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A bit of history about Sigmund Freud and an introduction to his psychosexual theory

Sigmund Freud
Freud was a medical doctor, who saw people who suffered severe mental health
problems, neuroses. Freud was an ambitious man who wanted to develop a
theory which was applicable to all people. Consult M7 The Case Study as Used in
the Psychodynamic Approach for more information on Freud’s methods of
developing his theory and why he wanted to do so

One of the biggest problems with Freud’s theories is the questionable

credibility of his ideas. The concepts from his final psychosexual theory are very
controversial, and not everybody will agree with him. But he seemed to be a
compassionate man, who firmly believed in his ideas, which he frequently
amended and improved. Freud used very few case studies in his time, but the
most famous of them (that of Little Hans) provided key evidence for some of
the concepts from his psychosexual theory

Key assumptions of the Psychodynamic Approach

This approach to psychology relies on four key assumptions. It is important that you understand that the Psychodynamic
Approach is all about Freud, his ideas and the concepts from his psychosexual theory, all of which you will come onto
over the next two chapters. That is why these four key assumptions are Freud’s ideas, and it is not true that everyone
will agree that they are all definitely correct. The key assumptions of the approach are:

 the importance of the first five years

As you will learn in the coming chapters through Freud’s ideas, Freud believed that the first five years of life are the
most important in terms of forming a personality, and that if there are any unsolved problems at one particular
stage at this time in your life, your gender development will be disrupted

 development occurs through stages that all children pass through

Freud’s theory suggests that there are three psychosexual stages (five in total, if also counting the two extra
periods) which happen in sequential order, and if a child does well in each stage and no problems arise, they may
move on to the next stage and they will go on to develop healthy, normal relationships later on in life

 the significance of the unconscious

The unconscious part of the mind is the largest and most powerful, and Freud was definitely interested in this area
of the mind, which he said was almost inaccessible, but he believed accessing it was the cure for neurosis

 the presence of energy and libido energy

Freud stated that we all have a certain amount of energy which does not ever increase or decrease, but remains
with us throughout all psychosexual stages and life, and some of this energy is called ‘libido’ which means sexual
energy, which leads to Freud’s theory being called psychosexual, as you will discover later on
The main concepts of Freud’s psychosexual theory

Freud developed his psychosexual theory over a very long time. As he furthered progress with his patients and
conceived new ideas, he amended his theories until they become the psychosexual theory. There are several elements
to the theory: the three parts of the mind, the three parts of the personality, defence mechanisms (all of which are
covered in this document), and the five stages of psychosexual development (which is covered in the next chapter).

Three parts of the mind

Freud spent his career trying to cure his patients of neurosis (mental health issues). He believed that the way to do so
was to access the unconscious mind, which most psychologists agreed is virtually inaccessible. Freud drew that there
were three parts of the mind:

 the conscious mind holds thoughts, ideas, emotions and other aspects of thinking, of which the individual is aware
 the preconscious mind holds thoughts, ideas and emotions which are readily available to be accessed, but are not
actually conscious at the time
 the unconscious mind is the largest part of the mind, which is where all thoughts originate from (some pass
through to the conscious and others are allowed into the preconscious)

Freud used psychoanalysis to access the unconscious. Psychoanalysis was the method of therapy built by Freud which
combined the use of dream analysis, symbol analysis, free association and slips of the tongue techniques to enter the
unconscious part of the mind.

Three parts of the personality

Aside from the three levels of consciousness, Freud believed there to be three parts to the personality. These are:
 the id is the primitive part of the personality, often described as the biological component of the mind, as it is the
one we are born with, which works on the pleasure principle and is the demanding aspect of our personality,
which always wants our primitive desires (this part of the personality is unconscious only)
 the ego develops at around the age of 18 months and is the rational part of the personality which will try to obtain
what the id wants under the reality principle – the ego is designed to try and work out how to satisfy the person
 the superego develops at around four years of age, and derives from the morality principle and is the “can’t have”
part of the personality, which is made up of two components: the conscience (which is structured based on
learning from parents and outside society) and the ego ideal (the idea of what people think they should be like,
also given by parents and society)

The superego consists of the conscience and the ego ideal, both of which are denoted by parents and society. The role
of the conscience is to punish bad behaviour with guilt feelings. The ego has to find a balance between the conflicting
demands of the id and the superego.

The id is only in the unconscious, and is known as the biological component. The ego is equally divided amongst all three
parts of the mind and is known as the psychological component. The superego is in all three parts of the mind, but is
mainly in the unconscious, and is called the social component.

Life and death instincts

As well as all of these above parts of the mind, there are two more to consider. As you should know from 3.1 An
Introduction to Freud, Freud claimed that we are all born with a certain amount of energy. He said that this energy
never increases or decreases, but a significant amount of it is libido. Libido is the term for sexual energy. Much of
Freud’s theory focuses on sexual points. However, Freud identified two other forces: eros, which he described as the life
instinct, and thanatos, which he described as the death instinct.

Eros is the instinct for self-preservation and sexual energy, which leads to arousal. Freud believed that we have a drive
to reduce arousal, and one way to do this is through death, and so thanatos provides the energy for the ego to inhibit
sexual instinct. Therefore, thanatos provides energy to inhibit eros, and eros provides the energy to inhibit thanatos.
All of these features can be easily displayed on a simple diagram. It is common to see the iceberg analogy which shows
an iceberg (which represents the mind) floating in the water. The diagram below shows the three levels of
consciousness and how the parts of the personality are divided between them.

Mentioned above was the

fact that the ego has the
job of trying to balance
The conscious is where contact
the id and the superego.
with the outside world is made
It may also have to
EGO balance any conflicting
(psychological demands in the id. One
component) way in which it does this
defence mechanisms.
These are designed to
component) push thoughts, feelings
and desires out of the
PRINCIPLE ID conscious mind, or can
(biological component) transfer a desire onto
contains the
conscience something safer.
eros and thanatos are
and the ego associated with the id and For your course, you must
ideal the unconscious mind
learn about repression as
PLEASURE PRINCIPLE one defence mechanism
as well as one other
All energy originates mechanism of your
from the unconscious

Defence mechanisms
The one defence mechanism you must learn about is repression. Repression involves keeping thoughts in the
unconscious mind so that they are not remembered, as they are not allowed inside the conscious. It is as if they are
forgotten, or at least not remembered – so it is sometimes known as motivated forgetting. However, this cannot be
done consciously, it is done subconsciously. The table below displays the five defence mechanisms covered in this
course, their explanations and an example of when each one would be used. Remember you need to know about
repression as well as one other one of your choice:

