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Approaches, Issues, and Debates for AQA A2 Psychology


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Approaches, Issues, and Debates for AQA A2 Psychology

These are areas that are essential for good evaluation for the skills known as AO2 and AO3. You need to know which are

relevant to each sub-topic, and then practise using them on sample/past questions. You cannot do well in A2 without

considerable skill in using evaluation.


include bias (culture- or gender-based), ethics (for human and non-human animal participants), methodology.


include nature/nurture, free will and determinism, reductionism.


include cognitive, biological/physiological, behavioural/learning, and psychodynamic.

You need to practise using these to comment on, to evaluate, to identify strengths and weaknesses, and to explain the points you

are making.

Below is a set of grids, one for each A2 topic, with suggestions about appropriate/relevant issues, debates, and approaches to use

in evaluation. Checking these out and doing the “Over to you!” sections will help you score good marks in your exam answers.

NOTE: Only some, not all, issues/debates/approaches apply to any one sub-topic or essay question.



Sub-topic Issue(s) Debate(s) Approach(es) Over to you! Further resources

Biological Rhythms Culture bias—many cultures have a siesta so their sleep rhythm is not circadian; case studies and small samples are not generalisable; animal studies might or might not be generalisable

The siesta behaviour suggests nurture as well as nature is involved in the circadian sleep rhythm

Very biological, but some research suggests individual differences

Try writing a 15-minute evaluation of the

research into biological rhythms using these and/or other ideas

Check the online

chapters on Approaches, Issues, and Debates for additional material to use as evaluation

Sleep States Can we assume that researchers see “normal” sleep states when

participants are wired up and in a laboratory? Is there a validity or mundane realism issue here?

Endogenous and

exogenous control shows nature and nurture

This reductionist stages-of-sleep approach does not explain the

differences between how long people sleep, or how sleep for an individual varies

In what ways can non-human animal studies help our understanding of sleep, and what are the ethical issues of using animals in this way?

Check out what validity

means, e.g. in Searle, A. (1999) Introducing Research and Data in Psychology (Routledge), p. 75

Disorders of Sleep What issues are there when researching a disorder? What are the ethical concerns for such a sensitive topic?

Is insomnia a genetic condition (nature), or learned (nurture)? What sort of research could help answer this question?

Can you contrast what the psychodynamic approach might say about somnambulism with the biological approach?

Consider what factors can affect a person’s sleep. Can you write a 10-minute answer on how psychological knowledge could be applied to support an individual with insomnia? Go to www.bbc.co.uk

and search for “sleep disorders”



Sub-topic Issue(s) Debate(s) Approach(es) Over to you Further reading

Theories of Perceptual Organisation

Some research studies are based on deception, such as the visual illusions. When or why might such deception be ethically acceptable?

Emotional and

motivational factors are ignored in theories of perception, so these could be described as being reductionist

Gregory’s theory is cognitive, and includes the importance of memory. How does this differ from Gibson’s theory?

Pick one of the issues, debates, or approaches points and write a 10-minute evaluation based on your choice

Check out experimental reductionism in the online Debates in Psychology chapter

Development of Perception

The majority of research in this area is based on western individuals and groups. What assumption did the researchers make which leads to criticism that they showed cultural bias?

Cross-cultural and other studies have shown that both nature and nurture are involved in the development of perception

The importance of the eyes and brain support a biological approach to perceptual development, but this goes hand-in-hand with environmental factors, so that we make sense of what we see

Plan, using a mind map or other technique, how you could write a 20-minute answer on nature and nurture and

perceptual development, evaluating each approach with examples and explanations

The visual illusion section of the Nature– Nurture chapter in Bell’s (2002) Debates in Psychology (Routledge), is worth a close look

Face Recognition and Visual Agnosias

Studies of brain damage can give valuable information, but to what extent would you consider such a patient capable of giving fully informed consent? How might this issue be dealt with?

