Revision notes – Psychology A2 – Overt behaviour and Private subjective experience

Distinctions that have been made between behaviour and experience are that behaviour is external or overt and amenable to scientific enquiry whereas, experience is internal, subjective and not open to scientific enquiry.

These distinctions are in fact misleading. Biological psychologists study internal events using ‘scientific’ techniques such as EEG recordings can be classed as behavioural. Cognitive psychologists attempt to investigate thought processes, memory, perception and attention which are all part of internal, private and conscious experience yet, are amenable to scientific enquiry. Insights into these mental processes may be inferred from an individual’ observable response.

Private subjective experience – personal subjective phenomena and unique to the individual. Private subjective experiences are not easily investigated using scientific procedures.

A better distinction is the criterion of accessibility. Behaviour, whether external or not, can be directly observed by a researcher or at least inferred using empirical methods, whereas private subjective experience cannot.

William James, ‘stream of consciousness’ – a internal monologue that is always present, unique, private and accessible only to the individual. People are aware of external events through the combined information from all senses but this cannot be fully verbalised as it is fleeting and therefore, there is too much report. Private subject experience cannot therefore be fully accessed or replicated. People can never perceive the same experience twice because on the second occasion, the event is a different experience.

Introspective reports – report what went through their mind whilst carrying out some action.

Introspective reports couldn’t be verified, were subjective and accessible only to the individual reporting the experience. Only those processes of which the participant was aware could be reported.

Phenomenology – the study of an individual’s subjective and contemporary experience or unique perception of the world. The emphasis is on understanding events from the person’s point of view rather than focusing on behaviour.


Revision notes for Psychology AS Unit 2 – Essay plan – Explanations for forgetting

It is always useful to make essay plans for the 10 marker exam questions so that way you have broken down the question into AO1 points and AO2 points and you can answer all parts of the question. I created an essay plan for this exam question:

Describe and evaluate 2 likely explanations for forgetting



Interference – theory of forgetting in both STM and LTM. Memory traces disrupted by other new info

PROACTIVE – what we already know interferes with what she is trying to learn that is new

RETROACTIVE – what she is learning now (Spanish) is interfering with earlier learning (Italian)

Case study – Keppel and Underwood 1962 – to investigate effects of proactive interference on recall from memory. Participants given series of trials where they had to learn  trigrams. Then count back for either 3/9/18 seconds. They then tested the recall of the trigrams. 1st trial – 100% performance even though they had different interval times. This was because there is no preceding item to interfere. 2nd & 3rd trial – performance fell as intervals increased because the earlier learning of trigrams interferes with latter learning (proactive).

Retrieval failure – theory of forgetting in LTM due to lack of accessibility. Memory can exist but not achieved because retrieval cues are inadequate

Tulving (19740 – used cue-dependent forgetting to explain that if same cues not present at time of recall as they are during time of original learning, recall will be poor

2 types: context dependent forgetting (relevant environmental variables that were present during learning aren’t present during recall; variables are external cues) and state dependent forgetting (occurs in absence of relevant physio/psychological variables that were present during learning; variables act as internal cues)

Case study – Godden and Baddeley to see if cues from the environment affected recall. Deep sea divers learned words either on land or underwater. Recall was tested in same or different context. Those who learned and recalled in different contexts – more than 30% deficit compared to those who learned and recalled in same context.


Keppel and Underwood study has low ecological validity as the situation wouldn’t arise in real life

Strengths of interference theory – better theory than decay, recent research on real-life events has provided support for theory, proactive and retroactive are reliable effects

Limitations of interference theory – tells little about cognitive process involved in forgetting, most of the research carried out in lab experiment so low ecological validity

Strength of retrieval failure – lots of empirical evidence to support theory, can explain findings that can’t be explained by trace decay theory.

Limitation of retrieval failure – studies carried out under extreme conditions don’t reflect everyday conditions – lack ecological validity.

