Hey there guys! I hope all of you achieved the grades you wanted. This is just a quick post to say that I’m off to uni after achieving 4A* in my exams (I know, I’m as shocked as anyone else!!) and that I won’t be posting on this blog any more. I will however be keeping the blog up for future A2 students.

Best of luck in everything you do!



AQA LITB3 Revision – Gothic and The Uncanny/Psychoanalysis

Hey! I hope revision is going well for everyone reading! So, here are my notes on The Uncanny/Das Unheimliche within the scope of the gothic. As ever, hope it helps.

Because the LITB3 exam requires a lot of perceptive and original interpretation to achieve the higher bands, it’s useful to look at texts like Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, Macbeth and even The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale through the lens of different critical perspectives. Aside from the interpretation of the gothic genre as sensationalist, serving no other purpose than excess and titillation, it is also a plastic, ambivalent discourse that can be used in many ways and to different ends in conveying a number of social, political, cultural messages. For this reason, psychoanalysis provides a theoretical framework through which we can read the gothic, that is perhaps more relevant and less orthodox than the ever-predictible feminist theory, which is applied so much to Carter’s work in the exam, to the extent that people tend overlook what actually makes the text ‘gothic’.

So, to understand the uncanny, it’s useful to have a basic grasp of the concepts underlying psychoanalysis, Freudian theory in particular. Here is a link to Freud’s essay on The Uncanny/Das Unheimliche that should help with this if you want to get a full understanding, but I’ll break down the basic ideas here:

The Unconscious

  • Division of the psyche that contains thoughts that we are unaware of – this is gothic in that it deals with the sexual, primitive and aggressive urges that lie beneath the civilised exterior that we portray to society. These urges motivate our behaviour in powerful ways that we are unmindful of.
  • The unconscious is dynamic, boundless and unknowable.
  • It reveals itself through jokes, parapraxis (slips of the tongue – a ‘Freudian slip’), and dreams (this is particularly important for the gothic).
  • Site of past childhood and developmental traumas.
  • It contains disturbing material that we need to keep out of our awareness – they are too threatening for us to acknowledge. Thus, this information needs to be repressed in order for individuals to function (otherwise – they are mad/criminal)
  • Exerts compulsions and repetitive behaviours.
  • Ambivalent – the competition between civilised conscious thoughts and sex/death instincts – this conflict manifests in the behaviour of many gothic characters.

‘Das Unheimliche’ / ‘The Uncanny’ (all quotes taken from the article I cited earlier in the post)

  • ‘The word ‘heimlich’ is not unambiguous, but belongs to two sets of ideas, which, without being contradictory, are yet vey different: on the one hand, it means what is familiar and agreeable, and on the other, what is concealed and kept out of sight’
  • So, Unheimlich can be defined as ‘The name for everything that ought to have remained…secret and hidden but has come to light’
  • Heimlich is a word meaning of which develops in the direction of ambivalence until it finally coincides with its opposite, unheimlich’
  • Understanding of the uncanny in relation to the gothic can be simplified as follows – ‘that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar‘ and ‘nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression

The subject of The Uncanny and its manifestations within gothic literature

  • Uncanny feeling is ‘produced when the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced‘.
  • Uncanny as disguise/disguised – what is beneath the disguise?
  • The subject of the uncanny… is undoubtedly related to what is frightening – to what arouses dread and horror equally certainly, too, the word is not always used in a clearly definable sense, so that it tends to coincide with what excites fear in general. Yet we may expect that a special core of feeling is present which justifies the use of a special conceptual term. One is curious to know what this common core is which allows us to distinguish as ‘uncanny’ certain things which lie within the field of what is frightening’.
  • Freud also lists a number of more specific sources of the uncanny including: ‘intellectual uncertainty, doubles, deja vu, coincidences and repetition, omnipotence of thoughts (recalling our surmounted belief in the power of thoughts to affect the material world), the blurring of the boundary between imagination and reality, incest, being buried alive, ghosts and death itself’.
  • Furthermore, castration; doubles; doppelgängers; split personality; mirrors; involuntary repetition or the compulsion to repeat (Wiederholungszwang).
  • The uncanny evil eye; scopophilia and the love of looking; this way, the uncanny can also be related to feminist theory, so if you’re not quite ready to lay to rest the ghost of Angela Carter and her second wave collective, then this might be something to mention! This fear that a person is able to inflict harm upon another being merely by a glance’ ; the ‘substitutive relation between the eye and the male organ […]” particularly in the context of lost vision and dismemberment’.

Macbeth and The Uncanny

In Macbeth, The Uncanny appears in the following forms, and psychoanalysis can be applied accordingly:

  • The uncanny feeling is produced when the distinction between Macbeth’s imagination and uncivilised thoughts of Duncan’s ‘murther which yet is fantastical’ come into fruition as he commits the deed of ‘treasonous malice’.

Put simply, the distinction between his imagination and reality – his brain, which is fundamentally ‘wrought with things forgotten…,’ containing disturbing introspections which he wishes to repress, is obliterated. There is evident conflict between the ‘black and deep desires’ of the psychological id and conscious, rational thoughts of a man who notes that Duncan ‘hath honoured  [him] of late’. As these repressed thoughts creep into the conscious mind, the result is terror – a ‘horrid image that doth unfix [Macbeth’s] hair and make[s his] seated heart knock at his [ribs].’ Though at this stage, uncivilised thought and ‘present fears are less than horrible imaginings’ – as he kills Duncan, Macbeth ‘murther[s] sleep’ and progressively descends into a downward spiral and state of psychological unrest. Furthermore, the notion of the power of thoughts and their ability to affect the material world is significant to a psychoanalytic reading of the play. Macbeth’s subversive thoughts – in the sense that they subvert hierarchy – ‘[shake so his single state of man],’  and as the body can be considered a microcosm for society, the affects of these thoughts causing the earth to become ‘feverous,’ ‘shake’ and even result in literal disruption as ‘the chimneys were blown down’ represents an uncanny destruction of nature.

  • Also, the notion of disguise and concealment is integral to Macbeth (see my essay here on darkness and concealment). Not only through literal concealment, darkness and equivocation, but also Macbeth’s transformation, as he adopts an ‘otherness’ in order to commit his bloody deeds. There is plenty of imagery relating to appearance and reality as a result – Macbeth takes on a ‘vizard‘ to mask his depravity; Lady Macbeth instructs him to ‘look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t‘. The recurrence of ‘false face‘ and duality is inherently Freudian.
  • Coincidences and repetition, in particular the echoing of the ‘fair is foul and foul is fair chiasmus‘ through Macbeth’s own rhetoric (‘so foul and fair a day I have not seen‘), as this sentiment resonates throughout the entirety of the play.
  • Similarly, Lady Macbeth straddles, uncannily, the border of nightmare and reality, exerting compulsive and repetitive behaviours as she expels the damaging content of her unconscious mind though somnambulism.

She suffers the following; ‘A great perturbation in nature, to receive at once the benefit of sleep, and do the effects of watching. In this slumbery agitation, besides her walking and other actual performances…’. Sleep is a process by which we recover from the hardships of daily life – ‘sleep that knits up th’ravelled sleeve of care‘. Yet, as ‘only the innocent sleep,’ this familiar process is distorted and changed into something horrific; unfamiliar, or uncanny, even. Her repetitive behaviours and compulsions also adhere to Freud’s notion of the unheimlich – as repressed memories of Duncan’s bloody murder creep into her subconscious, she begins to ‘rub her hands,’ an ‘accustomed action,’ to rid herself of the blood that she recalls from the scene.

  • Again, repetition is significant with Duncan/Macbeth, as Duncan notes in a sort of ominous and uncanny proleptic irony that there is ‘no art to find the mind’s construction in the face’ prior to his murder at the hands of Macbeth, who notes that ‘false face must hide what the false heart doth know’ chillingly soon after. Coincidence and fate is also uncanny within the play. The past appears to repeat itself, as the original Thane Of Cawdor, ‘a gentleman on whom [Duncan built] an absolute trust’ is similar to the originally ‘noble’ Macbeth in that he commits treacherous acts and succumbs to his eventual death.
  • The uncanny evil eye – This fear that a person is able to inflict harm upon another being merely by a glance’ ; the ‘substitutive relation between the eye and the male organ […]” particularly in the context of lost vision and dismemberment’. – let the eye wink at the hand and yet let that be which the eye fears‘ – Macbeth fears the eradication of his masculinity and wishes to overcome the moral and ethical consequences of committing murder, which would cause him psychological unrest if he were able to physically see the act.
  • Finally, Banquo’s ghost is also an apt example of the uncanny within the play – he appears in an unfamiliar form which is evidently troubling for Macbeth, resulting in his terror and the ‘very painting of [his] fear’. Thus, as he begs for the ghost to ‘never shake thy gory locks at me, thou canst say I did it!’ he evidently engages in both the denial/repression of his aggressive and uncivilised actions, motivated from the unconscious/id and absolute fear.

The Bloody Chamber and The Uncanny

Because the comment I received about the uncanny specified Macbeth, I’m not going to specify psychoanalysis in The Bloody Chamber in quite so much detail but I’d look out for the following:

  • See my essay on base instincts/subconscious desires here, or my essay on the beasts as more humane than the humans here to read about the uncanny in The Tiger’s Bride. One thing I didn’t really touch on was the full significance of scopophilia and the male gaze and also, the role of the automaton, but I’m sure that’s something you can look into.
  • The Erl-King for me is the most obviously psychoanalytic of all the texts in the collection – the whole story has the potentiality to be a construct of the narrator and a manifestation of her unconscious desire (‘he came alive from the desire of the woods’ ‘all perspectives converged’ ‘invented distance’ ‘imaginary traveller’ – she is addicted and desires the Erl-King, as shown through the imagery of the ‘nicotine’ etc. etc.’.
  • In the titular story, look out for imagery of mirrors, gothic duplicity with the Marquis, references to scopophilia and eyes (Those of the Marquis, contrasting with those of the more benign Jean-Yves – he evades the male gaze, as though he is blind, his eyes are ‘singularly sweet’).
  • The Snow Child is evidently open to psychoanalytic interpretation, due to the dream-like atmosphere and periodic references to desire and aggression. The Count is ‘weeping’ as he succumbs to his own unconscious desire – is he helpless in his depravity? The Countess is similarly ambivalent – she ‘watched him narrowly’ and resigns to her own aggressive instincts.
  • Finally, all of the stories evoke the latent content of fairytales –  childhood stories appear to be subverted into horrific adult nightmares, but Carter is merely extracting the latent content. This is uncanny in that the terror is already underlying the prose that we have read as children, once again, showing the gothic to be a pliable genre that we can use to project didactic messages for our own means, whether they be political, feminist, social etcetera.

AQA LITB3 PPQ – JANUARY 2012 – ‘Carter explores base instincts rather than subconscious desires’

Probably one of the better essays that I’ve written timed/without the book. I got it marked today and it’s a band 6 response, hope it helps!

In ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ it is true that Carter explores base instincts, such as those of the narrator’s father in ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ the depraved sexual primacy of the Count in ‘The Snow Child’ and the malign sexual instincts of The Erl-King. Yet, it is debatable that the exploration of base instincts are favoured by Carter. In fact, in the case of the Count, it could be perceived that base instincts arise from the subconscious mind and that the two are intrinsically linked. Furthermore, by considering the benign nature of ‘La Bestia[’s]’ instincts, in addition to the interpretation of ‘The Erl-King’ as an exploration of the narrator’s subconscious desires, it is clear that Carter does not simply wish to explore base instincts. Ultimately, the two concepts are not mutually exclusive – the ambiguity of Carter’s prose allows her to explore the relationship between the two.

In ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ through the use of parallelism and the motif of the gothic double, Carter explores the base greed of the narrator’s father, which seems to be as instinctive to him as the animalistic ‘ferocity’ of the tiger, in order to convey the innate human tendency to succumb to the psychological id. Within the exposition, the narrator immediately alludes to her father’s base greed through the asyndeton of ‘his gaming, his whoring, his agonising repentances’ that led to the death of her mother. He is characterised as ‘a man in the last stages of debauchery,’ sensually indulging in ‘gambling’ and ‘perpetual pleasure’ and Carter elucidates that such base behaviours are instinctive by utilising the motif of the mask, characterising ‘La Bestia’ as an inverted gothic double, resulting in an ironic caricature of human behaviour. As the tiger wears ‘a mask with a man’s face painted on it,’ where ‘one profile is the mirror image of the other’ Carter echoes Freud’s concept of the uncanny, offering the reader an uncomfortable, yet inherently familiar reflection of uncivilised human instincts, as the tiger is literally a beast behind a guise of civilisation. Perhaps Carter is addressing how humans are either ‘fighting a battle with [themselves]’ as the tiger is, or instinctively succumbing to base and ‘perpetual pleasure’.

However, though Carter does explore some instincts that are base in ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ she does not present all instincts as such. As the narrator undergoes a metamorphosis in the story’s denouement, as she ‘shrug[s] the drops off [her] beautiful fur’ and assumes an animal form, she learns from the benign and pure instincts of the the beast, who is actually a ‘delicate creature,’ as he offers her an escape from her entrapment and ‘balked simulation of life’ by encouraging her to shed superficial appearances in order to achieve liberation, as foreshadowed in the exposition by the ‘introspective’ setting in which he lives – his desire to see the narrator ‘unclothed’ is clearly not the product of base and sexual instincts, but of instincts altogether more positive and natural. Nudity is depicted in a completely un-sexualised manner, disconnected from any baseness, as the narrator who was once ‘unaccustomed to [her] own flesh’ and ‘unused to [her] own skin’ evades the objectification of a society ‘who take no account of [her] existence’ as she ‘peels down to the cold, white meat of [her] contract.’ She is able to find solace and rebirth in a ‘peaceable kingdom’ in which the oppressive base instincts of men ‘need not be [her] extinction.’

Furthermore, similarly to the way in which the narrator’s father succumbs to his greed in ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ it could be interpreted that the Count acts on his ‘base’ and sexual instincts by having sex with the young girl in ‘The Snow Child,’ yet, as she is a manifestation of his subconscious desire, it is more likely that Carter does not favour the exploration of base instincts, but sees the two concepts in relation to one another. As the Count ‘thrust his virile member into the dead girl,’ helplessly ‘weeping’ in the process, it could be perceived that such base actions are instinctive and do come naturally to him, yet it would not only be controversial to suggest that engaging in rape, necrophilia and incest is instinctive, but also, inaccurate. Due to the fact that the girl is ‘the child of his desire,’ manifesting as soon as ‘[the Count] completed his description,’ it is a likelier interpretation that she is therefore, a product of male subconscious desire, as suggested by the anaphora as the Count ‘wish[es he] had a girl as white as snow,’ ‘… as red as blood,’ ‘… [and] as black as that bird’s feather.’ Carter explores how the depraved and unsettling desires of the Count interact with his instincts, as he acts on such sexual impulses, as the girl is ‘stark naked,’ serving no other real purpose than for the Count to fulfil the fantasies of his subconscious, as she dissipates, ‘[beginning] to melt’ as soon as he has raped her.

Within ‘The Erl-King,’ through the narrative voice and the setting of the woods, Carter arguably continues to focus on subconscious desires, rather than base instincts, yet this time, those of the female. Though the Erl-King is characterised as an enticing figure, leading the narrator to indulge in her sexual instincts in ‘profane mysteries under the leaves,’ as ‘he came alive from the desire of the woods’ he is ultimately a construct of her subconscious desire. This sentiment is furthered through the narrative voice, as she deems herself an ‘imaginary traveller’ and alludes to the ‘invented distance’ of the woods, she evidently desires the ‘embracements’ of the Erl-King in spite of the ‘grievous harm’ she knows he is able to inflict. The denouement of the story affirms this interpretation as the Erl-King proclaims ‘Mother, Mother, you have murdered me!’ as she figuratively ‘murder[s]’ and suppresses the desires that she has previously been ‘mother’ to.

Yet, it could be considered that whilst Carter does explore the subconscious desires of the narrator, she does this in order to expose how females perceive the base instincts of men. The Erl-King is characterised as a powerful and ‘irrevocable’ figure, able to lead the narrator astray, and Carter alludes to his base intentions by utilising intertextuality from Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ as she equates his actions the ‘…thirsty, cankered..’ ones of the goblins of the poem. However, it is inferred that she will be ‘trapped in her illusion’ and her own subconscious desires, as she is essentially, aware of the Erl-King’s dangerous sexuality. Carter proposes that females metaphorically ‘[lose] themselves in the woods’ – it is their perceptions and toleration of male sexual instincts that are more damaging and thus, she explores both subconscious desires and base instincts in relation to one another.

Ultimately, Carter does not explore base instincts at the cost of subconscious desires, but views them as joint, exploring the relationship between the two. Thus, she shows how subconscious desires can be equally sordid and dangerous, and that baseness need not always arise from instinct.

AQA LITB4 – Further and Independent reading – Notes on the canon

If you’re preparing your critical anthology coursework piece, you might find these helpful. The vast majority of these notes are taken directly from the anthology, but I’ve divided them into sub-sections for ease of reading and included some extra content that isn’t included.


  • Aesthetics = refined pleasure = art = beauty
  • Derives from a Greek word meaning ‘things perceptible to the sense,’ ‘sensory impressions’.
  • The concept of ‘good taste’ is melded with idealised and socially elitist notions of ‘the sublime’.
  • At its crudest, an aesthetic sense was simply a sign of good breeding.
  • Art for art’s sake” – is the aesthetic nothing more, nor less, than a sensitivity to the sublime and beautiful and an aversion to the ordinary and the ugly?
  • The intrinsic value of art, and the only “true” art, is divorced from any didactic, moral or utilitarian function.
  • Nb: Think Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’ – you can set up some interesting debate with aesthetic value here. Wilde claims in the preface that ‘all art is quite useless,’ adopting the mantra of ‘art for art’s sake,’ yet the story is rather ironically, didactic. I’d probably use this for my coursework piece if I hadn’t already used it for my comparative essay! 
  • Canon of literature = high art
  • Popular writing/mass media = treated as artisanal, applied, commercial and ephemeral and therefore, left to communication, cultural and media studies.
  • There is an inherent willingness to play down the fact that many works that are now canonised as timeless classics (Ie. Shakespeare/Dickens etc) were highly popular, commercial and designedly ephemeral in their own day.

Judgement and value

  • Not all literature excites critical interest and comment
  • Literary critics have usually assumed that the texts which seem to repay special attention by many readers over a long period of time, thereby attaining ‘classic’ status, do so because they are intrinsically valuable.
  • Value is seen as a quality residing within the texts themselves – critics stress the importance of characteristics such as aesthetic unity, complexity, literary language, subject-matter and canonical status.
  • Literary texts which are assumed to be of special value are generally characterised by complexity of plot, structure, language and ideas.


  • In this context, used as a synonym of value.
  • But, there are many different forms that ‘complexity’ can take;
  • The existence of a skilfully constructed plot and the co-existence of this plot with sub-plots that mirror and highlight the events and themes of the main one.
  • Language is also typically considered to be complex – writers don’t simply choose ‘ordinary words,’ but instead, words with resonance, historical associations, beauty, or ‘rightness’ for the particular context.
  • The language, structure, plot ideas etc. can be seen to constitute the aesthetic unity of the text.
  • If these elements aren’t cohesively linked to form the same overall structure within a text ad the reader is unable to find complex, unified patterns, the text will not be regarded as high literature and will be judged to be flawed.


  • Language in valued texts is described as elegant, witty, patterned controlled; in short, the author is considered to have taken care in his or her choice, and the reader takes pleasure in the skill which the author displays.
  • Literary language, for critics such as the Russian formalists, is seen to constitute a separate type of language where the author plays conscious with the possibilities of expression i order to produce verbal art that has aesthetic qualities.

Subject matter

  • Generally considered to be serious, dealing with moral and philosophical topics of acknowledged importance.
  • Valued texts are supposed to give the reader an insight into fundamental questions which are of universal concern, such as the nature of evil, the corrupting effect of money, the value of love, etc.
  • Comic texts are rarely accorded status unless they appear to discuss such universal themes.
  • Valued texts = universal themes = durability. Eg. Shakespeare’s texts have significance not only for his time, but for all time.
  • When texts evidently discuss specific political questions in detail (political polemic), they are generally, at odds with literary worth.
  • Nb: Orwell’s ‘1984’ might be a text to consider here (or other dystopian text, but this one springs to mind as it is generally considered as canonical). It clearly discusses very specific issues, so perhaps the canon is somewhat more flexible than we give it credit for.
  • Satire is valued for its observations about humankind in general, not more specific criticisms of specific societies.

The Canon

  • Texts considered to be of the highest value.
  • Constantly changing (especially in schools), but generally taught in schools, colleges and universities.
  • Writers/dramatists poets. etc. belonging to the canon: Shakespeare, Milton and Chaucer.
  • Others debated on being included: Dryden, Lawrence, Pope, Swift, Woolf, Joyce, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Jonson, Dickens, Hardy, Burns, Austen, Eliot and the Brontes.
  • Most of these writers are male, middle/upper-class, dead and are all white.
  • Is it a coincidence that most of these writers belong to the same ethnic, socio-economic and gender group, or does the canon support ruling ideologies?

Perspectives on value

– Barthes

  • Shifted the attention from assuming that ‘value’ resides within the text and focused on ‘the pleasure of the text’.
  • Not scholarly enjoyment, but the sexualised pleasure of reading.
  • Realist texts = readerly.
  • In reading ‘readerly’/realist texts, the reader begins not to be aware of the fact that he/she is reading and starts to get caught up in the pleasure of the narrative.
  • Barthes prefers ‘writerly’ texts (experimental/avant garde texts) which force the reader to ‘work’ and ‘play’ more in rode to make sense of them.
  • In ‘writerly’ texts, more attention is drawn to the process of writing (Nb: does this sound familiar??!?!?!) ; we are unable to become lost in the narrative in the same unthinking way as with readerly texts.
  • Though Barthes claimed to be opposed in constructing hierarchies, there does seem to be a value judgement made between readerly and writerly texts.
  • Yet, his writing about the pleasure of the text does question the traditional notion of canonical texts as somehow intrinsically more valuable than others.
  • Here, the reader plays an important role in attributing value to a text.

