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Psychology

Psychology is the science of the mind. The human mind is the most complex machine on Earth. It is the source of all thought and behaviour. Psychology lies at the intersection of many other different disciplines, including biology, medicine, linguistics, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and artificial intelligence (AI).

How do psychologists study the mind?

We cannot see someone thinking. Neither can we observe their emotions, memories, perceptions nor dreams. So psychologists adopt a similar approach to scientists in other fields. Nuclear physicists interested in the structure of atoms cannot observe protons, electrons and neutrons directly. Instead, they predict how these elements should behave and devise experiments to confirm or refute their expectations. We use human behaviour as a clue to the workings of the mind. Although we cannot observe the mind directly, everything we do, think, feel and say is determined by the functioning of the mind.

Is psychology a science?

Yes, as with biology, chemistry and physics, it is a systematic study through observation and experiment.

Is psychology important in other subjects?

Yes, psychological research is used in biology, medicine, linguistics, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, artificial intelligence (AI), business, politics, media, art and design, sports and religion.

For example, neuropsychology is allied with biology, since the aim is to map different areas of the brain and explain how each underpins different brain functions like memory or language. Other branches of psychology are more closely connected with medicine. Health psychologists help people manage disease and pain. Similarly, clinical psychologists help alleviate the suffering caused by mental disorders.

Are there different types of psychology then?

Yes, there are many branches of psychology which specialise in different fields of human behaviour and interaction. Here are just some:

Clinical psychology, Cognitive psychology, Business psychology, Child psychology, Forensic psychology, Health psychology, Neuropsychology, Sport psychology, Parapsychology, Evolutionary psychology and Social psychology.

What do all these branches of psychology have in common?

They have a common desire to explain the behaviour of individuals based on the workings of the mind. In every area, psychologists must apply scientific methodology. They formulate theories, test hypotheses through observation and experiment, and analyse the findings with statistical techniques that help them identify important findings.

Course Description

At the Vaughan we follow the new Edexcel specification

AS Psychology (Year 1) - Foundations of Psychology

In Year One you will learn about four Topic Areas in psychology: these are social psychology, cognitive psychology, biological psychology and learning theories.

In each of these four Topic Areas you will study a key question for society and the psychology that helps to explain it. You will also cover selected content in that Topic Area, selected studies that connect to the content including one classical study, and selected methodologies looking at how psychology works. You will also carry out a practical investigation in each Topic Area, in which you will use some of the methodologies which you have covered and in which you can find out for yourself how psychology can help to understand people. You will also learn how to use statistical tests.

Each Topic Area uses the same structure:

  • Content – Theories and research
  • Methodology link
  • Studies – Classic and contemporary
  • Key question
  • Practical investigation

Paper 1 (1 hour 30 mins) Total 70 Marks

Social psychology is about how people live in groups and interact with one another. You will cover obedience to those in authority, and why someone might not obey, as well as whether our personality makes us obey or whether it is the situation we are in that makes us obey. You will cover prejudice too, looking at factors that lead us to become prejudiced and to discriminate against those in other groups.  

Cognitive psychology is about how we process information, such as using language, using memory and problem-solving. The focus in your course is on memory, including, for example, how we use short-term memory and how we form long-term memories. Memory is an important part of processing information, and it can relate to successful learning by studying as well as other applications. 

Paper 2 (1 hour 30 mins) Total 70 Marks

Biological psychology is about the brain as well as aspects of our physical make-up such as genes, the concept of survival of the fittest, and hormones. Your course will focus on aggression, looking at what parts of the brain relate to aggression and how hormones link to aggression in particular. More general biological issues are also considered including the theory of evolution.

Learning theories require us to look at our behaviour and question how we learnt it; including how we develop phobias, learn to associate things with people and how we respond to praise and punishment. Learning theories are interested in how we learn through the actionsof others, for example learning through imitation of our role models. Learning theorists then apply this knowledge to treating phobias and shaping behaviour.

A-level Psychology (Year 2) - Applications of Psychology and Psychological Skills

Year Two has two parts.

In the first part, you will study two more Topic Areas, both of which are applications of psychology. You will study clinical psychology, which looks at mental health and mental disorders; and health psychology, which looks at psychological and behavioral processes in health, illness, and healthcare.

