IGCSE Psychology Case Studies and Theories

All the case studies and theories for IGCSE Psychology

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  • Created by: Ryan Heng
  • Created on: 30-04-13 10:32



Aim: Whether context affects perception


  • 64 students were shown visual scenes, like a kitchen for 2 seconds 
  • They were then briefly shown an object and asked to identify it
  • They were either shown an appropriate context + object
  • Inappropriate context + similar object
  • Inappropriate context + different object
  • No Context at all

Results: Participants correctly identified the most objects after seeing an appropriate context and least after seeing an inappropriate context.

Conclusion: Context affects perception

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  • Each participant saw the context for the same amount of time, hence improving accuracy of the experiment. 
  •  Participants were given instructions so they knew exactly what they had to do


  • Participants were told what they had to be doing, they may have tried harder
  • Some data couldn't be used, meaning there were less results
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Aim: Find out how information changes with each reproduction and why


Serial Reproduction

  • Participants read "war of the ghost" twice
  • 15-30 minutes later, they would recall the story to another participant. This was repeated.

Repeated reproduction

  • Participants read "war of the ghost" twice
  • 15 minutes later, they had to reccall it. At regular interval, they had to recall the story.

Results: Order of events sticks. Details are lost/stereotyped. Simplification. Addition.

Conclusion: Unfamiliar material changes when it is recalled. Effect of schema on memory.

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  • The tasks were repeated many times, increasing accuracy and reliablility.
  • Other stories were used on participants, making this generalisable


  • Bartlett only used unfamiliar material. He cannot be sure that the same thing would happen to familiar material
  • Bartlett did not use the same time intervals for the repeated measures design, hence making comparisons unfair.
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Carmichael et al (1932)

Aim: Whether verbal label would affect perception


  • There were three groups, group 1, 2 and the control group (no verbal labels) 
  • Each group were shown 12 pictures and a word to name the object in the picture
  • 1 and 2 had different word list but the same pictures.
  • Participants were then asked to draw the pictures they has seen and compared to the original picture

Results: Drawings reproduced for each word list were very different. The objects drawn looked more like the words used to describe them in each word list. Group 1 had 73% of drawings resembling the word given and 74% in group 2. The control group had only 45% resembling either word.

Conclusion: Memory for pictures is reconstucted. Verbal labels affect perception.

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  • They had many participants do the experiment, meaning the results were not a fluke
  • They used a control group, showing that peoples drawings are not normally so distorted


  • In real life, things are not so ambiguous, making this not valid
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Dreaming (Social Explanation)

Freud's (1900) dream theory

Unconscious mind: Part of the mind that we cannot access. Contains our darkest fears and problems that we do not want to deal with

Conscious mind: Part of the mind that we are aware off. The act of keeping unconscious thoughts is called repression and is involuntary.

Dreaming occurs as some unconscious desires slip through and are exposed.

Manifest content: Part of the dream that the dreamer remembers and tells

Latent Content: The underlying meaning of the dream

Condensation: When many thoughts and elements are represented in the dream in a single symbol

Displacement: When unimportant information is made central to the dream to shift focus

Secondary Elaboration: Refers to how the dreamer adds and changes things when telling the dream

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Dreamwork and Evaluation

Dreamwork is what the mind is doing whilst dreaming, keeping unconscious thoughts hidden and repressed. It is the minds job to keep the individual safe.


  • Gathered in-depth data and detailed information about individuals. Information was qualitative, making it valid.
  • Used unique methods to uncover data that was difficult to access. (Dream analysis, free association)


  • He mainly worked with Viennese families, hence he had a biased sample making his work not generalisable
  • He collected qualitative data, which is hard to measure.
  • His interpretation of dreams is very subjective and can be biased
  • Inclusions of other theories (Activation synthesis model) means that this is not the only explanation for dreaming
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Dreaming (Biological Explanation)

Hobson and McCarley's (1977) Activation Synthesis Model 

  • Dreams are random activations in the mind (neurons)
  • Random activations are then synthesised (made) into a story (dream)
  • 4 stages of sleep. R.E.M (rapid eye movement) sleep is the 4th stage
  • During this time, the body experiences certain things
  • Dreams have no meaning (original theory)

Sensory Blockade: No information enters thorugh the senses. Individual cannot hear, see, feel, taste, smell. 