– Eagleton / Marxism

  • Attacks the concept of the canon, arguing that texts become canonical precisely as they serve to support the ruling ideology.
  • He doesn’t want to dispense with the notion of value completely, since he also thinks that there are literary texts which question or ‘escape’ ideology, and so, force the reader to consider his or her position, and perhaps lead to a form of consciousness raising.
  • Ie. Within The Women’s Movement, feminist novels written by Fay Weldon, Jeanette Winterson, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood and Angela Carter have been very important in bringing about changes in women’s thinking.
  • These literary texts have brought about a questioning of certain ideological assumptions about the position of women and can therefore, be seen as ‘valuable’ for this reason.

– Michael Foucault

  • Questions the idea of attributing value to texts at all.
  • He argues that literary texts are really, empty texts, containing less rather than more than other texts.
  • They display ‘enunciative poverty’.
  • With literary texts, critics have to work hardest in order to fill gaps that the text leaves gaping open.
  • It is the critics themselves, writing scholarly articles and books on canonical writers, who repeat over and over the message which the text itself failed to tell.
  • Foucault also questions the notion that the writer is in total control of what is written.
  • He draws attention to the importance of other factors in the writing process, such as the common-sense knowledge of time, literary traditions and the economic and literary pressures which lead the writer to write within certain genres or styles, and on certain subjects.

Additional Notes

  • Deciding what belongs in the canon – nostalgia, aesthetics, political status etc.
  • Should it be timeless?
  • unlike the other arts, [literature] can criticise itself. Pieces of art can parody other pieces, and painting can caricature paintings. But this does not amount to a total rejection of music or painting. Literature, however, can totally reject literature, and in this it shows itself more powerful and self-aware than any other art’ – John Carey, What Good Are The Artss? (2000) (p.175)
  • ‘…the so-called ‘literary canon’, the unquestioned ‘great tradition’ of the ‘national literature’, has to be recognised as a construct, fashioned by particular people for particular reasons at a certain time… ‘Our’ Homer is not identical with the Homer of the Middle Ages, nor ‘our’ Shakespeare with that of his contemporaries; it is rather that different historical periods have constructed a ‘different’ Homer and Shakespeare for their own purposes, and found in these texts elements to value or devalue, though not necessarily the same ones.
  • Some texts are born literary, some achieve literariness, and some have literariness thrust upon them.

Some Opinions

  • Whilst the canon is essentially an elitist, perhaps even pretentious construct, it is however, necessary.
  • How else would we decide which texts merit teaching? Are some texts simply better?
  • The problem is not the canon, then, but who decides which texts go into the canon.
  • A text does not have to be structurally and linguistically complex to constitute as ‘great literature’ – complexity of theme is of great importance. Camus’ ‘L’etranger’ is a seminal piece of existentialist literature, yet only compromises of two parts and is written in a concise, economic way. It poses hugely philosophical questions, but with regards to both style and structure, is very accessible.
  • Complexity is necessary, ultimately, because it makes us think. When we read Shakespeare, we do not read in the same, passive way that we would if we read, say, Harry Potter, or other popular escapist literature. Reading becomes a more active process and we are challenged to question things that are of importance that we perhaps, wouldn’t otherwise.

AQA LITB3 PPQ – June 2013 – ‘It is ironic that the beasts are more humane than the humans in The Bloody Chamber’ consider this in light of two stories in the collection.

Hey guys! This is an essay I wrote quite recently for homework, and one that I have to admit, I enjoyed writing (for the most part!), and it received a band 6 mark of 34.

Just a quick note before you get to reading the essay: I went to a really interesting lecture on gothic literature quite recently and it generally focused on how psychoanalytic/Freudian concepts are cohesive with the gothic genre. The lecture really elucidated meanings of some of the more complex aspects of Carter’s stories, such as the role of the gothic double and why we ultimately enjoy reading texts that horrify, shock and disgust us. For this particular question, the knowledge and understanding of Freud’s concept of the uncanny (or if we’re being pedantic, ‘Das Unheimliche’) that I gained at the lecture was absolutely invaluable (and also, brilliant AO3) when exploring the theme of liminality and evaluating a more contextual point on the male gaze.  If anybody wants me to share my notes on the lecture or a link to Freud’s essay on the uncanny, then I’d be more than happy, just let me know!

In ‘The Bloody Chamber’ Carter subverts the reader’s expectation by depicting the beasts as more humane than the humans, critiquing the submission of men to their base instincts as a result. However, the use of ambiguous language in the process of characterisation leaves whether this is actually ironic open to debate. Many of the characters in the collection, such as La Bestia in ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ and The Marquis in the eponymous story, are in liminal states and encompass both bestial and human attributes, regardless of whether they are humane or depraved. By blurring the lines between human and animal, Carter is thus able to assess the internal conflict of animalistic and moralistic drives and consequently, what it means to be human. In ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ Carter contrasts the narrator’s immoral father, ‘a man in the last stages of debauchery’ with the more compassionate Tiger who is ‘[struck to the heart]’ as the narrator misunderstands his request to see her unclothed. In spite of the potential for destruction his ‘great, feline tawny shape’ and ‘savage geometry’ permits, he is indirectly characterised as more thoughtful and contemplative by the ‘introspective’ region in which he lives. The setting echoes his bid for the narrator to see past appearances and look deeper and straight to the ’spongy pith of the lungs’ just as the damp chill does and strip herself of material luxuries. Contrastingly, within the narrative, Carter uses the tedious asyndeton of the father’s ‘[his] gaming, [his] whoring, [his] agonising repentances’ to exemplify the human capacity to be self-serving – continuously and powerlessly yielding to their vices to the extent it is a ‘sickness’. This could certainly be perceived as ironically inhumane compared to the ‘self-imposed restraint’ and control that the beast exhibits, as he remains composed when he would ‘rather drop down on all fours,’ never resorting to such degeneracy. It is perhaps the beasts and not the humans that the reader seeks to identify with.

However, as Carter uses equivocation, referring to the Tiger as a ‘man’ – as having a ‘hand’ and not a paw – ‘La Bestia’ is never addressed clearly as human or beast, putting to question whether or not his benevolence can be considered ironic. As he is anthropomorphised, covering himself in ‘civet’ to mask his natural scent and wearing a ‘mask with a man’s face painted on it,’ the Tiger is characterised as a gothic double, implying his liminality and the guise of civilisation. Here, Carter echoes Freud’s concept of the uncanny through the motif of the mask, where ‘one profile of the mask is the mirror image of the other’ in order to offer the reader an uncomfortable, yet inherently familiar reflection of the more primitive aspects human behaviour, as he is literally a beast behind a mask of civilisation. Therefore, the presentation of the Tiger, who embodies characteristics considered to be typically human, is more indicative of human ability to herald both civilised and animalistic tendencies than it is ‘ironic’. Carter is potentially addressing how humans that strive to be moral, as the Tiger is, are either metaphorically ‘fighting a battle with [themselves],’ ignoring their inevitable, basic instincts, or like Beauty’s father, succumbing to their base ‘perpetual pleasure[s]’. However, the interpretation that the Tiger is not humane in his natural state can be discarded, as the narrator states that in actuality ‘nothing about him reminded me of humanity.’ Therefore, Carter’s message is indeed an ironic criticism directed towards humans and their selfish behaviour.

This perspective is furthered by Carter’s illustration of the human Marquis in the eponymous story of the collection, which counters the view that humans have the ability to be humane. The Marquis exhibits his depravity within the setting of the ‘museum of his perversity’ by displaying his murdered wives – all ’victims’ to his inhumane nature. His deep, internal corruption is also implicit in the text by Carter’s reference to Huysman’s ‘La-Bas’, which he has ‘bound like a missal,’ and treats a fundamentally sacrilegious text as his bible. As the story reaches its climactic point, the Marquis’ ‘monocle,’ arguably, a symbol of civilisation ‘fall[s] from his face’ and he exposes his more ‘disordered’ and animalistic tendencies, hidden behind a guise of civilisation. Perhaps if humans are able to conceal such dark impulses behind a ‘self-sustaining carapace,’ then Carter’s presentation of the beasts of more humane than the humans is not ironic, but instead, sincere. Yet, as reference is also made to his ‘curling mane’ at this stage in the story, it is entirely possible that the Marquis could be regarded as more of a beast than a human.  Carter repeatedly utilises zoomorphism throughout the story, citing ‘the leonine shape of his [the Marquis’] head’ and alluding to Dracula as the narrator describes his ‘kiss with tongue and teeth’ to imply his animalistic and predatory qualities. However, though this imagery does somewhat negate any irony and make his oppressive physical presence seem like that beyond normality, the Marquis is essentially human and just a ‘big man’ that displays beastly behaviour. If we assume that it is due to the female perspective of the narrator that we too, perceive the Marquis to be a ‘monster,’ then perhaps this method of characterisation is used to allow the reader to consider a more contemptible facet of male behaviour. As the narrator notes the ‘sheer carnal avarice’ of the Marquis’ regard, Carter criticises the inhumane objectification of women by exposing the sexual power imbalance of the male gaze.

Though Carter envisages humanity as beastly in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ through the characterisation of the Marquis, the juxtaposing character of Jean-Yves completely counters this view. In her relationship with the ‘blind’ piano tuner, the narrator is able to escape the ‘lecherou[s]’ and inhumane hold of the male gaze that the Marquis exerts over her and this is something exemplified by Carter’s manipulation of the motif of eyes. The emphatic prosody of the description of Jean-Yves’ ‘singularly sweet’ eyes acts in stark contrast to the ‘dark, unreflective’ eyes of the Marquis, conveying romance as opposed to degradation. Whilst it could be interpreted that Jean-Yves is merely employed to act as a foil to emphasise the Marquis’ beastliness and a human inclination towards corruption, as he ‘sees [the narrator] clearly with his heart,’ Carter implies a more optimistic and less ironic view that some humans harbour the ‘lovely, blind humanity’ of the piano tuner, rather than the characteristics of a beast.

Ultimately, though the beasts are generally depicted as more humane than the humans, this is not necessarily ‘ironic’. In doing this, Carter is able to exemplify the competition between primary urges and the humane emotions that distinguish us from animals, articulating how humans can revert to their basic or base instincts and as a result, she offers a scathing commentary on civilisation.

AQA LITB3 Revision – How does Macbeth adhere to the Gothic? – Act I:I, II and III

Whilst it is not strictly a gothic text (this is something I definitely plan to bear in mind when writing any essays on the play), Shakespeare’s Macbeth does anticipate many elements of the gothic tradition. Whether it is the excessive violence, the inclusion of supernatural and unnatural forces or the exploration of the divided human psyche that runs central to the play, all contribute to the dark, atmospheric intensity of Macbeth, allowing us to label certain aspects of the play, rather indisputably, as being ‘gothic’.

Act I:I

Gothic setting

The ominous setting is described as ‘open ground. Thunder and lightning,’ – here, not only do we have remote and desolate locations (‘open ground’ and a barren ‘heath’), but also, pathetic fallacy within the setting that definitely aids the sense of great foreboding in this scene. The pathetic fallacy is furthered as the witches speak of their next meeting, ‘in thunder, lightning or in rain,’ and this is quite symbolic – we can perhaps interpret the turbulent weather as being representative of disturbances in nature, leading us to the question, are the witches agents of chaos that control Macbeth, leading him to his demise, or is it something else?

