AQA’s new (draft) AS and A Level specifications feature Approaches in Psychology, where students learn about the contribution made to our understanding of human behaviour by psychologists and other individuals who probably secretly wished they were psychologists.
The behaviourist approach is a favourite of ours, especially operant conditioning as exemplified in this clip from The Big Bang Theory.
Results day has come and gone, and we hope with all our hearts here at the Psychology Blog that everyone who has just got their results will continue to get lots of interest and value out of your psychology knowledge and skills – either at school, if you are going into your second year, or in college or out in what psychologists tend to call the ‘real world’ (it isn’t noticeably realer, truth be told).
In this post we’ll take a first look at the results statistics for psychology this year. You can find the data at this link.
Compared to last year, psychology numbers have gone down from 56,088 candidates last year to 54,818 this year – a drop of 1,270
This is in the context of an overall drop in A Level candidate numbers of 17,000 students
The drop in psychology numbers was not as significant as that for other large-cohort A Level subjects like English (-4,000) or General Studies (-7,600)
Subjects seeing the biggest rises in numbers were biology, chemistry and physics. Maths saw an increase, but so did Religious Studies (both grew by about 800 candidates)
Psychology is the fourth largest A Level subject still, with chemistry nipping at our heels: 53,513 candidates so 2,575 candidates behind.
More analysis to follow once the boards have released their individual results statistics.
We hope it all went well and you got the results you wanted. Remember, its all because of your ability and effort. Mind you, if it didn’t…well, you can always blame your parents, after all you are a product of their genes!
Page 110 of the Research Methods Companion has a small but statistically very significant error: in the table for Step 3, the last value should be 0.3905 instead of 1.3905. We are very grateful to Kelly Bristow for bringing this typo to our attention and the corrected page is attached here: apologies for any chi-squared confusion that has resulted from this mistake.
Today is the centenary of the start of the First World War for Britain, a war in which seventeen million soldiers and civilians from countries around the world were killed. The horrors of the First World War produced psychological trauma on a scale never before seen in warfare: ‘shell shock’.
The following video from the Wellcome Library shows film clips made of several cases of shell-shocked British soldiers.
The British Army appointed an experimental psychologist called Charles S. Myers to investigate cases of shell shock and, it was hoped, to come up with a way to successfully treat it. At first Myers agreed with many others who thought shell shock was due to physical damage to the brain and nervous system, perhaps caused by concussion from being in the vicinity of an exploding shell. But many patients had no physical injuries, some hadn’t been on the front line of fighting. Myers diagnosed psychological disorders caused as a consequence of the shell-shocked soldier trying to repress traumatic memories.
His recommended treatment followed Freud’s (psychodynamic) approach of seeking to restore the patient’s memory of the repressed event. The belief was that if the patient could be helped to talk about the repressed memory instead of trying to block it or hide it away, especially if they recalled it in detail again and again. Evidence seemed to suggest to Myers and his colleagues too, that this approach worked best if patients were treated as soon as possible after they started to show symptoms. It was much harder to get productive results once the soldier was moved away from the war zone.
Wilhelm Wundt features in the new draft A Level psychology specification from AQA where students, as part of their introduction to approaches in psychology, will learn about the ‘Origins of Psychology: Wundt, introspection and the emergence of Psychology as a science’.
The following three video clips provide some background information about Wilhelm Wundt’s methods, origins, personality and importance to psychology. The first one is fast-paced and fun and the second two provide depth and detail, although the level of these is pitched more for undergraduates than for 17 year olds.
It is interesting to note that the author and narrator of the second two clips, Peter Smith, says of Wundt ‘His name is now largely forgotten, except by scholars. There are many people outside of psychology who can easily identify people like Freud and Pavlov, or even Piaget and Maslow, but even many psychology undergrads have little idea who Wundt was’ – a situation that is shortly to improve dramatically!
Our new draft AQA A Level psychology spec includes Explanations for forgetting in the Memory topic, which means we’ve decided to make a note of this recent research on forgetting (as reported in the BPS Research Digest) before it slips our mind.
In the first part of this research, conducted at Regensburg University, Germany, participants were presented with particular German words and trained, over several trials, to respond to some with a right-handed key press and others with a left-handed key press.
In the second part of the research, the same participants had to categorise the same German words by gender but this time half the words had a key-press requirement that was the opposite of the one the participants had learned in the first half of the study. It makes your brain hurt just to think about it.
As you’d expect, this caused some problems. The participants who went straight on to complete the second part of the experiment got the new commands mixed up with the old ones fairly often – they still remembered what they’d been trained to do when they saw the words the first time, and it was hard to do the opposite.
However, the researchers treated one group of participants a little differently. After they had completed the first part of the experiment, the participants in this group were told that, unfortunately, a computer crash had occurred and they should now just forget everything they’d learned about which key to press when they saw each word; now they’d learn something new. This group then went on to complete the second part of the experiment with no problems at all – any interference from what they’d learned in the first part was completely eliminated.
This research therefore suggests that it is possible to forget recently-formed memories very quickly, with a conscious decision. But you can forget that if you want to.
At the start of this July (2014), Facebook hit the news worldwide, all because of research methods. If ever proof were needed that research methods are super-exciting, here it was!
A study conducted over one week in 2012 had altered the extent to which 689,000 Facebook users were exposed to emotional content in their News Feeds. The study found evidence of what it described as ’emotional contagion’: when users were more likely to see more positive content in their News Feeds, they used very slightly more positive words in their posts. When the content they saw on their News Feeds was less likely to be positive, the number of positive words was very slightly reduced.
The News Feed feature was the only part of users’ Facebook pages that was modified, and this is a feature of Facebook that is constantly modified anyway – the content from friends that is shared on News Feed is selected by a Facebook algorithm which is designed to show content that users are most likely to find interesting. All shared content was viewable as usual on users’ wall and timeline. Users’ posts (300 million of them) were monitored, but no researcher read any posts – all the processing of emotional word use was done by computers via Facebook’s own News Feed filtering system. The experiment did not alter in any way the messages that users sent to each other. And all those who were involved in the study were selected randomly, by username and pattern of use (the study made sure they were people who used Facebook regularly). So why was there such a huge reaction to news of the study?
The main problem people had with the study, it seemed, was that they hadn’t been asked if they wanted to take part. As all psychology students know, this is an ethical issue known as informed consent. Participants must be given comprehensive information concerning the nature and purpose of a study and their role in it. Participants can then make an informed decision about whether to participate in the study or not.
The difficulty for researchers is that providing comprehensive information of this kind may reduce the meaningfulness of their research because once participants know what the study is doing, it may then affect their behaviour. That would certainly seem to be an obvious problem for this Facebook-based research into emotional contagion. However, concerns over manipulation of personal information by ‘big data’ are deeply felt by large numbers of people worldwide, suggesting that the ethical issues of this study should have been much more carefully considered.