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Psychology was first referred to as ‘the study of the soul’, from the Latin word psychologia. Since then, psychology has grown into a scientific discipline investigating the mind and behaviour.  

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Psychology was first referred to as ‘the study of the soul’, from the Latin word psychologia. Since then, psychology has grown into a scientific discipline investigating the mind and behaviour.

Wilhelm Wundt established the first psychology lab in 1879, setting psychology on the path of becoming a well-respected scientific discipline. Now, psychology has become a widely accepted area of study that is applied to diagnose and treat mental health conditions, ranging from addiction to psychopathy.

The subject can also help us understand ourselves. For example, how our relationships with our parents, our environments, our cultures and biology affect us.

A head with a brain with an eyeball in it Psychology Revision and Notes Topics and Objectives StudySmarter Psychology lets us look into the mind. Source: Canva

Branches of psychology

Psychology investigates many topics to help us understand the internal processes that influence our daily lives. Some of the topics that are investigated include:

  • Memory

  • Social influence

  • Attachment

  • Psychopathology (the study of mental illness)

  • Biopsychology

  • Research methods

  • Data handling

  • Issues and debates

Psychology Revision and Notes Topics and Objectives StudySmarter Branches of Psychology.Source: created using Canva

As humans developed, so did our behaviour and the challenges we face, which has expanded the field of study in psychology. Depending on your school and teachers, there are a number of optional modules you may come across, such as:

  • Relationships

  • Schizophrenia

  • Aggression

  • Addiction

  • Eating habits

  • Gender

  • Cognition and development

  • Stress

  • Forensic psychology

Approaches in psychology

In psychology, there are different ways of explaining the human mind and behaviour, these are known as approaches.

There are five main approaches that we will study for this topic. These are the behaviourist approach, the cognitive approach, the biological approach, the psychodynamic approach and the humanistic approach. Each of these approaches suggests that human behaviour is influenced by different stimuli, from our thought processes to our genes.

Psychology Revision and Notes Approaches Study Guides StudySmarterThe five main approaches. Source: Canva


How behaviour is explained

Behaviourist approach

Behaviour is caused by experiences and things learned via techniques of association or reinforcement (Skinner, Bandura)

Cognitive approach

Behaviour is caused by cognition such as memory, attention, perception etc.

Biological approach

Behaviour is caused by biological factors such as genes, neurotransmitters, hormones

Psychodynamic approach

Behaviour is caused by childhood experiences (Sigmund Freud)

Humanistic approach

Behaviour is driven by biological/ physiological needs that need to be met (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs)

Tip: learn the pros and cons of each approach to be able to evaluate them

Psychology: Memory

Memory is fundamental to our lives and learning. Therefore, it is a core topic in psychology. In this topic, we will learn about memory stores including the duration and capacity of memory, and what happens when we lose these important memories.

Finally, the topic looks at the impact of psychological studies of memory into eyewitness testimony. This practical application of psychology demonstrates how psychology as a science can help better society.

Psychology Revision and Notes Memory Study Guides StudySmarterMemory is fundamental to our lives and learning.Source: created using Canva

  • Multi-store Model of Memory

    • Short-Term Memory

    • Long-Term Memory

    • Support for the Multi-Store Model of Memory

    • Testing Features of Memory

      • Duration Studies

      • Capacity Studies

      • Coding Psychology

  • Working Memory Model
    • Support for the Working Memory Model

  • Forgetting in Psychology
    • Studies on Interference

    • Cue-Dependent Forgetting

  • Applied Memory Research: eyewitness testimony
  • Reconstructive memory
  • Research into memory
  • Developmental psychology in memory
  • Individual differences in memory
  • Issues and debates in the context of memory

Psychology: Social Influence

Social psychologists think that our behaviour is influenced by others and societ as a whole. Social influences may put extra pressure on us to behave in a certain way. The social influence topic explores how behaviours such as conformity and obedience are influenced by situational, authoritarian and informational pressures.

