DSE212 Exam Part 1

For part one of the DSE212 exam it is required to define 5 out of 8 options. This set of cards list all possibilities throughout book 1.


Core Identity

The central identity proposed by Erikson in his psychological theory of identity which gives a sense of self. He proposed thet throught all areas of our life this internal self remains stable, consistent and reliable creating a sense of continuity with the past. Identity is not rigidly fixed, Erikson proposed eight stages of development throughout which normative crises occur that may modify our core identity,

Why is it important?

  • The idea of a core identity is very important in the psychosocial theory, and is an important issue of debate that is not shared by other theories of identity.
  • Although others (social constructionsin, SIT) contest the notion of a core identity, there are some identities that are not open to change(e.g. being adopted), and these could be said to form part of a core identity.


  • Social identity theorists beleive that social categorisation is open to change.
  • Social constructionists argue that:
    • all identities are social not personal the notion of a 'core identity; is a story we incorporate into our autobiographical narrative
    • we have multiple identies that change according to the situation
    • we use identity as a resource in social negotiation
    • It has also been criticised for being culturally specific
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Social Constructionism

This concept covers a diverse range of ideas not identified with any one theorist. It surmises that our concept of the world is constructed in and through social relations resulting in many different ways of understanding the same issue rather than there being one objective reality. Identities are seen as fluid and dynamic actively constructed in social interactions, multiple and de-centred, changinf across situation and over tim in response to social changes, relaionships and experiences. Language is seen as a powerful tool, used to jusitify a particular perspective, e.g. 'terrorist' and 'freedom fighter' can identify the same person, depending on the view taken of their activities. It uses qualitative methods analysing discourse, with the data usually being what people say or write. Social constructionism are interested in the influence of the social and cultural context in creating peoples perspectives.

e.g: Gergens pen/computer; Potter and Wetherell (1987): Mandela; Stuart Hall (1992): Judge Clarence Thomas.

Why is it important?

  • newly emerging major perspective, subject to increasing interest in modern psychology in what qualitativ methods have to offer.
  • It provides an interesting alternative to more establisehed approaches such as psychological theory and SIT.


  • It conflicts with evolutionary psychology and behaviourism which emphasize universal aspects of human behaviour, and with the focu of humanistic psychology on the individual.
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The idea that our body is important to our sense of indentity, having effects on every aspect of our lives as we live through it. Through a body project, we can use our body to produce an identity, using it as a resource to be transformed to suit identity through wearing clothes, body peircing, tattoos etc. We can express a group identity, for example goth or emo.

Why is it important?

  • Important across identity theories
    • In Eriksons psychosocial theory, it is related to the issues faces at he different stages of the lifespan, for example physical limitations associated with ageing.
    • SIT is interested in discrimination  when identity is associated with physical impairment.
    • In social constructonism embodiment allows identity to be constructed and is concerned with how people negotiate embodied identities.
  • Importnant in relation to disability
    • The social model of disability suggests that the experience of people with an impairment ignoring individual variation. 
    • A focus on embodiment in relation to disability highlights individuals and groups diversity.
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Social Identity Theory (SIT)

Tajfel's theory, divides identity into different groups:

  • the personal (eg being a parent)
  • the social (eg being British)

These different groups to which we bleong are our ingroups: our sense of belonging to these groups is important. Self-esteem is boosted by having a positive view of these groups, and exaggeratinf the differences between our ingroups and those groups to which we do not belong, aka outgroups more negatively. (see minimal groups for experimental evidence). Tajfel believes that simply categorising people into random groups is sufficient to creat prejudices against groups that we dont belong to. Social mobility can improve the status of a group by adjusting the power differences bewteen groups or working for social change either though:

  • social creativity (redefine a devalued group, e.g. "Black is beautiful" campaign) or
  • social competition (advance a group through getting people to change how they think about it)

Why is it important?

  • Ideas have led to techniques aimed at challengng prejudice, eg. Elliots 'A class divided'


  • Criticised for its lab based research because this trivializes social differences such as gender and race
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Minimal Groups

A group that participants are allocated to on a superficial ('minimal') basis, eg. a random allocation. Tajfel used the minimal groups technique to test Social Identity Theory

  • Boys were allocated to groups using a 'minimal' process - eg. preference for Klee or Kadinsky paintings, coin toss, etc. Each was then asked to allocate points (to be exchanged for money later) to either: 1) A pair of boys from his own group; 2) A pair of boys from other groups; 3) A pair of boys made up of one from each group.
  • Tajfel found that they allocated points to the boy from their  own group in condition 3, ie. when they had to choose between maximising proit for their own group, or maximising profit for all, they chose their own group, even when sharing equally would have given them a bigger profit.
  • He concluded that just asigning people to groups is sufficient to create discrimination and prejudice.
  • Prejudice against outgroups enhances self-esteem (allows others to be considered inferior) and helps maintain a positive social identity.

Why is it important? Provides evience for a possible cause of prejudice; Carries impliations for possible ways to reduce prejudice and discrimination


  • Minimal Groups technique produces robust findings but has been criticised for its lab based research because this over-simplifies complex social processes, eg trivialises social differences such as gender and race.
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Natural Selection

A key term in Darwin's theory of evolution. Process by which genes that code for adaptive characteristics (features that promote reproductive success) are passed on. Some genetic variations between members of a species competing for resources enable better chances of survival, hence longer time to reproduce and greater numbers of offspring with the inherited characteristic. Eg, speed, camouflage (avoid predators), humps on camels, intelligence in (pre-)humans.

Why is it important?

