Psychology AS January Exam (Edexcel) - Cognitive and Social

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The Cognitive Approach

Focuses on human thought and mental processes of memory, perception, forgetting...

COMPUTER PROCESSING MODEL - used as a base to explain human cognition

Mental processes are largely influenced by our biology (hardware) and experiences (programming).

INFORMATION PROCESSING - largely accepted explanations of the stages of remembering

Encoding - conversion of sensory information into something mentally representable
Storage - holding information over a period of time for when it'll be needed
Retrieval- recovering stored information

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Theories and Studies

Memory Theories

  • Levels of processing (Craik and Lockhart, 1972)


  • Levels of processing (Craik and Tulving, 1975)

Forgetting Theories

  • Cue-dependent Forgetting (Tulving and Pearlstone, 1966)
  • Trace Decay (Hebb, 1949)


  • The Brown-Peterson Technique (1958)
  • Divers study (Godden and Baddley, 1975)
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Levels of Processing (Craik and Lockhart, 1972)

The depth at which we process information has a substantial effect on recall, the deeper the level of processing the stronger, longer lasting and more detailed memories are produced.

      There are three levels of processing:
1. Shallow - considering the physical features of a word
2. Phonetic - considering the sound of a word
3. Semantic - considering the meaning of a word

      And Two levels of rehearsal:
1. Maintenance - rehearsal for a short period of time
2. Elaborative - rehearsal involving deep processing

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Evaluation of LOP


+ supported by Craik and Tulving (1975)
 + practical applications in revision and children reading programs
 + made significant contributions to our knowledge of memory


- does not explain the connection between deep processing and better recall
 - there is no scientific way to test how deeply someone is processing data
 - only explains explicit memory processes (no implicit, subconscious ones)

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Craik and Tulving (1975) LOP

AIM: to investigate whether processing words shallowly, phonetically or semantically would affect the likelihood of recall

PROCEDURE: (lab experiment) 24 Partticipants
 - yes or no questions were asked regarding 60 words that were shown to the pps via tachistoscope. These questions required either semantic (e.g. "is it an animal?"), phonetic (e.g. "does it rhyme with bat?") or shallow processing (e.g. "is it in upper case?")
- a recognition sheet of 180 words was given to the ps to pick the previously seen words from.

RESULTS: recall was-
Semantically processed words   65%
Phonetically processed words   36%
Shallowly processed words   17%

Semantic processing,leads to deeper mental activity and therefore words are better recalled than those phonetically or shallowly processed.

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Evaluation of Craik and Tulving


+ practical applications in revision by giving material meanings
+ as a lab experiment, it has high control over confunding variables
      eg. the questions were asked before the words were shown, so no other processes took place before.
+ the Ps weren't told they'd be asked to recall the words, so the results are more reliable
+ Nyberg (2002) brain scans show more cerebral activity during semantic processing


- the connection between deep processing and improved recall isn't explained
- the study ignores other types of assimilation information
    eg. making words into stories or categories
- the actual level of processing the ps is using is untestable scientifically
- artificial task and setting mean low ecological validity

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Cue-Dependent Forgetting (Tulving and Pearlstone)

Information remains stored in LTM, but needs the right retrieval cue to be accessed, an additional piece of information that needs to be encoded at the time of learning and later used to prod recall.

There are two types of cue-dependent forgetting:
  1. STATE DEPENDENT (stronder, internal cues)
  2. CONTEXT DEPENDENT (external cues)

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Evaluation of Cue-Dependent Forgetting

 + State dependent was supported by Goodwin (1975) study of alcoholics
 + Context dependent was supported by Tulving and Pearlstone (1966) study of semantic cues and Godden and Baddley (1975) divers study.
 + has practical applications in studying (Abermathy found studying and being examined in the same classroom improved results) and in police investigations: reinstatement of context in the Cognitive Interview has improved eye withness testimony by 45%.

 - doesn't explain all processes of forgetting and remembering
 - the distinction between state and context is hazy
 - doesn't explain emotionally charged memories
 - it's impossible to test whether a memory is available or not.

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Godden and Baddley (1975) Divers study

AIM: to see whether environment can act as a cue to aid recall

PROCEDURE: (field experiment) 18 ps
The ps were given a list of 38 unrelated 2/3 syllable words to study either on the shore or 15 feet under the sea and were randomly allocated in one of four experimental conditions:
1. learn and recall on shore
2. learn and recall under water
3. learn on shore and recall under water
4. learn under water and recall on shore

RESULTS: recall was 50% better when it took place in the environment of learning
1. 13.5
2. 11.4
3. 8.6
4. 8.4

CONCLUSION: Environment can act as a powerful contextual cue for recall.