Major studies such as the Stanford Prison Experiment and Asch’s line test will be used alongside theoretical fundamentals to give you a better understanding of social influence in psychology.

Psychology Revision and Notes Social Influence on Behaviour StudySmarter Lots of different people can influence our behaviour, but why does this social influence occur? Source: created using Canva

  • Majority Influence: conformity
    • Explanations for conformity

    • Informational Influence and Sherif (1935)

    • Normative Influence and Asch (1951)

  • Conformity to Social Roles
    • The Stanford Prison Experiment

    • BBC Prison Study

  • Obedience
    • Milgram’s Experiment

    • Explanations for Obedience

      • Milgram’s Agency Theory

      • Dispositional Influence Adorno (1950)

      • Situational Influence

  • Prejudice
    • Explanations for prejudice

      • Social Identity Theory

      • Realistic Conflict Theory

    • Individual differences in obedience/ prejudice

    • Developmental psychology in obedience/ prejudice

  • Resistance to Social Influence
  • Minority Influence and Social Change: Moscovici (1968)
  • Social Impact Theory
  • Issues and debates in the context of obedience/ prejudice

Psychology: Attachment

Attachment in psychology refers to our relationships with our caregivers, such as our mothers, fathers, or other carers. In this topic, we will study the different types of attachment and how they can affect someone in adulthood, such as in romantic relationships.

We will also look at a few famous experiments into attachment, such as the Romanian orphan studies and Ainsworth’s Strange Situation.

Psychology Revision and Notes Attachment Dad and Baby StudySmarterA babys attachment to its caregiver. Source: created using Canva

  • Caregiver-infant interactions

    • Attachment Figures

  • Stages of Attachment

    • Condon & Sander (1974)

  • Animal Studies of Attachment
  • Explanations of Attachment
    • Learning theory
    • Bowlby’s monotropic theory

    • Ainsworth’s Strange Situation

  • Cultural variations in attachment
  • Deprivation, Privation and Separation
    • Bowlby’s Theory of Maternal Deprivation

    • Romanian Orphan Studies

    • Attachment and Later Relationships

    • Hazan and Shaver (1987)

Psychology: Psychopathology

Psychopathology is the study of mental illnesses. In this topic, we will explain how mental illnesses are defined and how we define ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ behaviour. In particular, we will look at phobias, depression, autism and OCD including their characteristics, explanations and treatments.

Tip: compare the different treatments and explanations of mental illnesses to understand how psychology can help people.

Psychology Revision and Notes Psychopathology Poor Mental HealthMental illness. Source: created using Canva

  • Definitions of Abnormality

  • Phobias

  • Depression

  • OCD

  • Phobias Treatment

  • Cognitive Approach

  • OCD treatment

  • Autism

    • Biological explanations for autism

    • Individual differences in autism

    • Psychological theories of autism

    • Behaviour strategies for autism

    • Adult autism

  • Measuring individual differences
    • Gould bias in IQ testing

    • Research- the language of psychopaths

  • History of mental health
    • Categorising mental health

  • The medical model
    • Alternatives to the medical model

Psychology: Biopsychology

Biopsychology refers to how we can use biology to explain our behaviour. From the nervous system to neural structures and sleep cycles, biology influences our behaviour in ways you may not expect. In this topic, you can find explanations and research into biopsychology. These include post-mortem examinations, split-brain research and brain scans, as well as hemispheric lateralisation.