  • Natural selection leads to adaptations - evolved characteristid whose original function made the individual better able to survive in their environment ('fitter')
  • It's an important concept in Darwin's theory, and in evolutionary psychology which tries to explain why adaptations might first have emerged that improve survival chances. Eg, being able to distract threatening others (Theory of Mind) in orer to run away.
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Sexual Selection

A special form of natural selection concerned with reproductive success rather than increased survival. Different strategies for reproductive success lead to different traits being selected for:

  • For males, more mates means more offspring, short-term relations
  • For females, better quality mates means better care for offspring through long-term relations

Traits that lead to improved reproductive success are more likely yo be passed on.

Examples: Trivers (1972): 1) Intrasexual selection: competetion for mates (usually between males) leads to traits that increase competitive ability being passed on (eg size/strength). 2) Intersexual selection:  mate selection (often by females) based on physical characeristics that suggest healthiness (eg peacock tail) or behavioural characteristics (eg good defender of territory) leads to those traits being selected for.

Why is it important?

  • Sexual selection determines reproductive success
  • More successful individuals will have greater probability of successfully passing on their advantage traits to the next generation.
  • Offes an explanation for why there are differences in male/female physical attributes
  • It's an important concept in Darwin's theory and in evolutionary psychology which tries to explain why/when adaptations might first have emeged that improve reproductive success. 
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Theory of mind

Interpreting other's behaviour in terms of their feelings and beliefs, not just their observed behviour; ability to put oneself mentally in another's place. Allows us to predict events and behaviour more accurately than on their behaviour alone. Studied by investigating:

  • Children (before/as they develop ToM - eg Maxi Test (Wimmer and Perner) and Hide-and-Seek game (Chandler))
  • People with Autism (who suffer social relationship difficulties and typically lack ToM) (Baron-Cohen, 1999)
  • Non-human primates (none in monkeys, mixed evidence in chimps), Call and Tomasello (1999)
  • Archaelogy (emergence of art, burial rituals which imply imagination and creaivity which require ToM) Baron-Cohen (1999)

Why is it important?

  • Evolutionay psyhchologists study how universal ToM is, because if it is found in all societies, it may well be an evolved characteristic (adaptation) hence have a genetic basis.
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Reciprocal Altruism

Benefiting another who is not kin, eg - a friend or stranger (improving their 'fitness') at a cost to oneself. Also known as direct reciprocity. Contrasts with other forms of altruism as kin selection and indirect reciprocity. Risk is that the other may not reciprocate, but if they do, everyone benefits. Studied using the prisoners dilemma.

Why is it important?

  • Reciprical altruism is important because it requires altruists to have a Theory of Mind (to predict if others will reciprocate or cheat).
  • Evolutionary psychologists have found evidecne of altruism in apes, albeit with mixed results (seen in some helping tasks, but not others) so our shared chimp-human ancestor may have been somewhat altruistic, hence apes might have rudimentery theory of mind.


  • Prisoner's Dilemma ha been criticised for low ecological validity and cultural bias.
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A psychological perspective originally proposed by J.B Watson, claimed introspection was unscientific, ojective methods were needed if psychology was to be a science. Unobservable factors (mental states or innate factors) are not valid for study.A comperetive approach - behaviour in one species might be generelised to others. Focused on learning in terms of classical and instrumental/operant conditiong. B.F Skinner: studied the effect of reinforcement and punishment on frequency of behaviour in response to stimuli. Behaviour can be changed by reinforcing successive approximations towards the desired outcome - shaping. The law of effect states that rewarded behaviour will be learned (and repeated). Believed punishment was ineffective ad unethical in term of changing behaviour. Saw conditioned learning as similar to evolution across in individual lifespan, in that it produces a more successful organism. Eg. Behaviour Modification, eg-rewarding good classroom behaviour with plastic chips (Jones and Kazdin, 1975)

Why is it important?

  • Hugely influential, offers vialble explanations for many observations. Practical uses inclue behaviour modification of unruly pupils in class situations, and systematic de-sensitisation in the treatment of phobias (eg. use in CBT)


  • It has been criticised for ignoring cognitive factors (eg formation of expectancies is not explained), and for underestimating innate biases in terms of what is learned. Eg, Garcia showed that rats easily learned to avoid food that made them nauseous (innate behaviour), but it was difficult to get them to assiciate nausea with a visual stimules. Behaviourism doesn't explian why this was.

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Sociocultural perspective

A psychological perspective that proposes that learning always involves using cultural tools. Saljo (1999): "All learning involves tools". These can be physical tools (eg. computers, books) or psychological/symbolic tools (eg. language). Learning is embedded in interpersonal relationships which take place within social and cultural systems culture is critically important in this perspective. Complex interrelationship between tools and power/authority, eg Keogh. Seen as central to learning to learning where meaning is jointly constructed by learners, eg. Mercers analysis.

Key Terms:

  • Mediated action: learning is mediated (a tool is the medium through which the user learns something). Humans can only access the world indirectly through the use of tools.
  • Appropriation: making something your own - developing your own understanding of something by forming an interpretation of what it means.
  • Enculturation: a learning process through which we acquire cultural practices and behave in ways that meet social and cultural norms.

Examples: Mercer (1995) and Keogh et al (2000)

Why is it important?

  • The sociocultural perspective ofers an alternative view of learning to the behaviourist and cognitive perspectives.
  • It emphasises practical applications and educational interiews that aim to make learning more effective eg. in schools an classroom.
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Operant Conditioning

A form of instruental conditioning pioneered by B.F Skinner. Operants are spontaneous behaviours emitted by and organism as it goes about its everyday business, eg. in rats this includes sniffing objects it encounters, climbing in things etc. Operant conditioning creates a link bewtween one of these natural behaviours and a desired outcome through reinforcment - eg. lever pressing resulting in the appearance of food pellets. Learning is the result of constructing a link ('a contingency') between behaviour and consequences. Positive reinforcement (reward) and negative reinforcement (removal of something aversive like a loud noise) in response to behaviour increases frequency of that behaviour. Punishment (removal of something pleasant or imposing a penalty) decreases frequency of behaviour. The Law of Effect says that behaviour that is rewarded will be learned (and repeated).