The supernatural 

Inarguably, the supernatural is the most obviously gothic aspect of play. I don’t think an explanation for why witches and their familiars are gothic is particularly necessary, but what I do think is worth a mention, is that structure is definitely something to consider here. Why would Shakespeare open the play with the prophesying of witches? The use of the witches and their fateful discussion within the exposition actually sets the tone of what’s to come. They are central to the plot, as they state plainly that they plan to ‘meet with Macbeth,’ and this is, again, indicative of the prospect that perhaps they do control him. If this is the case, then can we label Macbeth as a gothic villain later on? This considered, the form that Shakespeare uses here also aids our interpretation of the witches as the forces of evil in the plan. Act I:I is written in stichomythia (several characters speaking in alternate lines of verse), so the fact that the witches are 1. speaking in unison 2. effectively, finishing each other’s sentences, is disconcerting to say the least. Stichomythia is a technique typically used when a plot is reaching its climactic point or some sort of crisis, so using it here, in the opening of the play does contribute to the sense that something is not quite right. The witches are able to predict what is about to happen, but do they cause it?

Macbeth’s corruption

We’re about to hear all about Macbeth’s ‘valour’ and ‘brave[ry]’ in the upcoming scene, but the final couplet spoken by the witches does put to question whether Macbeth is as noble as he seems. The chiasmus (which simply put, is a reversal of terms) ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair; Hover through the fog and filthy air’ blurs the lines between what is good and what is evil, so already, we have the characterisation of Macbeth of some sort of gothic double, which is something integral to play, as Macbeth progresses to ‘look like th’innocent flower, But be the serpent under’t’.

However, it would be quite reductionist to simply view Macbeth’s divided nature as something intrinsic to him. There is actually debate as to whether the witches are the agents of instability that cause Macbeth to commit regicide, or whether they are merely manifestations of his inner conflict… In Act I:III, Macbeth echoes the chiasmus of the witches in a sort of proleptic irony as he tells Banquo ‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen,’ and whilst he is not definitively speaking about the same matters as the witches are (he’s just talking about the battle), this unconscious repetition could perhaps imply that the witches already have a hold on him.

Equally though, this could just convey his latent evil, as in Act IV:I, in the immortal line, ‘and by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes,’ Macbeth is quite literally referred to as a ‘wicked’ and evil by the witches, who would’ve been perceived (contextually) as proponents of the devil. The notion that an advocate of Satan would view Macbeth as ‘wicked’ is very important to our perceptions regarding him as a gothic villain.

Act I:II

To me, this scene is quite important in terms of evaluating whether or not Macbeth is an inherently depraved character, capable of the actions he later commits. Here, he is depicted as ‘valiant’, ‘brave’ and ‘noble,’ which of course, would lead us assume that Macbeth’s true nature is one of benevolence and self-sacrifice.

So, here are some of the quotations that I think are useful when conveying this perspective, complete with a little bit of analysis:

‘Brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name)’ This doesn’t really need much explaining – the captain quite plainly states that Macbeth is worthy of the praise that he receives, and thus, is not evil.

‘Like valour’s minion carved out his passage until he faced the slave’  Though he is ‘valour’s minion,’ the fact that he quite ruthlessly ‘carved out his passage’ and ‘unseam[s] [Macdonwald] from the nave to th’ chops’ paints Macbeth as a merciless killer. However, as Macdonwald is himself ‘merciless’ and seems to be the greater evil, it’s safe to assume that this was a noble murder (if such a thing exists!).

‘Valiant cousin’/’worthy gentleman’  Again, quite self explanatory! 

‘What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won.’ – Of course we have the interpretation of Macbeth as ‘noble’ and great again, but what’s interesting here is the influence that the past has on the present. The previous Thane of Cawdor is a ‘traitor’ and guilty of ‘treason,’ which as we know, Macbeth also becomes guilty of later in the play. Here, we can consider the rather gothic theme of entrapment. Though Macbeth ‘hath won’ a title, he also inherits ‘borrowed robes,’ [I:III] / ‘strange garments, [that] cleave not to their mould'[I:III] indicating that he is somewhat thrust into a role that doesn’t quite fit or belong to him. I think it’s fair to say that we can feel some sympathy for Macbeth if we interpret his misdoings as a consequence of a future that has been preordained for him – if he is overwhelmed by his new power and has no control over his status, then can we blame him for his actions?

‘Bellona’s bridegroom’ – This metaphor/allusion to Roman mythology references Bellona, the goddess of war and effectively compares Macbeth to Mars, God of war in the process. He’s quite favourably depicted as some sort of supreme being.

‘They smack of honour both’ – Simply put, this envisages both Macbeth and Banquo to be honourable men.

‘They doubly redoubled strokes upon foe: Except they meant to bathe in reeking wounds, Or memorise another Golgotha’ – This is the first indication that Banquo acts as a foil to Macbeth. They are both fighting valiantly, which becomes important later on (if you’re arguing in favour for Macbeth as an innately evil character anyway). However, the latter part of this quotation would potentially suggest that the battle is less noble than we’re led to think.

Leading on from the last quotation, it is entirely possible that we could interpret certain aspects of this scene as actually depicting Macbeth’s ruthlessness – is he innately a killer?

The biblical allusion (Matthew 27:33) references Christ’s death on Mount Calvary – ‘And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull’. According to John 29:34, a Roman soldier pierced Christ’s side as he hanged from the cross. This is particularly interesting, considering Macbeth has previously been compared to the Roman God of war, Mars. This goes some way to depict Macbeth and his army as excessively violent (yet another gothic aspect) and perhaps even sadistic, delighting in the ‘reeking wounds’ that they inflict and making the battlefield as bloody as Golgotha. 

Act I:III (Lines 1-80)

Gothic setting 

As in scene I, we have pathetic fallacy with the ‘thunder’ and the desolate ‘barren heath’. To the theistic contemporaneous audience, the thunder would’ve been perceived as a warning from God – his voice of what’s to come, thus, this contributes to the dark, brooding atmosphere.

Supernatural/The witches

At the beginning of scene 3, we are again presented with the sooth-saying of the ambiguously gendered witches. Their earlier predictions that they will go to the Heath ‘to meet with Macbeth’ are realised upon the third witches’ couplet ‘A drum, a drum, Macbeth doth come!’. This, in addition to the prospect that the witches have control of the elements (‘I’ll give thee a wind’) exemplifies the power that they have over the natural world, and this would definitely fortify the interpretation that they are the manipulators to blame for Macbeth’s hamartia. It is wholly possible that the witches are the sources of inherent evil in the play, as their vengeful attitudes towards a woman’s husband (they state that ‘He shall live a man forbid; Weary sev’nights nine times nine’ and seem to rejoice in the agony that they inflict).

‘The Weyward Sisters, hand in hand, Posters of the sea and land, Thus do go, about, about, Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine, And thrice again, to make up nine. Peace! The charm’s wound up’

Spoken by all of the witches, this bit of verse is particularly ominous and ritualistic. Their collective name ‘The Weyward Sisters’ conjures up (pardon the pun) images of liminality and connotations of the strange and the unnatural, the fateful and the perverse – they are amphibious ‘posters of the sea and land’. This again, is all of course, very gothic.. But their ability to literally conjure Macbeth who enters as soon as ‘The charm’s wound up’ seems to prove their power to control not only the elements, but also, the actions of humans.


Though the witches are formidable in that they have destructive powers, they are not all-powerful. As the first witch curses a ‘man forbid,’ the lines ‘though his bark shall not be lost, Yet it shall be tempest-tossed’ indicates that though the witches can cause a storm, gnawing a hole in the side of the ship, it is ultimately, not in their power to destroy the ship completely. So, we can attribute this piece of information to Macbeth also… We can interpret that they partially lead him to his own destruction by their use of equivocations. Their ‘prophetic greetings’ are only half-truths – they’re not strictly false, but in telling Macbeth that he ‘shalt be King hereafter!,’ they do miss out the slightly vital piece of information that he’s also to be despised as a tyrannical leader and then, murdered. By telling Macbeth snippets of the truth and not any of the repercussions, they essentially drive him to fulfil their prophecies.

Macbeth and Banquo

As I mentioned earlier, Banquo acts as a foil for Macbeth, exposing how he is in fact, driven to corruption. They are both valiant in war and curious about the prophecies of the ‘imperfect speakers,’ but both fundamentally different in their responses. Macbeth fiercely demands them to ‘Stay’ before they ‘vanish’ into thin air and is clearly irked by what he is told – he’s left discombobulated and ‘rapt withal,’ whereas Banquo remains sceptical. Thus, we’re left with the inclination that Macbeth is going to act on what he’s told, complete with dire consequences.


Guten morgen PSYB4ers! For the benefit of my caffeine-fuelled, sleep-deprived self, I’ve composed a very brief set of notes for psychology as a science in fervent panic for today’s exam. If any of you unfortunate beings are in the same situation, then good luck to ya.

Discuss the limitations of the scientific approach in psychology. In other words, should psychology be a science?

Any question regarding the limitations of the scientific approach lends to this view.

So, outline the limitations, i.e.:

  • Reductionist
  • Deterministic
  • Ecological validity

Elaborate on them and flip them on their head. Reductionism may be negative in that we ignore other contributing factors, but by isolating variables, we can develop practical applications to treat disorders. Determinism may lend to a fatalistic outlook and see us as impossible of change due to the notion that we are controlled by extraneous forces outside of our control, but also allows us to predict negative behaviours, in order to prevent or control them etc. Use topic links too – these matters are easily discussed in the context of schizophrenia, mood disorders, offending behaviour etc.

Can psychology be a science?

Any question regarding the applications of the approach asks this question.

  • Unlike sciences of physics or chemistry that are more objective forms of science, psychology investigates humans. Thus, interaction between the experimenter and the subject raises various issues.
  • Experimenter bias – beliefs/wishes/attitudes/presence of psychologist affect the outcome of the study. Controlled to an extent by the double blind method, but even then, the general attitude of the psychology may still influence performance.
  • Demand characteristics – participant tries to guess the aim of the study, respond in ways they think the experimenter wants them to
  • Ethical implications – restriction and guidelines regarding what we’re allowed to do

Is psychology a science?

  • Outline criteria for science – paradigms, theory constructions, empirical methods and general laws
  • How closely does psychology adhere to the criteria?
  • Include topic links to demonstrate points – ie. biological approach/behaviourist utilises empirical methods, humanist/freud does not. General laws are established by Freud, the behaviourists etc.

Discuss reasons why psychology should adopt a scientific approach

  • Strengths of the approach, ie. practical applications, objective, high in internal validity, reliable etc.
  • Use topic links again, i.e. SSRIs for depression etc.
  • Offer counter argument – high in internal validity, but low ecological validity etc.


Hi all , I hope all of your exams and revision are going to plan. I thought I’d share some notes I’d made for approaches essays for the upcoming PSYB4 exam. I’ve included as many synoptic links as possible. Enjoy (or don’t)! 