Research suggests that the ability to recognise faces (as opposed to other stimuli) is

determined by the brain, in the right fusiform face area, which would make this biological


Both the cognitive and biological approaches must apply here;

cognitive for memory of faces, and biological for recognition and

processing of visual input

The very small number of people with visual agnosia means that research is inevitably biased. Does this mean the research has little value? Write a 10-minute answer to this question giving your arguments, justification, evidence, and explanations The neurophysiology section in Jarvis’ (2000) Theoretical Approaches in Psychology (Routledge), is a very useful and quite detailed account of brain



Sub-topic Issue(s) Debate(s) Approach(es) Over to you Further reading

The Formation, Maintenance, and Breakdown of Romantic Relationships

Culture bias shows up here, also zeitgeist; very northern European view of romantic relationships i.e. individualist, and very mid twentieth century

Do we have free will in choosing romantic partners, or are we influenced or constrained by our social group, social/economic status, and expectations?

Social factors would support several theories, but the cognitive

approach is also

suggested e.g. for equity theory

Pick one of these ideas, or choose another, and write a 20-minute

evaluation of the theories of romantic

relationships, including discussion, evidence, and explanations

Check out the section on free will (and

determinism) in the online Debates in Psychology chapter Human Reproductive Behaviour

What could be more socially sensitive than this? Private behaviour will always be difficult to research; are

participants likely to be representative of the population?

Free will does not seem to feature here.

Behaviour is determined by our genes, reduced to our biological drive to mate and reproduce

The evolutionary or biological approach ignores culture, social norms, emotions, and more

Write a 10-minute discussion of the pros and cons of the

evolutionary approach or explanation of this behaviour, identifying strengths and weaknesses Jarvis’s (2000) Theoretical Approaches in Psychology (Routledge), has an interesting short section on mate selection and evolutionary psychology Effects of Early Experience and Culture on Adult Relationships Adolescence and childhood are sensitive topics to many; looking back from the adult state also has methodological issues

The topic title suggests that nurture may be more influential than nature, but this ignores

temperament, which is mainly genetic

Both psychodynamic and behavioural approaches can apply

Construct a mind map, or other detailed plan, of how you could discuss the ethical issues involved in researching early experiences relating to adult relationships

The excellent, and very interesting, chapter on socially sensitive research in Banyard and Flanagan’s (2005)

Ethical Issues and Guidelines in

Psychology (Routledge), is well worth reading



Sub-topic Issue(s) Debate(s) Approach(es) Over to you Further reading

Social Psychological Approaches to Explaining Aggression Aggression is anti-social behaviour, so researching it is sensitive; also, what counts as aggression varies from one cultural group to another

If aggression is learned as a child from the domestic environment, is this behaviour

determined by that environment as well as the effect of nurture?

Learning theory, faulty cognition? What about genes, hormones, neurochemicals?

Mind map, or plan in some other way with detailed discussion points, the debates about aggression Clarke (2003) has an interesting section on personality and aggression in Pro-Social and Anti-Social Behaviour (Routledge) Biological Explanations of Aggression

Research suggests the brain’s limbic system has a causal function; also the pre-frontal cortex and amygdala. But can we generalise from animal studies to humans; or from murderers to the population?

Some biological evidence suggests aggression could be partly innate, so is this determinism? Does this absolve those people from censure?

This biological approach ignores alternative or additional explanations and factors such as cognitive, emotional, and social

Write a 10-minute discussion of the alternative or additional factors ignored by the biological approach

The online chapter Approaches in

Psychology has a section on the biological

approach which is really useful reading

Aggression as an Adaptive Response

We cannot test

evolutionary biological explanations, and even looking at current very non-industrial cultures cannot compensate for this lack of empirical evidence, however appealing the

evolutionary explanation

This is an extreme nature explanation, with little nurture; it is also deterministic and reductionist, which makes it a narrow explanation when one considers the complexity of human behaviour

The evolutionary approach is part of the biological approach, and ignores many social and other factors, though learning theory and identity do support some of the explanations

Write a 15-minute discussion on the issues around evolutionary explanations, giving clear explanations

The online chapter Approaches in

Psychology has a section on the evolutionary approach which is really useful reading



Sub-topic Issue(s) Debate(s) Approach(es) Over to you Further reading

Eating Behaviour Food and eating are emotive and sensitive issues. To some, food can equate to love; to those who have insufficient food, it means life. Western research assumes no shortage of food, so this is a bias issue