Explanation Example

involves keeping thoughts in the unconscious, and not childhood sexual abuse – often adults
allowing them into the conscious, so that they are not will not be able to remember their
remembered (called “motivated forgetting”), a abuse; they will not deny it happening,
process which is not done consciously but cannot remember the abuse

found when someone denies a traumatic event has denial of feelings – often if somebody
occurred and acts as though nothing has happened, has inappropriate sexual feelings for
protecting the individual from unhappy or another person, they will deny having
unacceptable thoughts such feelings

when somebody deals with having unacceptable

envy – sometimes people who envy
thoughts by saying that they are somebody else’s
Projection someone will actually claim that that
thoughts, perhaps so that the ego can deal with the
person envies them
feelings without problems from the superego
Explanation Example

sport – anger might be turned into

this occurs when thoughts or wishes that an individual physical aggression in sport
finds to be unacceptable are transferred onto
Displacement aggression – shouting at your wife as
someone or something else, or the urges/thoughts are
turned into something different you get home because you’re angry with
your boss but don’t want to shout at him

using the comforting behaviours of an earlier age to

examples include crying, thumb-sucking
Denial cope with something which is currently causing a
and refusing to accept responsibility
significant amount of stress

There are various strengths and weaknesses for the idea of defence mechanisms. It was actually Freud’s daughter, Anna
Freud who first talked about defence mechanisms. She was the sixth (and last) child of Sigmund Freud’s, and she
followed in his footsteps in establishing the at-that-time new form of therapy, psychoanalysis. The table below
summarises just a couple of the strengths and weaknesses:
 There are everyday examples of all of the above  The concept of defence mechanisms cannot be tested
defence mechanisms in real life (anecdotal scientifically, as the DV is not operationalised (whilst
examples), such as crime victims often experiencing we do find everyday, real-life examples of them in
repression, and denial being frequently found in action – this is not scientific testing)
everyday language  Because defence mechanisms are specific to an
 When a defence mechanism is revealed to someone individual, they require the interpretation of the
and they have it explained to them how defence analyst (such as with projection, for example, whilst
mechanisms work, they tend to feel a bit better (this one person might claim that somebody else is jealous
is because Freud claimed that the mechanisms keep of them, and that’s because they are in fact jealous of
the primitive urges of the id in the unconscious, but that person, for another person, it may actually just
once revealed to the conscious, the problems stop) be that the other person is envious of them)
How Freud explained gender development using his psychosexual theory

Freud argued that everyone passes through five stages of psychosexual development in their life. The first three stages
are where the focus of Freud’s theory is at, because those occur during the first five years of life (remember, one of the
key assumptions of this approach is the importance of those first five years). Freud believed that at each stage, the
centre of sexual energy was located in a different place.

Freud said that it was possible to come out of a stage having not fully resolved it. If each stage is not resolved correctly,
a person becomes fixated at that stage, which will result in problems later in life. Fixation can occur through:
 frustration – this occurs when the stage is not resolved as the needs have not been met at that stage
 overindulgence – this occurs when the person has been overexposed and overindulged in a certain stage and is
too comfortable with being in that stage to move on

Depending on the different type of fixation (frustration or overindulgence) experienced, Freud believed that there were
different adult characteristics which are exhibited due to fixation of those stages.

The oral stage

The first stage of psychosexual development is the oral stage. This lasts from birth to around the age of 18 months, but
can be variable (for example, breast feeding lasts longer in some societies than others, so the duration of this stage is
variable). The focus for sexual energy is the mouth because the baby gets pleasure from sucking and feeding.

If fixation arises at this stage due to frustration, characteristics brought forward to adult life will be envy, pessimism and
sarcasm, and a person may be obsessed with oral stimulation (achieved by smoking, or chewing a pen). If fixation here
is due to overindulgence (often caused by nursing too early, too late or for too long), adult characteristics will be
optimism, admiration of others and gullibility, also possibly remaining needy and being demanding of others.

To summarise, the oral stage:

 lasts from birth to around 18 months of age
 the focus of sexual energy is the mouth
 frustration leads to: pessimism, envy and sarcasm; a need to achieve oral stimulation
 overindulgence leads to: optimism, admiration of others and gullibility; neediness of others

The anal stage

The second stage of psychosexual development is the anal stage. This lasts up to around the age of three years, as the
ego is developing and where potty training will have been completed. The pleasure focus is the anus and the retention
or expulsion of faeces.

If parents are too lenient and get pleasure from making a mess, the adult will form an anal expulsive character, but if
the pleasure arises from holding in the faeces, the adult will become an anal retentive character. An anally-expulsive
character is messy, reckless and disorganised (which will be reflected in their job or hobbies, such as building or pottery)
and an anally-retentive character is overly obsessed with cleanliness and will be stubborn and hoard possessions.

To summarise, the anal stage:

 lasts from around 18 months old up to the age of 3 years
 the focus of sexual energy is the anus
 frustration leads to: anal retentive character (stubborn, overly-obsessed with being clean, possessive)
 overindulgence leads to: anal expulsive character (messy, disorganised and reckless)

The phallic stage

The third stage of psychosexual development is the phallic stage. This stage occurs at around the age of four or five
years, just as the superego is developing. The focus of sexual energy is the genital region. Freud emphasised the
importance of this third stage, as the superego, conscience and ego ideal are developing, and gender identity begins to
Gender development occurs at this stage due to the Oedipus complex (which also causes the superego and its
components to develop). Freud based the name for this concept on Oedipus, an ancient mythical figure who killed his
father and married his mother – but was unaware of those relationships at the time.

It was because Freud noted that parents seemed to have problems with their children at this age (four – five years) that
he concluded they were sexual issues. Freud believed that a boy would have natural love for his mother up until this
stage, but as the pleasure focus at this stage is the genital region, it was inevitable that this love would become sexual.
Whilst these sexual feelings were in the unconscious, a young boy would see his father as a rival standing in his way, and
would therefore feel feelings of aggression and hatred towards his father.

At this stage, the boy will have noticed that his mother has no penis. He would then fear that his father would remove
his penis. This fear comes about from the threats and disciplines from being caught masturbating by his parents. This
castration fear outdoes the desire for the boy’s mother, so those sexual feelings are repressed.

By now, the superego has developed and so there are feelings of guilt and fear, which will be hard to reconcile. So the
boy will want to resolve the conflict with his father by ‘becoming’ him, adopting his masculine behaviour. Therefore,
Freud explains gender development using his psychosexual theory by explaining how boys learn their behaviours from
identifying with their fathers as a result of the Oedipus complex. The Oedipus complex also results in the development
of the superego (and its components: the conscience and the ego ideal), so the boy is able to possess his mother
without guilt, hatred and fear for his father. Once this stage is over, the fourth stage of development begins.

