AS Psychology Unit 1 Edexcel

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Assumptions of Cognitive Approach

Information Processing

Suggests that when we receive information through our senses, we deal and process this information in a certain way. One way is known as bottom-up and top-down processing.

Bottom-up is where the senses (sight, auditory, taste, smell and touch) pick up stimuli and sends this message to the brain.

Top-down is where we check the message that has been sent via bottom-up against our memory, which should then give us an appropriate response to the stimuli. So top-down not only tells us what it is, but also how to react, hence to either duck from the object or put a hand out and catch it for example.

Computer Analogy - Assumption suggests computers work in the same way as the human mind.

  • Humans have input (senses). We process the input (with our brain), which then provides the right response.
  • Computers have input (data), they then process the input and this provides the right response.
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Multi-Store Model (Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968)

  • Information enters the Sensory Memory via our senses (visual, auditory, touch, smell, taste) and is hled there for no more than a couple of seconds.
  • This information is then sent to the Short Term Memory.
  • STM can hold between 5 - 9 pieces of information at any one time.
  • Miller said that by 'chunking' information together we can hold more information in the STM.
  • Peterson & Peterson (1959) suggest information being held in the STM is held for up to 30 seconds without rehearsal.
  • Once in the STM if the information is not rehearsed it will decay.
  • It is the role of the rehearsal loop to repeat the information being held in the STM - if the information is rehearsed enough it will then be transferred to the LTM (Long Term Memory).
  • The LTM is suggested to have unlimited storage, and information that is stored can be held indefinitely.
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Evaluation of Multi-Store Model

+ There is a lot of research to support the theory: such as Peterson & Peterson who showed when rehearsal is prevented, new information stays in the STM for a limited duration of time.

+ We also see aspects of the theory being played out in daily activites; like when we look up a telephone number to dial, we repeat the number in our head while dialling it in order not to forget. The rehearsal loop would explain this behaviour.

- Theory is very simplistic and suggests we can only remember things once they have been rehearsed in the STM. This theory cannot explain people that have photographic memories.

- Theory fails to explain why we fail to memorize certain pieces of information, despite being told time and time again and rehearsing it.

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Levels of Processing Theory(Craik and Lockheart, 1

Deeper the processing of the stimuli, the better the memory.

LOP theory suggests there are three levels of processing

1. Structural - The weakest level, based on how something looks. For example is the word cat written in capital letters?

2. Phonetic - The second weakest level, based on the sound of the word. For example does the word Cat rhyme with Mat?

3. Semantic - The strongest level, based on the meaning of the word. For example does the word dog fit into the sentence, "I switched the power on my _ _ _ to watch Eastenders".

Semantic is the deepest level of processing, which requires more thinking than the other levels, therefore it creates a stronger memory.

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Evaluation of Levels of Processing Theory

+ Studies which suggest theory is correct. Craik and Tulving (1975) carried out a study where participants recalled more semantically processed words than phonetic and structural. Therefore the findings support the LOP where semantic processing has the greatest recall.

+ LOP theory has given us more detailed information about memory than just a simple rehearsal loop. The theory has shown that there are different ways to process stimuli.

+ PET scans have shown that there is more brain activity with semantic processing tasks compared with shallow processing tasks.

- Theory does not explain why so many people are unable to recall traumatic events that happen to them. As the event would have significant meaning to the individual, surely they would process this deeply which would results in a strong memory.

- Reber et al. (1994) has shown that the emotional conent of words can affect recall, where such words had better recall than neutral words, even though both had been processed at a structural level. This suggests there is more to memory than just deep and shallow processing proposed by LOP.

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Craik and Tulving Study (1975)

Aim: To see if words processed semantically had better recall than words processed phonetically or structurally.

Procedure: They carried out a lab experiment where they showed words and asked a question about the word shown. The participant had to answer either yes or no to the question. There were three types of questions that encouraged the participant to process the words either semantically, phonetically or structurally.