Examples: The classic example is the Skinner Box where desired behaviour by rats/pigeon/etc. results in reward or punishment, resulting in a change in the frequency of the behaviour.

Why is it important?

  • Operant conditionin is an importnat research tool as the animal being conditioned does most of the work itself
  • This makes it a uick and efficient method compared to other forms of instrumental conditioning
  • Felxible - can be used to test discrimination, expectancy, effect of drugs on learning/behaviour etc.


  • Ignores the role of cognitive processes in behaviour change
  • Low ecological validity - too experiment focused/divorced from the natural environment.
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Classical Conditioning

A form of learning in the behaviourist perspective. Based on innate reflexes. First developed in experiments on dogs carried out by Pavlov - neural stimulus (NS) of a bell was paired with food, an unconditional stimulus (UCS), which resulted in an unconditional response (UCR) of salivation. Repeated pairings if the NS and the UCS (the classical contingency) transforme the bell into a conditional stimulus (CR) that triggered the conditional response (CR) of salivation. John B.Watson showed that the same principles applied in humans (Little Albert) - classical conditioning as an example of comparative approach. Learning can be be explained as either: in terms of S-R associations being automatically formed when the pairing of the NS and the UCS occurs OR in terms of expectency formation (which can be unconscious).

Why is it important?

  • Classical conditioning is important because:
    • it contributes to our understanding of learning, and how thiscan happen without conscious intent
    • it had an important historical role since Watson used it to challenge introspection as a method and set psychology onto a scientific path
    • It is important in therapy, eg. treatment of phobia using systematic desensitation.
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Category Learning

Sees learning as information processing. It proposes that humans and non-human animals learn general relationships i.e. concepts. Bruner et al (1956) theorized that hypothesis testing underlay category learning and that people used different strategies to category learn eg. successive scanning testing one category at a time, and conservative focusing, trying to eliminate classes of hypothesis; the latter strategy is faster. He concluded that more meaningful material interfered with the underlying processes as a result of 'real world' knowledge. However Murphy and Medin (1985) found that use prior knowledge to infer common themes that link members of a category, not simple comparison of different attributes. Murphy and Allopenna (1994), using meaningful material, found that relevant background knowledge was used to link attributes thematically. Kaplan and Murphy (2000) found that prior knowledge has a strong effect on peoples ability to sot themes - demonstrating that only a single common attribute is needed. Eg. Mercado et al (2000)Sappington and Goldman (1994)

Why is it important?

  • Category learning is important because it emphasizes the role of cognitive processes in learning and demonstrating the influence of past experience.
  • It also raises questions about the extent to which categories must be learned, and therefore suggests that there may be different aspects to learning.


  • The induction problem: Past experience is not always reliable for future predictions, which challenges the idea of hypothesis testing.
  • Fodor and Chomsky claimed that knowledge of categories cannot be learned so must be innate. However, this is an extreme view, which itself can be criticised on the basis that knowledge develops and changes, so learning must be involved. However, people may learn categories in ways other than hypothesis testing.
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The genotype is the collection of all of an individual's genes identical in all cells apart from gametes. It is laid down as the genes from parent's gametes combine through fertilisation, and does not change across the lifespan. The genotype interacts with cellular and environmental factors to create the phenotype, the physical structure and behavior of an animal. The phenotype can vary between genetically identical individuals as a result of environment. The genotype can be seen as the potential for development into a number of different phenotypes, which may in turn be better adapted to environment thus increasing likelihood of gentic transmission. Note: the genotype is not a set of instructions that will inevitably lead to a particular phenotype.


  • A species of plant will have a genotype. However if planted in a paricular environment, individual plants will develop differently (different phenotypes). Shows that nature and nurture affect phenotype.

Why is it important?

  • The genotype is important because it demonstrates the need to take more than just the biology of an organism into account. Subsequent interaction with the environment will inevitably influence phenotype and this needs to be taken into accountwhen examining development and behaviour.
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Action Potential

Action potentials are brief and sudden changes in the resting value of electrical voltage in a cell and the return to this value. Information is coded in terms of frequency of action potentials, eg-severe pain or temperatur will result in many action potentials per second. Motor neurons send information from the CNS to the muscles. Sensory neurons send information from the site of stimuli such as heat/pressure etc, or of tissue damage to the CNS. Action potential in a pre-synaptic neuron can tirgger excitation in a post-synaptic neuron (the appearance of action potential or an increase above its existing level through the transmission to neurotransmitters across the synapse). Release of certain neurotransmitters potential can trigger inhibition in a post-synaptic neuron (the suppresion of activity).

Why is it important?

  • Action potentials play an important role in our understanding of the nervous system. They are one way of measuring how information is transmitted in the nervous system.
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Chemical messengers that communicate between neurons. The gap between neurons is called a a synapse. Neurotransmitters are stored in the terminal of the pre-synaptic neuron, and are take up by the receptors in the post-synaptic neuron. Neurotransmitters triger excitation in the post-synaptic neuron (the appearence of action potentials or an increase above its existing level) or inhibition (the suppression of activity). Neurons are characterised by the type of neurotransmitter they store (eg- seratonergic neurons store serotonn, dopaminergic stor dopamine etc.) Only neurotransmitters specific to the neorons they are passed between can be taken up due to the shape of the receptors.

Why is it important?

  • Neurotransmitters are important because malfunctions at the synapse are associated with certain mental illnesses, eg- low levels of serotonin are associated with depression. 
  • Synapses specific to serotonin may take it back into the same neuron post-release through reuptake.
  • SSRI drugs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as flouxetine (prozac) can help treat depression by slowing reuptake, which leaves the serotonin in the synapse for longer enhancing its effect.
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Genes influence the structure nd function of the body. Genes interact with the fluid environment of the cell, each cell interacts with neighbouring cells, and the wholr organism interacts with it's environment. The physical structure and behavior or an organism that results from this interaction between genotype and environment is the phenotype. Features of the phenotype change as the results of experience. Eg, muscle strenth is built, aggression is learnt. The phenotype can differ greatly bewteen geneticall identical individuals, eg, identical plant raised in different soil conditions will grow to be different -> nature/nurtur dichotomy is not real, both have real effect.

why is it important?