Movement Inhibition: Body cannot move and is paralysed. This protects the individual from carrying out the dream or acting out the activations in real life.

The random activations help test the brain to make sure that it functions properly for the following day.

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  • Hobson and McCarley gathered evidence for their theory on cats brains. Cats brains have similar structures to those in humans and hence makes this valid.
  • Hobson and McCarley have improved upon their original theory, stating that dreams may in fact have meaning.


  • Lucid dreaming. This means that individuals know that they are dreaming. This contradicts with the theory which states that dreaming is completely random.
  • Young children tend to have less dreams, but have the same amount of R.E.M sleep, suggesting that dreaming are not only related to R.E.M
  • Cats are not the same as humans and hence, the evidence would not be accurate
  • There are other theories (Freud) that explain dreams, meaning that this is not the only one.
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Little Hans (dream analysis)

Case study of Little Hans

  • Hans had a phobia of horses.
  • Freud analysed Little Hans dreams too find out what his unconscious is repressing.

Little Hans had a dream about giraffes. There was a big giraffe and a crumpled one. THe big giraffe shouted at Hans for taking the crumpled giraffe away.

Freud explained that Little Hans was in the phallic stage

Big Giraffe = Father

Crumpled Giraffe = Mother

Little Hans has feelings for his mother and wanted to take her away from his father.

Oedipus Complex: The idea that a boy about 4 years old will have unconscious sexual desires for his mother and wants his father out of the way. At the same time, they also feel afraid and guilty

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Aggression (Social Explanation)

Social Learning Theory

Observational Learning: Learning by watching others

Role Model: A person who is looked up to and copied. Higher authority

Identification: The feeling of being similar with a role model and leads to imitation

Vicarious Reinforcement: Learning through the positive consequesces of other peoples actions. We are more likely to imitate that person as we would get rewarded

Vicarious Punishment: Learning through the negative consequences of other peoples actions. Less likely to imitate behavior to avoid punishment.

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  • Bandura's (1961) study supports social learning thoery, showing that children copy aggression.
  • Many tragedies, like school shootings have been linked to TV and video game violence.


  • Children could be naturally aggressive and play violent games and watch violent TV programmes because of that.
  • Many children watch violence but not all copy it
  • Watching violent programmes may be a release of natural aggression and lower it instead.

Bandura (1961)

Children saw an adult attacking a large bobo doll. If the adult was rewarded, the children were more likely to imitate the act. If the adult was punished, the children would be less likely to copy. Study also seems to show that boys are more likely to copy aggression.

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Ramirez et al (2001)

Aim: Whether aggression varied between cultures.


  • 400 psychology students, half from Spain, half from Japan
  • Asked to complete a likert-style questionnaire measuring different types of aggression
  • Verbal Aggression, Physical Aggression, Anger, Hostility


  • Japanese students showed more physical aggression than Spanish students.
  • Spanish students showed more verbal aggression and anger than Japanese students.
  • Males showed more physical and verbal aggression and more hostility than females
  • Males and females showed equal anger in each culture

Conclusion: Despite cultural stereotypes, the Japanese were more physically aggressive. Spanish were consistent with stereotypes on being expressive. Supports previous theories that males are more aggressive than females. 

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  • Questions produce quantitative data, meaning it cannot be interpreted in any other way by researchers.
  • All the students were volunteers and fully aware that the results would be published. Meaning this is an ethical studies.


  • All the participants were psychology students, and may have tried to guess the aim or answer the question in a socially desirable way.
  • Students may have answerd the questions based on how they think they would react, but they may react differently in real life, making this not valid.
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Anderson and Dill (2000)

Aim: Whether people who played violent video games became aggressive


  • 210 psychology students were split into 2 groups and played either a violent or non-violent game. Myst-Non-violent, Wolfenstein-violent 
  • Participants were told this is was about motor skills. Participants were placed in a cubicle and told to play a game against an opponent (there wasn't any)
  • After 15 minutes, they were asked to compete with an opponent in a reaction test
  • Whoever could press a button the quickest would be able to hand out a blast of noise.
  • Winner can set the volume and duration of noise
  • Participants were debriefed after the experiment.