Biological (came up in the June 2014 paper, so unlikely to come up for June 2014)

AO1 – Key assumptions underlying the theory

  • Darwinian theory – the evolutionary basis of behaviour (eg. fight and flight) and the notion that animals are inherently similar to humans, and that we can thus generalise findings from animal research to humans.
  • Determinism – human behaviour is determined by a combination of genes and genetic inheritance (Eg OCD/Schizophrenia). Animal behaviour is almost totally determined by genes.
  • CNS/Brain – both play an essential role in thought and behaviour. It is thus necessary to understand the workings/structure of the brain and NS more generally to understand behaviour. (eg. amygdala – responsible for emotions)
  • Chemical processes in the brain – responsible for different aspects of psychological functioning. Imbalance = abnormal behaviour/thought. (eg. OCD and serotonin/ Schizophrenia and excessive dopaminergic activity)

AO2 – Strength and weaknesses

  • S – Highly scientific methods of research 
  • eg. MRIs to give detailed pictures of brain structure/function. Controlled lab experiments for sleep patterns or to test drugs on animals.
  • High in internal validity
  • Developed new methods of investigation
  • Great advances in understanding the biological basis of behaviour
  • Replicability
  • BUT – scientific methods my not provide the same level of detail.
  • HOWEVER – biological app. does sometimes use case studies of brain damaged patients.
  • S – Useful theoretical applications
  • Explained OCD and schizophrenia, supported by empirical evidence
  • Offered explanations for criminality (extra Y chromosome theory)
  • Has furthered our understanding of certain behaviours/disorders
  • We can treat/prevent occurence
  • BUT – theoretical apps may be limited in their use – deterministic/reductionist
  • This raises various issues regarding free will – the ignorance of sociocultural/environmental influence on our behaviour is a negative outlook that raises serious implications for the judicial system – if criminals cannot help their actions, should they then be punished?
  • S – Useful practical applications
  • Led to the development of drug treatments – SSRIs for OCD, antipsychotics for Schizophrenia
  • Research within the approach has been put to good use
  • Relieved individuals of their suffering
  • BUT – biological treatments often have negative side effects
  • Only lead to partial improvement in symptoms
  • Other factors must be involved
  • W – Deterministic
  • Biological determinism – genes/neurotransmitters responsible for our behaviour eg. OCD caused by low levels of serotonin
  • Ignores role of free will
  • Resulting implications for society
  • People may adopt a fatalistic attitude – is there any point in trying to change if your situation is totally out of your control Ie. Criminality
  • BUT – also a strength – cause & effect – has allowed the development of effective drugs treatments such as SSRIs and the like – relieved many of the debilitating effects of their disorder
  • W – Reductionist
  • Psychological characteristics reduced to biological/physical processes
  • eg. neurotransmitter activity – serotonin/OCD – sociocultural factors ignored
  • Underestimates the role of other important factors on behaviour
  • May be better to explain behaviour from a sociocultural perspective/take a holistic view
  • BUT – adheres to scientific investigation – we can identify cause and effect to develop treatments by isolating single variables
  • W – More in favour of nature than nurture
  • Human behaviour explained in terms of heritability and biological processes
  • Overemphasis on the importance of these at the expense of environmental influence?
  • BUT – untrue to say the approach completely ignores this – phenotype influenced by genotype and environment


AO1 – Key assumptions underlying the theory

  • Thought processes influence behaviour – 
  • Conscious thought mediates behaviour by planning/controlling how to behave and monitoring that behaviour is appropriate for a given social situation.
  • Cog. factors that mediate our behaviour include perceptions, thoughts and feelings.
  • Unconscious processes, Ie. attention and memory also influence behaviour. Studies of subliminal perception suggest that we can be influenced by stimuli we can’t see or hear consciously.
  • Computer analogy – 
  • Mind processes information like a computer – drawing this comparison helps us to understand how humans process info.
  • Info is coded, processed, stored, retrieved from memory and a response is produced.
  • Information processing
  • Mental processes = information processing
  • Involves transforming, storing and retrieving info from memory
  • The use of models provides a mechanistic view of the human mind, which is useful in helping us to understand how we process info
  • Scientific methods of investigation
  • Believes that cognitive processes should be studied scientifically (ie. using lab experiments)
  • Brain affects our cognitive processes, so therefore, studying people with brain damage can be useful

AO2 – Strengths and weaknesses

  • S – Scientific methods of research
  • Highly controlled lab experiments collecting objective quantitative data
  • Eg. Sternberg’s experiment to investigate how we retrieve info from the STM
  • Findings are high in internal validity – extraneous variables are controlled (eg. environmental variables in Sternberg’s study)
  • Scientific research can general universal laws of behaviour, due to replicability (Ie. 7+-2 items principle)
  • BUT – uses some case studies of brain damaged patients – may or may not be generalisable due to unusual cases with limited samples
  • Some cognitivists rely on introspective reports, which are regarded as unscientific
  • S – Useful theoretical applications
  • Explains atypical behaviours such as schizophrenia/OCD/depression
  • Eg. people with OCD have an attentional bias and make catastrophic misinterpretations, leading to their compulsive behaviours
  • This is a strength as it has been useful and helped to develop effective treatments
  • BUT – with cognitive explanations it is difficult to establish cause and effect – does faulty thinking cause the disorder, or does the disorder cause the faulty thinking?
  • S – Useful practical applications
  • Eg. CBT aims to identify and challenge a patient’s negative thoughts – changing maladaptive thinking patterns into more adaptive ones
  • CBT has been effective (supported by Hollon et al) – who found that CBT was as effective as drug treatment
  • BUT – the biological approach would claim that OCD is a result of a lack of serotonin on the brain – this would lead to a completely different mode of treatment
  • If the underlying cause is not cognitive, then are individuals not receiving proper drug treatment?
  • W – Too mechanistic in its approach to explaining behaviour
  • Computer analogy depicts humans as little more than machines
  • Human attributes such as consciousness and self-awareness remain a mystery to cognitivists
  • The idea of a ‘man as a machine’ is seen as too simplistic and ignoring emotional and social facts in human behaviour
  • Eg. cognitive explanation for depression largely ignores the impact of emotions
  • Dehumanising
  • BUT – less reductionist that biological or behaviourist – explanations lie firmly at a psychology level
  • W -Uses lab experiments which often lack in ecological validity
  • Experiments into memory often involve the use of artificial stimuli and highly controlled conditions
  • Memorising trigrams is not exactly reflective of how we use memory in real life!
  • BUT – case studies of brain damaged patients are also used to investigate mental processes, which although less scientific, are more realistic
  • W – The approach is more interested in mental processes than actual behaviour
  • Research has focused on how we solve problems, how visual perception works etc.
  • Gives a limited view of the person as it doesn’t take into account their actual behaviour, just the info they output
  • BUT – this criticism is ironically the opposite of that made of the behaviourst
  • Perhaps the two approaches should be used in combination (eclecticism) eg. have combined for CBT – effective!


AO1 – Key assumptions

  • Determinism – extreme perspective – radical behaviourism. All behaviour is determined by past events. Knowledge of a stimulus allows prediction of a response/behaviour. Conversely, given a response, a stimulus can be specified. Behaviour, whether human or animal is controlled by external environmental factors.
  • Reductionism – complex human behaviour is said to be reducible to simple components (S-R bonds). Eg. behaving in a friendly way (complex behaviour) is involves a cluster of behaviours such as smiling, laughing and saying nice things. Each of these behaviours would be learned from the reinforcement of S-R bonds to form complex behaviour.
  • Environmentalism – Extreme view that all learning comes from experience and that heredity has no role to play
  • Biology/genetics play a minimal role
  • Behaviourist perspective falls firmly on the side of nurture
  • Empiricism – only that which can be observed, measured and recorded should be scientific psychology
  • Thoughts and feelings cannot be observed, therefore they are not within the scope of behaviourism
  • ‘Psychology as the behaviourist views it is a purely objective, experimental branch of natural science which needs introspection as little as do sciences of chemistry and physics. It is granted that the behaviour of animals can be investigated without appeal to consciousness’

AO2 – Strengths and weaknesses

  • S – Use of scientific methods 
  • High standards of observation, measurement and replication
  • By concentrating on observable behaviour & using the experimental method, they were able to produce verifiable theories about behaviour
  • Allows extraneous variables to be controlled/high internal validity
  • Conclusions about cause and effect can be drawn = enhanced understanding of behaviour
  • Driving force in development as psych as a science
  • BUT – use of animals in research means that findings may not always be generalisable to humans
  • S – Useful theoretical applications
  • Offered explanations for acquisition of phobias and criminal behaviour through classical conditioning
  • Parsimonious theory (unlike psychodynamic) – doesn’t go beyond empirical evidence  and explains facts in the most economical way
  • BUT – ignores the role of biological processes in human behaviour – research evidence suggests that criminality may well be genetic
  • S – Useful practical applications
  • Treatments for phobias – systematic de-sensitaisation
  • Offending behaviour – token economy
  • Practical apps. in education and the training of guide dogs too
  • Has made important contributions which are useful and beneficial to society
  • BUT – whilst using behaviourist principles to treat phobias/offending behaviour in  controlled way seems to be effective, effects don’t always generalise to every day life
  • W – Deterministic
  • eg. explains all behaviour as resulting from environment/past experience (environmental determinism)
  • Denies existence of free will – are individuals not responsible for their own behaviour?
  • If criminality is a result of past experience, then should criminals still be held responsible for their actions?
  • Similar to bio approach/contrasts humanistic
  • BUT – more positive/less fatalistic than the biological approach – if offending behaviour is LEARNED, then it can also be UNLEARNED
  • W – Reductionist
  • Reduces complex behaviour to S-R bonds
  • Such as offending – conditioning
  • Mechanistic/overly simplistic
  • Ignores the role of genes and cognitive processes
  • ‘Degrading and scientifically inaccurate’
  • IN CONTRAST – SLT takes into account the role of these mediating cognitive factors in learning
  • W – Nurture, rather than nature – 
  • All human behaviour = environmental through conditioning
  • Ignores the nature side of the argument – perhaps taking an interactionist approach is the best way to understand human behaviour
  • IN CONTRAST – Biological approach comes down on the nature side, providing evidence of the role of genes and neurotransmitters in our behaviour


AO1 – Key assumptions

  • Social context – learning takes place in a social context – SLT needs to take account of other people in learning process as a result. eg. child may learn gender role by observing adult models in a social context
  • Observational learning – we learn through observing how others behave in social situations, observing rewards/punishments received for behaving in certain ways also (vicarious reinforcement).
  • The people we observe are models, and the characteristics of said model influences whether or not the observer imitates
  • Social conditions – Learning through observation doesn’t always result in performance. Social conditions have to be correct.
  • eg. We may observe models on TV that it is necessary to curtesy when meeting the queen
  • Said behaviour only will be imitated if we actually meet the queen.
  • Language – Language and other forms of symbolism allow us to turn experience into conscious though to reflect and plan future behaviours
  • These are mental processes and NOT passive responses
  • (Could link to Vygotsky – child cog. development)