Freud was a little less clear for girls in his theory, as he mainly focused on boys (the majority of supportive evidence for
this theory came from his case study of Little Hans, a boy). As you would expect, girls learn their behaviour by
identifying with their mothers, just as boys do with their fathers.

For girls, Freud identified the Electra complex, which begins as a young girl discovers that she (and other girls) lack the
penis which her father, and other men, will have. Her before-natural love for her father now becomes both envious and
erotic, and she longs for a penis of her own. She then blames her mother, thinking she is responsible for her castration,
and develops penis envy of her father.

The girl will learn her gender behaviours from identifying with her mother, in an attempt to possess her father
vicariously, just as boys learn to do with their mothers. Freud said that he didn’t believe girls ever resolve the Electra
complex 100 per cent, but are always a little fixated at this stage. However, they will move on to the fourth stage.

If fixated at this stage, a phallic character can develop, which is reckless, vain, proud, self-assured, arrogant and it is
very possible that the adult will not be capable of loving another person and entering a relationship.

To summarise, the phallic stage:

 takes place at approximately four years of age
 the focus of sexual energy is the genital region
 for boys, Freud explained gender development using the Oedipus complex:
 boys develop sexual feelings towards their mothers due to the sexual centre being the genital region
 a boy therefore sees his father as a rival, and develops hatred and aggression for him
 noticing his mother has no penis, the boy fears the father will remove his penis (castration fear)
 the castration fear outstrips the sexual feelings for the mother, so those feelings are repressed
 the boy identifies with his father in order to reconcile feelings of guilt and fear
 for girls, Freud used the Electra complex to explain gender development, which was a little less clear:
 girls discover at this stage that women have no penis whereas men (including their fathers) do
 a girl’s love for her father then becomes both erotic and envious, and wants her own penis (penis envy)
 the girl will identify with her mother in an attempt to vicariously possess her father
 if fixation occurs at this stage, a phallic character develops, who is arrogant, reckless and has difficulty building and
maintaining relationships with people in adulthood
The latency period
Following the phallic stage comes a period known as the latency period. This is not so much a psychosexual stage of
development, but more of a resting period. There is no sexual drive at this stage. It starts from the age of about five
(whenever the phallic stage is completed – i.e. the Oedipus or Electro complex has been resolved) and continues
through until puberty. Children at this stage will form healthy same-sex friendships at school, and will start to focus on
their school life and sport. Fixation is not possible at this stage, as there is no pleasure focus.

The genital stage

The final stage of psychosexual development is the genital stage. This stage begins at puberty, and the focus of sexual
energy is the genitals again.

If the Oedipus complex was correctly resolved and the phallic stage successfully passed through, boys will go on to
develop normal and healthy friendships and heterosexual relationships. However, if an individual does not successfully
resolve the Oedipus complex, then relationship problems can occur, according to Freud, which includes the
development of homosexuality.

Freud’s psychosexual theory contains a lot of information, and the credibility of it is questionable. Of course, these
stages of psychosexual development are probably the most controversial aspect of Freud’s work. Below, the table has a
few summarising points to evaluate Freud’s theory, and the Psychodynamic Approach:
 As a result of his work, Freud provided some new  Freud’s approach does not use any scientific method
treatments to patients with mental health problems, as the data is qualitative and specific to an individual –
which were otherwise unavailable – his development so not generalisable and a theory should not be
of psychoanalysis was particularly useful in the generated from such findings
treatment of those with neuroses  The concepts are not measurable and therefore
 Freud generated his theory from in-depth case cannot be tested (e.g. the id, ego and superego
studies which provided him with very rich and in- cannot be measured; the unconscious is unreachable
depth information, and as he conducted more via normal means, etc)
research, he constantly amended his models and  The case studies he used (albeit providing strong
concepts of the psychosexual theory information) required his own personal interpretation
 His theory was built from valid data and it focused on of symbols in dreams, etc, and so the findings may be
the dreams and problems of each individual subjective and therefore not generalisable as a theory
Aim: To monitor the development of a child up to around 5 years

Little Hans was the son of a couple who followed Freud and were great believers in his work and theories. Herbert Graf
was a famous Austrian-American composer, and it is now known that he is the Little Hans from Freud’s 1909 case study.

The aim of this case study was to monitor the development of a child up to the age of around four or five years. The
details of this case study would provide the evidence Freud believed to support his Oedipus complex. The data came
from the letters Little Hans’ father would send Freud, and also on the very few occasions Freud met with Hans. Little
Hans himself actually asked his father to tell Freud a few things, also.

Because Freud understood that the parents were followers of his, he realised that they may have only noticed the
things in Little Hans which fit his theory and passed those details on, therefore Freud tried only to take evidence from
Little Hans himself, even if this was through his father.

Freud understood that readers of the case study might not necessarily agree with his analysis and conclusions, but he
argued that you had to be present at the time of a case study in order to understand and agree with the analysis.

Case description
Hans appeared to have an early interest in “widdlers” (penises). He had noticed the widdlers on animals, and that his
mother and baby sister did not have widdlers. At one stage, Hans placed his hand on his penis and his mother
threatened to cut his penis off. He had a dream where he wanted a (female) friend of his to share in his widdling. He
also dreamt of wiping his bottom, as well as having children and wiping their bottoms. Hans denied thinking these
things and said that they came to him purely in dreams. This is what Freud thought to be of particular importance.

Little Hans would be left with his mother a lot as his father was away a lot on business, and Hans seemed to want his
father to go away. When the family moved house and his father was at home more often, Hans wished his father was
dead. Whenever his father was away, he would sleep in his mother’s bed with her. The mother was very close to Hans,
she would bathe him (although working around the penis, as she told him not to masturbate).

Hans developed a phobia that horses would bite him. Eventually, he became afraid that a white horse would bite him.
He had an anxiety attack in the street and stopped going out. At one point, he was afraid of a horse coming into the
room. He later became particularly afraid of white horses with black things over their mouths and covering their eyes.
He was also very afraid of horses pulling laden carts. Eventually, he recalled a real experience of seeing a horse, which
was pulling a bus, fall down. Little Hans had heard the father of a girl who was staying with them tell her not to put her
finger on the white horse that was pulling the cart to take her to the station, as it would bite her.

When Little Hans was around three and a half years old, his mother had a baby girl, of whom he was jealous of right
from the start. Hans said he was afraid of going underwater, and also became afraid of water. Little Hans dreamt of a
plumber taking his bottom and widdler away and bringing him new, bigger ones.