Results: Loudest and longest blasts were from participants who played wolfenstein. Women gave greater punishments than men

Conclusion: Playing violent video games result in increased aggression levels, particularly in women.

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  • It was a laboratory experiment, hance researchers had a lot of control over participants and theor experiences
  • Findings of study has useful applications in the real world as it tells us games should have age restriction. Validity


  • Participants were psychology students and may have guessed the aim even though they were told it was about motor skills
  • Participants may not have acted naturally as they knew that they were being watched. 
  • Broke some ethical guidelines like Informed consent. Participants were not fully informed and were deceived. Participants believed that loud blasts were given out to real people, posssibly stressing them and goes against the guideline to protect participants. 
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Charlton et al (2000): St Helena 

Aim: Investigate the effects of television on children's behaviour.


  • Natural experiment beginning 2 years before TV was introduced into St. Helena
  • Researchers observed children's behaviour before and after the TV was introduced
  • Questionnaires and asking teachers and parents questions.
  • Observations of the children's behaviour in the playground, especially aggression levels
  • Content analysed what and how much violence children watched on TV
  • Video cameras placed around school compound to measure aggression.

Result: Very little difference in the children's behaviour before and after TV was introduced. 

Conclusion: Study shows that TV did not have significant impact on children's behaviour, probably due to the small community, everyone knowing each other and hence a high level of control parents had over their childs behaviour.

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  • Natural experiment, more valid and has more realism.
  • Discreet cameras were placed so children wouldn't know that they were watched and would act normally.


  • Children may have become more aggressive, but parents and teachers may have been unwilling to report it due to the close nature of the community.
  • Programmes watched by the children there contained less violence then those in the mainland.
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Williams et al (1981)

Aim: Measure children's behaviour before and after TV is introduced and to compare it with other towns that did have TV.


  • Natural experiment, measured behaviours, including aggression, intelligence, creativity and amount of leisure activities in the children.
  • Researchers made sure children were used to their presence and observed them.
  • Also studied Unitel: 1 TV channel, Multitel: Many TV channels. Notel: None
  • All 3 towns were studied before TV was introduced in Notel and for 2 years after.

Results: Children twice as aggressive in Notel. Less time spent on leisure activities. Less creative, Intelligence(IQ) dropped slightly, children began seeing increased gender differences. Over the 2 years, Notels aggression levels increased far more than in Unitel and Multitel. Many channels and 1 channel seemed to have similar effects.

Conclusion: TV increases aggresion, decreases IQ and creativity and reduces leisure time spent.

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  • Natural experiment, where TV was introduced naturally meaning it is realistic and valid
  • Researchers made sure that the children were completely comfortable with them before making any observations.


  • Observations may be biased as researchers may have seen what they wanted to see.
  • Researchers did not control what or how much TV children watched or the adult supervision.
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Phobias (Classical Conditioning)

Learning process which builds up an association between two stimuli through repeated pairings.

Conditioning Process

Before conditioning:

Neutral Stimulus --> No effect, unconditioned stimulus --> unconditioned response

During conditioning:

Neutral stimulus --> unconditioned stimulus --> unconditioned response

After conditioning:

Conditioned stimulus --> conditioned response

Generalisation: Conditioned response is produced to similar stimuli from conditioned stimulus.

Extinction: Loss of the conditioned response.

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Phobias (Social learning)

Observational and vicarious learning.


Coombes et al: 2 rats drank from a spout. 1 was given a sick injection. The other learned not to drink form the spout anymore. Learning a fear.

Mineka et al: Lab monkeys were not afraid of snakes. Wild monkeys were. Lab monkeys watched wild monkeys reaction to snakes and learned the fear. 


Townend et al: Children were more likely to be afraid of the dentist is their parents were.

Leib et al: More likely to have a social phobia if their parents had one, and imitated it.

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Phobias (Preparedness)

The tendency to learn some associations more easily, quickly and permanently than others.

Seligman explained that Evolution seems to have prepared us to fear some thing more easily than others. Seligman stated that these stimuli would have been threatening to early humans, and avoiding them would allow them to survive.

The fear of these stimuli such as spiders allowed them to survive, reproduce and pass on their genes. Survival of the fittest. The weak and least adaptive dies.

Because of this, the growing population would have genes that teach us to fear the things that are harmful. 

Preparedness explains why we do not easily fear things in modern life such as irons or knifes.