AO2 – Strengths and weaknesses

  • S – Adopts scientific methods
  • eg. Bandura conducted controlled lab experiment in which children were exposed to either an aggressive, or non-aggressive role model. Children who observed an aggressive adult model displayed aggressive acts onto a bobo doll.
  • Experiments such as this = high internal validity/high control over EVs = useful in establishing cause and effect
  • Furthers our understanding of human behaviour
  • BUT – studies such as bobo doll study criticised on the grounds of ecological validity
  • Children may also respond to demand characteristics = lowers validity of study
  • S – Adopts a compromise position in the free will/determinism debate
  • Soft determinism – Bandura proposed the idea of reciprocal determinism – interaction between our environment and our cognitive processes = both influence each other = behaviour
  • We have a ‘degree of free will’/personal agency
  • Less fatalistic – we are not passive. More pos. than determinism
  • IN CONTRAST – behaviourism sees free will as an ‘illusion’- all behaviour shaped by past events
  • S – Useful theoretical applications 
  • Applied to explain offending behaviour; a child may observe a role model receiving a reward (ie. popularity) for stealing sweets
  • Child learns through vicarious reinforcement and may imitate behaviour later on.
  • Also, the concept of self-efficacy as defined by Bandura as ‘as one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations’ has been adopted by health and sport psychology
  • Pos. impact on society
  • BUT – applications are limited in their use – does SLT ignore biological factors?
  • W – Ignores the role of heredity/biology
  • Biological approach states that aggression is due to hormones/brain abnormality/genetics
  • Is SLT reductionist in that it explains behaviour at an environmental level, ignoring biological factors
  • BUT – acknowledges internal mental processes, so, less reductionist than biological in a way
  • W – Criticisms of Bandura’s experiments
  • Presence of demand characteristics due to nature of observational experimentation
  • Artificial environment
  • Little external validity – very rarely will an adult demonstrate aggression on a bobo doll and allow a child to imitate
  • Research on which the theory is based = weak, theory is weakened as a result
  • W – Not very good at explaining the learning of abstract ideas/concepts
  • Such as justice or fairness, through observation.
  • How can we learn a complex concept simply through observing role models?
  • Approach is limited and only explains some types of learning
  • BUT – the approach has been influential, acting as a bridge between behaviourism and cognitivism

Freudian/post-Freudian theories (came up in the June 2014 paper, so unlikely to come up for June 2014)

AO1 – Key assumptions

  • Unconscious processes – mental processes can occur at conscious, pre-conscious and unconscious levels. Human behaviour largely determined by unconscious motives and conflict. Unconscious stems from the three elements/tripartite structure of the personality – id, superego and ego, which are all in constant conflict.
  • Defence mechanisms – Our understanding of ourselves is distorted by defence mechanisms. Our little insight into our conscious mind does not provide an accurate picture of who we are.
  • Through these mechanisms (eg. repression, displacement) we distort reality to avoid the damaging psychological consequences/pain of the truth.
  • This is how we protect the conscious mind from anything painful or disturbing in nature
  • Childhood experiences – Early childhood experience have significant influence on adult personality/behaviour
  • How the child copes with conflict and unpleasant experiences in childhood will be repeated later on
  • Ie. Bowlby suggested that an infant who does not secure attachment with the mother in the first year of life will, without fail, have problems later in life (ie. inability to form close relationships)
  • Case studies – The best way to study humans is through the case study method. This allows the individual to be studied in detail – what is said and done can be interpreted by the analyst for unconscious/underlying motives.

AO2 – Strengths and weaknesses

  • S – Highlights the importance of childhood experiences
  • eg. John Bowlby – no secure attachment with mother = issues in later life forming close relationships
  • Important basis for psychological functioning
  • This is now accepted in psychology and professional areas such as social work and psychiatry
  • BUT – perhaps the importance on close early relationships is overemphasised – many children who have been deprived of an attachment with their mother in the first year of life go on to live perfectly normal lives
  • This shows that the theory is limited in its explanation of psychological development
  • S – Useful theoretical applications
  • S – Some useful practical applications
  • Ie. free association/dream analysis etc. – implemented to treat phobias – uncover the underlying unconscious thoughts that cause them
  • Freudian case studies = effective
  • BUT – Freud recorded his case studies unreliably – not objective, open to researcher bias
  • Many patients he treated were NOT fully recovered
  • W – Deterministic and pessimistic 
  • Humans are inherently bad
  • Perspectives on childhood experience/psychosexual development = troubling = ie. oedipus etc.
  • Inappropriate and overstated?
  • Also, many children that have negative experiences/phases in childhood go on to have perfectly normal adult lives
  • W – Relies on the case study method
  • eg. Little Hans
  • Cannot generalise from one case study, or even a few, to ALL children
  • Accuracy questionable – not objective, open to researcher bias
  • Unscientific
  • BUT – attempts to establish GENERAL laws of behaviour, which is what scientific psychology strives to achieve
  • W – Unscientific and untestable
  • Unfalsifiable hypotheses
  • Abstract concepts
  • Immeasurable
  • BUT – again, attempts to establish general laws of behaviour and views id, superego, ego as innate – scientific to some extent


AO1 – Key assumptions

  • Free Will – each human being is an active agent, able to choose, control and change their own behaviour
  • We control how we think and feel
  • Holism – the best way to explain, study and treat behaviour is by looking at the person as a whole rather than reducing them to component parts – ‘the whole is more than the sum of its parts’
  • Conscious thought – each person is a rational and conscious being and is no dominated by conscious, primitive instincts. It is best to study human behaviour by asking people about their conscious thoughts eg. via. interview .
  • Each person is unique – therefore, it is important to focus on the private,subjective experiences of each individual, rather than taking an objective approach. Humanism rejects the scientific approach.

AO2 – Strengths and weaknesses

  • S – Acknowledges the role of free will 
  • Humans are active agents, we have the power to choose and decide on our own behaviour. Person centred therapy encourages clients to develop their own solutions – optimistic
  • Places responsibility on the individual and sees them as capable of change
  • BUT – concept of free will not consistent with assumptions of science – humanism lacks empirical evidence
  • S – Takes a holistic view – 
  • Acknowledges the complexity of human thought and behaviour by considering them as a ‘whole’
  • BUT – holism, unlike reductionism, doesn’t lend itself to scientific psychology – lacks empirical evidence to support its claims
  • S – Some useful theoretical/practical applications – 
  • Maslow’s hierarchy of needs useful in business and education
  • Client-centred therapy for stress/anxiety/divorce/bereavement – a more ‘person-centred’ alternative to Freudian psychoanalysis
  • Approach has benefitted society – useful for mild depression/anxiety
  • BUT – limited in use – does not successfully treat more serious disorders, such as schizophrenia, wherein people often lack insight into their conscious thoughts and are unable to discuss them rationally
  • This raises further issues into the key assumptions underpinning the theory
  • W – Unscientific
  • Lacks empirical evidence to back up claims that other approaches DO have. Eg. The biological approach has a wealth of supporting evidence and is largely a more accepted psychological approach
  • Complete rejection of the scientific approach into studying human behaviour because emphasis is placed on the private subjective experience of the individual
  • No support for theory – is it completely unfounded?
  • W – Relies on unstructured interviews
  • Cannot be replicated
  • Hard to analyse – involve collecting qualitative data regarding a person’s thoughts and feelings (private subjective experience)
  • Interviewer might stray from focus
  • Relies on participants having a good insight into their own thoughts/feelings and reporting them accurately (memory is an issue here)
  • BUT – qualitative methods are useful, providing more rich, detailed info about experience of humans than experimental methods can provide
  • They can help us understand WHY people think or behave in a certain way
  • W – Problems with the concepts of free will and self-actualisation
  • Some needs are missed from self-actualisation and it is perhaps too simplistic a view of human thought and behaviour
  • Abstract concepts which are not directly observable, objectively measurable, or even definable
  • Unfalsifiable – unscientific

Eclectic approach

Click Here to see my notes on the eclectic approach, complete with an essay plan 🙂


Vygotsky’s approach

  • A sociocultural approach
  • Child is an apprentice
  • Culture plays an important role in the development of cognition
  • Skills of reading, writing and being ale to recall and use large amounts of information are largely culture specific skills
  • Assumes that the child’s development is more likely to be influenced by social factors than biological processes

Collaborative interaction

  • Learning occurs by social interaction with a more knowledgeable peer
  • Provide verbal instructions for the child
  • Eg. A parent can teach a child basic strategies and demonstrate how to complete a jigsaw until the child becomes more competent and can work independently.

ZPD – Zone of proximal development 

  • The difference between what a child can achieve independently and what they can achieve with the guidance and encouragement of a skilled partner.
  • Eg. With the collaborative interaction of a parent, a child can solve a jigsaw puzzle more quickly than they would be able to alone.
  • Takes into account a child’s potential ability and not just their present ability


  • The gradual withdrawal of adult control and support as a child increases mastery of a given task
  • A form of instruction
  • Help and support gradually reduced
  • Research evidence – Wood and Middleton’s building block activity proves the notion of scaffolding
  • Investigated the type of parental assistance offered
  • Parents initially demonstrated, then stopped helping directly, but still gave verbal direction and encouragement
  • They found that a child’s understanding is supported by adults in various ways other than by formal instruction
  • Level of assistance declines as competency increases

Guided participation

  • A specific type of scaffolding
  • The transmission of cultural practices where children actively engage in cultural activities, whilst adults model, encourage and regulate performance
  • Cultural practices are thus maintained and reformulated through generations
  • Research evidence – Rogoff et al – the annual girl scout cookie sale in the USA
  • Older members passed on their knowledge to younger members
  • The girl scouts then reshaped and extended this knowledge, developing new ways and innovations to be carried on in the future


  • Children acquire language through social interaction
  • They use it to structure and organise their own thinking and problem solving
  • Self talk becomes silent and internal eventually
  • This differs from Piaget’s view of language – it isn’t key to cognitive development, but rather, a byproduct of it

Evaluating Vygotsky’s approach

  • Support of the notions of collaborative interaction/guided participation from Rogoff
  • Providing examples of the ZPD, collaborative interaction and scaffolding
  • Support from Wood and Middleton regarding scaffolding
  • Vygotsky has been criticised for having very little experimental work and for assuming always that adults aid children’s development- sometimes they can make things worse as they try to oversimplify or even obfuscate matters in their attempts to assist
  • Applications to education – children develop quicker with instruction, concept of the ZPD also useful
  • Notion of the ZPD is positive – can a child’s learning be accelerated? Conflicts with Piaget’s view of readiness.
  • Contrasts with other approaches

Comparison/Contrasts to Piaget

  • Vygotsky = Nurture
  • Piaget = Constructivist – both specific primitive reflexes and general cognitive processes are at play – eventually develop a sophisticated understanding of the world
  • Vygotsky = child as an apprentice – children learn through scaffolding/collaborative interaction/guided participation
  • Piaget = child as a lone scientist – child learns through trial and error, self-discovery, repetition, equilibration, accommodation etc
  • Vygotsky = learning can be accelerated (ZPD) – if parents provide optimal scaffolding, then children can develop more quickly.
  • Piaget = learning cannot be accelerated – set stages that occur in order. Child cannot progress until they have acquired the necessary skills at each stage.
  • Vygotsky = language acquired through social interaction -used to structure/organise thinking and problem solving
  • Piaget = language is not key to cognitive development – it is a byproduct of it
  • Applications to education

Siegler’s IP approach

  • Partly a reaction to Piaget’s theory
  • IP theorists questioned the notion of qualitatively different stages as proposed by Piaget
  • Explains cognitive development as the acquisition and use of increasingly complex rules for problem solving
  • Theorists suggest a sequence in the child’s acquisition of new strategies
  • But, this is a continuous unfolding of cognitive development, not set stages
  • IP theories are theories which attempt to understand the sequence of separate cognitive operations that make up some form of mental activity such a solving a problem

Characteristics of IP approaches

  • Children are active problem solvers
  • We operate in a similar way to a computer

The computer analogy (underlies the approach)

  • Hardware – the increase in the basic storage capacity of a system – can process more info faster
  • Software – more efficient use of processing strategies (more and better problem solving strategies)

Cognitive processes

  • IP theories are concerned with the use of cognitive processes such as memory and attention
  • Research suggests that children grow as they use more sophisticated strategies
  • They use strategies more flexibly and apply them to an increasing variety of problems
  • Research evidence – Flavell et al – showed children pictures and asked the to recall
  • Not many 5 year olds used verbal repetition, 7 and 10 year olds did
  • Children who used this strategy recalled more
  • Difference in memory ability with age appear to be due to use of memory strategies such as rehearsal.