Freud took particular interest in another dream. Hans had a dream with giraffes. One was crumpled with Hans just sat
on it, and another giraffe was just stood at the site watching.
Also, there was a time where Little Hans was playing with dolls and “having children” – but his father told him that a boy
cannot have children. Hans said that his mother was the children’s mother, he was the children’s father, and that Hans’
father was the children’s grandfather (making Hans his own father, and Han’s father his grandfather).
Case analysis
Freud believed Hans’ obsession on widdlers, including his mother’s threat to cut his off, had been repressed into the
unconscious and may have affected him later, in the phallic stage. When he would talk about widdlers, ask to see his
mother’s and father’s widdlers and mention the widdlers of horses, Freud believed this indicated he was trying to
understand himself and make connections by comparing himself to other things. Freud said that the dreams of bottom-
wiping of his and others’ bottoms was due to this being done to him as a child and him getting pleasure from it. This
links to features of the anal stage, although Hans denied this – an example of what Freud identified as repression.
This idea of Little Hans wanting to be with his mother and wanting his father gone was explained by Freud as Hans’
desire to possess his mother, part of the Oedipus complex. The phobia of horses was really a fear of his father for hating
him and wanting him out of the way.

Freud thought Hans was jealous of his sister because her birth and the attention she received brought back the pleasure
Hans had experienced when he was that age. Freud felt that the fear of going underwater meant Little Hans wanted his
sister to fall underwater and drown. He wanted his mother, according to Freud, to let go of his sister’s head when she
was bathing her. After discussing this idea with Hans’ father, the father confronted Hans about this to which he replied
“yes”, so both Freud and the boy’s father agreed he wanted her to drown. Freud said that Little Hans wanted both his
father and his sister out of the way so that he could have his mother all to himself.

Freud believe telling the girl not to put her hand on the white horse when going to the station made the connection
with Hans not to masturbate. Therefore he connected this with horses, ergo a fear of horses. This, along with the threat
of cutting his penis off, led to the castration fear according to Freud.

The giraffes in Hans’ dream were representative of his parents according to Freud. It was interpreted as a sexual scene
between Hans and the giraffe he was sat on, who represented his mother, and the other giraffe watching, who was his
father. Freud also linked this with the fear that a horse would come into his room.

Freud told Hans’ father to tell Hans that the white horse was his father. The black bits covering the horse’s eyes show
Hans’ father’s glasses and the black thing over its mouth was his adult moustache and beard. Hans was afraid of his
father and the horse represented his father, which explained the fear of the white horse in particular.

The dream about the plumber seemed to suggest that Hans wanted a bigger widdler. Put to Hans, he agreed this was
the case. Freud thought that now he was overcoming the castration fear and identifying with his father, and so
considered his ‘therapy’ to have been successful. Although not very clear, Hans’ phobia did seem to go away. The claim
was that his unconscious fears had been made conscious and therefore had gone away. Freud and Hans’ father thought
that when playing with dolls and making himself their father (and his father their grandfather), Hans had got around the
problem of wanting his father dead.

Knowing about the anal stage of Freud’s psychosexual theory, it is evident how much of the findings from the Little
Hans case study provided the support and ideas for this theory. Much of the case study was focused on the Oedipus
complex (castration fear, desire of the mother, wanting the father out of the way), and there is evidence here that
Freud believe shows Hans had those feelings. The dreams he had seemed to show these confused feelings, which
supports Freud’s theory that the unconscious has a way of expressing itself through means such as dreams.

 The amount of detail obtained and the depth of the data – the material is thorough and there is information
from both Little Hans himself and the parents about Hans – Freud is able to draw conclusions from dreams,
thoughts, feelings, activities and friendships
 The amount of information from the case study also means it can be re-analysed
 No other research method could have yielded such quality, in-depth data

 The parents were responsible for passing the details onto Freud and since they were followers of his it is likely that
they only passed on what they felt was relevant in terms of fitting his theory
 The concepts, such as the Oedipus complex and castration fear are not measurable and so cannot be scientifically
 There are other possible explanations, e.g. Bowlby (1949) suggest that the mother-child attachment is very strong;
also Hans’ mother threatened to leave at one stage, which would have worried Little Hans, and so the fear could
have been a response to this
Aim: To see if the use of Axline’s play therapy could help Dibs

Axline’s (1964) aim was to help Dibs, a small child locked in his own world. His behaviour troubled teachers at the
private school he was attending, and so they asked Axline, a clinical psychologist if she could help. Her aim was to help
Dibs find a way to express himself and to ‘unlock’ his personality. The entire case study is easy to read and has been
published in a book by Penguin Books. The book is called Dibs in Search of Self.

One key thing to note is that this case study was not done by Axline to provide evidence of the Psychodynamic
Approach, nor does it even mention any Freudian concepts or anything to do with the psychosexual theory.

Dibs was referred to Axline when he was five years old because he was displaying a range of disturbed behaviour. At
school, he played alone, attacking other children that tried to interact with him, and becoming particularly violent with
adults when anyone tried to take him home. His father was a scientist and his mother a surgeon who had given up
practice when he was born. Dibs’ parents had not wanted children and saw his birth as having ruined the mother’s
career and as an annoyance to the father. They resented the boy and found it hard to relate to him. He had a younger
sister with whom there seemed to be no problems, although she was sent away to school at an early age.

Dibs’ parents thought that his problems were due to a biological issue, such as brain damage or retardation, but his
teachers believed he could be suffering from some sort of emotional-behavioural disorder.

After watching Dibs in the classroom, Axline gained permission from his mother to conduct weekly play therapy
sessions with the boy. During these sessions, Dibs’ behaviour was observed and notes were taken. The data that are
analysed would come mainly from these sessions. However, Dibs’ mother also visited Axline, who then had other data
to draw upon. In the main, Axline did not ask questions, she waited for input from Dibs, the school and parents.

Axline allowed Dibs to say or do whatever he felt comfortable with. She did not interpret what he said or wanted, to
ensure that she did not push his thoughts or actions into a specific direction dictated by herself. She wanted Dibs to
discover his own personality.

Case description
When the therapy begun, Dibs’ behaviour was unmanageable and difficult for both the family and the school. Not
wanting to go home was one of the main difficulties. At school, he hid under desks or crawled around the edge of the
room and did not mix with children or teachers. He looked at books and turned the pages at a speed that suggested he
might be reading them, but the teachers were unable to tell if he could read or not.

However, throughout the therapy, it was discovered that Dibs was actually a very intelligent and gifted child. His speech
was mature, and he could read, write and spell well in advance for his age. It took the duration of the therapy to reveal
Dibs’ abilities. Eventually, he moved to a school for gifted children where he thrived.

As it turned out, the main problem for Dibs seemed to be the excessive testing and teaching by his mother, who
expected him to always answer correctly and to learn the order of things. Another problem was his father’s apparent
lack of love for him and his pressure on him not to be ‘stupid’.

