AQA PSYB4

AQA PSYB4 REVISION – PSYCHOLOGY AS A SCIENCE

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.
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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.

AQA PSYB4 PPQ – Discuss how the biological approach helps psychologists to understand human behaviour. In your answer, refer to two topics you have studied in psychology.

Just thought I’d post my most recent psychology essay! I’ve only just started learning the PSYB4 module, so I’ll have some better essays on this soon, as well as some PSYB3 essays.


The biological approach believes humans have evolved through Darwinian evolution and therefore, certain behaviours have evolutionary explanations. For example, we have evolved to have a ‘fight or flight’ response to threatening situations. Our sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for action by releasing adrenaline and increasing heart rate, and this is said to have an evolutionary basis as it aids survival. However, the biological approach s criticised for focusing too much on the nature side of the debate. This is a weakness as it may be an overemphasis on the importance of evolutionary factors and biological processes at the expense of psychological and environmental factors. Yet, it is untrue to say the biological approach ignores environmental factors completely, as it is known that the phenotype is influenced by both genotype and the environment. For example, in a situation where identical twins, who share the same genotype, are separated at birth, can potentially have different phenotypes, which can reflect in both their personality and their physicality as they are treated differently by their parents. Therefore, this is a clear acknowledgement of environmental influence by the biological approach, as it recognises how those who are expected to exhibit the same behaviour as they share exactly the same genetic make up, can show different behavioural tendencies depending on how they’re brought up. Furthermore, the diathesis stress theory of schizophrenia acknowledges how an individual may be genetically predisposed to developing the disorder, but that it takes a stressful life event to trigger the disorder. This is a clear strength of the biological approach, as a knowledge of genetic predisposition can lead an individual to avoid the environmental stress factors that incite the disorder, and therefore, deter its onset altogether.

Another assumption of the biological approach is that human behaviour is strongly determined by our genes and genetic inheritance. For example, it is thought that disorders such as OCD and schizophrenia may be genetic, as evidence shows that they run in families. Evidence from this comes from Pauls et al, who found that those with a first degree relative with OCD are more likely to develop the disorder. Furthermore, Kendler found that those with a first degree relative with schizophrenia are 18 time more at risk of developing the disorder themselves. However, the biological explanations of OCD and schizophrenia are deterministic, claiming that the disorder is beyond the control of the individual. This is a weakness as it ignores the role of free will and sees us as powerless to change. This has implications for the criminal justice system, as it raises questions such as ‘are criminals responsible for their own behaviour?’ meaning that custodial sentencing may be an unwarranted and unethical punishment, as offenders are unable to stop themselves from committing offences. In addition, this deterministic view also has negative implications for society, those with OCD and schizophrenia may adopt a fatalistic attitude, assuming that they cannot change their behaviour because it already fixed in their genetic make up.

Furthermore, the approach is reductionist as it explains OCD and schizophrenia at the level of genetics, ignoring factors such as upbringing and socio-cultural factors, despite compelling evidence that schizophrenia may be a result of labelling. This is a weakness as it is dehumanising, presenting humans as biological machines, underestimating the role of other important factors on our behaviour. For example, it may be better to explain human behaviour from a social or cultural perspective, as sociocultural theories, such as labelling theory, have shown clearly the damaging effects of labelling an individual with medical terms such ‘schizophrenic’ or ‘mentally ill,’ as others may interpret normal behaviour as a symptom of their disorder, and they can become ostracised from society as a result. In spite of this, biological reductionism is also a strength, as by isolating just one factor, it allows researchers to investigate that factor scientifically in order to establish cause and effect relationships. For example, experimental research is useful, where an IV is manipulated and all other variables are controlled, as by determining causation, researchers may be able to find treatments to aid those with behaviours that lessen their quality of life.

The biological approach assumes that the central nervous system, especially the brain, plays an essential role in thought and behaviour. For example, the amygdala in the limbic system plays a role in emotions. Evidence from this comes from Morris et al, who found that the amygdala shows high levels of activity when a person is shown fearful faces, suggesting that this particular area of the brain plays a role in our ability to recognise fear, thus implying that our reactionary behaviour has a biological basis. This is a strength as it demonstrates how the biological approach has been useful in explaining how and why we are able to recognise fear in another person. This may serve the evolutionary function of keeping us safe as if we can recognise emotion in someone else we can avoid the dangerous situation ourselves. Furthermore, this research is highly scientific. Morris used PET scans which is a precise and objective method of investigation. This is a strength of the biological approach as the research is high in internal validity and can be replicated precisely. This scientific approach enables psychologists to develop universal laws of behaviour and make predictions about human behaviour.

The biological approach believes chemical processes in the brain are responsible for psychological functioning. For example, OCD is though to be caused by low levels of serotonin and schizophrenia is thought to be a result of excessive dopaminergic activity. This is supported by Seeman et al, who found six times the density of D4 receptors in the brains of people with schizophrenia, supporting the claim that the activity of the neurotransmitter dopamine may cause the symptoms of schizophrenia. This is a strength of the approach as there is a clear link between schizophrenia and an increase in dopamine receptors, inferring that chemical processes are indeed responsible for schizophrenic behaviours. Research such as this has developed in useful practical applications, such as the development of drug treatments. For example, SSRIs for OCD and antipsychotic drugs for schizophrenia. This is a strength as it shows the biological approach has been beneficial and has made important contributions to society, improving the quality of life  for sufferers by lessening the debilitating effects of their disorders. However, the neurochemical explanation of schizophrenia is limited as there is evidence to suggest that family dysfunction, such as high levels of expressed emotion can trigger the development of the disorder. This highlights the importance of considering both the influences of nature and nurture on our behaviour, as the treatments that have resulted from this theory, such as family therapy, have been effective, as Hogarty et al suggests that such therapy can significantly reduce relapse rates.