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Posts archived in Memory

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.



ATP 2014

Many thanks to the organisers of this year’s ATP conference for an exceptionally informative and inspiring three days. And many thanks from all at the OUP stand to all the teachers who spared the time to fill out questionnaires, give us feedback on our publishing and tell us what they needed from us for the challenges of 2015 and beyond.

Two ATP winners from our popular 'unlock the box' game

Two ATP winners from our popular ‘unlock the box’ game

For publishers, ATP is a great opportunity to hear from the experts – you – about what we need to do better, and what you like about what we have done, too. A highlight for us at this year’s ATP was a note from two students of Debora D’Auria, who wrote to Cara to say thank you for one of the Complete Companions titles, describing it as ‘a godsend for AS psychology students everywhere’. After all those sessions describing the changes and challenges that next year brings, it was wonderful to have this reminder of what it’s all about!

2014-07-05 11.02.31

Debora and Cara with a letter from two of Debora’s students

The draft new AS specification from AQA, for first teaching from September 2015, is available at the following link:


Both the draft spec and accompanying specimen questions and mark schemes are accessible from this page.

We will be bringing you our thoughts on the draft specification shortly.


AQA has released information about the release date for its new draft A level psychology specification as part of its Exam change essentials website.

That date is 26 June.

Some of you may have already had sight of the new spec via an AQA bus; AQA are continuing their road show from 23 June until 4 July. You can request a visit on this same Exam change essentials web site.

AQA say that they have listened carefully to those teachers who have already seen the draft specification, and it will be interesting to see what has changed as a result. We are looking forward to unpacking the new requirements here at the Oxford psychology blog, and sharing our views with you.


AS EssayWith Unit 2 now just a couple of days away, I thought it an opportune moment to remind readers of our blog that gaining ‘big’ marks in the relatively more challenging essay questions is not all that difficult, if you follow a few simple rules.

The four points below should help you to become a more efficient essay writer and get higher marks for your efforts. Of course, higher marks equal happier students and more grateful parents!

1) Any individual question that is worth more than 6 marks requires a combination of AO1 (description) and AO2 (evaluation) in equal parts. These are not always 12 marks, but may also be 8 or 10 marks. In the equivalent paper last summer, biological psychology had a 12 marker, social and individual differences each had 8 markers.

2) In order to make sure that you address both components (i.e. AO1 and AO2) equally, it is a good idea to divide the essay up into a number of discrete parts, each exclusively AO1 or AO2. Whatever the question (e.g. ‘Outline and evaluate two…’, ‘Discuss the… approach to…’), it can be divided into much smaller components. One easy way of doing this is to divide your material into four separate paragraphs, each about 75 or so words), almost as if you were answering four much smaller questions that together make up the requirements of the larger essay question. The first paragraph is entirely AO1, the second AO2, the third AO1 and the fourth AO2. Alternatively, you could go for six paragraphs of 50 words, each containing just one elaborated point.

3) You will get more marks for detailed AO1 and elaborated AO2, so don’t try to cram as many points as possible into your answer, be selective with what you include and give it some impact. There are many ways of elaborating an AO2 point – e.g. identify (what’s the critical point?), elaborate (flesh it out a bit),  evidence (give evidence to support the critical point you are making) and link back (make it clear how/why this supports or challenges the theory, study, explanation etc.

4) Don’t waste time doing things that you haven’t been asked to do (e.g. telling the examiner what you are about to do, defining terms you haven’t been asked to define and anything else that is not explicitly asked for in the question), i.e. use your time wisely and efficiently.

Good luck and be skilful on Tuesday

Many years ago, a colleague outlined his idealised book-writing scenario to me. It involved a sunny comfortable study, a glass of wine and the sounds of Mozart gently wafting through the room as the ideas flowed freely.  That did sound attractive, but as I’ve discovered, the truth is nothing at all like that. Sure, I do occasionally get to write in a sunny room, but as I’ve discovered, the sun moves around, the cats get bored when its raining and come in to help, and real life does tend to get in the way.

I’ve been writing psychology books for over 20 years and I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve lost track of exactly how many I’ve authored or edited over the years. In fact, a colleague now describes me as the ‘Ernie Wise of psychology’. Writing can be intellectually stimulating but it is also extremely hard work and, on occasion, incredibly frustrating. I’m lucky because, courtesy of my university, the cats and I have access to an online database of psychology journals that makes the knowledge gathering easier. So, rest assured that whatever obscure psychology AQA manage to throw at us in their next specification, me, the cats and Mozart (well, Van Morrison actually) will have it covered.

keep-calm-and-good-luck-with-your-exam-17Good luck to all AQA AS students with paper 1 tomorrow – and to all their teachers – from everyone here at the Oxford Psychology Blog.

Here’s a link to AQA’s Student Support web page with some very helpful information on what to take with you tomorrow, exam etiquette and some really good examination tips.

For everyone going on to A2, we look forward to seeing you later. For everyone else, we hope you have enjoyed your course and good luck with everything you go on to do.


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