  • The genotype/phenotype distinction is important since it makes the point that although there is a genetic basis for differences in a population, interaction with the environment needs to be taken into acount when investigating development and behaviour.
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Brain Lesions

Any sort of damage to the brain, whether by accident or intent.

Examples: Phineas Gage, Roger Sperry (1969) - separation of brain hemisphers by cutting corpus callosum to inhibit epileptic seizures; Walter Freeman (1944) - simplififed the neurosurgical procedure of trans-orbital lobotomy/leucotomy which destroyed tissue in the prefrontal lobes to "treat" mental illness; lesioning using electrode with heated tips inserted into the brain is sometimes used to treat Parkinsons disease.

Why is it important?

  • Brain lesions are important as a source of information about how the brain function. Wilder Penfield (1952) found that electrically stimulating the temporal lobes elicited childhood memories, which provides a basis for biological theories of memory.


  • Lesions made using laboratory animals (with 'sham lesions' where the anaethetic and surgery is performed n a control animal, but not the brain damage) provide precise information, but raise ethical problems.
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Trait Theories of Personality

Formal theories that aim to indentify the common traits that can be used to describe personality in a population. Personality is organised into hierarchies of Higher-order traits that are made up of sufface traits. Traits theories characteristics that are relatively stable in people across time and circumstances. Trait throies are constructed: 1) Doing lexical analysis on existing research or language to extract decriptive words used in everyday talk; 2) Gathering data about how people describe themselves and others; 3) Using statistical analysis to extract the common patterns from the data; 4) Iterating through test/re-work cycles to make the test valid and reliale.

Example: Cattell (1977) 16PFCosta and McCrae (1981) NEO-PI; Goldberg (1992) Big-5

Why is it important?

  • Trait theories show that personality can be decomposed into fairly small subsets that describe most of all individuals in a population
  • Goldbers showed that is all cultures identify the same traits, these may be universal hence evolved/genetic. if they don't have words for the same traits, then traits may be sociocultural.
  • Psychometric tests arising from trait theories are used for job selection, monitoring of educational progress etc.


  • Trait have been criticised for describing personality without offering and explanation for why we have a particular personality.
  • Some trait theories seem to be culturally specific.
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Measurements of behavioural and psychological characteristics of an individual using standard tests. First investigated by Galton (1884) who investigated the link between sensory-motor ability and intellect and late moved to studying reasoning ability. Enable large datasets to be built, typically using questionnaires. Psychometric tests are expensive to construct and access to them is carefully controlled by their owners so that: 1) People can't practice them and control their results; The interpretation and feedback to respondents can be done professionally; Confidentiality and protection of the results can be assured. 

Examples: Hans Jurgen Eysenck (1967) used his EPQ (Eysenck Personality Questionnaire) to measure ENP: Extraversion/Introversion, Neuroticism/Emotional Stability, Psychoticism/Superego Strength

Why is it important?

  • Psychometric tests add to the scientific and empirical assets of psychology
  • These tests are used for selecting job applicants, monitoring educational progress etc.


Because questionnaire based, usual biases need to be controlled:

  • Social Pressure: people may give the answers they expect 'people like them' to give.
  • Demand characteristics people may give the answers they think the researcher is looking to find
  • Restricted options on the questionnaire may limit the respondent's choice - if they feel none are applicable they may give misleading answers
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A statistical measure of the percentage effect of genetics on particular characteritics in a populations eg. "Heritability of neuroticism is estimated at 30%". Does not apply yo individuals. Remainder of effect attributed to environment, eg. 0.3 heritability implies 0.7 environment. Measured using: 1)modular genetics 2) temperament (buss and plomin (1984)). Behaviour genetics 

Why is it important?

These studies show that there is a high biological/genetic influence on temperament and personality eg - Loehlin (1992) showed that:

  • OCEAN personality factors were all approx 0.3 heritable
  • the 'shared environment' has negligible effect on temperament or personality (shared environments not identical, friends, peer groups, school are bigger influences)


Studies have been criticised on methodological basis eg.

  • temperament studies: Parental bias subjective reporting in diaries of childrens behaviour
  • twin studies: time together before seperation and after reunion of MZA (separated identical twins) not controlled
  • assumption that shared environments are always the same is flawed: 1) children see/interpret their environments differently. 2) children affect and shape their environments. 3) environments change over time so birth order is important. 4) parents (sometimes deliberately, sometimes unconsciously) treat their children differently.
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An outgoing, social personality type. Often incorporates risk-taking, active, sensation-seeing behaviour. Opposite of introversion.

Examples: Eysencks Type Theory suggests that there is a biological basis to extraversion, specifically that it is linked to arousal levels in the ARAS (ascending reticulo-cortical activation system) whereby exroverts behave as they do to increase arousal levels as they are naturally under-aroused. Eysenck suggested that stimulants (caffiene) will make extroverts behave more like introverts as they act to lower additional arousal, and depressants (alcohol) make introverts act like extroverts as they strive to increase arousal levels lowered by the depressant. Some psychometric and behavioural lab studies support this arousal theory, but results are not conclusive. The EAS study by Buss and Plomin (1984) alsosupports the theory that there is a biological basis or extraversion, as they found sociability (extrovert characteristics) in infants they claims were too young to have gained them in other ways.

Why is it important?

  • An important characteristic as shown by its appearance in many personality theories eg Goldman's Big-5, Costa and McCrae's NEO-PI
  • University may suggest that there is a biological basis for extraversion.