Participants were then given a long list of 180 words into which the original words had been mixed. They were asked to pick out the original words.

Results: Showed that semantic words had the highest recognition, with structural having the lowest recognition.

Conclusion: The deeper we process information, the stronger the memory, while shallow processing produces weak memory. Thus the findings support the LOP theory of memory. 

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Evaluation of Craik and Tulving Study

+ It was a lab experiment which has strict controls, so a clear cause and effect can be established. This means we can safely say that the results were clearly caused by the I.V.; this makes the study reliable.

+ The results are reliable so it can be used to back up and support the LOP theory.

- As deeper (semantic) processing would logically take more time to execute than shallow processing (structural), this makes it unclear as to whether its the time taken to process the question, or the level of processing, as being the actual cause of recall.

- Lacks ecological validity as the participants  knew they were taking part in an experiment and might have guessed the nature of the study and therefore produced demand characteristics.

- Lacks validity as the task of looking at words and stating if it fits into a sentence is not an everyday experience.

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Repression is known as a defence mechanism, which is an automatic response that is learnt in early childhood to protect us from negative/anxious feelings and/or events that we could not deal with as children. Repression pushes the negative experience out of the mind, into the unconscious, and hence the anxiety/feeling goes away, because we have forgotten what we were anxious or felt unhappy about in the first place.

Strengths of Repression

  • There are many studies thats support the existence of repression. Koehler et al. (2002) showed that German students who were shown 25 netural and 25 stressful words, were able to recall more neutral than stressful words, which suggests the stressful words had been repressed.

Weaknesses of Repression

  • This study in unreliable as there is no way to observe or measure repressed memories in the unconscious, therefore findings are subjective and open to bias.
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Cue Dependant Theory of Forgetting

There are two aspects to cue dependant theory of forgetting:

1. Context Dependant - When we experience an event or learn something new when we are in a particular place.

2. State Dependant - At the same time of the experience, we will be in a certain emotional, psychological and physical condition.

The theory suggests that we tend to forget and not recall things because when we try to remember we are in different state and/or context to that of when we learnt or had experienced the memory we are trying to recall.

The theory suggests that if you caanot recall something, but then given a cue, this can help to retrieve the information.

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Evaluation of Theory of Forgetting

+ Research by Godden and Baddely (1975) supports the theory, where they showed that divers who learnt and recalled in the same context recalled more words than divers that had learnt and recalled in different contexts.

+ Theory is seen our daily actions, suggesting it has good general application.

-  Theory cannot explain why we cannot recall something, even though we are in the same context and state that we were in when had learnt the information

-  The majority of research used to support the theory can be said to be artificial; having to learn random list of words and then either recall them in the same or different environments.

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Godden and Baddeley Study (1975)

Aim: To see if forgetting is caused by the change of context from when you learnt a list of words to that of recalling the words.


  • They got a group of divers that were on a diving holiday to participate. They seperated them into two groups, one condition would learn and recall in the same context, the other condition would learn in context and then recall in a totally different context.
  • One groups learnt a list of 36 words on land and another group to learn the list 20ft underwater. They then tested each group by getting them to recall the words in the same context that they had learnt the words. The next condition had to recall the words in a different context to which they had learnt.

Results: Those that learnt and recalled in a different context recalled about 40% less words than those who learnt and recalled in the same context.

Conclusion: Shows that forgetting is due to a change in context; so if you try and recall something, but are in a different context to that you were in when you learnt the information, this will hinder your ability to recall.

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Evaluation of Godden and Baddeley Study

+ Method was field experiement; many variables controlled and followed a strict script; makes the study replicable; therefore reliable.

+ As the study was controlled, a clear cause and effect relationship can be established, meaning the I.V is responsible for the outcome of the DV.

+ It was valid up to a certain point as the study used experienced divers where the study involved diving.

- However, the task of learning and then recalling random lists of words underwater is a task that even experienced divers would not noramally, therefore it lacks ecological validity.