*always remember to include a conclusion to all your essays even if it is just a summarising sentence or else you will not be awarded full marks because no matter how well-written your essay is, you need a conclusion*

Revision notes for Psychology AS – treatment programmes for Autism

  •       Behavioural modification
  •       Drug therapies
  •       Parental involvement


Drug therapies/medication

Antidepressants such as Fluoxetine affect the activity of the neurotransmitter serotonin and are used to treat high functioning autistic people. It reduces repetitive behaviours and anxiety-type symptoms.

Stimulants such as Ritalin reduce hyperactivity and improve focus of autistic patients.

Antipsychotics such as Haloperidol and Risperidone have been used to treat the stereotypical movements and fidgetiness in autistic patients. It reduces social withdrawal, aggression/self-absuive behaviours and repetitive movements. There are, however, serious side effects such as 1/3 patients develop dyskinesia (involuntary body movements).

Fenfluramine lowers levels of serotonin which has shown improvement in thought processes but has had no effect on language or cognitive ability.

Key study – McCracken et al (2002)

Aim – to compare the effectiveness of risperidone as a treatment for behavioural disturbances in young people with autism.

Method – a multi-side, double blind trial, using 101 children aged between 5 and 17 years, 82 boys and 19 girls. Children were randomly assigned to receive either Risperidone or a placebo. For 8wks participants in the Risperidone condition received doses varying between 0.5 and 3.5mg per day. Before and after treatment, all the children were assessed on an irritability scale and an improvement scale.

Results – 56.9% reduction in irritability score for risperidone condition and 14.1% reduction for placebo condition. On improvement scale, 69% of the treatment group were ‘much improved’ or ‘very much improved’ as opposed to 12% of placebo group. After 6mnths 2/3 of those who showed positive responses to the drug continued to show beneficial effects.

Conclusion – Risperidone is effective in reducing tantrums, aggression and self-injurious behaviour in young autistic people.



  • There is some evidence of improvement in behaviour and thought processes
  • Can reduce social awareness, stereotyped motor behaviour and aggression
  • Can provide relief from specific symptoms which can relieve the stress on carers


  • Drugs aren’t a cure for autism
  • Potentially serious side effects (many drugs haven’t been tested on children)
  • Needs to be combined with other interventions
  • No drug reduces enough of the symptoms to be used long term
  • Many children don’t respond to the drug, no effect on their symptoms


Parental Involvement

Parents involved in therapeutic programmes at home, not just relying on a therapist

Parents can help the children to apply the behaviours they’ve learnt to a wide range of everyday conflicts.

Treatment was a programme of warm acceptance and reinforcement and an extreme version was ‘holding therapy’ where the child was forced to have close, physical contact with the mother. Parents have to reinforce adaptive behaviour (behaviour that helps the child fit into the environment) whilst avoiding reinforcement for undesirable behaviour.

Koegel et al (1982) demonstrated that 30 hours of parent training was as effective as 200 hours of clinical treatment in improving behaviour

Koegel et al (1996) found that most benefit derived when parents concentrated on improving their autistic child’s general motivation and responsiveness rather than targeting specific problem areas

Lovaas believed that one of the key elements of ABA therapy was the involvement of parents.



  • Puts a lot of pressure on families
  • Some can’t be treated at home and need a professional therapist
  • Stress for carers as training takes up a lot of time, money and effort


Behavioural modification

Involves the use of reward for appropriate behaviour and is based on operant conditioning.

ABA (applied behavioural analysis) uses reinforcement to improve selected behaviours, using the principles of SLT (modelling and positive reinforcement) to improve certain behaviours

DTT (discrete trial training) is when skills are broken down to their basic components and repeated one-to-one lessons are taught. Each trial consists of 3 parts:

  • Antecedent – requesting the child to perform a task e.g. choose a crayon
  • Behaviour – response from child e.g. they pick a green crayon
  • Consequence – a reaction from the therapist plus reinforcement  e.g. well done, lets draw a picture

Lovaas technique – language development therapy (same principle as DTT – positively reinforced specifically for language development).

