WJEC - AS - Psychology - Unit 2- Context and Aims


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  • Created on: 09-05-12 20:48

Asch - Aims and Context Part 1


  • conformity: when an individual is said to conform if they choose a course of action that is favoured by other group members or considered socially acceptable eg smoking because your friends do

Importance: group pressure is a common factor in conformity explanations; conformity is important process to understand as thought to have significant impact on many behaviours and decisions in many situations, such as jury decisions andstudent behaviour in classrooms

Previous Research:

  • Jenness (1932) 'beans in a jar' study, asked to estimate no. beans in a jar; then asked them in groups to arrive at group estimate, when asked to make another individual estimate, found they had shifted towards group estimates; inambiguous situations, one looks to another for a reasonable answer; howeverresearch is limited as he specifically asked for group estimate rather thanobserving producing similar estimates
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Asch - Aims and Context Part 2

Previous Research continued:

  • Sherif (1935) reported research using the autokinetic effect (where stationary spot of light is projected onto a screen appearing to move in a dark room). Sherif told pps he was going to move the light and they had to estimate how far spot of light had movedall pps tested individually, however when exposed to other pps, tended to converge to group norm (average of estimates)Sherif's research considered improvement to Jenness' as didn't specifically ask for group estimate, as pps arrived at group norm naturally


1) Asch aimed to investigate effect of group pressure on individuals in unambiguous situations; he wanted to find out if when confronted with an obviously incorrect answer, whether individuals would conform to this error or give an independent response

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Milgram - Aims and Context 1

Obedienceperforming an action in response to a direct order where the person is issuing the orders is perceived as having a legitimate authority. It is good in order to maintain order and authority but can be bad if someone obeys another that wrongly uses the authority 

  Importance: obedience can be considered a necessary part of society, for example ifpeople didn't follow laws such as speed limits, there would be accidents and can be used in education/parenting.

Previous Research:

  • millions of innocent people killed in WWII; in 1960, Adolf Eichmann captured by Israel secret service in Argentina, put on trial in Nuremberg and hanged in 1962.Responsible for murder of millions of people however appeared to be quiet, mild-mannered man and not someone to commit acts of evil; like many others, he was following/obeying orders
  • Arendt (1963) said "in certain circumstances an ordinary, decent person can become a criminal"
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Milgram - Aims and Context Part 2

Previous Research:

  • many researchers claim obedience required to carry such acts down to 'Germans are different'
  • Adorno et al (1950) suggested Germans have a particular 'type' of personality'the authoritarian personality'typically hostile to people of inferior status, while beingservile to those percevied as higher status; Adorno et al suggested authoritarian personalities are prejudiced against minority groups as result of unconscious hostility stemming from harsh and disciplined upbringing that is then displaced onto minority groups


1) Milgram wanted to test whether 'Germans are different' belief was true or not

2) thought obedience is not due to internal, dispositional factors but is due to situational factors

3) aimed to create a situation that allowed him to measure process of obedience, evenwhen command requires destructive behaviour

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Rahe et al - Aims and Context Part 1


  • stress: can be defined as the non-specific response of the body to any demand usually when perceived demands exceed perceived abilities to cope

Importance: Selye (1936) showed the importance of stress research in the body bydemonstrating that there is a relationship between stress and ilnesscreating thefield of psychosomatic research

Previous Research:

  • Holmes and Hawkins noticed that patients in their care being treated for TB werefrom poor backgrounds and that it wasn't the poor background itself thatincreased risk of TB but stress of povertyHawkins et al (1957) compared TB patients with non-TB workers in hospital (matched for age, sex, race and income) and found more disturbing life events in the previous 2 years in the TB than non-TB patients
  • Holmes and Rahe (1964) suggested that stress could be measured by amount of life events a person experienceslife changes taken from case histories of 5000 patient records given a score by 400 people
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Rahe et al - Aims and Context Part 2

Previous Research continued:

  • this produced 43 critical life events, the score was given in terms of how much readjustment would be required by average personaverage score for each event was known as 'life change unit' (LCU); this in turn produced 43 life events and LCUs for the 'Schedule of Recent Experiences' (SRE) and 'Social Readjustment Rating Scale' (SRRS) = these gave a quantifiable way of measuring stress, enabling relationship between stress caused by change and existing life changes and illness; however ethical constraints meant unfair to expose someone to stressors to see if illness developed; most research using SRRS and SRE were retrospective studiesassessed SRRS scores of ill people to SRRS scores of non-ill peoplehowever retrospective studies do require recalling information, can besubject to memory distortions


1) Rahe et al wanted to limit the methodological flaws in retrospective research; aimed to do a prospective studycorrelating LCU measured over 2 years with the rate of illness during the 6 - 8 months following the completion of the SRE.

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Bennett-Levy and Marteau - AIms and Context Part 1

  • adaptive trait - increases individual's chances of survival and reproductiongood for fearfulness of dangerous creatures (adaptive trait) to be inherited as enables animals/humans to adapt to environment and be naturally selected
  • EEA - 'environment of evolutionary adaptation' time period when humans lived on African plainsdangers they faced led to evolution of fear response

Importance: evolutionary psychology suggests certain fears are adaptive behavioursthat helped distant ancestors to survive; if we are extremely fearful of an animal, wetry to get away from it and unlikely to be hurt by itimportant to understand why we have fears of certain animals and where it originates

Previous Research: Seligman (1971) proposed concept of biological preparedness - inherited predisposition to fear certain classes of animals eg snakes; 3 observations support this belief: 1) distribution of animal phobias is non-random; 2) fears of animals not matched by traumatic experiences; 3) fears often appear early in life, reaching peak of 4 yrs old.

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Bennett-Levy Marteau - Aims and Context Part 2

Previous Research:

  • Mineka et al (1980) found that wild reared monkeys showed considerable fear of real, model + toy snakes whereas lab reared monkeys showed mild response to snakes = could be explained in terms of wild monkey's direct experiences whichcreated fear response (operant conditioning); BL+M noted lab monkeys demonstrated direct fear response when snake showed significant movement, suggesting there's not a prepared template to fear snakes but fear of 'snake-like movements'
  • Hinde (1974) suggested that other characteristics evoke fear responsenovelty and strangeness; further suggested that a large discrepancy between stimulus and organism's model of world is basis for this response; supported by BL+M who treated patients with phobias: found patient's descriptions of what they feared about animals focused on what animals looked and felt like

Aims: BL+M aimed to investigate underlying mechanism (biological preparedness to fear certain stimulus configurations in animals and discrepancies from human form); they predicted the PC of small, harmless animals should be related to the distribution of ratings of fear and avoidance of these animals

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Loftus and Palmer - Aims and Context Part 1

  • eye witness testimony - evidence/statement given by a witness to a court under oath
  • leading question - question that either by form or content suggests answer desired, orleads witness to desired answer

Importance: to understand how eye witness testimonies can be influenced as if a witness testimony is wrong, it can lead to a wrongful conviction.

Previous Research:

  • time, speed and distance are inaccurately reported
  • speed is especially difficult to judge for humans
  • Marshall (1969) - test with Air Force Personnelknew they had to guess speed of moving automobileGuesses ranged from 10 - 50mphactual speed was 12mph; even if we're expecting to judge speed, humans are bad
  • Fillmore (1971) - verbs "hit" and "smashed" imply differential rates of movement
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Loftus and Palmer - Aims and Context Part 2

Previous Research:

  • Bartlett (1932)- proposed that memory was not completely accurate but built up from bits of memory and our own expectations and experiences - Reconstructed memory. Told the ppts a ghost story (War of the Ghosts). Asked ppts to recall from memory at various points - with each recall, the story became more vague - shows the story had been reconstructed to fit with what the ppts expected to happen, story also became shorter.
  • Devlin report (1976)- on eye-witness testimony, found a conviction rate of 74% in 300 cases was solely on EWT. Even with more technology now (CCTV etc.), it is clear  that EWT are given a huge amount of credit. If EWT are built up from a collection of sources including expectations (stereotypes), how accurate is it?
  • Another explanation suggested for the inaccuracy of EWT is that questioning by the police after a crime may alter recall of event through the use of leading questions, suggest what answer is desired. 