  • There is a lack of evidence to support the biological basis for extraversion.
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Implicit Personality Theories

informal theories that we have about what kinds of personality exist, and what behaviours are associated with each. The lexical hypothesis states that everyday language contains the words that we find most meaningful to describe personality characteristics. Personality characteristics in a language can be arranged in hierarchies where higher-order (or second-order) personality factors contain surface (first-order) factors, eg. conscientiousness includes punctuality, dutifulness etc. The surface factors influence behaviour and beliefs (eg. "you should alays get to meetings on time")

Why is it important?

  • Implicit personality theories are important because we use them in everyday life to describe ourselves and others.
  • We use our implicit theories to understand what people do, and to predict what they might do, aiding smooth social interaction. 
  • Implicit trait theories form a foundation for formal personalilty trait theories
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Gibson's direct perception

A theory of perception that claims that incoming sensory information contains everything needed for perception. Contrasts with theories such as Gregory's constructivist theory that sensory information is impoverished and needs the addition of prior knowledge. We perceive a dynamic ever-changing scene that continually gives more sensory information, not static images.

Examples: A frog doesn't need to form perceptual hypotheses in order to perceive and catch a fly, it uses all the sensory information available to id directly and catches it.

Why is it important?

  • Gibson's theory and others such as Gregory's may help to describe different facets of perception for example Gregory's might explain how we perceive complex situations where there is missing information, Gibson's may inform or understanding of rich sensory environments where we don't need cognitive resource to remember past experiences.
  • It may be that these are complementary theories


  • Some illusions do seem to require stored knowledge in order to explain how they work
  • Gibson's theory dosnt explain how it feels to percieve something - it ignores how the situation and our past experience contribute to our perception. eg, a gambler and a todler may perceive a cube differently (like one of a pair of dice vs a building toy).
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Bottleneck theories of attention

Broadbent (1954) proposed that there must be a bottleneck in the attentionalsystem to limit the amount of information passing through because without a bottleneck, the processing system would be overwhelmed with information. He surmised that information was filtere early in the attentional process on the basis of physical characteristics such as the location it originated from, tone of voice etc. Treisman (1960) showed late-selection i.e. we process information to extract its meaning, and then filter out unwanted sources. This implies that all information is filtered to some extent. Lavie (1995) proposed that filtering is carried out early or late depending on the perceptual load - 'flanker compatability experiment' showed that distractors only affected response times with large numbers of target letters because they were filtered out early under high load.

Why is it important?

  • Bottleneck theories stimulated research into how attentional systems operate, and explain why we may process incoming information in different ways depending on the circumstances.


  • Early-selection (filtering by physical characteristics) implies that no knowledge of the meaning of information is necessary for filtering to happen, but without this, how can we decide what to filter.
  • Deutsch and Deutsch (1963) suggest that there are no resource limitations on processing and all incoming information is processed.
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Limited Capacity attention

Kahneman (1973) suggested that the human brain is only capable of analysing a limited amount of incoming data at a time and integrating it with prior knowledge. Some information will therefore be lost and so we may not be aware of everything happening around us. He proposed that we have a limited capacity central processor that allocates attentional resource. Kahneman also proposed that the amount of information that can be processed increases when we are aroused.

Examples: Posner and Boies (1971)

Why is it important?

  • Limited capacity attention is important as it explains limitations that are obvious in everyday life, such as why we sometimes fail to perceive events happening right in front of us.
  • Explains why we don't consciously perceive everything that we sense


  • McLeod (1977) replicated Posner and Boies' experiment and found that if the responses required were different (eg. move a lever or say 'bip'), response time was constant, suggesting that we can draw on different resource pools for different tasks (a multiple-resource theory of attention) rather than on the limited-capacity central processor proposed by Kahneman.
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Attentional Spotlight

A metaphor from Posner (1980), who suggests the area we can give attention to is like a spotlight illuminating a small part of our visual field. Stimuli outside this area may be sensed, but not perceived (given cognitive resource, analysed and interpreted). The area being attended to can be 'zoomed-in' and out so attention can be tightly focused on a small area (like the letter 'o'), or on a whole field of view - intense effort over a small area or a lower concentration over a bigger area. This also applies to e.g. auditory attention such as listening to a single instrument in an orchestra (zoomed-in) or to the whole ensemble (zoomed out). Attention is selective - we can choose where to point the spotlight, and can switch attention to where we expect something to happen, so it involves higher cognitive processes such as expectancy. However Lavie (1995) suggests that in high perceptual load situations, the spotlight may be reduced automatically, referred to by Engel (1971) as attentional tunnelling.

Examples: Watching a football match (zoomed out) vs. doing a wordsearch puzzle (zoomed in)

Why is it important ?

  • The attentional spotlight is an important way to conceptualise how we 'pay attention' to things, and to explain how and why different levels of concentration are appropriate.
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Top Down Processing

Using prior knowledge/experience to interpret information coming in from the senses by filling in gaps in the information. Contrasts with bottom-up processing, where only the information contained in sensory data is used to make sense of it. Emphasised by Gregory's constructivist theory: sensory information is impoverished, experience/stored knowledge is needed to interpret it. Existing knowledge is used to form perceptual hypothesis that the sensory data is fitted against. Schemas and stereotypes are examples of cognitive structures used to explain top-down processing.

Why is it important?

  • Provides an explanation for some aspects of perception, especially where there are obvious gaps in the sensory data available.


