1. :A2 Synoptic Evaluation
The Biological approach believes human behaviour is due to our genetics and/or
physiology. We become ill, medically and/or psychologically, because of
physiological or genetic damage, disease, or accident. It is the only approach in
psychology that examines thoughts, feelings, and behaviours from a
medical/biological, and thus physical point of view.
It provides clear predictions, for example, about the effects of
neurotransmitters, or the behaviours of people who are genetically related.
This means the explanations can be tested and ‘proven’.
Most biological explanations are reductionist and don’t provide enough
information to fully explain human behaviour. Individuals may be
predisposed to certain behaviours but these behaviours may not be displayed
unless they are triggered by factors in the environmental. This is known as
the ‘Diathesis Stress model’ of human behaviour.
The Psychodynamic approach proposes that our behaviour is influenced not just by
our conscious experience but by experiences and processes buried in our
Our personality is made up of three components;
ID (Pleasure complex as it is a reservoir of basic inherited
instincts such as sex and aggression).
SUPEREGO (represents our moral conscience which develops during
EGO tries to protect us from anxieties using defence mechanism
such as repression into the unconscious.
The combination of biological urges and our experiences during childhood is what
gives us the personality we have. Our experiences during the Psychosexual stages of
development (Oral, anal, phallic, latent & genital) and whether we are sufficiently
gratified or fixated during the stages determines our personality.
The Unconscious – this part of the mind holds anxiety provoking thoughts and
events, which have been repressed by our Defence mechanisms, such as
Repression, denial or regression. These are useful psychic energies as they help push
unwanted information into our unconscious. What is in our unconscious still affects
our behaviour and if these defence mechanisms are used too much this causes
It recognises the importance of the unconscious factors and the complexity
of human behaviour and motivations, something ignored by the
Freud’s theory cannot be falsified, i.e. a person may admit to negative
feelings about their father or may deny such feelings – but such denial could
2. be taken to indicate that they are simply repressing such feelings.
The Behavioural approach assumes all behaviours are learnt (operant conditioning
– rewards/punishments, classical conditioning - association, or vicarious
reinforcement – observing others and seeing the outcome +/-) and that our
experiences and environment make us who we are.
Like the biological perspective the behaviourist also provides clear
predictions that can. This means that explanations can be tested and
The approach only provides a partial account of human behaviour, that
which can be objectively viewed. Important factors like emotions,
expectations, higher-level motivation are not considered or explained.
Accepting a behaviourist explanation could prevent further research from
other perspective that could uncover important factors.
The Cognitive approach in psychology is a relatively modern approach to human
behaviour that focuses on how we think, with the belief that such thought
processes affect the way in which we behave.
This approach lends itself to studying human behaviour in a scientific
manner. Research contains clear IVs, DVs and testable hypotheses and
human behaviour can be tested in controlled environments.
Overly mechanistic, the stringent research style can fail to consider social,
motivational and emotional factors. Research evidence and explanations may
be based on research evidence that lack ecological validity.
The Evolutionary approach explains behaviour in terms of the selective pressures
that shape behaviour. Most behaviours that we see/display are believed to have
developed during our EEA (environment of evolutionary adaptation) to help us
survive. Observed behaviour is likely to have developed because it is adaptive. It has
been naturally selected, i.e. individuals who are best adapted survive and reproduce.
Behaviours may even be sexually selected, i.e. individuals who are most successful
at gaining access to mates leave behind more offspring.
This approach can explain behaviours that appear dysfunctional, such as
anorexia, or behaviours that make little sense in a modern context, such as
our biological stress response when finding out we are overdrawn at the
Cultural influences when understanding human behaviour are not
acknowledged in this approach, for example, evolutionary influences lead
men to select physically attractive women but the exact details of what
constitutes physical attractiveness is partly determined by culture.
