Revision notes for Psychology AS Unit 1 – Essay Plan

The best way to prepare for the 10 marker essays on Psychology exams is to make essay plans for the AO1 and AO2 points. 

This is a essay plan for: 

Describe and evaluate the Psychodynamic approach to psychology. Refer to one other approach in your answer. (10 marks) 


State the 4 assumptions of the psychodynamic approach

  • Unconscious processes, of which we are unaware, determine our behaviour
  • Instincts, or drives, motivate our behaviour and energise the mind
  • Childhood experiences determine adult personality
  • Personality has 3 parts: Id, Ego, Superego


AO1 – description, theories

Iceberg analogy –

Preconscious (thoughts and memories that aren’t always accessible but easily recalled),

Conscious (everyday thoughts and feelings),

Unconscious (repressed thoughts, feelings and memories)

Id – pleasure principle, selfish and pleasure seeking

Ego – reality principle, mediator between Id and Superego

Superego – morality principle, parental and altruistic values


List psychosexual stages of development

Oral – focus is on the mouth, mother’s breast to ease pain, if no resolution found here, person very dependent on others in adult life

Anal – toilet training, if no resolution found here, person will be jealous, possessive in character and reluctant to change in adult life

Phallic – Oedipus and Electra complex, if not resolved person will struggle with gender identity

Latent – sexuality is dormant, focus is on school and same-sex friends

Genital – mature heterosexuality provides relief and pleasure if other stages are resolved

Pick 2 to explain


Case studies

Little Hans – investigation of the existence of the Oedipus complex

Oedipus complex – unconscious conflict that occurs in boys where they desire their mother but fear their father

Hans had phobia of horses particularly, large white horses with black blinkers and black around the mouth. Hans was scared of the horse because he believed it would eat him or fall on him. Freud concluded that his phobia was an outward expression of Hans’ unconscious castration anxiety – his fear of horses was a displaced fear of his father. According to Freud, his fear of horses falling was his unconscious desire for his father to drop dead.


Rat man – investigate the underlying cause of Ernst Lanzer’s obsessive compulsive neurosis

Rat man had obsessive and fearful thoughts of rats which resulted in obsessive behaviours. His fear originated from military training when he heard of a torture method involving rats eating their way into a person through the anus. Rat man was scared this would happen to his parents. Freud concluded that this was due to the unconscious hate the Rat man felt for his father whom he wished to suffer the torture with the rats. The obsessive compulsive behaviours helped Rat man reduce his anxieties by reducing feelings of guilt.


AO2 – evaluation, strengths and limitations

Evaluation of case studies

Little Hans

–          Case studies are difficult to generalise because it is the observation of one individual

–          Freud was accused of interpreting the case to support his theory

–          He never met Little Hans so the evidence was unreliable

+     Acknowledges the importance of childhood experiences

Rat Man

–          Freud only focused on Rat Man’s father and didn’t refer to his domineering mother and his feelings of abandonment as a child as a more plausible explanation

–          The finding of case studies are difficult to generalise

–          Freud biased to his own theory


Comparison with the biological approach

Psychodynamic approach uses more case studies unlike the biological approach which uses more scientific experiments with more highly controlled experiments.

The theories in the psychodynamic approach are unfalsifiable (incapable of being tested or verified by scientific observations) which is why mostly case studies are used.

Both the psychodynamic and biological approach have had many useful applications but in different ways. The biological approach uses medicines and drugs such as dopamine to alleviate psychological disorders. However, the some treatments can be invasive such as the PET and CAT scans so there are ethical issues related to these treatments. On the other hand, the psychodynamic approach uses therapy which is also an effective treatment but with less use of medicines and so no worry of the side effects.


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