We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more

Posts archived in Psychology AS

photoIn December we launched a competition to celebrate the publication of our new AS Revision Companion, offering schools a chance to win a revision masterclass with Complete Companions author Cara Flanagan. The winner was Lauren Jenner (front row, far right) who won the revision masterclass for her AS Psychology class, which took place at the Weald of Kent Grammar School in Tonbridge on 2 April.

Cara spent the revision masterclass discussing exam technique with students including how to approach specific question types and how to structure answers, as well as revision guidance.  Mrs Tipp, Psychology teacher commented: “Cara was extremely helpful, informative and approachable.  She wrote a bespoke Master class to suit our students’ needs, and even stayed an extra hour to give the Year 13 students a Top Tips Master Class.  We couldn’t have asked for more.”

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who entered the competition. We received some fantastic entries which included online presentations and even a rap video by Southend High School for Boys, which made judging this competition really hard.

Charles Darwin used this visual map to organise his thoughts about evolution

Charles Darwin used this visual map to organise his thoughts about evolution

Lots of us use visual mapping techniques (like mind maps) to help us deal with planning work and remembering things: they are great for condensing what you know about a topic into a diagram that is easier to remember. Sketching out a quick mind map can also help jog your memory, too, making them a good tool to use when planning answers to those higher mark exam questions. So it is no wonder that they are a very popular revision strategy.

Although the concept of a ‘mind map’ was introduced and developed by psychology author Tony Buzan, this way of mapping information is not new. A fascinating review of similar techniques on the Mind Mapping Blog gives examples from ancient Greek philosopher Porphyry of Tyre, ancient Roman philosopher Boethius, and newbies Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, amongst others.

Why do they work? The mind-mapping process of organising information and making links between different bits of information is replicating how we think the brain makes enduring memories, so revising with mind maps should help the brain remember information. And retrieving information from long term memory is made easier through association – that is why mind mapping experts recommend adding unusual images and colours to your mind maps to strengthen the association between a topic and its connections.

Then there is elaborative rehearsal: mind mapping makes us consider the information we are revising more deeply than if we just reread it or highlighting bits that seem like they could be important. We have to consider how one aspect of a topic links to another. Elaborative rehearsal builds enduring memories and makes them easier to access, too.

AS Revision Companion

This short (4 min) video shows aspects of the Harlows’ experiments with baby rhesus monkeys, who preferred to spend time with their contact-comforting cloth-covered mother rather than the wire mother who provided them with food.

This video does a good job in highlighting some of the ethical concerns we would now have with this kind of experiment – the emotional harm suffered by the monkeys. Textbooks usually counter the unethical aspects with the importance of the study in changing ideas about attachment. The Harlows’ study was influential on Bowlby’s theory of attachment, for example: Bowlby’s concept of the ‘safe base’ being linked to the comfort and security that the young rhesus monkeys were searching for.


NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, has issued new guidance on treatment for schizophrenia. It says that people who are exhibiting early symptoms of psychosis and schizophrenia should be offered CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) rather than antipsychotic drugs.

There is quite a wide range of behaviours that can indicate the ‘prodromal stage’ which comes before most first episodes of psychosis. These include withdrawal, a shorter attention span than usual, and the individual behaving in unusual ways or sharing unusual thoughts.

CBT is often described in A Level psychology textbooks as an effective treatment for depression and social anxiety, but as being less effective for schizophrenia. It is important to note that NICE recommends that oral antipsychotic medication is used once someone has their first psychotic episode – together with a psychological intervention, which could be CBT or another recognised psychotherapy.

CBT doesn’t have the unpleasant side effects of antipsychotic medication and it is also a lot cheaper. But the mental health charity Mind points out that it often takes a long time for people to get access to CBT, while the research shows that early intervention works best if people can get treatment within 28 days of symptoms being recognised.

Psychologists take care to avoid bias in their investigations, for example making assumptions about differences between males and females (alpha bias) or overlooking differences between males and females (beta bias).

A study by researchers at Princeton University suggests the existence of a ‘bias blind spot’ that means people recognise that bias exists but assume they personally are not likely to be affected by it. As reported by Oliver Burkeman on his excellent blog, this meant that ‘Even when people acknowledge that what they are about to do is biased … they still are inclined to see their resulting decisions as objective.’

Does a famous name make this a better picture?

Does a famous name make this a better picture?

This is how the study was carried out: the researchers showed participants (a mix of Princeton students and others recruited online) a selection of 80 paintings, which they were asked to rate for artistic merit from 1 to 10. Half the group just saw the paintings, and the other half saw the paintings plus what were supposedly the names of the artists responsible.

In fact, the names were a mixture of famous artists and names chosen at random from a phone book. Those participants who saw the names exhibited a bias: they gave a higher ranking to works associated with names of famous artists. But even when the risk of bias was pointed out to them, these participants still rated their decisions as objective – while it was definitely likely that other people would be biased towards big names, no one thought it would affect them.


Correlational data

When we talk about interpreting correlational data, we often rightly stress that correlation does not establish cause and effect. However, it is important not to simply dismiss correlations because of this – as this video from the OU’s Joy of Stats series shows, the scientific attitude to an apparent correlation is to work as hard as you can to refute that correlation. If it survives all those attempts, then you might have an association between co-variables that is really worth exploring.

In the WJEC AS Complete Companion there is an error on page 81. While the text says there were 2664 participants in the Rahe study, there were instead 2684.

A corrected version of this page is provided here.

008440 Psychology ASp81

Floods - overwhelming?

Floods – overwhelming?

Heavy rain and storm surges have made 2014 pretty miserable for many of us (so far), and have been devastating for many of those affected by the widespread flooding in southern parts of the UK. What are the psychological impacts of flooding like this?

The Health Protection Agency (HPA)   published a document in 2012 called Flooding and mental health: essential information for front-line responders. While stressing that  resilience and strong social support helps the majority of victims of flooding cope with the immediate distress without developing longer-term health problems, this interesting document highlights the importance of the co-called ‘Recovery Gap’: the period after emergency service support has ended and people then have to rely on the private sector: for example, insurance companies and banking services.

The HPA notes that a number of studies point to increases in the incidence of common mental disorders (including depression, substance use and misuse, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder) following flooding. Anxiety in particular is often linked to fears of flooding events happening again. The main issues are with existing mental health problems being exacerbated by the experience of flooding, but a minority of cases are of people developing mental illness because of the stress and anxiety involved.



Brain geography

One neurone in your brain may recognise this celebrity

One neurone in your brain may recognise this celebrity

The February edition of National Geographic has an excellent article on how new technologies are revealing more about the structure of the brain, including a technique for making brains transparent which neuroscientists have described as ‘pretty badass’.

Another study, at UCLA, used electrodes implanted directly into brain tissue  to study how the brain processes what people see. The research discovered a ‘Jennifer Aniston neurone’ – an individual nerve cell that fired each time the subject saw a photo of Jennifer Aniston (this was in 2005). This research suggested that the brain was incredibly efficient at storing information about faces.

The National Geographic channel has a sequence of ‘brain games’, to accompany a TV series on the brain, which are fun to do as well as prompting some thought-provoking questions about how we see the world.


Loftus and EWT

In this TED talk video (from June 2013), Elizabeth Loftus talks about her work on eye witness testimony, including both her classic study with Palmer (1974) and more recent work, including a fascinating study involving false memories in highly stressful interrogation training. This video also includes Loftus discussing her response to media controversies arising from her work on satanic abuse and responses to obesity.