Psychology Revision and Notes Model of the Brain broken apart StudySmarterThe body influences the mind. Source: Robina Weermeijer at Unsplash

  • Nervous System Divisions

  • The function of the endocrine system- glands and hormones

  • Process of Synaptic Transmission

  • Neuron Structure and Function

    • Fight-or-Flight Response and the Role of Adrenaline

    • Neurotransmitters

  • The Brain
    • Localisation of Function in the Brain

      • Hemispheric Lateralisation

      • Motor Centres

      • Split-brain research

      • Plasticity and Functional Recovery of the Brain After Trauma

  • Ways of Studying the Brain
    • Functional Magnetic Resonance

    • Electroencephalograms (EEGs) and Event-Related Potentials (ERPs)

    • Post Mortem Examination

    • CAT and PET scans

  • Biological Rhythms
    • Circadian, Infradian and Ultradian Rhythms

    • Sleep-Wake Cycle

Psychology: Research methods

This large but essential topic takes you through the research methods used by psychologists when studying human behaviour. In particular, we will look at the types of experiments, designs, variables as well as ethical and quality criterion. This is particularly important when assessing the reliability and validity of many of the famous studies in psychology.

Tip: StudySmarter uses diagrams and notes to simplify even the most complex topics.

Psychology Revision and Notes Research Methods Scientist looking in a Microscope StudySmarter Research in Psychology. Source: Lucas Vasques at Unsplash

  • Research Methods

    • Experimental Method

      • Types of Experiment

    • Observational Techniques and Design

      • Coding frame psychology

    • Self-Report Techniques

      • Semantic differential rating scale

    • Correlational Studies

    • Case Studies

    • Interviews

    • Types of research in psychology

      • Cross-cultural research

      • Meta analysis

      • Longitudinal research

      • Cross sectional research

      • Online research

  • Scientific Processes
    • Aims and Hypotheses

    • Sampling Psychology

    • Pilot Studies and the Aims of Piloting
    • Variables
    • Experimental Designs
      • Independent Group Designs

      • Repeated Measures Design

      • Matched-pairs Design

    • Observational Design
    • Self-Report Design
    • Questionnaire Construction
    • Ethical Issues and Ways of Dealing With Them
    • Implications of Psychological Research for the economy
    • Peer Review and Economic Applications
    • Scientific Research
      • Features of Science

      • Quality Criteria

      • Paradigms and Falsifiability

      • Scientific Report

Psychology: Data handling and analysis

After research, psychologists must process the data they have collected. This process depends on the type of data collected, the measures used and the type of analysis. Key topics include quantitative data, measures of central tendency, levels of measurement, inferential testing and more.

Psychology Revision and Notes Processing collected data StudySmarterProcessing collected data. Source: Canva

  • Types of Data

    • Raw data

      • Reading raw data

  • Descriptive Statistics
    • Measures of Central Tendency

    • Measures of Dispersion

  • Presentation of Quantitative Data
  • Distributions
  • Analysis and Interpretation of Correlations
  • Scientific Data Analysis
    • Levels of Measurement

    • Content Analysis

    • Thematic Analysis

  • Inferential Testing
    • Probability and Significance

    • Statistical Tests

    • Non-Parametric Tests

Psychology: Issues and debates

When we study psychology, we must be aware of some of the issues which can affect research such as biases, determinism and ethics. One of the main issues you may already be aware of is the nature versus nurture debate. This refers to whether our behaviour is influenced by our genes or by our environment. In this topic, you will explore this idea, its implications for research and much more.

Psychology Revision and Notes nurture-nurture influence by environment or genes StudySmarterNature vs nurture. Source: created using Canva

  • Biases

    • Culture Bias and Sub-Culture Bias

    • Gender Bias

    • Ethnocentrism

    • Cross-Cultural Research

    • Is psychology a science?

  • Philosophical Debates in Psychology
    • Free Will and Determinism

    • Reductionism and Holism

    • Nature vs. Nurture Debate

    • Idiographic and nomothetic approaches

  • Ethics and Socially Sensitive Research
  • Contemporary debates in psychology
    • Ethics of neuroscience

    • Using conditioning techniques to control the behaviour of children

    • Positive psychology

What else do psychologists study?

Although these are the core topics for any psychology student, there is a whole range of interesting topics studied by psychologists which we can take a look at, from relationships to addiction.