- As the divers knew they were taking part in an experiment, they may have guessed the purpose of the study and therefore produced demand characteristics.

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Assumptions of Social Approach

How Individuals Influence Our Behaviour - Other members of society can and does have an effect upon the way we behave.

How Groups Influence Our Behaviour - Groups that we belong to can and do have an effect upon the way we behave. People when in groups tend to lose their individuality.

How Society Influences Our Behaviour - We play many roles in society and with each role that we play there is acceptable behaviour for the individual while in that role; and this social expectation influences our behaviour.

How Culture Influences Our Behaviour - In Britain we drive on the left hand side of the road. However a French family in France would always drive on the right side, and if they visited Britain they would be influenced by the need to drive on the left hand side of the road.

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Milgram Original Study (Social)

Aim: After the 2nd World War it was suggested that Germans might have an evil gene. Milgram wanted to see if American people would inflict pain on another human being, to the point of death, if instructed by an authority figure. If they would then this would suggest Germans are not evil, but if they would not then this would suggest the evil gene theory as being correct.


  • Milgram advertised in a local newspaper for participants. The advert said it was a test looking at memory. The advert said they would be paid to take part.
  • The experiment took place at Yale University - the participant and stooge drew lots to see who would be the teacher and learner; it was rigged so that the participant was always the teacher.
  • The participant and stooge were taken into a room where the stooge was strapped into a chair. The stooge was then wired up to the shock machine.
  • The participant was then asked to read out a word and then to read out four other words, with one being paired with the first word. The stooge had to indicate by selecting via a light buzzer which word it was.
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Milgram Original Study Cont. (Social)

  • If the stooge got the word wrong the participant was instructed to give the stooge a shock (with an increase of 15 volts each time, up until it reached 450 volts).
  • If the participant requested to stop, the experimentor would give verbal prompts to get them to carry on.
  • Unknown to the participant, when they walked out of the room where the stooge was strapped to the chair, the stooge unstrapped himself and then played a tape recording of the screams and responses to each set of words read out.
  • At the end of the experiment the participant was told about the true nature of the study and was re-introduced to the stooge to show no harm was done to him.
  • Milgram sent a survey a year later to the participants to make sure they were ok and to give ther thoughts about the whole experience.

Results: 100% of all participants gave the schocks up to 300 volts. 65% of all participants gave the maximum shock of 450 volts.

Conclusion: This study shows that most Americans will obey an authoritive figure and inflict harm on another human being, even to the point of death. Suggests the theory that Germans having an evil gene is not true.

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Evaluation of Milgram Original Study

+ Study had strict controls and a script for the stooge and experimentor to follow; this means it could be replicated, making it extremely reliable.

+ Study has given us insight into the power of those with authority and has helped us to understand why ordinary German soldiers carried out such horrid acts against humanity during the  2nd World War, an authoritative figure.

- Study was unethical in several ways, such as deeception, they advertised it as a study looking at memory; while in fact it was about obedience. The participants were put under extreme moral strain which breeches the codes of ethics.

- The sample was volunteers as the participants responded to an advert. This suggests that the results cannot be generalised to the population, as not every type of personailty would put themselves forward to take part in a study. It also suggests those people who responded to an advert are more likely to be motivated than others.

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Variation of Milgram Study

Aim: Milgram wanted to see if changing location from a University setting to a fairly rundown office building in town would have an effect upon the level of obedience.

Procedure: The procedure was the same as the original study, expect the location changed to a rundown office building and the participants thought it was being done by a research company.

Results: 47.5% (19 out of 40) of all participants gave the full 450 volts.

Conclusion: As the level obedience decreased from the original study to this study, suggets that obedience is also affected by location alonf with an authoritative figure.

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Evaluation of Variation Milgram Study


  • Study had strict controls, therefore it could be replicated, makes it reliable.
  • Results of this variation study support the conclusion of Milgram's original study, giving both studies greater reliability.


