypical antipsychotics.
  • Cognitive behaviour therapy and family therapy as used in the treatment of schizophrenia. Token economies as used in the management of schizophrenia.
  • The importance of an interactionist approach in explaining and treating schizophrenia; the diathesisstress model.

 

Aggression

  • Neural and hormonal mechanisms in aggression, including the roles of the limbic system, serotonin and testosterone. Genetic factors in aggression, including the MAOA gene.
  • The ethological explanation of aggression, including reference to innate releasing mechanisms and fixed action patterns. Evolutionary explanations of human aggression.
  • Social psychological explanations of human aggression, including the frustration-aggression hypothesis, social learning theory as applied to human aggression, and de-individuation.
  • Institutional aggression in the context of prisons: dispositional and situational explanations. 
  • Media influences on aggression, including the effects of computer games. The role of desensitisation, disinhibition and cognitive priming.

Entry requirements

A minimum of 5 subjects at A* to B grade (Level 5 or higher or equivalent), including  a minimum of a Grade 5 GCSE in Combined Science, English and Maths.

Assessment

Psychology has been reformed to a two year A-level. All students will sit two AS exams at the end of Year 12 which will stand as a separate qualification and will not count towards their final A-level. Students who choose to continue their study into Year 13 will be reassessed in their AS knowledge at the end of Year 13.

Future opportunities

You could take this course with other advanced level courses such as a science or one of the humanities to prepare for higher education in Psychology or more general higher education courses. With further training, you could go into a job related to Psychology and people such as a Counsellor, Nurse or Psychologist. You could also specialise in a particular area of Psychology such as education or mental health depending on the area that interests you. This specification lays an appropriate foundation for further study of Psychology or related subjects in higher education. In addition, it provides a worthwhile course in terms of general education and lifelong learning. Material studied would be useful for candidates intending to pursue careers in the fields of business, medicine, nursing, occupational health, social work, child care, personnel, market research and education.

How to apply

If you want to apply for this course, you will need to contact St John's Catholic Comprehensive School directly.

Last updated date: 15 November 2017
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Key information

  • Start date: Next September
  • Duration: 2 Years

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