  • Some illusions that support the top-down processing theory can also be explained in terms of the information they contain, e.g. we can make a perceptual compromise between the length of the line and the overall length of the figure in the Muller-Lyer illusion (Day, 1989)
  • The role of top-down processing is over-estimated by Gregory's constructivist theory of perception, which under-estimates the richness of sensory data.
  • Bruce et al (1996): Instinctive behaviour is important to consider - a frog doesn't need to form perceptual hypotheses in order to perceive and catch a fly, it uses all the sensory information available to it directly and just catches it.
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cognitive structure that contains everything we know about a particular object. In social psychology these are social objects (person, situation, issue, subject etc.) containing shared knowledge (i.e. that we learn from and share with other people). First suggested by Fredric Bartlett (1932). Knowledge in schemata is packaged as generalised objects that it make sense as parts of the whole set of information (i.e. we remember "visiting the dentist", not the details of every time we ever went to the dentist !) Different types of schema exist, such as: role schema - what to expect from someone in a particular role or how to behave in one (e.g. the roles of "waiter" and "customer"; person schema - what type of person someone is based on observed personality traits; event schema - scripts for how to behave in particular situations, e.g. "going to a restuarant". Can be self-confirming - "we see what we expect to see"         Examples: Darley and Gross (1983)

Why is it important ?

  • Schematic processing is a fast, efficient way to store and recover information - when only a few bits of information are available, we can activate the whole schema, making all our knowledge about the subject available to fill in the gaps.
  • This can lead to distortion and incorrect judgment, e.g. the Guardian ad where the skinhead running at the old man may be interpreted as a mugging attempt rather than how it turns out - that he's saving him from a load of falling bricks.
  • Schemas allow us to use as little cognitive effort as necessary - the cognitive miser model, but we can add to the basic information they provide by thinking further if required - themotivated tactician model (Fiske and Taylor, 1991)
  • Ruscher et al. (2000) - crossword puzzle/alcoholic partner experiment showed we select the appropriate cognitive strategy depending on our needs.
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mental representation of a person that over-generalises them, making them more like a 'typical' member of a social category than they really are. We emphasise the characteristics of the category we fit them into, rather than what they are like as individuals.
Examples: Darley and Gross (1983) showed that people over-generalised rich children as being more like each other than they really are - participants assumed all rich children are high academic achievers. They also assumed they are more different to low-socioeconomic children than they really are. Tajfel showed that boys over-emphasised similarities within their ingroups, and exaggerated differences between their groups and their outgroups.

Why is it important ?

  • Things belonging to a category are placed there because they are similar to other things in the category.
  • Thinking in categories makes us exaggerate the similarities between members of a category and the differences between categories (e.g. Tajfel, ingroups/outgroups).
  • We therefore perceive people we associate with a category to be more like what we believe members of that category should be like than they really are, and less like members of other categories.
  • This over-generalisation is an inevitable consequence of basic cognitive processing.
  • Stereotypes allow fast, efficient cognitive processing - when we meet someone for the first time we can focus on their relevant individual differences.
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Fundimental Attribution error

People's tendency to attribute other's behaviour to internal causes ("the kind of person they are") rather than to external factors. This tendency reverses when considering our own behaviour, which we tend to attribute to external causes ("Actor/Observer effect (AOE)"). FAE is a bias rather than an error - we don't choose the wrong explanation, we just put more weight on one explanation than another. According to Heiderwe explain other's behaviour in terms of dispositional causes, but our own in terms of situational causes; FAE is due to perceptual salience - for the actor the situation is most prominent so they give situational explanations; for the observer, the actor is the most salient aspect of the perceptual field, so observers explain behaviour in terms of the actor. Examples: Storms (1973).

Why is it important ?

  • Demonstrates cultural differences - Western (individualistic) cultures focus on the power of the individual, so see things in terms of individual success/failure rather than the situation; Indian Hindus do not.
  • An important factor that biases our explanation of why people behave as they do.
  • Storms (see Examples) showed that change in perceptual perspective changed the reasons people gave for behaviour
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Self- serving bias

A tendency to attribute successes to internal/dispositional reasons and failures to external/situational ones, e.g. "I won the race because I did lots of training and was really fit" vs. "I only came fifth because it was colder than I'm used to and the track was a bit soft". It could be: a cognitive bias, based on what we expect to happen (if we expect to succeed and do, it must be due to our efforts, if we fail it must be because of something outside our control !); a motivational bias, due to our need to feel good and in control.

Examples: Lau and Russell (1980) - content analysis of explanations of success/failure in newspaper articles covering major sporting events showed a greater tendency to attribute wins to internal factors.Shrauger (1975) found people with high self-esteem make more self-serving biased attributions.

Why is it important ?

  • Identifies a way in which we distort judgements.
  • Could be used to help people with low self-esteem if incorrect attributions can be shown - i.e. demonstrate successes are actually due to their efforts !!
  • Results that people put down to 'bad luck' might actually be within their control, not situational, and acknowledging this may give them opportunities to improve.
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Attribution theory

These are theories that try to explain how we explain the behaviour of ourselves and others (what cause we attribute to these behaviours). They focus on causes of success and failure, and how we justify our performance to ourselves and others. Causes fall on a dimension of internal/dispositional (how much we think we affect outcomes) to external/situational (how much we think the outcome is affected by others or environmental factors). Where the cause lies on this line is the locus of causalilty. Jones and Davis (1967): we tend to use internal factors to explain peoples behaviours as these tell us about the person, not just the current situation, so are more usefule for predicting future behaviour. Heider (1958)  people are 'naive psychologists' who try to explain cause and effect in terms of regularity and predictabilityExamples: Harold Kelley's (1967) Covariation model of attribution McArthur (1972)

Why is it important? Attribution theories help to explain social cognition (how people think about people/society).


  • Attribution theories have been accused of wrongly assuming that people want causal explanations in everyday life ("Why were you late ?" "I couldn't be bothered getting up") rather than explanations of why people fail to meet expectations ("I'm having a hard time at home at the moment, sorry I'll try to do better")
  • Attribution theories see people as receivers and interpreters of information, but tend to ignore the fact that they also provide information.
  • They have also been found to be error-prone due to assuming that people make attributions based on logic (they often don't)
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Autobiographical memory

The personal (subjective, not always accurate) memories that we have of events and experiences from earlier parts of our livesThese include information about when and where the events took place (spatiotemporal knowledge). They also include factual information ("It was my first time driving a car"). Flashbulb memories are also autobiographical.