Psychology: Relationships

Forming relationships with others is one of humanity’s most fundamental behaviours. But the way we choose our relationships has changed dramatically over thousands of years. As a result, psychologists are concerned with why we choose our partners, whether they believe this is due to an innate, evolutionary forces or other factors such as location or personal attitudes. Psychologists are also interested in why relationships break down. Some psychologists think that people break up due to inequity, others think that they break up in gradual stages.

Relationships have changed in recent years, and increasingly, they are formed online. What does this mean for us psychologically? For instance, do we form relationships faster or slower? With greater or less intimacy?

  • Sexual Relationships

    • Sexual Selection and Human Reproductive Behaviour

  • Factors Affecting Attraction
    • Self-Disclosure

    • Physical Attractiveness: Halo Effect and Matching Hypothesis

    • The Filter Theory

  • Romantic Relationships
    • Social Exchange Theory

    • Equity Theory

    • Rusbult’s Investment Model

    • Duck’s Phase Model of Relationship Breakdown

  • Virtual Relationships in Social Media
    • Self-disclosure in Virtual Relationships

    • Absence of Gating

  • Parasocial Relationships
    • The absorption addiction model

    • The attachment theory explanation

Psychology: Gender

In recent years, the way in which we view gender as a society has radically changed, but has psychology caught up?

The study of gender in psychology covers topics from androgyny to stereotypes whilst investigating the influences on gendered behaviour, such as biology, conditioning and thought processes.

The psychological study of gender is also concerned with gender dysphoria and atypical chromosome patterns as ‘atypical’ expressions of conventional ideas of gender.

  • Sex, gender and androgyny

    • Sex-role stereotypes

    • Bem’s Sex Role Inventory

  • The Role of Chromosomes and Hormones
    • Klinefelter’s Syndrome and Turner’s Syndrome.

    • Hormone imbalance during development

  • Cognitive Explanations of Gender Development
    • Kohlberg’s 1966 Theory

    • Gender Schema Theory

  • Psychodynamic Gender Theory
    • Oedipus Complex and Electra Complex

  • Social Learning Theory
  • Gender dysphoria

Psychology: Cognition and Development

How do we develop from babies who cannot speak, walk or write to fully grown adults who can investigate complex psychological processes and write full-length novels? This process is known as cognitive development.

Psychologists have investigated this phenomenon for years and there are many theories of cognitive development formulated by Piaget, Vygotsky, Selman and Baillargeon. These theories explain a wide range of cognitive development approaches, from intellectual development to social cognition, perspective-taking and more.

  • Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development

    • Stages of Intellectual Development

  • Vygotsky’s Theory of Cognitive Development
  • Baillargeon’s Explanation of Early Infant Abilities
    • Violation of Expectation Research

  • The Development of Social Cognition
    • Theory of Mind

Psychology: Schizophrenia

In a lot of media, schizophrenia is merely presented as hearing voices and thinking/seeing things that aren’t there, but studying the illness psychologically can reveal that while this is true, schizophrenia is much more complex than the media suggests (and often incorrectly portrays).

Psychologists study the characteristics, influences and treatment of schizophrenia. Many think the condition has a biological basis that can be treated using drug therapy. Meanwhile, cognitive psychologists think that the illness has a cognitive basis and thus can be treated using cognitive behavioural therapy and family therapy. The diathesis-stress model of schizophrenia combines the two approaches.

  • Diagnosis and Classification of Schizophrenia

    • Positive and Negative Symptoms of Schizophrenia

    • Reliability and Validity in Diagnosis and Classification of Schizophrenia

  • Biological Explanations for Schizophrenia
    • Genetics

    • Dopamine Hypothesis

    • Neural Correlates

  • Psychological Explanations for Schizophrenia
    • Dysfunctional Family

    • Cognitive Explanations

  • Treatment for Schizophrenia
    • Typical and Atypical Antipsychotics

      • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

      • Family Therapy

      • Token Economy

  • The Diathesis-Stress Model

Psychology: Eating behaviour

At one point, humans ate to survive, but as society has developed, we have more and more choices at the dinner table. Not only this, but we have developed illnesses which affect our eating habits, such as anorexia and bulimia. But why has humanity’s attitude towards eating changed so drastically? Psychologists attempt to explain this through evolutionary psychology and learning theory.