Aim: Experiment 1 - To investigate whether a leading question would influence ppts accuracy in estimating speed of vehicles. Experiment 2- To investigate whether 'leading questions' would bias a person's response to the question or actually alter the memory that is stored about the event.

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Gardner and Gardner - Aims and Context Part 1

  • language: there are 16 characteristics that distinguish human language fromanimal communication known as design features by Hockett; eg interchangeability (send receive messages), semanticity, productivity, learning (acquisition) and transmission (transferring to the next generation)

Importance: human cultures use language; children acquire it quickly; suggests animalsshould not be able to; language important part of lifedoing experiments essential to determine language acquisition

Previous Research:

  • Hayes and Hayes (1952) worked with chimpanzee called Vicki; aimed to teach her vocal language; after 6 years, Vicki could only make 4 sounds resounding English: mama, papa, cup, up
  • Premack and Premack (1966) raised chimp called Sarah, used different coloured and shaped chips to represent words; placed on a board to make sentences; developed 130 signs up to 8 units longnot spontaneous but did practise sentences alone.
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Gardner and Gardner - Aims and Context Part 2

Previous Research continued:

  • Bryan (1963) chimps vocal apparatus different to humans; can only make sounds when highly stressed or excited, when undisturbed = silent
  • Yerkes (1963) chimps spontaneously developed begging and similar behaviourshands useful to solve manipulatory problems = suited to sign language


1) aimed to investigate if they could teach a chimp to communicate using ASL.Chimps raised like a child so language acquired naturally; chimp suitable as intelligent, sociable (prime motivator for language) and attach to humans; decided touse sign language as previous research showed chimps don't have vocal apparatusand they are good with their hands.

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Langer and Rodin - Aims and Context Part 1

  • control: where one has choice over the decisions and actions and to the extent in which one feels they can regulate their own behaviour and environment

Importance: important to see the importance of control because research done by Bengston (1973) and Butler (1967) show that more control results in more successful aging, measured by decreased mortality, morbidity and psychodisability, as an individualfeels a sense of purpose and usefulness

Previous Research:

  • Langer, Janis + Wolfer (1975) found that inducing perception of control over stress in hospital patients by verbally communicating potential controlsubjects requested fewer painkillers and sedatives and observed by staff as less anxious
  • Strotland + Bumenthal (1964) found subjects not given choice in making decision when to have a test became anxiousmeasured by palmar sweating
  • Ferrare (1962) found those who had no choice of residence when moving to a nursing home died within 10 weeks. 
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Langer and Rodin - Aims and Context Part 2


1) to investigate the effects of enhanced personal responsibility and choice in agroup of nursing home patients, specifically if increased control has beneficial effects on mental alertness, activity, sociability and general satisfaction.

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Gibson and Walk - Aims and Context Part 1

  • perception: process of understanding and making sense of the information that reaches the senses
  • depth perceptioninterpreting how far an object is spacially, is important forstaying safe within our environments

Importance: G+W wanted to investigate depth perception. The nativistsempiricists andinteractionists all have different beliefs as to how we become aware of our surroundings as we wouldn't survive very long without depth perception e.g. descending stairs

Previous Research:

  • Nativists believe we are born with certain abilities such as being able to perceive depth; believe that these abilities may not function properly when we're born butmaturation process determines development abilitieslearning has no importance, eg when a child is born, the nervous system has necessary components but immature; the optic nerve is shorter than adult sized and narrower = no myelin sheath to ensure good transmission of information.
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Gibson and Walk- Aims and Context Part 2