Quantitative differences

  • Reflects quantitative differences in child’s ability, rather than qualitative differences as proposed by Piaget
  • Bee identified four changes in IP with age:
  • Increased processing capacity (inc. memory capacity)
  • Increased processing efficiency – (better processing strategies)
  • The development of rules for solving problems – (how to count for example)
  • The development of metacognition (awareness of cognitive ability)

WAVE model

  • Children don’t progress through stage theory – they do not progress to one stage to leave another behind
  • Children are not anchored to singular problem solving strategies
  • They use a range of strategies before choosing the most effective
  • They can use a number of strategies simultaneously
    • Research evidence – Siegler and Robinson
    • Gave 4 and 5 year olds simple addition problem
    • Found four methods by which they solved their problems
    • 20 % used 1 strategy, 23% used two, 30% used 3 and 27% used 4
    • Supports overlapping waves and contrasts Piaget’s approach
  • Approach A – The staircase model – prolonged periods of thinking at a certain level, followed by sudden transitions to new, higher levels of thinking
  • Approach B – Overlapping waves – use of varied strategies at all times with continuously changing frequenting of pre-existing strategies and the occasional discovery of new ones

Application to education

  • The development of metacognition – awareness of our own cognitive abilities
  • Children learning to read need to be aware of which words they need to learn for example
  • Schools encourage children to reflect on their own mental processing to enable the development of metacognitive awareness
  • The teacher-led approach – children have limited capacity to process information
  • The teacher’s role is to help the child find strategies for reducing memory load


  • STRENGTH – Support from Siegler and Robinson for overlapping waves
  • STRENGTH – Support from Flavell for cognitive processes
  • STRENGTH – IP approach reinterprets early cognitive theories in a modern way
  • WEAKNESS – Focus on cognitive aspects of development, ignores the impact of social and emotional factors – BUT – the teacher led approach refutes this view
  • WEAKNESS – Although the IP approach argues for more qualitative change in processing strategies, there is evidence for a qualitative change in the flexibility of strategies different age.

Comparison with Piaget

  • Whether the stages in development reflect qualitative or quantitative change in cognitive ability
  • What factors does the theory focus on? Piaget focuses on schema sets, set stages etc. Siegler focuses on the acquisition and use of increasingly sophisticated strategies for problem solving
  • Both theories acknowledge both nature and nurture to some extent
  • Research methods are opposing – Siegler allowed for a more scientific approach than Piaget by giving children problems to solve. This is standardised and allowed for a larger element of control.
  • Piaget, on the other hand, utilised the clinical method and his experiments lacked methodological rigour – his experiments were not standardised, nor did they have the same degree of control.


  • Infants have innate abilities/structures that determine cognitive ability
  • They make use of rich perceptual information about the world through the process of direct perception
  • Bottom-up processing
  • In the 60s and 70s, research focused on the cognitive abilities of language and perception
  • Language – Chomsky – born with an innate ability to use and understand language
  • When children are exposed to the language of their culture, they internalise grammatical structures without instruction
  • He concluded that we are born with Language acquisitional device, which enables us to have the capacity to learn language
  • Perception – Brown et al placed infants (6-21 days old) facing an object suspended in front of them at a distance
  • Object was released
  • Collision reaction
  • Researchers concluded that children could perceive depth at just a few days old
  • Supports the notion of innate cognitive ability of depth perception

Did Piaget underestimate cognitive ability of children?

  • If cognitive abilities such as language and depth perception are innate, then is object permanence an innate ability?
  • Research evidence – Baillergeon and DeVos
  • Child sees carrot move left to right behind a screen (familiarisation stage)
  • Child sees short carrot move left/right of a cutout (poss. event)
  • Child sees a tall carrot (imposs. event)
  • Show more shock at impossible event – stare longer – expectation violated
  • Child is aware of the continued existence of carrots as they pass behind the screen = object permanence at 3 months, younger than Piaget thought (8-12mths)
  • 3 month old babies show object permanence


  • New research techniques (impossible event) to challenge previous research by Piaget
  • Peceptual system of a 3 month old sufficiently developed to distinguish between possible and impossible events
  • Findings of research studies suggest that Piaget underestimated perceptual abilities of infants  – Baillargeon and DeVos
  • Infants do perform better than Piaget suggested, but have yet to develop a full understanding of the physical world, such as gravity – not all cognitive ability is innate
  • Violation of expectation is difficult to conduct with new borns – we do not have reliable research evidence as to whether cognitive abilities are present at birth – such evidence would make nativist theory about the existence of innate abilities more convincing.

Comparison with Piaget

  • Cognitive development based on direct perception vs. constructionism
  • Innate vs a combination of experience and primitive schemas
  • Nature vs. interactionist
  • Object permanence – 3 months vs. 8-12 mths.


Piaget’s notion of schemas

  • First of all, establishing the definition of a scheme (quite an abstract concept really) is important – it is a set of linked mental representations of the world that we use to both understand and respond to situations. For example, a bus schema will contain all of the information we need to respond to any situation entailing a bus – where to sit, which bus we need to take, where we catch our bus, how to pay etcetera.
  • Schemas are the basic building blocks of intelligent behaviour, helping us to organise our experiences so the world becomes more predictable.
  • Schemas combine, and we develop a vastly interconnected schema system, which is our own, individual internalised representation of the world.
  • Cognitive development to Piaget is the development of evermore complex schema systems
  • Piaget believed that we are all born with a set of sensory/motor action schemas, like looking, grasping and tasting. The sucking, rooting and grasping reflexes of babies are good examples of this, as they all arise from primitive schemas.


  • An inborn mental process that creates a general schema from individual experience, which later becomes more specific due to further experience.


  • Changing a schema that doesn’t quite fit a situation that we find ourselves in.
  • Makes the schema more realistic, which in turn, helps our survival.
  • The more adapt a child’s schema set is, the better and more appropriately they will be able to respond to situations.

1. Assimilation

  • The process of applying a pre-existing schema to a new situation

2. Equilibration

  • Motivates a child to create a new schema
  • Disequilibrium refers to the feeling of discomfort and anxiety that a child gets when they experience something that cannot be included within a pre-existing schema.
  • The child restores the balance of equilibrium by the process of accommodation.

3. Accommodation

  • Modifying a schema to deal with a new situation more effectively.

Evaluation of schemas

  • Did Piaget describe, rather than explain, the processes involved in schema development? For example, he describes the process of accommodation, but not the underlying cognitive processes involved.
  • Piaget uses hypothetical structures and processes, thus raising the issue of falsifiability,
  • Other psychologists have contradicted Piaget’s view – Piaget perceived the child as a ‘lone scientist,’ learning independently through self-discovery, yet Vygotsky took the stance that the child is an ‘apprentice,’ learning from more experienced members of society. Did Piaget underestimate the importance of social interaction?
  • There is also the notion that Piaget underestimated the cognitive abilities of infants. Nativists, such as Baillergeon and DeVos,  found that infants show an understanding of object permanence  from as early as three months. Brown et al also found that children have depth perception at just a few days old.
  • Piaget’s notion of self-discovery has had an effective application to education, and teachers encourage and provide opportunities for independent self-discovery as a result.
  • However, it has been suggested that Piaget’s focus on schema development may be misplace. If children learn through the development of schemas, then self-discovery should be the most effective form of learning, but it is not, as tutorial learning has proved to be much more effective. This actually supports Vygotsky’s view.

The theory of cognitive development

  • Piaget took a constructivist approach, investigating how children construct knowledge about their world.
  • He concluded that psychological development is the result of inbuilt processes (nature) and experience (nurture).
  • Children have a set of specific primitive reflexes and more general cognitive processes.
  • These allow children to eventually develop a sophisticated understanding of how the world works.
  • This occurs through interaction with the environment.
  • Piaget’s stage theory assumes that children progress through invariant/fixed and universal stages, progressing through them in the same order.
  • Abilities associated with each stage have to be obtained before progressing to the next stage.
  • How quickly children progress through the stages is individual and dependent on their nervous system development.
  • At each stage, the child’s understanding of the world is qualitatively different; they think differently. They make different mistakes and solve problems using new and different strategies.

Sensorimotor stage 

  • Age 0-2
  • Children interact and explore the environment through their senses and movement.
  • Knowledge consists of simple motor reflexes.
  • Children acquire the self concept, object concept and language.
  • Children build on existing schemas through assimilation and accommodation.
  • At around 8 months children begin to act intentionally through processes of trial and error, and develop object permanence.
  • To develop object permanence (the knowledge that an object still exists despite the fact it is no longer visible), the child must be able to hold a simple mental representation of the object.
  • Piaget observed children playing with a toy, and found that from about 8 months, children will actively search for an object that has been removed from their sight.
  • Children exhibit the ‘A not B’ error when they get used to particular screen for a concealed object, looking behind the same screen for example when the experimenter has hidden the object elsewhere.
  • Children stop making this error at around 12 months.

Evaluation of study

  • Perhaps children under 8 months didn’t search for the toy for reasons that Piaget didn’t consider – for example, they lacked the necessary motor skills. However, this wouldn’t explain the “A not B” error.
  • Bower presented 4-8 month old children with a situation in which an object was move from right to left, passes behind a screen and reappears. He found that the older infants continued to track the object with their eyes. This suggests that infants develop O.P sooner than Piaget proposed.

Pre-operational stage – 

  • Age 2-7
  • Child’s thinking is not logical.
  • Child is not yet able to perform mental operations.
  • Children begin to use symbols.
  • Key features of the stage; Animism, Egocentrism, Centration and Conservation.
  • ANIMISM – the belief that inanimate objects have feelings/intention.
  • Piaget and Inhelder – 3 mountains experiment – investigated egocentrism
  • CENTRATION – children can only deal with one aspect of a situation at a time.
  • CONSERVATION – the ability to to understand that redistributing material does not change its mass, number or volume. Children are unable to perform mental operations, such as conservation at this stage.
  • Piaget and Szeminska
  • Children given identical beakers with the same level of water
  • The child was asked if one beaker contained more than the other (the pretransformation question)
  • Most children said no
  • The water was poured into a taller thinner beaker, the question was asked again
  • Children under 7 years said the tall, thin beaker contained more water
  • Older children said they contained the same amount.
  • Thus, there is an important change in cognitive ability around 7 years when the child develops the ability to conserve.


  • Methodological issues – issues concerning validity – issues with the questions – did children misunderstand the language used in conservation experiments, the intentions of the researcher (asking the same question twice implies they were expecting a different answer).
  • Rose and Blank conducted the same experiment without asking the first question and found that 6 year olds made fewer mistakes than in the original two-questions version of the study. Does conservation occur earlier than Piaget thought?
  • McGarrigle and Donaldson had similar findings.
  • EGOCENTRISM – children lack the ability to see the world from the perspective of anybody else but themselves.
  • Piaget and Inhelder – 3 mountains experiment – investigated egocentrism.
  • Children were shown a model of three mountains and a doll was placed in various positions around it.
  • Children had to pick, from 10 images, what the doll could see.
  • If the doll’s view was chosen, the child was said not to be egocentric.
  • Children aged 4-5 chose the view from their own perspective.
  • Children aged 7-8 chose the doll’s perspective.
  • Thus, pre operational children are egocentric and the ability to see the world from the perspective of others occurs around age 7.