Clearly the need to eat is nature (innate), but what, and how, and when we eat is nurture. In some wealthy cultures, individuals can choose what and when they eat, which could illustrate free will, but in other cultures there is no choice

Several approaches could explain this behaviour, such as the psychodynamic, behavioural, and biological views; there are also social factors that could affect eating behaviours

Discuss, in a 15-minute written answer with clear explanations and

examples, how culture affects eating behaviour

Access the BBC’s website www.bbc.co.uk

and search “food and mood”

Biological Explanations of Eating Behaviour

Much of the empirical evidence is based on non-human animals, which involves at least two issues, the ethical issue and the

generalisation issue

The common preference across many, but not all, cultures for alcohol, could suggest some biological determinism

Biological explanations, including evolutionary ones apply strongly, with their strengths and also their weaknesses

Mind map, or use

another strategy, to make a detailed plan of how you would organise a discussion on the use of non-human animals in this research

Eating Disorders Main issues with any disorder are the social sensitivity; the ethics such as gaining informed consent to study

participants with disorders; the small sample size, and gender and cultural bias

Neither free will nor determinism explain why some and not the

majority of people do not develop these disorders. Nature, and also nurture, might be able to go some way to explaining this

Biological and psychodynamic

explanations do not deal with the effect of culture here; also the majority of Western girls do not develop these disorders, which most approaches do not explain

Write a 15-minute discussion explaining why/how the debates relate or do not relate to these disorders

Banyard and Flanagan (2005) in Ethical Issues and Guidelines in Psychology (Routledge), have an interesting section on dealing with cultural sensitivity



Sub-topic Issue(s) Debate(s) Approach(es) Over to you Further reading

Psychological explanations of Gender


The social sensitivity of gender issues, e.g. gender stereotyping and prejudice; gender difference studies and sample size

Nature and nurture— why is there little difference in IQ but much larger differences in school achievement between the sexes?

Cognitive theories apply here, but so also do social factors

Write a 15-minute discussion on how a named theory can or cannot explain the debate identified here

Abbot’s (2001) Social and Personality Development

(Routledge), has good sections on gender development

Biological Influences on Gender

An issue here is that seeing gender-related behaviours as

biologically driven can lead to bias if an

individual does not show the typical gender behaviour expected

The biological determinism of the evolutionary explanation does not allow for the variety of behaviours seen within each gender in everyday life

Learning theory vs. evolutionary explanation

For either the biosocial or the evolutionary explanation, draw up a list of discussion points for and against the theory, including evidence and explanations

The evaluation of the evolutionary explanation is covered very clearly in the online chapter

Approaches in Psychology

Social Contexts of Gender Role

Cross-cultural studies give global and valid, rather than ethnocentric, data about gender roles

Social factors show the importance and

interaction of nature and nurture

Social factors are clearly important but the

biological approach is also relevant and should not be ignored

Mind map, or use another strategy, to plan an essay discussing the effects of social

influence and culture on gender development

Search the BBC site

www.bbc.co.uk, for “gender development” for more information



Sub-topic Issue(s) Debate(s) Approach(es) Over to you Further reading

Theories of Intelligence

Different groups and cultures define

intelligence differently, yet research focuses on a narrow definition

The cultural aspects of intelligence suggest that much research is wrongly determinist in its assumptions Cognitive vs. behavioural—though neither addresses emotional IQ

Mind map, or use another strategy, to produce a detailed plan for an essay discussing one theory of intelligence, including evidence and explanations Banyard’s (1999) Controversies in Psychology (Routledge), has a good section on psychometric tests, such as IQ tests

Animal Learning and Intelligence

A main ethical issue is the use of non-human animals in research, even in research about


Conditioning studies have quite a reductionist basis, as in “A follows or leads to B”; this is challenged by the ecological explanation because of e.g. instinct

The behavioural approach is challenged by studies showing self recognition and social learning

Write a 10-minute answer discussing the evidence for animal learning and what this tells us

Search for “octopus + IQ” tests on

www.bbc.co.uk and read the CBBC report, then watch the videos to decide whether you think the tests are valid

Evolution of Intelligence

It is impossible to gather significant amounts of empirical evidence for an evolutionary theory, even though the fossil record does provide some such

