Psychology A level allows students to appreciate the scientific nature of Psychology and to engage in contemporary debates regarding human behaviour, developing an appreciation of the various, sometimes conflicting, approaches to Psychology. Students are required to use their knowledge to explain key issues such as, ‘Are criminals born or made?’ and ‘Is eyewitness testimony reliable?’
The course is assessed in three exams at the end of Year 13.
The Pearson Edexcel Level 3 Advanced GCE in Psychology comprises the following units:
- Foundations in Psychology: The first year focuses on the areas that have laid the foundations of modern psychological understanding.
- Applications of Psychology: The second year focuses on how our understanding of psychology is applied in society today including Clinical Psychology and Child Psychology.
- Psychological skills: The final unit focuses on summarise the psychological skills and research methods covered in the qualification as well as the major issues and debates in Psychology.
Foundations of Psychology (Year 1)
In Psychology many different approaches are taken to understand and study human behaviour. In this unit, students study 4 main approaches to human behaviour. Within each approach they learn about the methods used to study behaviour, some key studies and important theories and explanations of behaviour. They also use psychological knowledge to explain key issues in society and you will conduct their own research.
This approach understands human behaviour as a result of the way we process information. Cognition is our awareness and understanding of the world. Cognition therefore affects the way we respond to an event. Cognitivists focus on the mind and its processes such as memory and forgetting. Case studies of brain damaged patients are studied to consider issues such as semantic knowledge with bilateral medial and lateral temporal lobe regions. A key issue studied is: ‘How can knowledge of working memory be used to inform the treatment of dyslexia?’
Understands human behaviour by examining relationships between individuals, groups, societies and cultures. Social Psychologists are interested in behaviours such as obedience and prejudice, including discussions regarding the extent to which personality, gender and culture affect behaviour. A key issue studied is: ‘How can social psychology be used to explain heroism?’
This approach explains behaviour as resulting from biological mechanisms such as the nervous and endocrine systems and ultimately genetics. Biological psychologists consider the role of the neurotransmitters, the structure of the brain, hormones and the role of evolution to explain specific behaviours such as aggression. A classic study by Raine et al (1977) will be studied to consider brain abnormalities in murderers and a key issue studied is: ‘What are the implications for society if aggression is found to be the cause of nature not nurture?’
Behaviourism explains human behaviour as a product of a learning experience. These theories will consider the effects of conditioning, reinforcement, punishment, the role of reward and social learning on the organism. How learning theories explain the acquisition of phobias will be considered as well as treatments for phobias. Research into how violent video games diminish our humanity will be studied as well as investigations into how eating behaviour and attitudes are affected by prolonged exposure to television. A key issue studied as: ‘Is the influence of role models and celebrities something that causes anorexia?’
Applications of Psychology (Year 2)
In this unit students learn that Child Psychology is about the development of the individual from before birth to adolescence and beyond, in that what we experience as children affects our later development. To consider the importance of attachment, case studies of children raised in extreme isolation are studied so that potential consequences of neglect can be investigated. Autism is studied in detail in terms of features, potential causes and therapies available. Practical work includes an investigation into the relationship between early childhood experiences and later adult relationships.
In this unit students learn about explaining and treating mental health issues and the different ways of explaining and treating them. Schizophrenia is studied in detail as well as either depression or anorexia nervosa. Case studies of individuals with mental health issues are also studied, including Lavarenne et al (2013) Containing psychotic patients with fragile boundaries. A key issue studies is: ‘How do different societies define mental health disorders?’
Psychological skills (Year 2)
This unit is a synoptic one which draws on the other areas of the course in order to understand conceptual and methodological issues. Several of the major issues and debates in Psychology are considered in this unit:
- Ethical issues in research (animal and human)
- Reductionism versus holism
- Psychology as a science
- Cultural and gender issues within psychological research
- The role of nature and nurture within Psychology
- The use of Psychology in social control
- The use of psychological knowledge within society
- Issues related to socially sensitive research