An example of speech recorded by Dibs, when playing with finer paints, is “Oh come away Dibs. It is a very silly kind of
paint. Come away!” This was one example which showed something about the relationship Dibs had with his father. A
further example occurred in the play therapy. Dibs buried a toy soldier, which he referred to as ‘Papa’, in the sand and
built a mountain of sand over it so that it would remain buried. Additionally, Dibs would often lock the Papa soldier

Dibs frequently mentioned his disliking of locked doors and walls.
Case analysis
Axline did not interpret Dibs’ words during the therapy sessions as she wanted him to work through his feelings himself.
She does not mention the psychodynamic approach in the case study, but Dibs’ behaviour could be interpreted in terms
of the id, the ego and the superego. The id part of his personality was the demanding part which needed gratification.
This was overpowered by the superego, the controlling part. The ego should have balanced these demands, but it was
overwhelmed and therefore not able to do so.

Axline felt it important to tell Dibs the truth and not make promises that might not materialise, and to not impose any
ideas on him. This is because, for example, the play therapy sessions lasted for an hour each time, so she would warn
Dibs when there was five minutes remaining and tell him that was when he would be leaving her. This is because when
he was told to go home, he would have a tantrum and hide under the desk. This gave him a chance to prepare himself
for leaving.

The focus on not liking to be locked away is real, rather than symbolic, because it refers to when Dibs’ father used to
lock him in his room. Burying the Papa soldier seems to translate to Dibs getting rid of his father, to whom Dibs would
usually show anger – and that anger was real, and extreme. The mother and sister had their own dolls too for Dibs to
play with. The mother doll and sister doll would be placed, not buried, so the anger was less extreme, but Dibs still
exhibited some anger towards them. Dibs would refer to the dolls as the “father, mother and sister dolls” so the
symbolism there was not hidden.

There was no mention of the Oedipus complex in the case study, and Axline does not suggest that this is what could
have been the case, but Dibs was around five years of age during the study, and so the Oedipus complex could be used
to explain these actions from a psychodynamic viewpoint.

Part of the solution to the problems came about when the parents realised they had a part to play and took an active
part in the ‘healing’. Dibs’ mother started to teach him to read, even though he had been able to do so from the age of
two, because she feared that he was not mentally able. This overstimulation Dibs was being forced to experience was
part of the problem. The mother’s relationship with the boy improved whenever she showed him that she loved him,
and stopped testing his abilities all the time. The boy’s relationship with the father improved when the father eventually
showed Dibs that he loved him and listened to him.

The term catharsis is used to describe the bringing of repressed ideas into the consciousness. This can be applied to the
case study of Dibs because it can help to explain how the play therapy worked. He seemed to go home a happier child
and eventually found the balance he needed.

The three parts of Freud’s personality model can be used to help analyse Dibs, but the Oedipus complex is not really
helpful because the problems were real, not symbolic. However, the problems could be argued to be locked away in the
unconscious. The play therapy allowed Dibs to act out his fears and frustrations. By acting them out, he seemed to get
rid of them. This cathartic effect seemed to be effective because Dibs went home a happier child and found the balance
he needed. Axline refers to this as Dibs finding his ‘self’. His parents helped the process by working through some of
their fears about Dibs’ abilities and their own problems, and then focusing on aiding the healing process of Dibs.

 qualitative, detailed data, including Dibs’ actual  difficult to test for reliability as Dibs will never be the
words are provided same again so the study cannot be replicated
 uses many different research methods (e.g.  difficult to apply theory to the study (although there
interviews, observations and play therapy) so there is are links to certain features, e.g. the role of the
an opportunity to test for validity unconscious, the need to allow catharsis and the
appropriateness of the id, ego and superego)
Evaluating case studies as a research method Psychodynamic Approach

A case study is a particular type of research method where one individual (or sometimes a small group of people,
connected in some way, such as a group of children being brought up together and deprived of parenting) is studied
over a period of time, allowing data to be gathered in depth and detail.

Whilst a case study itself is a research method, we do not say that data is gathered by a case study. Instead, data is
gathered for or within a case study. It is other research methods from within the case study that gather the data, such
as interviews, observations and questionnaires. A researcher will use more than one of these types of research method
within a case study to obtain sufficient data to analyse. The researcher will use triangulation to discover themes
between the data that are gathered, and to produce the final results. Triangulation involves pooling together the data
obtained from all of the research methods (i.e. everything from the whole case study) and looking for themes.

Are case studies scientific?

It is unclear as to whether a case study is scientific or not. There are points for and against it being so. One might say
that a case study is not scientific because they tend to gain qualitative data which means the aim of a case study is to
an understanding of meaning, which would rely on the researcher’s own interpretation, making them subjective
However, another person might counter-argue that they are scientific because the researcher gathers information
systematically and makes sure that there is sufficient evidence and support for any claim made within the data, some-
times in the form of quotes, or percentages, etc, also the research methods can be scientific, if for example a
questionnaire is used, it should be valid (i.e. by measuring what it claims to measure, such as what people think, not
what they feel they should be thinking) and reliable (i.e. if shown the same questions, the same answers are given)

Case studies generate mainly qualitative data. This data is analysed by finding
common themes from the data obtained. This is done by sorting the data into Level of confidence -
tables and flow charts, etc. Frequencies of events that were observed can be this shows how confident you can be
jotted down, repeating patterns identified, and such. Statistical tests may be about the findings; statistical tests
will produce a percentage of how
applied to the findings to assess the level of confidence in the data.
confident you can feel - e.g. 97.5%
Sometimes, more than one researcher may be analysing the data. If so, and
certain that your findings are true
similar themes are found by all researchers, there is a higher level of
confidence in the data, and there may be inter-rater reliability.

Sometimes, the research will consist of there being more than one case involved in the case study. If so, cross-case
analysis can be used. What might happen is that the cases get divided up for analysis. Different types of data can be
divided up between the cases, rather than doing case-by-case analysis. An example might be a case study involving
following three people, where the research methods are interviews, questionnaires and observations. One person
would analyse all the data from the interviews, one person from the questionnaires, and so on.