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Cover-Jones: Little Peter

Aim: Whether a phobia can be deconditioned and whether it will generalise to other objects.


  • Peter was afraid of rats. Researchers observed him and found that his fear generalised to other objects like a fur coat, cotton balls and hats with feathers.
  • Peter was more afraid of a rabbit than a rat, hence a rabbit was used. Peter had daily play sessions with 3 other children without the phobia.
  • Situations were introduced to Peter to try and get him closer to the rabbit
  • E.g. Rabbit is cage anywhere in room causes fear - Rabbit accepted free in room - Holds rabbit on lap.
  • Classical conditioning was also used (Favourite food + rabbit) besides social learning theory

Results: Peter improved and worsened, as the rabbit scratched him once. Eventually, Peter lost fear of the rabbit and this also generalised to other things.

Conclusion: Classical conditioning and social learning helped Peter to overcome and decondition his fear. It also help generalise it to other things.

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  • Jones made detailed observations over long periods of time. This shows Peter's progress thoroughly.
  • She asked other people to make the tolerance series so she wouldn't be biased herself
  • She used different methods to decondition Peter, and her methods have been built upon by other psychologists.


  • Gaps between each play session were variable, hence the loss of fear could be due to time and not the deconditioning
  • Jones used 2 different deconditioning techniques and other people to make Peter feel confident. This makes it hard to tell which method was most effective.
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Phobias (Fear of animals)

Bennet-Levy and Marteau (1984)

Aim: Whether we are more afraid of animals that move quickly, move suddenly or look very ugly.


  • Bennet -Levy and Marteau used 2 questionnaires. Q1 asked about the fear of an animal and how close one would get to it. Q2 measued how participants felt about each animal based on a 3 point scale of how ugly, slimy, speedy or sudden they are.
  • Q1: Fear Scale 1 -3 (Not afraid-Afraid). Nearness Scale: 1-5 (Enjoy-No!)
  • Q2: 1-2 (Not-Quite-Very) Based on the 4 categories
  • Q1: 30 men and 34 women. 
  • Q2: 24 men and 25 women.
  • Some participants were also interviewed

Findings: Rats, cockroach, jellyfish and spiders are the most feared. Even though participants were told rats these were harmless, they were still afraid to get near. Men and women both described ugliness as having many legs, weird eyes and slimy dirty bodies. 

Conclusion: Ugliness, sliminess, speediness and suddeness makes animals more frightening.

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  • Different participants answered both questionnaires. This made sure they didn't know what the study was about
  • Both men and women were used. Made this study generalisable to both genders
  • Participants did not see the animals, preventing distress and ethical problems


  • Questionnaire only asked about 6 factors, but participants who were interviewed suggested that more factors contributed to fear.
  • Participants were told the animals were not dangerous but many still thought rats were harmful. Instructions were not successful.
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Phobias (Treatment)


  • Confronting worst fear directly
  • Gets people to associate the fear with relaxation. Substitute the anxiety with relaxation
  • No one can stay anxious forever as it will damage the body, hence we will learn to relax and associate the relaxation with the fear. "you cannot scream forever"
  • A person cannot back out during the therapy as they would only become more scared and not have relaxed as all.

Flooding is not always effective, and is not ethical as it causes distress.

Systematic Desensitisation

  • Similar to flooding, but more ethical. Involves being gradually exposed to the feared object.
  • Feared object is identified and a Hierarchy of fears is made.
  • Therapist teaches patient relaxation techniques to cope with exposure.
  • Starting with the lowest fear, therapist introduces the situation, making sure patient is relaxed at each stage before moving up the Hierarchy. Eventually, the fear would be overcome. Patient can withdraw without harm as they would still have made improvements and be relaxed at each stage before carrying on. It is also more ethical
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Phobias (Treatment)

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

  • Involves identifying negative thoughts and replacing it with positive ones.
  • E.g. A person with flying phobia may be shown figures of crashes, showing how road accidents are more common than air crashes.
  • Exposure-based CBT involves challenging clients thought patterns as well as lower fer response, similar to SD.
  • Fear is isolated, hierarchy of fears made. Work withe client to overcome the fear (systematic desensitisation). Gradual improvements must be made. Regular sessions and enough time for fear to pass. Client must also challenge their own fear.