As previously mentioned, we can experience illnesses that affect our eating habits, such as anorexia nervosa and obesity. Psychologists have attempted to explain this illness through family theory, social learning theory as well as cognitive and biological processes. Similarly, researchers have cited our biology and psychology as possible reasons for obesity.

We’ve all heard of crazy diets like the apple diet or the keto diet, but why do we “go on” diets? And why do these diets fail most of the time? To explain these phenomena, researchers have developed restraint theory and the boundary model.

  • Food Preferences

  • Anorexia Nervosa

    • Social learning theory anorexia

  • Obesity
    • Disinhibition

    • Psychology behind dieting

Psychology: Stress

Stress is a part of everyday life, making it an important phenomenon for psychologists to study. Whilst stress was quite important for survival a long time ago, it is still necessary for our bodies to process impactful events. Essential to this study is the biological systems that influence stress responses. Psychologists also study the role of hormones and how they influence illness.

The sources of stress differ for each individual and can be small, frequent events, such as missing the bus, or big life changes, such as the death of a loved one. The effect of these stresses varies depending on an individual’s ability to deal with stress due to general hardiness, physiological stress management and stress inoculation therapy.

  • Physiology of Stress

    • General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)

    • The Sympathomedullary Pathway

    • Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal System

  • Illness Caused by Stress
  • Sources of Stress
    • Daily Hassles

    • Hassles and Uplifts Scale

    • Evaluation of Life Events as a Source of Stress

    • Workplace Stress

  • Measuring Stress
    • Self-Report Scales

      • The Social Readjustment Rating Scale

    • Research of the effects of life events on health

  • Individual Differences in Stress
    • Personality Types and Associated Behaviours

    • Hardiness

  • Stress Management

Psychology: Aggression

Many psychologists explain aggression through biology and genetics. Others view aggression from an ethological perspective (explained through animal behaviour) and use evolutionary psychology to explain aggression as a survival mechanism. Another approach to aggression is learning theory. Famous studies of aggression include Bandura’s Bobo doll experiment, and psychologists also study aggression in real-life situations such as prisons and computer games. This explores the impact the media has on aggression.

  • Neural and Hormonal Mechanisms in Aggression

    • Limbic System

    • Serotonin Research

    • Testosterone Research

    • Cortisol Research

  • Genetic Origins of Aggression
    • Basic Evidence of Genetic Influences on Aggression

    • Genetic Research on Serotonin

    • The Warrior Gene

    • Genetic Research on Testosterone

    • Gender and Aggression

    • General criticisms of genetic research

  • Ethological Explanations of Aggression
    • What is Ethology

    • Fixed Action Patterns

    • Innate Releasing Mechanisms

    • The Hydraulic Model of Instinctive Behaviour: Lorenz (1950)

  • Evolution of Human Aggression
  • Social-Psychological Explanation of Aggression
    • Bobo Doll Experiment

    • Deindividuation

    • Frustration Aggression Hypothesis

  • Institutional Aggression in the Context of Prisons
    • Sykes Deprivation Model

    • Dysfunctional Institutions

    • The Importation Model

  • Media Influences on Aggression
    • Influence of Computer Games

    • Cognitive Priming

    • Desensitisation and Disinhibition

    • Evaluation of studies on media

Psychology: Forensic Psychology

When you read the phrase ‘forensic psychology’, TV shows like CSI might come to mind, but in reality, forensic psychology is much more than that. Forensic psychology can help us define, understand, investigate and manage crime.

There are many explanations of why crime occurs, according to forensic psychologists. Some think that crime is biological, whereas others think it is psychological. Some even think that it has a cognitive or psychodynamic basis.

By studying forensic psychology, we can help prevent crime through behaviour modification and anger management.