The table below considers some of the factors affecting the validity, reliability and generalisability of qualitative data:

Evaluation of qualitative data (from case studies as a research method)

 Generally valid because detailed, rich and in-depth; and the information comes from a real
Validity person in a real situation
 But may be influenced by the researcher

 Generally unreliable because not easily replicated

 However, data from different cases can be obtained and cross-analysed to spot themes

 Not usually generalisable because they come from one individual (or a small group)
 However, Freud did generalise his theories based on the individual case studies
The case study research method used by Freud Psychodynamic Approach

Freud, the founding father of the Psychodynamic Approach to psychology, only ever
used case studies. It is important to understand that he did not use his case studies Neuroses -
to obtain research, but was actually trying to help the individuals being studied, who mental health problems where
the individual is aware that they
all suffered from neurosis. Freud believed the cure to someone’s neurosis was in
are suffering from the neurosis
unlocking the unconscious, and only after accessing that area of the brain could any
change be made. Note that Freud did not work with sufferers of psychosis. Psychoses -
mental health problems where
Freud and others believed that the unconscious mind is inaccessible, so he could not
the individual is not aware that
use direct questions about it to the patients. Instead, he had to use special ways of they are suffering from the
reaching this part of the mind. He developed ways of tricking his patients into psychosis
revealing their unconscious thoughts.

He used a variety of different research methods within each of his case studies, but none of them used the same
research methods as other case studies:

Dream analysis
Freud would use dream analysis by listening to the content of the analysand’s dreams and apply the ideas and concepts
from the approach to try and interpret and explain them. The content which is described by the dreamer (i.e. what the
dream actually physically entailed) is known as the manifest content, and the underlying
Analysand - meaning which Freud would look to decipher is known as the latent content. Something
the person being analysed called symbol analysis is also carried out when trying to access the unconscious through
in the case study
dream analysis, as the manifest content is symbolic of the latent content.

Free association
Another research method Freud would use was free association. This is the idea of associating ideas, things and feelings
by saying whatever is in the mind, without censoring your thoughts. As one thing follows another, the analyst listens to
find connections which can reveal unconscious thoughts.

Slips of the tongue

Also, Freud would look for slips of the tongue (which are often known as Freudian slips). This occurs when somebody
says one thing but they meant to say another, such as saying “erection” rather than “rejection”, or saying “orgasm”
instead of “organism”. Freud believed that the mistake, or slip, being made revealed repressed unconscious thoughts.
They do not necessarily have to be sexual, it could be so much as calling someone by someone else’s name, but Freud
was focusing on underlying sexual meanings.

Freud’s therapy process was called psychoanalysis. He had the central purpose of curing his patients of their illnesses,
but he would gather data alongside to his therapies in order to improve and amend his theories.

Similarities between Freudian case studies with case studies from other approaches…
There is a strong focus on obtaining qualitative data, and all of the data is in-depth and rich about one person

Differences between Freudian case studies with case studies from other approaches…
There were different research methods found within the case studies, and he was using therapy to try and cure his
patients as well as using them as analysands to help strengthen his theories

Evaluation of Freud’s case studies as a research method

One strength is that the data are in-depth, detailed and rich with information. Also, his case studies use different
methods to uncover unconscious wishes which are impossible to access by conventional means. Thirdly, his case studies
act both as a therapy which allows the analysand to be cured, and a research method to help Freud amend his
psychosexual theories.
However, the analysis involved in his case studies is personal interpretation, so very subjective and is not scientific. They
cannot be replicated to test for reliability, either, because it focuses on the unique individual, and their unique
unconscious desires, and the analysis is carried out by one single therapist.


Freud used these case studies, such as that of Little Hans (see 3.4 Freud's Case Study of Little Hans (1909)) to help
improve and amend his theories. Freud’s theory came together as the psychosexual theory (which is covered in vast
detail in Unit 3) and as you will discover simply from reading Freud’s ideas, they seem a little hard to believe.

The biggest criticism of Freud’s theory is its credibility (how believable the findings of research are). Obviously most
case studies have an element of doubt towards their credibility because the findings depend on the analyst’s
interpretation, but Freud’s theory is particularly considered to be questionable and controversial.

As a therapist and analyst, Freud had many patients of whom he thought originally he was hearing stories of child abuse
from. But according to Masson (1984), he later dismissed the idea that his patients had suffered child abuse and came
up with the Oedipus complex (see 3.3 Psychosexual Development) to help explain their stories. Freud said that child
abuse could not have been so widespread that so many of his patients had suffered it, and so thought that his idea of
the Oedipus complex was a better explanation. However, Masson claims that the stories of abuse were real, and
therefore Freud’s alternative explanation (in this case, the Oedipus complex part of the theory) is not credible.

Masson further criticised Freud’s work and thought that there were three flaws:
 Firstly, the power of the analyst interpreting the patient’s thoughts and dreams could lead the patient to accept
their interpretation, whether they really agreed with it or not
 Secondly, his theory shows gender bias, because Freud focused mainly on young boys with regards to his theory,
saying that boys identify with their fathers more than girls identify with their mothers, so girls have less of a moral
code, and so Masson said that Freud’s theory had alpha bias
 Thirdly, his theory was overindulged with sexual matters, which was a sensitive issue for the patients (you will
notice from Freud’s theory that he interprets most things to have an underlying sexual meaning, which in itself can
often prove not credible)

Gender bias
If a theory emphasises one gender over another, this is known as alpha bias. Freud’s theory shows alpha bias, because it
is more centrally-focused on boys, and Freud did not go into much detail about the psychosexual development of girls.
Alpha bias is usually against females, and there is a feminist argument that Freud’s theories were biased against women.
If a theory does not emphasise gender differences at all, this is called beta bias
Which study is better for looking at developmental trends? Psychodynamic Approach

A cross-sectional study takes place at one specific moment in time, and compares different groups of people at that
time. The participants are tested once, usually to find a simple relationship between one variable and another. This type
of study is most common, as it can be done quickly and participants need only be tested once.

Cross-sectional studies are perfect if you want to test a group of participants on their memory, because you can run the
experiment and use your findings to come to some sort of conclusion. However, if you want to study developmental
trends, for example, to test how a group of participants’ memories change with age, a cross-sectional study is not the
only choice available.

In this example, of course a cross-sectional study could still be used. This would involve testing the memories of a group
of 10-20 year olds, a group of 20-30 year olds, a group of 30-40 year olds, and so on. The findings of each condition
could be compared to generate the conclusions. However, a longitudinal study may be used, whereby the study follows
one group of people over a period of time. This can be as little as a month or so, but many longitudinal studies continue
for years, if not decades. In this case, the memory test would be conducted at the beginning of the study period, and
then again at regular intervals to see the changes found. The aim is to compare the data of each test to see how the
passage of time affects whatever it is being tested for.

It may be difficult to identify a study as longitudinal, as sometimes the time period can be debatable. For example, the
study of Reicher and Haslam (the BBC Prison Study) went on for six days. This wasn’t a quick hour test of participants,
their every move was watched over six days and developmental trends were looked for. But is six days long enough to
be considered a longitudinal study? Most would consider the Prison Study to be a cross-sectional study, as it is generally
accepted that a month or a couple of months is the minimum period for a longitudinal study, but this amount is
variable. It depends upon what the study is looking at on what fits a ‘longitudinal’ study.