3. :A2 Synoptic Evaluation Issues and
An important part of the specification for Unit 3, Topics in Psychology, requires you
to develop an appreciation of issues and debates in Psychology. In studying
Psychology you have across various specific theories, approaches and research
studies. At A2 level you will be expected to show an understanding why an issue is
important for a particular topic, and why it might influence our thinking about a
particular approaches and studies.
Psychology as a science
Science is a particular approach to studying the world that emphasises objectivity
i.e. the experimenter is clearly separated from what they are studying.
Objectivity: psychologists are people doing experiments usually on other
people. The psychologist may have beliefs and expectations which in turn
may influence the findings of an experiment. Alternatively the participant
may react to the presence of the experimenter in unexpected ways.
Reductionism in Psychology
In psychological terms, Reductionism is the belief that our behaviour can be
explained entirely by one factor or group of factors. For example, a common
criticism of Evolutionary Psychology is that it doesn’t consider our conscious
thoughts or external influences; it only explains our behaviour in terms of genetic or
biological factors that relate to survival. Similarly, the Behavioural approach only
considers external stimuli and not mental processes or emotional experiences.
Free will and determinism
In this sense most approaches in psychology are ‘deterministic’. If we can explain
someone’s behaviour fully then there is no room for free will.
We assume that individuals take responsibility for their own actions and therefore
have the free will to choose whether to do wrong or right.
However, if behaviour is only due to factors outside the person’s control, then they
don’t have free will and cannot be responsible for their own actions.
Nature and nurture
The central question is the extent to which our behaviour is determined by our
genes we inherit from our parents versus the influence of environmental factors
such as home school and friends. The extreme position is that behaviour entirely
determined by genes or conversely by our environment.
Topics which are hotly debated under the nature vs. nurture argument:
IQ, Attachments, Aggression
4. Virtually all psychological studies involve ethical issues such as deception, privacy,
psychological and physical harm. It is therefore important that BPS has strict
guidelines that psychologist should follow when conducting research to protect
participants from any harm. Remember D.I.P!! And the issues when conducting
socially sensitive research.
The use of non human animals in psychological research
Psychology has a long tradition of using non human animals in a variety of ways. The
basic principles of behaviourism were largely based on Skinner work with rats and
pigeons. However a major criticism of using animals in research is whether their
behaviour can fully explain the behaviour or experiences of humans.
This form of bias in psychological theories and studies is not the same as gender
differences. In committing this form of biasness there are a range of consequences
o Scientifically misleading
o Upholding stereotypical assumptions
o Validating sex discrimination
o Avoiding gender bias does not mean pretending that men and
women are the same
• Alpha bias – Theories that acknowledge real differences between men and
women. These can be promoting or devaluing either sex i.e. Freud’s theory of
psychosexual development view that women in many respects are ‘failed
men’. Pop psychology-‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’
• Beta bias – Theories that ignore or minimise and difference between men
and women. For instance a study which only uses male participant’s findings
then applied to females’ as well. The attachment topic predominantly ignores
the role of fathers in a child’s attachment development.
o Similar idea to ethnocentrism
o Taking male thinking/behavior as normal, regarding female
thinking/behavior as deviant, inferior, abnormal, ‘other’ when it is
Psychology is predominantly a white, Euro-American enterprise
• In some texts, >90% of studies have US RPs
• Samples predominantly white middle class
Emics are the constructs particular to a specific culture, i.e. an example of cultural
relativism – a behavior/thought that is specific to a particular culture.
Etics are constructs that are universal to all people so therefore cultural differences
can be ignored. An example could be western based psychiatric diagnosis to non
western ethnic groups.
Ethnocentrism This occurs when a researcher assumes that their own culturally
specific practices or ideas are ‘natural’ or ‘right’. Good examples of ethnocentrism
5. include early theories of relationship formation, such as social exchange theory
which are heavily influenced on Western capitalist ideas of personal possessions and
6. include early theories of relationship formation, such as social exchange theory
which are heavily influenced on Western capitalist ideas of personal possessions and