  • Marigold Linton (1982) carried out a diary study for six years, noting two or more events per day and testing her recall of randomly selected past events.
  • She found that autobiographical memories faded at about 5% per year, and that they were categorised both chronologically and by themes (e.g. interactions with loved ones)

Why is it important ?

  • A disproportionate number of autobiographical memories are formed between birth and 30-years of age ("reminiscence bump"), perhaps because much of our self-identity develops between these ages, so the extra detail in these may help our sense of self.
  • Important as a special type of memory along with semantic, episodic, procedural. Studies across all types complement each other and add to our overall understanding.
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Flashbulb memory

Detailed, vivid and stable autobiographical memories that are formed when we hear of a shocking and/or emotional event (Brown and Kulik, 1977). We often remember exactly where we were when we first heard this news. More likely to be formed when the news is unexpected or shocking and when it is personally important or meaningful


  • Marigold Linton (1982) carried out a diary study for six years, noting two or more events per day and testing her recall of randomly selected past events.
  • She found that autobiographical memories faded at about 5% per year, and that they were categorised both chronologically and by themes (e.g. interactions with loved ones)

Why is it important ?

  • A disproportionate number of autobiographical memories are formed between birth and 30-years of age ("reminiscence bump"), perhaps because much of our self-identity develops between these ages, so the extra detail in these may help our sense of self.
  • Important as a special type of memory along with semantic, episodic, procedural. Studies across all types complement each other and add to our overall understanding.
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Encoding specificity priniciple

Encoding specificity (Endel, Tulving 1975,1983) suggests that cues that exist when we are trying to retrieve a memory can help if they match cues that were present when we encoded the memory. Tulving suggests that we can remember things through different retrieval routes, accessing memories through different associations. For example an event could be recalled by thinking of who was present, or the reason they were there. The more elaborate the encoding process, the more associations the memory has with pre-existing knowledge or memories, hence the more likely it is that some of these will overlap with retrieval cues. Recognition tests (where the thing to be recognised is present) provide more retrieval cues than recall tests (where we are trying to remember something that may not be present).

Examples:Police use the cognitive interview technique (see Why is it important ?) to aid witness recall in investigating crimes.

Why is it important ? Police cognitive interview technique aims to maximise the number of retrieval cues available:

  • Context reinstatement - mentally reconstructing the environment where the event to be recalled took place, especially sights, sounds, smells, weather conditions, etc.
  • Temporal reversal - trying to remember the sequence of events in reverse order to increase the number of retrieval routes and retrieval cues available.
  • Other perspectives - recalling from the perspective of another person at the scene of the crime may generate additional retrieval cues and assist memory.
  • Remember everything - encouraging witnesses to try to remember anything, however irrelevant it might seem, gives them confidence to report trivial-seeming details that might act as retrieval cues for more important details.
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Episodic memory

Episodic memories are a form of long-term memory that include spatiotemporal details (when the event happened and where). These may be formed in advance of semantic memories - e.g. a child may see the four-legged furry animal in the garden many times and develop an episodic memory that is later associated with the semantic memory "That is a cat"

Why is it important ?

  • Episodic memories differ from semantic memories, which do not have any details of when they were originally acquired or where (spatiotemporal component).
  • Explains how semantic information such as conceptual categories for animals or plants is acquired (e.g. Carter, 1998): individual experiences are initially registered as sensory information and perceptual experiences, then 'fed' as episodic memories to the hippocampus, which plays an active role in 'replaying' them to the temporal cortex until they are established there as composite semantic memories, stripped of their original contextual features.


  • Episodic and autobiographical memory are very similar, and there is debate about how they differ - Conway (2001) sees episodic memories as transient but autobiographical as personally significant, enduring memories
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Levels of processing

Theory from Craik and Lockhart (1972) - the deeper the processing we apply to information in the encoding process the longer we can remember it for: Maintenance rehearsal = shallow structural processing, e.g. learning by rote, coding in terms of sound; Elaborative rehearsal = deeper semantic processing, working with material to associate it with pre-existing knowledge, coding in terms of meaning (semantic processing)

Examples: Learning something off by heart just encodes the words/sounds and the order they follow. Working out the meaning, testing yourself by writing in your own words etc. processes the information more deeply; Craik and Tulving (1975) asked participants to match words that (a) started with capitals; (b) rhymed with others and (c) fitted into sentences. They found that the percentage of wordslearned incidentally increased as participants had to do more thinking about the words.

Why is it important ?

  • Encoding affects how effectively we store information, hence how easy it is to recall, and how long we can remember it for.
  • The generation effect supports this theory - we are more likely to remember material that we have generated (e.g. by re-writing in our own words)
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Collective memories

Shared memories we create with others through pooling our common experiences. These are elaborated through discussion - they are socially constructedWe may even recollect events that took place early on in our lives simply because others have shared these with us. The memories may be(come) inaccurate, modified through re-telling.

Examples: Jean Piaget had a vivid memory of being kidnapped based on an event that his family believed had happened, but that transpired had been made up by his nanny; Leorand (1997): Scottish 'traditions' such as highland dress and clan tartans were invented by an Englishman in the mid-1700's, and subsequently treated as if they were part of ancient cultural heritage.

Why is it important ?