Strengths of cross-sectional studies Weaknesses of cross-sectional studies

reasonably cheap, quick and practical, as participants

need only be tested once and there is no follow-up study there is less rich detailed data collected than there is
necessary with longitudinal studies with regards to individual
participant differences
participants are more easily obtained, because there is
less pressure with cross-sectional studies than there is the data collected are from a snapshot in time, it is
for them to stick with longitudinal studies harder to identify and analyse developmental trends in
cross-sectional studies
less ethical considerations than for longitudinal studies

Strengths of longitudinal studies Weaknesses of longitudinal studies

certain participants from the group may move away or

the same group of participants is followed throughout wish to no longer participate, which disrupts the study
the entire study, so participant variables do not affect withdrawal of participants also means if remaining
data collected participants share a characteristic, findings are biased
these studies are the best way of spotting developmental there are a number of practical difficulties with
trends as they repeat tests at regular intervals and longitudinal studies: they can be expensive, they’re very
compare the findings time-consuming and the data collection and analysis can
vary in its strength if the researchers change over time
Correlation designs and using the Spearman’s Rank statistical test Psychodynamic Approach

Correlation designs
As part of the methodology for the Cognitive Approach, we learned of the three experimental designs: independent
groups, repeated measures and matched pairs (see M5 Experimental Design). A further design, although not an
experimental design, is the correlation design. This design of study involves comparing two different sets of data for the
same set of participants. Each participant does two measures, and those measures are recorded and compared. This
comparison is done by testing the relationship between the two sets of results statistically.

The relationships correlation designs might identify are positive correlations (i.e. as one measure goes up, the other
measure also goes up) and negative correlations (i.e. as one measure goes up, the other measure goes down). When
there is no relationship identified, the term ‘no correlation’ is used.

The data used for a correlation design must be numerical, and both the measures must come from the same
participant. There is no independent variable and no dependent variable. There are just two variables, none of more
significance than the other. The hypothesis of such a design will not be about a ‘difference between’ but will be
hypothesising a relationship between the two measures.

Strengths of correlation designs Weaknesses of correlation designs

good for finding relationships at the start of an

the findings only show a relationship between those sets
investigation; also unexpected relationships; once two
of data, not a definite connection, it does not allow room
sets of data have been collected from the same
for the concepts of chance or another factor causing the
participants, a relationship can be statistically tested
relationship to arise
the data yielded is more secure, as there are no
if the data are artificial or unconnected, it is not valid
participant variables to affect it

Correlation data are normally displayed graphically using a scattergraph. The scores for each measure for each
participant are used along the x-axis and the y-axis to plot a point for each participant, and then a line of best fit may be
drawn to test for a correlation.

What is referred to as the ‘eyeball test’ is used to see if there is a correlation in a scattergraph. Simply looking at the
results plotted on the chart and seeing the line of best fit should tell you if there is a correlation or not. A good measure
is to compare the number of scores on or close to the line of best fit with the number of anomalous values. The more
values there are on the scattergraph which don’t seem to fit, the less likely there is to actually be a correlation.

Spearman’s Rank correlation coefficient

The Spearman’s Rank test (Spearman’s Rank correlation coefficient) is a statistical test used to mathematically calculate
if there is a relationship between two sets of data. We will use the example of IQ and income of some participants.

Participant IQ Income (£) In our study, eight participants were given an IQ test and their scores
were recorded. The participants then had their relative salaries noted.
1 118 35,000
The following instructions outline how to use the Spearman’s test.
2 103 12,000
3 98 10,000 Step 1: Rank the first variable, the lowest rank for the lowest score
4 124 18,000 In this example, this means ranking the lowest IQ with a 1 and the
5 109 15,000 highest IQ with an 8. When two participants share the same score,
6 115 20,000
take an average rank. For example, if three of them have an IQ of 100,
7 130 30,000
occupying ranks 3, 4 and 5, allocate all of them the rank 4 (average)
8 110 12,000
Step 2: Rank the second variable, the same way as the first
Simply rank the incomes with the lowest income receiving a 1 and the highest receiving an 8

IQ rank Income rank

Participant IQ Income (£)
(Step 1) (Step 2)
1 118 35,000 6 8
2 103 12,000 2 2.5
3 98 10,000 1 1
4 124 18,000 7 5
5 109 15,000 3 4
6 115 20,000 5 6
7 130 30,000 8 7
8 110 12,000 4 2.5

Step 3: Calculate the difference between the ranks for each participant
Take the value of Rank 2 away from the value of Rank 1 (in this example take income rank from IQ rank). This will give
the difference between the two ranks. If the resultant number is negative, don’t forget to record the minus sign

Step 4: Square the differences between the ranks

Square the value you obtain for each participant from Step 3

Step 5: Total the figures from Step 4

Find the total by adding up all the values obtained from Step 4. The Greek letter sigma, Σ, is used to show add total

IQ rank Income rank IQ rank – 2

Participant IQ Income (£) (IQ rank – income rank)
(Step 1) (Step 2) income rank
1 118 35,000 6 8 -2 4
2 103 12,000 2 2.5 -0.5 0.25
3 98 10,000 1 1 0 0
4 124 18,000 7 5 2 4
5 109 15,000 3 4 -1 1
6 115 20,000 5 6 -1 1
7 130 30,000 8 7 1 1
8 110 12,000 4 2.5 1.5 2.25
Total (Σ) = 13.5

Step 6: Multiply the value of Step 5 by 6

In our example, 13.5 x 6 = 81

Step 7: Find the value of N

N is the number of pairs of observations you have, so this will simply be the number of participants, in our case 8

Step 8: Square the value of N and subtract 1 from that number

In our example, 8 x 8 = 64 and 64 – 1 = 63

Step 9: Multiply the number from Step 8 by N

In our example, 63 x 8 = 504

Step 10: Divide the value of Step 6 by the value of Step 9

In our example, 81 ÷ 504 = 0.160714285

Step 11: Calculate rho, the result of the Spearman’s test, by doing: 1 – Step 10
In our example 1 – 0.160714285 = 0.839285714

A statistical table can then be used to see if there is a correlation between the two sets of data. Statistical tables cannot
be simply generated by thinking about them, they take hundreds of mathematical studies to calculate. They are
published in masses in books so people can refer to them in order to see if there is a correlation in their data.
The table below is an extract from a statistical table for rho:

You will come across levels of

Level of significance for one-tailed test
significance in more detail in M13
0.05 0.025 0.01 0.005 Inferential Statistics – Mann-
N= 4 1.000 Whitney U Test, but for now just
5 0.900 1.000 1.000 bear in mind that choosing a level
6 0.829 0.886 0.943 1.000 of significance basically means
7 0.714 0.786 0.893 0.929 choosing an acceptable level at
8 0.643 0.738 0.833 0.881
which you can reject the null
9 0.600 0.700 0.783 0.833
10 0.564 0.648 0.745 0.794 hypothesis and that the results
11 0.536 0.618 0.709 0.755 are due to chance, and accept the
12 0.503 0.587 0.671 0.727 alternative hypothesis.