The ongoing debate here is that we can only guess the influences of nature and nurture, because of lack of evidence, plus the fact that we are unable to assess the genetics of intelligence; only brain size and structure

Evolutionary, also cognitive and social explanations, join here

Write a 15-minute discussion of the influence of ecological demands OR social complexity and brain size on the evolution of human intelligence

If you Google “human evolution” you can watch the video clip “Human Evolution: The Evidence”



Sub-topic Issue(s) Debate(s) Approach(es) Over to you Further reading

Development of Thinking

Methodological issues include sample size and experimenter bias

Assuming that all children develop cognitively in the same way implies a

determinist view, which other evidence


Biological and cognitive explanations combine with social factors—they are not mutually


Map out in detail the support and the

challenges you could use in a discussion of one theory of cognitive development There is an interesting section on Issues in Oakley’s (2004) Cognitive Development (Routledge) Development of Moral Understanding

Ethical issues relate to having children as participants, especially when judgements are being made about other sensitive areas such as morality

Kohlberg’s view can be regarded as reductionist in that the focus is on cognition, with human emotions being ignored

The cognitive

explanation is useful, but emotions also play an important part

Write a 15-minute discussion of the

challenges to one theory of moral development, including evidence and explanation

Oakley (2004) has a stimulating section on gender and moral development in Cognitive Development (Routledge) Development of Social Cognition Researching a disorder is always highly socially sensitive, especially if there is a suggestion of a genetic input or a gender issue

Theories can be regarded as biologically

deterministic, because cognitive factors are emphasised, based on brain function, and motivation tends to be overlooked

Both biological and cognitive explanations contribute here, but other factors are also needed in the explanations

Compare the theory of mind and the

perspective-taking theories, looking for points in common and points of difference. Organise your points into a table

Search the BBC website

www.bbc.co.uk for articles on “Theory of Mind”



Sub-topic Issue(s) Debate(s) Over to you Further reading


Characteristics + Issues Surrounding Classification and Diagnosis

Ethical issues are concerned with the sensitivity of researching disorders, such as the giving of informed consent. There are also the methodological issues, such as the artificiality of criteria and the cut-off between normal and disordered; and there are cross-cultural differences in what is considered abnormal behaviour

The classification systems could be argued to be determinism in action

Write a 10-minute discussion on the three issues identified here, including examples and explanations

Jarvis’ (2000) section on the importance of language and culture in Theoretical Approaches in Psychology

(Routledge) is short, but makes key points


Explanations and Therapies

Perhaps the main issue here is to what extent the therapy works and produces long-term benefit; also the question of validity, i.e. are the symptoms or the actual underlying cause being treated?

Nature and nurture is an obvious debate, linking to the cross-cultural issues; genetic explanations also link to biological determinism

Write a 10-minute answer discussing evidence about the validity of these therapies

Cave’s (1999) Therapeutic Approaches in Psychology

(Routledge) is worth dipping into for extra information

Psychological Explanations and Therapies

A main issue here is to what extent the therapy works and produces long-term benefit; also, is there any cultural or social bias in the explanation?

Nature and nurture is an obvious debate, linking to the cross-cultural issues. Genetic explanations also link to biological determinism, whereas social and cultural factors are nurture, and could indicate some free will

Mind map, or use another strategy, to plan a detailed discussion about cultural and social effects in explanations of abnormality

Cave’s (1999) Therapeutic Approaches in Psychology

(Routledge) is worth dipping into for extra information



Sub-topic Issue(s) Debate(s) Approach(es) Over to you! Further resources


Influences on Social


One ethical issue is giving participants media experiences, which might increase their anti-social tendencies

The suggestion of media influences is clearly nurture, but temperament (which is nature) is a

possible factor too

Behaviourism or Learning Theory (including social learning) applies here, but social factors and biological ones also play a part

Mind map, or use another technique, to plan a detailed discussion of media influences on pro-social behaviour, including evidence and evaluation

The section on media influences is worth reading in Clarke’s (2003) Pro-Social and Anti-Social Behaviour (Routledge) Persuasion, Attitude, and Change

An important ethical issue is how psychological knowledge could be used; deliberately influencing attitudes is a good example of this. There are also methodological issues, such as self-reporting and correlational findings