  • Measuring crime

  • Offender profiling

  • Biological explanations of crime

    • Atavistic form

    • Neural and genetic explanations of offending behaviour

  • Psychological explanations of crime
    • Eysenck's Theory of Personality

    • Cognitive explanations for offending

    • Level of moral reasoning and cognitive distortions

    • Differential Association Hypothesis

    • Psychodynamic theories and the moral component

  • Custodial sentencing
    • Recidivism

    • Anger Management and restorative justice programmes

Psychology: Addiction

We’ve all seen viral videos of people who are addicted to collecting memorabilia or smoking 100 cigarettes a day, but what is the psychology behind these addictions?

Since addiction was classified as an illness, psychologists have sought to define addiction, identify its causes and offer possible treatments of the condition.

Psychologists have identified multiple risk factors of addiction, such as genetic vulnerability, personality, social influences and stress. More specifically, we can use brain neurochemistry and learning theory to explain why people become addicted to nicotine. Meanwhile, psychologists explain gambling addiction using learning theory and cognitive theory.

Many researchers have developed theories of addiction such as the theory of planned behaviour and Prochaska’s six stage model of behaviour change. Psychologists have also developed forms of treating addiction such as drug therapy, behavioural interventions and cognitive behavioural therapy.

  • Describing Addiction

    • Physical and Psychological Dependence

    • Tolerance and WIthdrawal Syndrome

  • Risk Factors for Addiction
  • Explanations for Nicotine Addiction
  • Explanations for Gambling Addiction
  • Reducing Addiction
    • Drug therapy

    • Aversion therapy

    • Cognitive behavioural therapy

  • Addiction Treatment Theories
    • Theory of reasoned action

    • Theory of planned behaviour

    • Six state model of behaviour change

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FAQs about Psychology

1. What is psychology?

Psychology is the study of the brain and behaviour. Psychology consists of many divisions such as clinical psychology, forensic psychology, and cognitive psychology, amongst many others. These sub-divisions use psychology theories/approaches to understand why human behave in the way that they do.

2. Is psychology a science?

Whether psychology can be considered to be a science is an ongoing debate. Some argue that psychology is not a science because it measures behaviours and motives (the brain) that are not directly observable. In addition, it often relies on methods used throughout social science such as self-report techniques, which are subject to reliability and validity issues. However, some do think that psychology should be classed as a science because research is vigorously tested and applies the scientific method to find reliable and valid results.

3. What is clinical psychology?

Clinical psychology is a sub-division of psychology that investigates mental health. Topics often included in this subject are different types of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, addiction, eating disorders or, depression. When researching this field, clinical psychologgists are interested in investigating the prevalence, causes of mental illness and treatment/intervention and prevention plans.

4. What can you do with a psychology degree?

Psychology is a diverse subject that can be applied to many things such as businesses, human resources, and clinical fields such as hospitals. Therefore, with a psychology degree, many job opportunities are available. When working in specialised psychology jobs such as a therapist or clinical psychologist, then higher education in the chosen field is usually required.

5. What is memory in psychology?

Memory is an example of a cognition. Memory is the active process of learning, maintaining and recalling information.

Flashcards in Psychology23265

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What is behaviourism?

Behaviourism is the learning theory that suggests that all behaviour is acquired through the conditioning that takes place in the environment. 

What is operant conditioning? 

Operant Conditioning is a theory developed by Skinner which suggests that learning occurs after associating behaviour with a consequence. The consequence could either be a punishment or a reinforcement

What is obedience?

Obedience is a specific type of social influence on human behaviour; it is when people follow an explicit command given by a legitimate authority.

What was the name given by Adorno for the influence of personality on obedience?

The name for the influence of personality on obedience is dispositional influence. 

Operant conditioning is a technique applied to behavioural training. Essentially it occurs when a neutral stimulus is paired with a stimulus that occurs naturally. Is this true or false? 


What is situational influence?

Situational influence measures the impact of environmental factor(s) on obedience.


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