The usual definition of Psychology is that it is the scientific study of the human mind and behaviour. As words go, these sound a little dry and dusty and do not really do justice to what the subject is all about. Psychology has as its remit the huge task of explaining the good, the bad and the ugly in all of us. In essence it is about what makes us tick and why. It draws on many disciplines and we can find the roots of modern Psychology in biology and philosophy. It is a science but has as its subject the human being; a sentient, highly intelligent, complicated and often unpredictable creature.
Furthermore, different psychological approaches seek to explain our behaviour in radically different ways. For behaviourists, environment, nurture and learning are the shaping forces that make us who we are. Those adopting the biological paradigm look to genetics, physiology, neurotransmitters and hormones for the answers: in their view testosterone may have a lot to answer for! Evolutionary psychology is a relatively new approach which explains all our behaviour in terms of its ultimate adaptive quality. Here, our actions are geared towards two imperatives: to survive and to reproduce and pass on our genes. Of course there are those who disagree and supporters of Sigmund Freud focus on the role of the unconscious mind and unresolved childhood conflicts and fixations. Who would have thought that when and how you were potty trained could explain so much about your adult personality?
This subject is taught only in the Sixth Form and is one of the most popular options at OLA. The specification that will be followed is: AQA Psychology and below is an outline of the course content and structure.
A Level content
Introductory topics in Psychology: Social influence, Memory, Attachment and Psychopathology. 2 hours. (33.3% of A Level award)
Psychology in context: Approaches in Psychology, Biopsychology and Research Methods. 2 hours. (33.3% of A Level award)
• Issues and debates in Psychology: gender and culture, freewill and determinism, nature-nurture debate, reductionism and holism, idiographic and nomothetic approaches and ethical issues.
• Options in Psychology: 3 options are selected from Relationships, Gender, Cognition and development, Schizophrenia, Eating behaviour, Stress, Aggression, Forensic psychology, and Addiction. 2 hours. (33.3% of A Level award)
There are a range of questions in each paper including multiple choice, short answer and extended writing. There is no coursework.
At least 10% of the overall assessment of Psychology will contain mathematical skills. These skills will be applied in the context of Psychology and will be at least the standard of higher tier GCSE mathematics. Students will use descriptive and inferential statistics to analyse data.
At least 25-30% of the overall assessment will assess skills, knowledge and understanding in relation to research methods. An understanding of scientific methodology is recommended.
Students will study the genetic basis of behaviour, the nervous system, synaptic transmission, the endocrine system and localisation of brain function. Biological explanations are also explored in many of the topics such as schizophrenia, addiction, aggression. An interest in Biology and a level 5 or above in GCSE Science is therefore strongly recommended.
Why study Psychology?
Psychology is an enormous subject and studying even a part of it will result in an improved understanding of the dynamics of human behaviour. Only hermits and social recluses do not need to interact with other people; so whatever path a student chooses after school, what they have learnt in Psychology will, sooner or later, come in handy
Preparatory work for studying Psychology in the Sixth Form Online:
Look at the AQA website for more information on the A level Psychology course content. From the library: ‘The Psychology Review’ magazine has a range of interesting and relevant articles. ‘The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat’ by Oliver Sacks is a fascinating collection of case studies into abnormal psychology. Listen to Radio 4 ‘All in the mind’ presented by Claudia Hammond, available on Podcast.