  • Therapists help clients reach an altered state of awareness where the client is in a heightened state of awareness.
  • Client can better accept the therapists suggestions on how to overcome the phobia

Psychodynamic-based therapies

  • Involves understanding the phobia and how it is affecting the unconscious mind.
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Phobias (Cultural)

Heinrichs et al (2005)

Aim: Whether being brought up in different cultures affected social anxiety and fear of blushing.


  • 909 university psychology students were tested. They were from 8 different countries.
  • Students were divided into the collectivistic group and the individualistic group.
  • Individualistic Cultures: USA, Australia, Germany
  • Collectivistic Cultires: Spain, Korea, Japan
  • Participants were given short descriptions of a social situation and asked how they would react to it. E.g. "Math class, teacher asked for volunteers. Would you speak up?"
  • Participants were also asked to complete a social anxiety and blushing questionnaire. This measures the individuals fear of interaction with other people and fear of embarrassment.

Results: Collectivist Culture: High social anxiety, Fearful of blushing. Individualist Culture has lower social anxiety and fear of blushing.

Conclusion: Collectivist cultures have strict social rules and norms. Behaviour of 1 individual affects the whole group. Individualist cultures place importance on standing out & individuality.

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Criminality (Biological)

Family Studies

There is a link between criminality and relatives. A child is more likely to become a criminal if their parents or grandparents are criminals.

Adoption Studies

Look at children that have been adopted at young age. By taking out the environmental factor from the picture, we are sure genetics are the cause of criminality.

Mednick (1984) studied 14,427 adopted children and compared their criminality record compared with their biological parents. He found that adopted children with criminal records for property theft also had biological fathers with criminal convictions.

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Criminality (Biological)

Twin Studies

Identical twins have all their genes in common. Non-identical twins have half of their genes in common.

Christiansen (1977) studied 3586 pairs of twins in Denmark. He found that criminal link was for property theft, not violent crimes.

Identical: 52%, the other was also a criminal.

Non-identical: 22%, the other was also a criminal. (Only half of the genes)

Chromosome Abnormality

XXY and XYY have links to violent crime and aggressive behaviour. Also has links to slow learning and low intelligence. Theigaard (1984) investigated this claim.

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Criminality (Social)

Family Patterns


Leads to broken homes. Children in divorced families are twice as likely to become criminals, especially if there were alot of arguments and fights prior to the divorce. Boys become more aggressive and girls become depressed. This also leads to maternal deprivation.

Maternal Deprivation

Child forms special bonds with their main caregiver and feels secure and safe. Separation from the main caregiver during the first 2 years of life can cause distress and can suffer lasting effects of rejection and trauma. This is maternal deprivation.

Bowlby (1946) questioned 44 boy offenders. 14 of them felt no guilt about their crimes. 12 out of the 14 boys had been separated from their main caregiver before they were 2 years old. Out of the other 30, only 5 had been separated form their main caregiver before 2 years of age.

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Criminality (Social)

Family Size

Farrington (2002) found that families with a lot of children, around 6-7 were more likely to be linked to criminality. Lack of attention and supervision each child gets. Larger families are more likely to ahve lower incomes, which lead to poorer education and can be linked to youth crimes like drug use and fighting.

Parental Occupation

Western (2003) found a small link between a mothers work and the childs tendency to turn to crime. The fathers job did not affect the child. Mothers employed as blue-collar workers had children who were more likely to become criminals. This was probably due to maternal deprivation (Long working hours).

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Criminality (Social)

Child Rearing Strategies


Involves explaining to a child what they have done wrong and the consequences. Encourages empathy and allows the child to identify their own wrongdoings.

Love Withdrawal

Parent withdraws love from the child. Makes them feel guilty and creates independence and individuality due to rejection.

Power Assertion

Parent scolds the child and smacks them. Most associated with delinquency and low self-esteem and the child would not fell worthy of love. This can all lead to aggression. Inconsistent punishment, severe punishment and verbal threats all increase the chance a child would become aggressive and hence criminals.

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Criminality (Social)

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

When the expectation of others influence our behaviour. When people expect and believe us to become criminals, we will conform to the expectation and behave that way.

If a teacher expects us to do badly in an exam, we will feel less motivated to work hard and conform to that expectation.