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Evaluation of Godden and Baddley


+ being a field experiment in a natural environment, it had high ecological validity
 + the conclusions were backed up by Tulving and Pearlstone's (1966) study with semantic cues and by Abermathy
 + the findings have practical applications in revision and in eye witness testimony, through reinstatement of the context (eg. Crimewatch)
 + followed a strict standard procedure and can be replicated


 - but equipment failure and unpredictable weather conditions make it less replicable and may have affected the results
 - the task was highly artificial, thus lowering the mundane realism
 - the sample was all from the university diving club, and was thus not representative of the whole population, the study lacking in population validity.

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The Social Approach

The study of human behaviour within a social context
Obedience to Authority Theories

  • Agency Theory (Milgram, 1974)


  • Milgram (1963) Obedience to authority
  • Hofling et al (1966) Nurses
  • Meeus and Raaijmaker (1986) Obedience to authority

Prejudice and Discrimination Theories

  • Social Identity Theory (Tajfel and Turner, 1970)


  • Sherif er al (1961)
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Milgram's Agency Theory (1974)

It is our general tendency to obey those in authority, an evolutionary mechanism assimilated during primary socialization which allows us to continue to live in a peaceful society by adhering to social rules giving up to part of our free will.

We have thus developed two social states:
  1. The Autonomous state -
we act according to free will
  2. The Agentic state -
we act as "agents" of authority, considering ourselves non-responsible for our actions, only secondary individuals where the orders we carry out clash with our moral ideology, there is moral strain, which is covered up with the defense mechanism of denial.

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Milgrams Agency Theory Evaluation

 + supported by Milgram (1963), Hofling (1966) and Meeus and Raaijmaker (1986) who studied level of authoritativeness.
 + explains the Nazi phenomenon and others such as Eichmann's testimony - "I was just following orders"

 + helps explain moral strain
 - not all obedience happens in an agentic state, some obey voluntarily
 - the autonomous and agentic states cannot be scientifically tested
 - so people could use it as an excuse for antisocial or violent behaviour
 - doesn't explain disobedience to authority,

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Milgram (1963) Obedience to authority

AIM: To see if American men would decide not to follow orders from authority figures which could result in harming another human being.

PROCEDURE: (lab experiment) 40 self selected ps
 - the ps were told they were part of an investigation on the effects of punishment on learing
- they were deceived into thinking they were randomly allocated as "teachers", but this was fixed. The "learner" role was taken by a confederate. They were to administer increasingly strong electric shocks to the learner for every wron answer he gave (which were fixed to be plenty)
- at 300v, the learner would bang on the wall, scream and fall silent. They were verbally prodded to continue administering the shocks by the experimenter up to 450v.

RESULTS: 26/40 Ps continued up to 450v, 65%.100% of Ps reached 300v, at which only 22.5% stopped (9 Ps).They were observed to laugh nervously, shake, bite their lips, sweat, tremble and even have seizures.

CONCLUSION:The Ps followed the orders because of the power of the social situation and of authority, acting in what Milgrams describes as the "agentic state".

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Milgram (1963) Evaluation


+ contributed significantly to our knowledge of human behaviour, explaining the previously considered abnormal phenomenon of Nazism and Eichmann's testimony.
 + was supported and confirmed by Hofling et al (1966), replicated in most counties with the same results, for example by Meeus and Raaijmaker (1986) in Holland
 + the Ps were thoroughly debriefed after the experiment (introduced to the unharmed "learner" and a year later via questionnaire, in which 84% said they were happy to have taken part.
 +  a staff was present to give immediate support
 + Prior to the experiment, Milgram, investigating the matter, had gathered only 1% "disturbed" individuals would follow the orders
 + the Ps had the right to withdraw and one did


- self selected, unrepresentative and motivated sample
 - artificial task and setting compromised the ecological validity
 - demand characteristics may have been obvious (eg. ps knowing it was fake)
 - Ps decieved on multiple accounts and exposed to harm

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Variations of Milgram

  • Original obedience baseline : 65%
  • Venue moved to a seedy office - 47.5%
  • Teacher and learner in the same room - 40%
  • Teacher holding learner's hand on the electric plate - 30%
  • Verbal prods given through phone - 26.5%

           The liberating effects of peer pressure:

 - Teacher accompanied by two assistants that refused to proceed - 15%

 - teacher accopanied by an assistant that pressed the switches - 72.5%

Conclusion: with the presence of two "rebellious stooges", the Ps felt more able to refuse to continue, but when responsibility was taken off them by an assistant ("obedient stooge") obedience was higher

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Hofling et al (1966) Nurses

AIM: To investigate what nurses would so if ordered to carry out orders against their professional standards and if they were aware of their obedience.

PROCEDURE: 12 nurses and 21 student nurses were given a questionnaire about what they would do in the experimental situation.
22 nurses from two hospitals received phonecalls from a "doctor Smith" while they were alone on the ward, asking them to administer 20 mg of ASTROTEN to a (confederate) patient, a dose double the maximum daily amount (of what was, really, a placebo). It is against hospital policy to follow orders from a phonecall.