  • It was unethical in several ways; the participants were put under extreme moral strain which breeches the code of ethics.
  • The taks of giving shocks to another person is artificial and is not something people would normally do, so the study lacks validiity.
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Meeus and Raaijmakers Study

Aim: To see if the results would be found, 20 years later, in a more liberal Dutch culture to that of the MIlgram USA study. It also wanted to see if psychological-administrative violence creates more or less obedience as compared to Milgram study of physical voilence.


  • Meeus and Raaijmakers advertised in a newspaper for participants and were offered payment for taking part.
  • The study was held in a modrern university and the advert said that the test was looking at stress and performance.
  • The participants were told that the task was to select the right candidate for a job that involved high levels of stress, so they had to see how well people responded to stressful situations; if the applicant failed the test they would not be offered the job.
  • The applicant had to sit the test and the experimentor told the participant that while the applicant was doing the test they would have to make 15 distressing remarks to them, increasing intensity from least distressing to extremely distressing.
  • The applicant was actually a stooge and acted in a distressed way and it was evident that they would not get the job.
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Meeus and Raaijmakers Study Cont.

  • If the participant refused to continue giving distressing remarks, the experimentor gave verbal prods to continue the study.
  • Two thirds of the way through the test the applicant (stooge) withdrew his consent to continue, when this happened the experimentor still gave verbal prods to continue giving the stressful comments.

Results: 92% of all participants (22 of 24) obeyed the experimentor and gave all 15 stressful comments.

73% of all participants believed that they were testing for real job applicants.

Only 4% (1 participant) thought that the hoal thing was a hoax.

All participants stated that they intensily disliked saying the stressful comments.

Conclusion: Obedience is also found in other cultures 20 years laters to that as found in Milgram's USA study. The level of obedience was higher than what Milgram found, which suggests people are more willing to inflict Psychological pain as opposed to physical pain.

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Evaluation of Meeus and Raaijmakers

+ Study had strict controls, this makes the study replicable; and therefore reliable.

+ It is high in validity, as the majority of participants reported that they thought the task was real.

- The study was unethical in several ways; the participant was deceived into the true nature of the task and put under extreme moral strain.

- The sample was volunteers, as the participants responded to an advert. Therefore the results cannot be generalised to the wider population, as not all types of personailty would respond to an advert to participate in a study.

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Hofling Study

Aim: To see if people would obey an authoritative figure in a more natural setting than that of a controlled laboratory environment which Milgram done. Hofling wanted to look at whether nurses would obey an authoritative figure, even if it meant to go against hospital procedures and the safety of the patients,


  • Hofling phones 22 nurses that were working on wards and referred to himself as Dr. Smith and told the nurse to give patient X a drug, but to increase the dosage from 10mg to 20mg (the medicine bottle it stated the max dosage 10mg).
  • The hospital procedure was that the change or giving of any medication has to have a Dr's signature. Dr. Smith (Hofling) said that he will sign the form later when he is on the ward, but to give the drug now.
  • The nurses' behaviour was then observed to see if they would administor the drug.
  • The patient was a stooge, the drug was a water solution although it was in an actual medicine bottle.
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Hofling Study Cont.

Results: 21 out of 22 nurses obeyed the instructions and went to give the drug, which meant they went against hospital procedure.

Conclusion: Study shows that nurses would go against hospital procedures if instructed to do so by a percieved authoritative figure.


  • Study was a field experiment and none of the nurses knew that they were part of an experiment, so their response was natural; findings therefore high in ecological validity.
  • Study has shown hospitals that even though procedures are in place, staff are willing to go against these if instructured by a senior member of staff.


  • Study can be seen as unethical; none of the nurses gave consent to take part.
  • The study was a field experiment, so therefore there was no controls over participant variables; which makes the study less reliable.
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Agency Theory

Milgram proposed this theory to explain why people obey authoritative figures.

