Studying A Level Psychology (Including Key Words and Methodology)

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Theories, Studies & Research Methods

A theory is a explanation for a psychological phenomenon (or basically, an idea, as in any science) and can sometimes be very ambitious, seeking to explain everything in human nature, whilst others are more narrow, seeking to explain something very specific. There are usually more than one theory for different areas, and it is important that we must not choose the ‘right’ one and discard the others, but to apply useful knowledge from all of the theories.

An example of a theory is Freud’s explanation for dreaming or the Multi-Store Model of Memory.

A study is an exercise where data is gathered and analysed. Some aim to investigate a theory whereas others just gather information about a psychological phenomenon.

An example of a study that gathers information generally is Hofling et al’s  (‘et al’ means ‘and others’ and is common if there are more than two author’s) 1966 study. An example of a study to investigate a theory is Craik & Tulving’s 1975 study into Levels of Processing.

A research method is a technique for gathering or analysing data.

An example of a research method is a survey or case studies.

Evaluating Studies

Before you can evaluate anything, you must first know all the details. There are five specific areas in which to look at: Aim, Procedure, Findings, Conclusions & Evaluation.

Aim is what you’re trying to find out.

Procedure is what you did.

Findings (or Results) are what you found.

Conclusions are what your findings mean.

Evaluation is the pro’s and con’s of the study (see below for more detail).

An easy way to remember this is Angry Potato Farmers Chase Elephants.

Key evaluative terms in studies (GRAVEEED):

Generalizability: How much you can apply it to general situations.

Reliability: If you performed it again, would the same, or similar, results be found.

Application/Practical Application: Whether you can apply the results to situations in the real world. If something is more ecologically valid (see below), it is likely to be practically applicable.

Validity: Whether the findings represent real life. If something has more ecological validity and practical application it is likely to be valid.

Ethnocentrism: Having a cultural bias.

Ethics: Whether it sticks to moral standards (See: Ethical Issues In Research below).

Ecological Validity: How real to life the experiment is performed. A study carried out in a natural environment has more ecological validity than a study carried out in an artificial environment. Also, if the participants are given a situation similar to one in real life, it is more ecologically valid than it it’s one they’re unlikely to encounter.

Demand Characteristics: Changing behaviour to suit or sabotage the aim of the study.

Using these terms in context becomes easier the more you practise. They often interlink which means you may find it easier to remember. For example (using ‘Study A’ which is a solely made up title for the purpose of this example): 

Study A lacks ecological validity as it was performed in a…


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