  • Gergen (1999): collective remembering can help to construct and reconstruct national history, e.g. South African Commission for Truth and Equality.
  • Miller (2000): collective family memories serve to express a common family identity and to transmit it from one generation to another so that traditions and family characteristics are maintained.
  • Collective memories are an example of the way we reconstruct our memories, not just reaclling exact facts (Bartlett).
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According to Maslow's theory of motivation, "becoming everything that one is capable of becoming"; developing your potential. This is the highest level in Maslow's hierarchy of needs (others are deficiency needs): Physiological needs: heat, food/drink, sleep, reproductive sex; Safety needs: economic and physical security; Love and belonging: contact with and acceptance by others; Esteem: respect from ourselves and others; Self-actualisation: realising our full potential, self-fulfillment.Carl Rogers also stressed the importance of self-actualisation: we have a basic tendency to strive to become as fulfilled as we can be. Examples: Maslow cited examples of self-actualisers including Einstein, Schweitzer and James, but see Criticisms.

Why is it important ?

Self-actualisation is important as it demonstrates our ability to change and develop - as our basic needs are met we strive to 'improve ourselves' in order to feel more fulfilled.


  • Maslow's sample was limited and based on his own informal value judgments.
  • His selection criteria were (1) full use made of talents and capacities, (2) no evidence of neurosis, and (3) satisfaction of deficiency needs. It is is hard to see how some of his examples sample met the 'no-neurosis' rule !
  • It's not so easy to just to 'choose to grow', sometimes we have to choose between opportunities (i.e. reject some of them)
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Defence Mechnanism

According to Maslow's theory of motivation, "becoming everything that one is capable of becoming"; developing your potential.This is the highest level in Maslow's hierarchy of needs (others are deficiency needs): Physiological needs: heat, food/drink, sleep, reproductive sex; Safety needs: economic and physical security; Love and belonging: contact with and acceptance by others; Esteem: respect from ourselves and others; Self-actualisation: realising our full potential, self-fulfillment. Carl Rogers also stressed the importance of self-actualisation: we have a basic tendency to strive to become as fulfilled as we can be. Examples: Maslow cited examples of self-actualisers including Einstein, Schweitzer and James, but see Criticisms.

Why is it important ?

  • Self-actualisation is important as it demonstrates our ability to change and develop - as our basic needs are met we strive to 'improve ourselves' in order to feel more fulfilled.


  • Maslow's sample was limited and based on his own informal value judgments.
  • His selection criteria were (1) full use made of talents and capacities, (2) no evidence of neurosis, and (3) satisfaction of deficiency needs. It is is hard to see how some of his examples sample met the 'no-neurosis' rule !
  • It's not so easy to just to 'choose to grow', sometimes we have to choose between opportunities (i.e. reject some of them)
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Personal Constructs

Ways that individuals explain their world according to Kelly's (1955) personal construct theoryThey do this using personal bipolar dimensions such as cold-friendly, stimulating-dull. These are captured in a repertory grid.

Examples: The participant is asked to name groups of three elements - people important in their lives. The elements form the columns of the reportory grid; Two of these are selected at a time, and the participant says how they are alike and how they differ from the third e.g. "one is dull, the other two are stimulating" - a 'dull-stimulatingconstruct'. Constructs form the rows of the reportory grid; Each element is given a numerical score for each construct, and these are used to interpret how the participant construes peopleWhere the scores are similar for particular constructs, this suggests that the participant uses them in similar ways; Fixity in constructs (e.g. always associating intelligence with coldness) might lead to relationship difficulties.

Why is it important ?

  • Using the reportory grid enables associations between how a person thinks about types of people to be shown.
  • Fixity in thinking (see Examples) can be addressed using fixed role therapy - writing a description of a person that differs significantly from the way the participant normally construes the world, and then acting out this character for a few weeks.
  • Kelly proposed that people can choose to change by construing the world differently - any situation can be construed in an infinite number of ways (constructive alternativism).
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Freud's theory explaining the unconscious interaction between elements of the psyche (id, ego, super-ego) and the defence mechanisms we use to cope with the resulting anxiety (angst) caused by these interactions. The id was explained as the source of our primitive, uncontrolled demands ("I want, I want !!"),. the super-ego as our 'conscience', continually challenging our decisions ("You shouldn't really", "It's not good for you"). and the ego as the mediating, moderating element between these two ("Well maybe I could just have a little bit then").

Examples: Sexual desire was considered to come from the id, and controlled by either fear of punishment in the ego or guilt from the super-ego; Psychodynamics offers an explanation for the resulting dynamic between these elements of the psyche.

Why is it important ?

  • Freud explained anxiety using the concept of intrapsychic conflict between the id, ego and super-ego, and interpreted behaviour in terms of defence mechanisms.
  • The psychodynamic theory forms the basis for psychoanalytic psychology and psychoanalytic therapy.
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Oedipal Conflict

An explanation of relationship formation in early childhood from psychodynamic theory. Freud suggested that children progress through a series of psychosexual stages where different parts of the body assume significance, and drive particular behaviours and feelings. In the third of these (the phallic stage, 3 to 6 years), their source of pleasure is their genitals. Freud theorised that boys in the phallic stage felt sexual desire for their mothers and wanted to kill their fathers who they saw as competition for their mother's love. However they also feared their father's threat of castration, and resolved this by identifying with their fathers, taking on their values and beliefs, and repressing their sexual desires. He proposed an analogue to castration anxiety for girls, called penis envy (anxiety due to not having one).

Why is it important ?

  • Oedipal conflict is a critical part of the Freudian explanation of childhood development.
  • Freud used this theory to explain how parental values were passed on, and how children's personalities were influenced by their parents.
  • Freud used this concept to explain the effect of childhood experience on adult life, e.g. boys who over-idealise their mothers but repress their sexual feelings towards her may be unable to integrate affectionate and sexual feelings as adults (e.g. may idolise their wife but have a mistress for sex).


  • The Oedipal conflict has been criticised for being based on Freud's own experience rather than being based on obervational evidence.
  • The penis envy theory has also been criticised, with cultural attitudes rather than anatomy being more important to understanding how children develop (e.g. partriarchal family structures) - Irigaray (1985).
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