RESULTS: 10/12 nurses and 21/21 students said they wouldn't obey
21/22 nurses administered the medication, 95%
18 said they were aware of being in the wrong and 11 were aware of the correct dosage on the package.

CONCLUSION: nurses will knowingly breach hospital policy and endanger patients in obeying authority orders

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Evaluation of Hofling (1966) Nurses


+ supports Milgram's (1974) Agency theory and confirms Milgram's (1963) study
 + reliable because conduced 22 times with similar results, following a careful standardized procedure (replicable).
 + a staff psychiatrist was on ward to give immediate support
 + the nurses were accurately debriefed
 + a field experiment, highly ecologically valid
 +  the nurses were unaware of taking part is a study, and acted naturally (this makes up for the critique of Milgram stating the obedience was high only because pps knew it was fake)


 - Questionable ethics due to deception and possible harm
 - lacks in population validity (based on a sample of only nurses)
 - lacks in worldwide validity because replicated by Rank and Jacobsen (1977) in Australia with opposite results: 89% disobedience.

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Meeus and Raaijmaker (1986) Obedience to Authority

AIM: to replicate Milgram (1963) in Holland in a modern key, making up for the critique that ps had only gone along with it knowing they weren't really doing harm.

PROCEDURE: (lab experiment) 39 Ps
-The Ps were told they were participating in a study to investigate the effects of stress on performance.
-The 24 Ps in the experimental condition were told to administer 15 increasingly distressing remarks to a "job applicant" (who was really a confederate)taking a test for an interview who's (fake) stress levels were shown on a machine attached to electrodes on him.
-The 15 Ps in the control group had the option to say the remarks or not.

RESULTS: 22/24 Ps continued all the way through,( 92%)
73% believed it was real
None of the control group used any of the remarks.

CONCLUSION: Obedience even higher than Milgram's, Ps apparently more willing to inflict psychological that physical harm.

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Prejudice and Discrimination

Prejudice :
an attitude towards a group which causes us to prejudge anyone based on their membership to that group, consisting of:

  1. The Cognitive Element
the beliefs held about the group in form of stereotypes, common but oversimple images

  2. The Affective Element
the feelings experienced in response to that group

  3. The Behavioural Element
actions towards the object of prejudice that result in discrimination.

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Social Identity Theory (Tajfel and Turner,1970)

The simple act of being divided in groups will lead to prejudice and eventual discrimination.

 1. Social Categorisation - the act of putting oneself and others into groups, which triggers stereotypical beliefs. The in-group is the group one believes himself to belong to, the out-group us a related group one doesn't belong to.
2. Social Cdentification - the internalising of the in-group's culture, values, norms and appearance into one's social identity. One notices differences between the groups and can dress to "fit into" the chosen in-group.
 3. Social Comparison - in-group favouritism and out-group denigration in order to boost one's group's and one's own ego.

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Evaluation of Social Identity Theory


+ supported by Tajfel (1971) minimal group studies, Sherif (1961) and the Stanford Prison Experiment (1971)
+ explains real life attitudes- like football fans
+ can be used to reduce discrimination by creating larger groups.


- simplifies complex human behaviour
- most prejudice stems from personal history rather than grouping
- certain people seem to be more disposed to prejudice and discriminate than others

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Sherif et al (1961) The Robber's Cave Experiment

AIM: to see if it is possible to install conflict between two very similar groups by putting them in competition

PROCEDURE: (field experiment) 22 white, middle class 12 year old Ps.
 - they boys, arrived in summer camp were divided in two groups, unaware of each other, for a week. They developed rules and group names (Rattlers and Eagles)
 - Competition was introduced in the form of a tournament with prizes ( a cup and pocket knives) and manipulated to favour one group.
 - Cooperation was then obtained by assigning tasks to the groups together.

 - use of in-group/ out-group terminology
 - during the conflict stage only 7% mentioned friends in the out-group
 - after cooperation, this rose to 30%, but 70% kept to in-group friends.

CONCLUSION: simple division into groups caused social categorization and identification, but conflict brought prejudice, discrimination and social comparison (a group flag was even burnt), reduced with cooperation.

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Evaluation of Sherif (1961) "The Robber's Cave exp


+ supports Tajfel and Turner's (1970) Social Identity Theory, demonstrating the importance in conflict of competition.
 + helps explain conflict from competition over resources, jobs, oil, resulting in war.
 + high experimental and ecological validity because of unaware Ps in a natural environment.
 + good standardised procedure allowing replication


 - small, unrepresentative sample with scarce population validity
 - unethical because of lack of consent, deception and exposure to potential harm for the participants.

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Ty Ellis

Very helpful thanks!


Shouldn't the fact it explains moral strain be an advantage of Agency Theory (1974) - Excellent resource though :)




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