Each application uses the same structure as in Year One:

  • Content-Theories and research
  • Methodology link
  • Studies
  • Key question
  • Practical investigation

When studying clinical and health psychology you will draw upon the foundations of psychology which you covered in Year One. For example, in clinical psychology you will look at biological explanations for schizophrenia, drawing upon your study of social psychology for the impact of social learning theory for addictions.

Applications of Psychology (2 hours)

Clinical psychology covers mental health issues and in your course you will look at schizophrenia (features, causes and treatments), and OCD (features, causes and treatments). You will look at how the media portray mental health issues and how developing an understanding of types of mental illnesses helps professionals give the appropriate treatments.

Health psychology considers drug misuse. This continues from biological psychology in Year One, where the way drugs work in the brain is covered. Alcohol, heroin and nicotine are the three drugs focused on in health psychology, including how they work and treatments offered. A health campaign is also considered to show how health psychology incorporates prevention.

In the second part, you will study four more Topic Areas, all of which are applications of psychology. You will study social psychology, which looks how people live in groups, cognitive psychology looking at how we process information, biological psychology, which looks at the brain and physical make-up and learning theories which looks at behaviour.

Foundations of Psychology (2 hours)

Social psychology is about how people live in groups and interact with one another. You will cover obedience to those in authority, and why someone might not obey, as well as whether our personality makes us obey or whether it is the situation we are in that makes us obey. You will cover prejudice too, looking at factors that lead us to become prejudiced and to discriminate against those in other groups.

Cognitive psychology is about how we process information, such as using language, using memory and problem solving. The focus in your course is on memory, including, for example, how we use short-term memory and how we form long-term memories. Memory is an important part of processing information, and it can relate to successful learning by studying as well as other applications.

Biological psychology is about the brain as well as aspects of our physical make up such as genes, the concept of survival of the fittest, and hormones. Your course will focus on aggression, looking at what parts of the brain relate to aggression and how hormones link to aggression in particular. More general biological issues are also considered including the theory of evolution.

Learning theories involve looking at our behaviour and what leads to specific behaviours, including how we develop a phobia, and how we response to praise and react to punishment. You will see that we learn a lot by imitating our role models, for example. Learning theories can help to generate ideas for treating phobias and you will look at those too.

(Studies are to a deeper level than AS incorporating issues and debates)

Psychological skills (2 hours)

Psychological skills cover all of the research methods material you have covered over the two years and review the classic studies you will have covered. There are also issues and debates that will be introduced in each Topic Area and will be drawn together in the second section of your Year Two studies.

The structure for the Psychological Skills section is:

  • Methodology
  • Review of studies
  • Issues and debates

Here is a short summary of the Psychological Skills section of your Year Two course.

Methodology is the study of how psychology is done and you will cover methods in each of the *six Topic Areas in your course. The methodology section of the Psychological Skills section of your course gives all the methods you have covered so that you can revise it all in preparation for your exams.

Review of studies refers to reviewing all of the studies which you will have covered over the two years of your course. To make this manageable there is special focus on what are called 'classic studies'. For each Topic Area you will cover one classic study. You will cover *six Topic Areas so you can revise six classic studies for this section of Psychological Skills as well as drawing upon your other studies, covers issues and debates found in psychology. They are in your course at the end of each Topic Area to show how they fit in with that Topic Area.

Then in the Psychological Skills section they are reviewed, again for revision purposes and for you to draw your learning together. For example, you can discuss the nature-nurture issue drawing on your learning about twin studies in biological psychology, for example, and about how our behaviour is shaped by our environment in learning theories. You will see that we have elements of genes and nature in us and also elements of us come from our learning from our environment and experience. Other issues and debates include how psychology can contribute to social control (perhaps you think this is not a good thing?) and how psychology researches in socially sensitive areas (perhaps you think this is a good thing?).

Ethics in psychological research are important, as are issues when researching with animals, and one issue in your course is 'ethics', which you may well have expected.

*The six Topic Areas you will cover include social, cognitive and biological psychology with learning theories in Year One, and clinical psychology and health psychology in Year Two

The Psychology Department organises various extra-curricular activities. For example; we were the first Department in the country to offer brain dissections for our Advanced Level students.  We also have regular visiting speakers such as lecturers from Kings College Psychology Department and talks from practising psychologists in Education and Mental Health. Lastly, the Department has established excellent links and offers trips to both the Freud Museum in Hampstead and the Bethlem Royal Hospital, London, the oldest psychiatric institution in the world.

The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School
Psychology Department - January 2018