  • empiricists: we acquire abilities through experiencedepth perception would be acquired in response to environmental demands ie after we become independently mobile
  • interactionists believe that our abilities are due to using both innate and environmental factors; assume depth perception is down to development of the visual system (the myelin sheath around the optic nerve is thought to be fully developed by 4 months) and combined with experience (eg being exposed to various complex stimuli such as faces which give some indication of depth)
  • expect depth perception to be apparent when infant is mobile (6 months in humans, earlier in prococial animals) if perception is innate, we would expect animals mobile from birth as an adaptive behaviour (improves survival rate) meaning less developed in humans who are born immobile

Aims: 1) G+W aimed to investigate if human infants could discriminate depth by the time they could move independently and if it was due to learning through experience or what a child is born with; if perception is innate = apparent when mobile.  2) they also used a range of non-human animals to investigate whether depth perception (cliff avoidance behaviours) was evident from when animals were mobile.

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Buss - Aims and Context Part 1


  • evolutionary pexamines p traits: memory, language, perception; which psych traits are evolved adaptations and products of natural and sexual selection 

Importance: mate preferences are of interest; thought to demonstrate what sort of characteristics preferred by ancestors, also demonstrating direction of sexual selection, by letting us know most desirable characteristics. However, despite importance, not a lot is known about which characteristics are desirable, + whether m/f look for different things in mates

Previous Research: Trivers (1972) desirable characteristics are affected by 'parental investment' (how much time, effort, resources, risks etc that the parent contributes to the development of their offspring); in mammalsmales make less investment because the female carries the baby; this greater investment means that females are likely to be more choosy when selecting a partner; want a partner who can offer resources (food, shelter, territory, protection) that will enhance reproductive success; in modern times: earnings, A+I

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Buss - Aims and Context Part 2

  • Symons (1979) 'Reproductive Value Theory'females have greater limitations onfertility as affected by age; therefore pressure on males to identify a potentially fertile female is attached to external indicators about female's age/health;Symons cites that youthful physical appearance like smooth skin, good muscle tone, lustrous hairfully lips as well as behavioural indicators like high energy levels give cues to female's age and reproductive capacityWilliams (1975)suggests youth is attractive but this is due to peak fertility rather than reproductive potentialimplying 23 yr female more attractive due to peak fertility rather than 13 yr female with reproductive value
  • Daly et al (1982) 'Paternity Probability Theory' suggests that sexual jealousy in males used to guard mate from maleschastity is desirable female characteristic; females know offspring is theirs, but males can never be sure

Aims: 1) investigate if evolutionary explanations for sex differences in human preferences between m/f are found globally in cultures with varying ecologies, locations, ethnic compositions, religious orientations and political inclinations aswe would expect behaviours that are innate to be the same in all cultures

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Rosenham - Aims and Context Part 1

  • medical model of abnormalityabnormal behaviour stems from physiological causes; mental illness is diagnosed in the same way that physical symptoms are diagnosed, doctor identifies set of symptoms in the patient and uses them to identify the disorderusing DSM
  • abnormalitybehaviour/characteristics deviating from social norms

Importance: psychiatrists such as Michel FoucaultRonnie Laing and Thomas Szaszlaunched an 'anti-psychiatry' movement as they believed that some people were wrongfully being institutionalisedabnormality could just be a social construction opposed to objective classification e.g. homosexuality

Previous Research:

  • Foucault (1961) described development of mental illness similar to the 17th and 18th centuries where 'unreasonable' members of population were locked away, institutionalised and treated in inhumane ways eg freezing showers/straight-jackets;Foucault argued that concepts of sanity + insanity were social constructs ie not real but constructions made by society
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Rosenham - Aims and Context - Part 2

Previous Research continued:

  • Laing (1960) argued that schizophrenia is best understood in terms of individual's experience rather than a set of symptoms
  • Szasz (1960) argued that the medical model is no more sophisticated than believing in demonology; it is suggested that mental illness is simply a way of excluding non-conformists from society


1) aimed to investigate whether psychiatrists could distinguish between people who are genuinely mentally ill and those who are not; if someone is labelled sane, they can be distinguished from insane contextif not, suggests that it is the context rather than the individual's characteristics ie psychiatric diagnosis of insanity is less to do with patient but more to do with environment they are found in.

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