  • The act of being in distress because of having to follow orders which go against your own morals, Milgram referred to as Moral Strain.

Agentic State - When an individual automatically surrenders their free will of choice and become agents of the authoritative figure. When in the agentic state you feel as if you have no choice but to follow orders of the authoritative figure, even if it means it goes against your own morals.

Autonomous State - When not in the prescence of an authoritative figure we are in the autonomous state. Here we retain our free will, we do not behave in a way that would cause us moral strain. - Responsible for our own actions.

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Agency Theory Evaluation

+ There is research that supports the theory, all showing that when an authoritative figure is present or makes a demand the participant carries out the order, even if under moral strain, suggesting they were all in the agentic state. E.g. Meeus & Raaijmakers.

- In Milgram's study, all participants according to the theory were in the agentic state, however only 65% did obey, the theory cannot explain why the other 35% didn't obey.

- There are times we obey people that we don't see as an authoritative figure (e.g. the AA when your car breaks down), the agency theory cannot explain this.

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Stereotyping, Prejudice and Discrimination


A preconception of someone based on the way they look, behave or set of beliefs they hold, even though we may have never met them before.


When you pre-judge them based on the way they look, behave or beliefs they hold. Prejudice is the thinking aspect, this is where our attitudes and belief system is established about others.


When you have a prejudice opinion about someone we then can act out this attitude and start to discriminate against the person based on how they look, behave or their beliefs. Discrimination is the acting out the prejudice thought.

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Social Identity Theory (Tajfel and Turner, 1979)

The theory says that we see ourselves as part of a group (the in-group) and everyone else that doesn't fit into our group as being an outsider (the out-group).

The process has three main stages to it:

Social Categorisation: This is where we put ourselves and other people into various groups. Those that we see as similar as ourselves we categorise as being part of our in-group, while those that are different we see as the out-group.

Social Identification: Where we adopt the identity of the in-group, changing our attitude and behaviour to fit in with the in-group identity.

Social Comparison: Where prejudice behaviour and attitudes develop. We start to compare our in-group against the out-group, always favouring the in-group over the out-group.

We see the bad in the out-group to make the in-group look good. We deliberately put down others to try and raise our own self-esteem.

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Evaluation of Social Identity Theory

+ Tajfel et al. did a study where kids were more likely to favour and reward children of their percieved in-group over the out-group, showing favouritism and out-group discrimination.

+ The theory can explain and help us understand many conflicts that occur, such as rivalry football supporters.

- Sherif (1961) Robber cave study showed that when boys on a summer camp were put into two different groups no hostility occured betweem them.

- There are many areas of society where groups live happily alongside each other and no hostility occurs; social identity cannot explain why this happens.

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Sherif et al. Study

Aim: To see if by creating two different groups of children and setting competitive tasks between the two groups would be enough for discrimination and hostiliy between the groups to emerge.

Procedure: 22 boys aged twelve were randomly put into two groups and at first the two groups were unaware of eachother.

In the first week, the boys were encouraged to build a group identity, creating an in-group. Both groups gave themselves a name 'the Rattlers' and 'the Eagles'. After the first week the groups were put together to compete against each other in a number of competitive tasks.

Results: Showed that at first the groups displayed prejudice behaviour towards the other group by name calling and taunting. After a few days the prejudice behaviour became more physical. At the end of the study the boys were asked to list features of both groups, all children tend to prefer their in-group over the out-group.

Conclusion: Shows that when different groups are in conflict or competition with eachother, prejudice attitudes and behaviour inevitbly is the result.

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Evaluation of Sherif et al.

+ Method was a field experiment, many variables were controlled, therefore others could replicate the study; makes the study reliable.

+ Ecologically valid as the children were not aware that they were taking part in a study, and therefore they didn't produce demand characteristics.

- Issues with ethics as the children were encouraged to think and act in a hostile way.

- Cannot be generalised to the wider population as the study was carried out on 12 years old boys from the USA.

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