Key study – Lovaas (1987)

Aim – to investigate the effectiveness of intensive behavioural therapy

Method – 19 patients, younger than 46mnths, received intensive behavioural therapy for at least 40 hours a week for 2yrs. The therapy was on a one-to-one basis. There were 2 control groups: one were the non-intensive group and only received 10 hours of one-to-one therapy each weelk and the other group received no therapy. Each child given a task and their response resulted in a reinforcement or punishment. IQ and level of functioning at school was measured.

Results – 47% of treatment group achieved normal intellectual functioning and a further 40% attained the mildly retarded level. Following treatment, most children joined mainstream school. When children were discharged to their parents, they continued to improve. Those who remained in institution tended to regress.

Conclusion – a large proportion of the autistic children were ‘transformed into normal children’.



  • Therapy provided at home wasn’t observed and this could have been a confounding variable, as they could have had different approaches to therapy
  • The study compared different intensities of the same therapy rather than comparing different treatments
  • Such intensive behaviour therapy is expensive and not available to all children
  • Unethical because it involves control and manipulation
  • Progress is slow and behaviour often regresses once treatment stops
  • Studies are small so lack generalisability


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.

Revision notes for Psychology AS Unit 2 – Obedience

Variations of Asch’s experiment

Size of majority – the larger the number of people disagreeing, the more likely the individual is to conform

Task difficulty – the more difficult the task is, the more higher the likelihood of conformity

Unanimity (agreement by all people) – results showed that a break in unanimity, even when the answer is wrong, reduced conformity

Self-esteem – the lower the self-esteem, the greater the likelihood of that person conforming

Anonymity (answering anonymously) – writing down the answer privately showed conformity levels decreasing


Why people obey (variations of Milgram’s experiment/situational factors)

Location – results showed that when the experiment was done in a run-down building, the levels of obedience decreased but when the experiment was done in a prestigious university, the levels of obedience were high

Proximity of the victim/learner – the more direct the experience with the victim, the lower the levels of obedience and the less direct the experience with the victim, the higher the levels of obedience

Proximity of the authority figure – when the experimenter left the room, the levels of obedience dropped

Social support – the levels of obedience fell as more stooges refused to obey


Other reasons why people obey

Personal responsibility – we feel less responsible for our own actions if we are obeying the commands of an authority figure therefore explaining the high levels of obedience (agentic state – feeling under the control of an authority figure). But when the experimenter left the room, the participants felt more responsible for their actions (autonomous state – feeling responsible)

Perception of a legitimate authority – we accept that people who are seen as legitimate or justified authorities have the right to tell us what to do. The experimenter at the university was accepted as legitimate which is why the obedience levels were high

Social norms – the participants had agreed to a social contract and therefore felt that they had to be polite to the authority figure and obey


Dispositional (personality) factors of why people obey to authority

The idea of an authoritarian personality has these characteristics:

Hostility to people perceived to be of lower status

Respect for people perceived to be of higher status

A preoccupation with power

Blind respect for authority


Why people disobey/defiance of authority

Social support – participant was more likely to disobey when they had support from others

Role models – when defiance is modelled by someone who is openly disobeying, others gradually follow and therefore obedience levels fall

Personal experience including education – some participants in Milgram’s study had experienced a concentration camp so refused to give electric shocks

Questioning motives – some people question the motive of the people in authority but Milgram’s study was accepted as being of scientific value at the time

Loss of freedom – some participants feel manipulated and controlled and disobey if they feel that their freedom of choice is being threatened


Feldman and Scheibe study evaluation

  • Low external validity because the study was carried out on students only
  • Deception due to the use of stooges
  • Protection of participant because some of them felt embarrassed to complete the questionnaire
  • They had the right to withdraw but didn’t know that they could