Core Content of Psychology studies

Before starting on the studies, you need to understand some terms. The information below may seem long-winded and irrelevant, but I assure you it should be given a LOT of importance. Don’t just skip to the studies, Einstein. Psychology can’t be discussed in standard terms. Think of this as your language lesson; you need to keep your psychological lingo fresh if you want your answers to be understood!

The twenty Core Studies reflect five major branches of psychology:

Cognitive psychology

  • ‘Cognitions’ refers to mental thoughts and abilities
  • It includes language, memory, reasoning and perception

Social psychology

  • It involves the influence of social interactions on thoughts, behaviour and feelings

Developmental psychology

  • Changes that occur in the lifespan of a person
  • It includes language, identity formation, emotional development, motor skills, and the nature-nurture debate

Physiological psychology

  • The relationship between the nervous system and human behaviour
  • An empirical and practical approach
  • It includes sleep, emotions, communication, memory and neurology

Psychology of individual differences

  • The difference between individuals
  • It includes personality, intelligence, abilities and physical factors

You will also look at two distinct perspectives or, in other words, two different viewpoints:

Behaviourist perspective

The main belief of behaviourists is that all behaviour is learned and moulded by an environment; it is not something innate (natural). They argue that if psychology wants to be scientific, it should focus on objectivity. This means a researcher should place their focus on measurable behaviour instead of subjective cognitive processes. Two of the main behaviourist theories are ‘classical conditioning’ and ‘operant conditioning’. We’ll look at these theories later.

Psychoanalytic perspective

This perspective, also called the ‘psychodynamic’ approach, was mainly developed by Sigmund Freud (sig-mand fruh-oid, not frood!) – the “father of psychoanalysis”. The main belief is that all behaviour can be explained in terms of the mind’s inner conflicts. The role of the unconscious mind, unresolved conflicts, repression, personality building and the influence of childhood experiences on adulthood are all particularly emphasised.

Now we’re going to look at different dimensions of psychology that run through your syllabus.

The usefulness of psychology

This looks at how psychological theories and research can be applied into our everyday life. If the results of a study can be used in real life situations, they are considered more useful. The ‘usefulness’ of psychological research is a pretty hot topic between – for example, who decides what is and is not important information? I think Stanley Milgram – slot him into your head as a VIP (very important psychologist) – put it nicely:

What is the use of such a study? The criticism implied in this question has never bothered me, for any activity seems to me of value if it satisfies curiousity, stimulates ideas, and gives a new slant to our understanding of the social world.

Ecological validity

This refers to how far a study reflects reality and how true it is to real life. If a study is representative of the real world, it holds ecological validity, in other words: it is ecologically valid. If a study has high ecological validity, it can be generalised to a wider population and location.


Ethical issues are very important in psychology. The main ethical issues to be considered are deception, informed consent, emotional or physical harm, confidentiality and the right to withdraw. Researchers have to avoid unethical studies and usually go through official procedures before conducting a study. This is another debatable topic because some psychologists think that more authentic results and important data can be achieved more accurately when certain ethical issues are compromised.

Ethnocentric bias

Ethnocentrism is the tendency of one group to be biased (judgemental) against people that are part of a different group. One group looks at the world from its groups’ viewpoint, and so bias is built on this perception. For example: one culture may believe their culture is superior to another, or one ethnic group may believe theirs is above all others.

Reliability and Validity

The reliability of a study depends on the consistency of its results. If we replicate a study four times and we get the same or very similar results, then the study or the results are considered reliable. A study is valid if it actually measures what it is claiming to measure. It has nothing to do with reliability; a psychological test can be reliable but lack validity because it fails to measure the thing in question.

Individual and situational explanations

These are two different arguments about why a person is behaving in a certain way. The individual explanation states that someone’s personality is determining their behaviour whereas the situational explanation states that the behaviour is a result of the situation a person is in. Individual explanations involves personality traits while situational explanations could involve peer pressure or environment factors.

Nature and nurture

This is a major psychological debate: are we affected by nature or are we nurtured into things? The nature approach claims that something is a natural phenomenon, something we were born with. The nurture approach says we learn certain behaviours or traits from external sources, like our parents or peers. One way to look at it is to think about criminals: were they born with criminal potential or did they turn to crime because of other factors?


Psychometrics is a branch of psychology which involves the measurement of different traits. Psychometric tests could test a person’s intelligence, cognitive abilities, behaviour, temperament, various strengths and weaknesses, and so on. Most major companies use psychometric tests on potential employees.

Quantitative and qualitative data

These are simple but often mixed up. Quantitative data is always numerical and to the point but qualitative data is descriptive. A study that results in data in the form of numbers and frequencies is yielding quantitative data but a study that tells us how certain people feel about a certain topic gives us meaningful qualitative data. Both types have their advantages and disadvantages.


Generalisability refers to how well the results of a study’s participants can be applied to a wider group. If a study was conducted on three white males living in America, the results cannot be applied to females, other ethnic groups or people living in other countries, meaning the results are not generalisable.

Snapshot and longitudinal studies

A snapshot study is a study conducted in a very short amount of time, like hours or days. Longitudinal studies are the opposite; they could take months, even decades, to complete. The former study gives us a ‘snapshot’ of something whereas longitudinal studies give us a longer span to observe.

The use of children and animals in research

This topic comes under ethical issues of psychology. A researcher cannot just grab a bunch of children (a non-researcher doing that would be creepy enough!) or animals (put the cats down!) and start experimenting. Lots of issues have to be considered, especially consent; children are not old enough to give consent and animals can’t really agree to being part of a study. This topic is a whole debate in itself so don’t dive too deep here, but do look at this in terms of ethics.


Reductionism is an argument which states that something, such as human behaviour or emotion, can be explained with one lone factor, for example physiology. This has good and bad points: it allows us to simplify complicated ideas and understand phenomena step by step, starting with one factor. However, it is often seen as far too limited and many psychologists argue that things like behaviour and emotion are too complex to be reduced down to single factors.


Determinism is an argument which states that humans do not have much control over their actions because we are controlled by other factors, such as genetics. This implies that there is no “free will” and that it is possible for us to predict someone’s behaviour if we identify the cause of that behaviour.