  • Donaldson suggests that Piaget underestimates the cognitive ability of young children – she proposed that the results were invalid and a result of methodological issues.
  • The task may not have been a valid measure of perspective taking. Looking at a 3D model of mountains is an unfamiliar situation.
  • Perhaps young children can decanter in more realistic situations that have personal relevance to them.
  • A further problem is lack of motivation – maybe they weren’t interested in the task.
  • Borke conducted a similar study using Sesame St. characters, using a turntable to show the viewpoint of characters.
  • 3 and 4 year olds could correctly identify the character’s perspectival, inferring that children can de-centre earlier than Piaget proposed.

Concrete operational stage –

  • Age 7-11
  • An operation is a rule-following transformation
  • We make these using our mental representations
  • Children can now think logically
  • The ability conserve requires the following mental operations; reversibility and compensation.
  • During this stage, children can perform mental operations with real life situations only. (For example, they would not be able to work out algebra equations).
  • Children now succeed at conservation tasks.
  • Children can demonstrate the ability of class inclusion
  • Piaget and Szeminska showed children 20 wooden beads, 18 brown and 2 white.
  • They were asked the following questions:
  • Are all the beads wooden?
  • Are there more brown beads than white beads?
  • Are there more brown beads or more wooden beads?
  • Preoperational children answer the first two questions correctly, but the third incorrectly – they do not have the ability to demonstrate class inclusion.
  • Concrete operational children answer all three questions correctly and have the ability to demonstrate class inclusion.
  • In question 3, the two classes overlap – the class of brown beads is included in the class of wooden beads.


  • Methodological issues – internal validity – questions are very unusual and difficult, confusing even adults.
  • McGarrigle used 4 model cows, 3 black and 1 white. He laid the cows out and asked;
  • Are there more black cows or more cows?
  • Are there more black cows or more sleeping cows?
  • 25% answered Q1 correction, 48% answered question 2 correctly
  • Thus, more children are capable of understanding class inclusion when the wording of the question is simplified.

Formal operational stage – 12+

  • Child can apply mental operations to abstract concepts
  • An example of a formal operation is substitution in algebra
  • Adolescents begin to think hypothetically
  • This type of thinking is known as hypothetic-deductive systematic problem solving
  • One of Piaget’s test of this is the ‘third eye problem’ – children were asked where they would put an extra eye if they were able to have a third one, and why.
  • Schaffer reported that 9 year olds suggested the third eye should be in the forehead, but 11 year olds were more invented and suggested that it should be on the hand so that you could see around corners.
  • The 11 year olds could think hypothetically and this inferred that they were moving towards the completion of formal operations.


  • Does everybody reach formal ops? Piaget didn’t identify a stage of reasoning beyond this
  • He thought that most people show at least some signs of this highest level of intellect by the time they’re 15-18
  • Other researchers, such as Cole, find that adolescents are much slower to acquire formal operations than Piaget thought
  • Research suggests that quite a lot of Americans don’t reason at formal level and tree are sp,e cultures in which no one can solve Piaget’s formal operational problems
  • This could be due to not having the kind of schooling that stresses logic, mathematics, science etc
  • Piaget also suggested that it may be that most adults can reason at the formal operational level, but they only do so for problems that they find interesting or that are important in some way to them.
  • Siegler conducted a balance beam task and found that whilst children were able to utilise formal operational skills, they could not do this until they were age 13-17.

A final note on the stages… to conclude

  • CONSERVATION – pre-operational stage children do not succeed, concrete operations do.
  • EGOCENTRISM – child is egocentric in the pre-operational stage, but decentres in the concrete operation stage
  • CLASS INCLUSION – pre-operational stage chidden do not understand this concept, but concrete operational children do
  • LOGICAL THINKING – pre-operational children have not yet learnt to think logically, but concrete operations children can

Evaluation of Piaget’s methods

  • STRENGTH – Clinical observations/interviews = useful = rich qualitative data and close attention = rich detailed account of cognitive development.
  • STRENGTH – Piaget’s tests were innovative and creative = influential in terms of research design, and theory is influential also.
  • WEAKNESS – stages were devised by observing and testing a small and unrepresentative sample of children – issue as theory is meant to be universal
  • eg. he used a limited sample of Swiss children, often his own
  • WEAKNESS – reporting was less that rigorous – theory lacks methodological rigour
  • eg. failed to record ages and number of his participants. Did not carry out statistical analysis.
  • WEAKNESS – Piaget didn’t adhere to normal scientific procedures of standardisation and control
  • eg. interactions with participants were informal and each was treated slightly differently.
  • WEAKNESS – Piaget’s tests were confusing for children – he assumed that failure at a task meant the child lacked the ability. He also did no consider how test performance could be affected by other variables such as language ability and memory etc.
  • eg. conservation studies may have seemed to the children to contain a ‘trick question’

Evaluation of the theory

  • STRENGTH – a profound influence on education – practical applications – opportunity for learning through self-discovery
  • STRENGTH – received cross cultural support from Goodnow – UK, Africa, China and USA – showed same sequence of development – findings CAN be generalised
  • STRENGTH – other psychologists such as Vygotsky have argued that guidance from adults is important and can accelerate learning, but there IS evidence to support the notion of fixed stages
  • Gelman found that it was difficult to teach conservation to 4 and 5 year olds
  • WEAKNESS – too rigid ie. children can conserve number before volume – doesn’t adhere to stage theory
  • BUT, Piaget introduced the idea horizontal decalage to overcome this – the development of the same type of understanding at different ages – theory modification = STRENGTH
  • WEAKNESS – he rarely discussed the way social processes affect development/underestimated the role of an experienced adult
  • WEAKNESS – some cross cultural research doesn’t entirely support the age related studies

AQA PSYB4 Revision – Comparisons between approaches and taking an eclectic approach to psychology

Similarities between approaches

  • Behaviourism and SLT = learning behaviour = S/R bonds or modelling/vicarious reinforcement
  • SLT and cognitive = importance of mental processes in learning =schemas/mediating cognitive factors
  • Biological, behaviourist and SLT = scientific methods = controlled laboratory experiments and observations
  • Psychodynamic and humanistic = subjective experience = eg. Little Hans/psychoanalysis comparable to person-centred therapy, unstructured interviews etc – but psychodynamic = not responsible for own behaviour, humanism = responsible.
  • Biological and behaviourist = animal research = Skinner’s use of rats in his skinner box experiment to investigate operant conditioning / bio-psychological/neurosurgical studies on the nervous system. Yet, one studies internal structure and the other studies external environment = ethics and validity

Differences between approaches

  • Free will (humanism) versus determinism
  • Holism (humanism) versus reductionism (biological/behaviourist)
  • Scientific methods versus non-scientific methods (humanism/psychodynamic)
  • Nature(biological) versus nurture (SLT/behaviourist)

The eclectic approach

  • ‘To use a combination of the different psychological approaches to explain, treat and study behaviour’
  • Represents human behaviour more accurately
  • Gives a richer, fuller representation of human behaviour
  • Tailored to individuals
  • Adopts a range of views
  • Copes better with the complexity of human behaviour
  • Approaches are used in a’ pick and mix way’ in order to understand behaviour
  • Combines ideas from different approaches = more common in applied psychology such as the treatment of disorders and offending behaviour
  • Theoretical eclecticism = combining different theoretical approaches and ideas
  • Methodological eclecticism = combining different research methods
  • Epistemological eclecticism = the combination of different positions in the debates in psychology (Ie. Nature vs nurtue = the interactionist view)
  • Applied eclecticism = the use of combinations of approaches in applied psychology (eg. The use of drugs and CBT to treat unipolar depression)
  • Selective eclecticism = using different ideas alone, or together in different situations, such as explaining depression with biological ideas, yet using cognitive therapies.

Strengths of the eclectic approach

  • Human behaviour is too complex and varied to be explained by just one approach – complex psychological disorder eg. Schizophrenia = wealth of evidence supporting both biological and sociocultural explanations and it may be necessary to take an interactionist view and consider both. This is a strength because the eclectic approach reflects the complexity of human thought and behaviour, giving a richer and fuller representation of behaviour.
  • There are many examples of complementarity between approaches. For example SLT and behaviourism both focus on theories of learning and SLT builds on the notion of reinforcement by considering how vicarious reinforcement contributes to behaviour. This is a strength because the approach can take the best parts of other approaches, combining them to give a better understanding of behaviour.
  • Too much emphasis on one approach may mean that relevant information from other approaches is missed out. If we focus on social and environmental factors when explaining offending behaviour, we may miss the cases where an offender has brain abnormality which is causing their behaviour. This is a strength because the eclectic approach uses the best bits from each approach to ensure the most relevant explanation is used. This is of particular importance in explaining offending behaviour/psychological disorders as the priority is treating the offender/patient, regardless of the approach that is taken.

Limitations of the eclectic approach

  • CONCLUDING POINT – There irreconcilable differences between some approaches: some are directly contradictory and cannot be combined. For example, the humanistic approach argues that we have free will, while other approaches are deterministic. The psychodynamic approach also sees are behaviour as caused by unconscious thoughts, the biological by chemical, hereditary and genetic causes, and so on. This is a weakness because it can make it very difficult to adopt an eclectic approach. It is good in theory, but this level of disagreement between the approaches has led some people to talk about the existence of psychologies rather than psychology. 
  • A pick and mix of different approaches can produce a watered down version that is no better than common sense. For example, This is a weakness because taking on an eclectic approach may take away the detail and underlying theory and evidence of each approach. However this approach has the advantage of ensuring that a particular perspective is neither ignored, nor forgotten.
  • In terms of therapies, using many different approaches can lead a therapist to become ‘a jack of all trades and a master of none’ For example, it is very hard to know all the approaches equally well. Furthermore it is difficult to know when to combine approaches or just use one approach in one situation and one approach in another. This is a weakness because it may result in therapy not being as effective as when a therapist specialises in a particular approach. However, the priority is obviously treating the patient, so it is important that the therapist can use their professional initiative to adopt the principles of whichever approach is most relevant and helpful.

Application of the eclectic approach and studies

  • Criminality
  • Partly genetic = LANGE found concordance rates of 77% for MZ twins and 12% for DZ twins . CROWE found that almost 50% of adopted children whose biological mothers had a criminal record had criminal records themselves by age 18.
  • Sociocultural Learning theories = FARRINGTON ET AL found that criminality develops in a context of inappropriate role models and dysfunctional systems of rewad.
  • Schizophrenia treatments
  • Biological – Cole et al found that after just 6 weeks of treatment with antipsychotics, people with schizophrenia showed significant improvement compared to those given a placebo
  • Psychotherapy – drury et al found that cognitive therapy led to a faster response to reatment  = drug treatment = instant psycho = not

Essay intro

  • The eclectic approach in psychology can be defined as ‘using a combination of the different psychological approaches to explain, treat and study behaviour’. Eclecticism can take a number of forms, whether it be epistemological eclecticism, which finds a compromise position of the key debates in psychology, methodological eclecticism, which combines a number of different research methods, etc.