Nature and nurture are involved, as cognitive ability and personality are nature, but judgements about the communicator are likely to be more socially- or

culturally-based, and therefore nurture

Much of this is very cognitive in its approach, but other factors such as emotions and personality are also involved

Write a 10-minute discussion including evidence on the non-cognitive factors involved in persuasion and attitude change The BBC website search for “persuasion” links to an interesting article and video clip on how to persuade


The Psychology of “Celebrity”

Research has to be careful to make the distinction between celebrity worship which is not pathological, and that which is. There is also the issue of when fandom becomes intense, as this distinction is an artificial construct and

Nature could be more important than nurture, as research identifies innate characteristics (e.g. personality and Several approaches could contribute explanations; biological for personality;

cognitive for obsessive thinking; but emotional

Write a 15-minute discussion of the Absorption– Addiction model, including evidence and evaluation

Search the BBC site for “celebrity worship” www.bbc.co.uk



Sub-topic Issue(s) Debate(s) Approach(es) Over to you! Further resources

Models of Addictive Behaviour

There is no clear, accepted definition of addiction. Also, addiction and addicts are examples of a socially sensitive research area, and so extra ethical concerns apply

The biological explanations suggest nature, whilst the learning or behavioural explanations involve nurture Behavioural, cognitive, and biological

approaches all have contributions, as do social factors

Write a 10-minute discussion including evidence of either the biological or the behavioural

explanation of addiction

Search the New Scientist website for an interesting comment on internet addiction www.newscientist.co m Factors Affecting Addictive Behaviour

There are cultural issues as to which behaviours (and their extent) count as addictions

Nature and nurture interact, as some factors are innate (such as personality) and others are environmental (such as advertising and social norms)

Cognitive explanations are important (e.g. in attributional style), but there are many factors involved as the

biopsychosocial explanation suggests

Mind map, or use another technique, to produce a detailed plan of discussion including evidence of the factors in either the biopsychosocial approach or Davies’ stage model

Another New Scientist

article looks at a case study of gambling, titled Hooked: Why

your brain is primed for addiction www.newscientist.co m Reducing Addictive Behaviour

The social sensitivity of this psychopathology means that many addicts cannot accept that they are addicted, and/or feel powerless as well as ashamed. There is also the issue of research comparing therapies if this shows that any have little usefulness

Do addicts have free will over their addiction? Is addictive behaviour determined either biologically or socially?

Clearly the cognitive approach has impact on reducing addictive behaviour, but many other factors are involved, such as emotions, and social and environmental barriers

Choose one biological and one psychological therapy and write a 15-minute discussion including evidence and evaluation of the two therapies

The BBC website has some alternative ideas on addiction therapy, but is there research evidence?



Sub-topic Issue(s) Debate(s) Approach(es) Over to you! Further resources

Theoretical and Methodological Issues in the Study of Anomalous Experience

Pseudoscience, reliability, and validity of evidence, fraud—all important issues

Write a detailed plan, such as a mind map, linking

Ganzfeld studies to the three basic principles of science

The BBC website has a video clip

demonstrating how easy it is to produce fake results. Search for “ESP” in www.bbc.co.uk Factors Underlying Anomalous Experience

Sensitivity is needed towards social or cultural norms in paranormal beliefs, such as superstitions and near-death experiences, or paranormal

explanations of physiological states, such as sleep paralysis

Nature is involved if the biological explanations are valid, but nurture is also a factor for norms and experiences

The cognitive and biological approaches are important here, with possible cultural factors and psychodynamic explanations, such as the effects of early childhood experiences

Construct a simple table of the evidence for differences between

superstitious and non-superstitious people

Searching the New Scientist website for “near death

experience” gives some interesting articles on, for example, producing similar experiences in the laboratory www.newscientist.co m Belief in Exceptional Experience

Considerable sensitivity should be shown when researching, and therefore questioning, participants’ beliefs. Methodologically there is an issue in that much exceptional

Nurture is clearly involved where a belief is cultural, and where any belief is involved, as these

Cognitive explanations are relevant, modified by personal experience and possible innate factors Write a 15-minute discussion and evaluation of the evidence supporting the validity of

New Scientist has a good article on the “Power of Belief” www.newscientist.co m


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