Rosenthal and Jacobsen (1986) had a group of children and told teachers which ones had hig IQ's and were going to be bloomers and which had low IQ's and were average. This was a lie, and were random. They found that the teachers did not expect too much from the average students and gave all attention to the bloomers. When IQ tests were done after a year, the IQ of the 'bloomers' had increased and the average children's had fallen. Teachers expectation affected their ability.

Strengths: Valid and can be applied in real life

Weaknesses: Some people do not conform but work harder to prove people wrong. Cannot be studied in a way which proves it causes criminal behaviour.

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Criminality (Criminal Gene)

Theilgaard (1984)

Aim: To see if there is a particular gene that could be responsible for criminal behaviour.


  • Collected blood samples from over 30,000 men born in the 1940s. 
  • Two chromosome abnormalities were found. XXY and XYY
  • Out of 30,000 men tested, 16 had the XXY abnormality and 12 had the XYY pattern.
  • A social worker interviewed these men about their background and criminal history. They were also given intelligence and personality tests.
  • Using a social worker avoided research bias.

Results: XYY males had slightly lower levels of intelligence than average and tended to be more aggressive. XXY males had very similar results as well. No solid evidence was found.

Conclusion:  There is limited evidence for a criminal gene, but the increased aggression could increase the chance of criminality. Many similarities between XXY and XYY males. 

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  • All tests and interviews were carried out by a social worker. This prevented research bias so would not have known the aim and be leading the males to answer in any particular way.
  • Theilgaard used a wide range of tests to measure many aspects. This improved the tests reliability and validity and made it more generalisable.


  • Small sample of men used, 28. This makes the study not generalisable.
  • Link between aggression and XYY males is only a correlation and not a cause. Increased aggression could be due to lower intelligence and less education and not the gene.
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Criminality (SFP)

Madon (2004)

Aim: Whether a parents expectation of their childs drinking habits would become reality.


  • Madon questioned 115 children between 12 and 13 and their parents.
  • Parents had to guess how much alcohol their child would drink over the coming year.
  • A year later, the children had to reveal how much they actually drank.

Results: Children who drank the most alcohol had parents who also predicted higher consumption. Took only 1 parents to show negative opinions to have an affect, but 2 parents with negative opinions had risk of higher alcohol use.

Conclusion: Parents prediction and expectation were accurate and consistent. Parents belief can have a massive influence on a child's behaviour.

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  • Large sample of participants hence results are likely to be more valid and generalisable.
  • Gives a strong warning to parents about holding strong negative beliefs as they could become true. This is valid


  • Parents may not have influenced anything but have very accurate judging of their own child. An accurate prediction rather then the self fulfilling prophecy
  • Many other influences like friends may have caused the drinking as friends are a stronger source of influence for teenagers
  • Child may have lied about amount drank to fit in society. Social desirability bias.
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Criminality (Jury)

Sigall and Ostrove (1975)

Aim: Whether attractiveness affected jury decision making. Whether there is a relationship between attractiveness and type of crime committed.


  • Crime of burglary and fraud were used. 120 participants were given a card with the crime and picture of Barbara Helms on it. $1000 con or stolen.
  • Participants were split into 6 groups. Each group either saw an attractive of unattractive picture of Barbara. Participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of Barbara.
  • 1: Attractive, Burglary -- 2: Unattractive, Burglary -- 3: No Picture with description of Burglary
  • 4: Attractive, Fraud -- 5: Unattractive, Fraud -- 6: No Picture with description of Fraud
  • Participants asked to give prison sentence ranging from 1-15 years.

Results: People believed attractive Barbara should spend more time in prison for fraud then for burglary. Unattractive, more time for burglary and less for fraud. 

Conclusion: Looks affect the jury decision making depending on the crime. 

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  • Good control groups for comparison, meaning findings were reliable and study can be repeated. Few extraneous variables.
  • Participants less likely to guess the aim as they did not know what the other groups were doing. Demand characteristics.
  • Participants were asked to rate the attractiveness. This ensures the participants agree with the picture of the attractive women.
  • Study could be used in real life to warn jurors, making it valid.


  • Not realistic as a jury member would see the defendent in real life and decide as a group.
  • Jurors usually only decide wether the defendent in guilty or not and not the length of time. Unrealistic.
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