Using our example study, we have a rho value of 0.893285714. We used 8 participants in the study, giving us an N value
of 8 so that row has been highlighted in the table.

The critical value shown for the appropriate level of significance in the table has to be LESS THAN rho for the hypothesis
to be proven. If the rho value is less than the critical value in the table, the null hypothesis is retained, as it cannot be
rejected. This means your rho value must be MORE THAN the value in the table (called the critical value)

So back to our example. We can definitely accept the alternative hypothesis as proven for significance of 0.05 (given
that 0.643 < 0.893). This means we can say that the results obtained showing a correlation are less than or equal to five
per cent due to chance. We can also say this for 0.025, 0.01 and 0.005 as the rho value is larger than all of the critical
values for N = 8. Because we can do so for a significance level of 0.005, we can actually say that the relationship is less
than or equal to half a per cent due to chance.


The role of the CNS and its effect on human behaviour

The central nervous system (CNS) consists of two main parts: the brain and the spinal cord. Some of the main features
of the brain which are studied for the biological approach are shown in the below diagram.

stores information and is involved in
problem-solving and decision making
passes on information
from the senses

corpus callosum
connects the two hemispheres of
the brain, so is involved in
communication between the two
sides – linked to lateralisation and
sex differentiation
stores procedural
memory hypothalamus
regulates eating and drinking, and
controls the release of sex
spinal cord
hormones from the pituitary gland
connects to the brain as part of
the central nervous system

There are two hemispheres of the brain. Each side has different parts which control different things. Females are better
at using both sides of the brain together. Males are better at using only one side (the right). By concentrating on this
side, males tend to be better at the tasks which use the left side of the brain, than females.

Left hemisphere Right hemisphere

Receives information from and Receives information from and
controls the right-hand side of the controls the left-hand side of the
body, and receives information from body, and receives information from
the right visual field the left visual field

The right hemisphere controls: The right hemisphere controls:

 speech, language and  creativity
comprehension  spatial ability
 analysis and calculations  context/perception
 time and sequencing  recognition of faces, places and
 recognition of words, letters objects
and numbers

Because males use one size more efficiently than the other, male brains are said to be lateralised. Brain lateralisation
occurs in males, and not females. This is one difference between male and female brains. The biological approach is
particularly interested in studying the biological aspects of gender development.
A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger which acts between neurones in Neurotransmitter -
the brain. This allows the brain to process thoughts and memories. These chemical messengers which act
neurones are cells which both transmit and receive messages. One end of a between neurones in the brain at
neurone has dendrites, finger-like extensions from the cell. synaptic junctions

dendrites axon
finger-like structures branching fibre-like extension of the cell
off of the cell body which form body which sends information
the information-receiving to the target cell
network for the neurone

cell body
houses the nucleus, which
axon terminal
contains genetic information and
an enlarged axon ending used to
controls cellular activity
make contact with other neurones

The axon terminal reaches other nerve cells and effector cells at the dendrites of those other cells. There is a small gap
between the dendrites and axon terminal, called a synapse. On the dendrite side of a synaptic gap there are receptors
which can receive neurotransmitters sent by the neighbouring neurone.

Much like the lock and key theory which applies to enzymes in Biology, each receptor is made to fit one type of
neurotransmitter only. When a neurotransmitter is successfully bound to a receptor, a response is triggered.

calcium channel protein vesicles

allow the passage of calcium ions tiny packages containing cell material,
through the membrane into the neurone in this case, neurotransmitters

presynaptic neurone molecules which are capable of
sends the signal receiving a specific neurotransmitter

postsynaptic neurone
chemicals released by a
receives the signal
neurone to be relayed to
synaptic cleft
another neurone
synaptic gap between
two neurones

In order to communicate between two neurones, an electrical message must be passed on. An electrical impulse is
generated at the head of the axon and travels down the neurone. When it reaches the terminal, it causes the channel
proteins to open, which allow calcium ions through the cell membrane and into the neurone itself.
When the calcium ions enter the neurone, they bind with the vesicles.
This causes the vesicles (which are currently carrying the
neurotransmitters) to rush to the cell membrane at the very end of the
axon terminal of the presynaptic neurone.

When the vesicles meet the membrane, they fuse (“pinch off”) and the
contents – the neurotransmitters – are released into the synaptic cleft.

The neurotransmitters then diffuse across the synaptic junction and

bind with the receptors which lay on the postsynaptic neurone.

As they bind together, a response is triggered. In the case of the synapse

shown in the diagrams to the left, this would mean allowing the entry of
the sodium (green dots) ions into the postsynaptic neurone. The
electrical impulse continues its way down the neurone. The
neurotransmitters are released back into the cleft. The presynaptic
neurone manufactures more vesicles to store them in again – this way
they are recycled for future neurone actions.
The role of genes in human behaviour

Each individual inherits 50% of their genes from each parent. A gene contains information, and carries a set of
instructions. It consists of long strands of DNA (deoxyribose nucleic acid), which has the function of controlling cellular
activity. Every human had a genotype which is controlled by genetic makeup (this can be XX for women and XY for
men). They also have a phenotype which is what the individual becomes when environment interacts with genetics.

The term genome refers to all the genes within a cell. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes in all body cells, except
gametes (sex cells – i.e. egg and sperm) which only have 23 chromosomes – or one from each pair.

Genes can be separated into two groups. A dominant gene is one which will always lead to a certain characteristic in
offspring. For example, having brown eyes is a dominant allele (version of a gene). It only takes one parent to have that
allele and to pass it on in order for their child to share the allele. A recessive gene is one which has to be present in both
chromosomes in a pair in order to have the characteristic. For example, having blue eyes is a recessive allele. A child will
need to inherit that very allele from both parents in order to have blue eyes.

We can use a Punnett square to help show this. The brown eyes allele (dominant) is shown with
B b
a capital letter using its initial, so B. The recessive allele takes the same letter of the lower case,
b Bb bb in this example b. The Punnett square below shows the two parents which have the alleles Bb
and bb respectively. The parent with Bb will have brown eyes, as although it has both the brown
b bb bb
and blue eyes alleles, the brown eyed one is dominant so that is the result. The parent with bb
will therefore have blue eyes – there is no brown eyed allele present. As the two produce an offspring, 50% of the genes
from each parent are inherited by that child. Therefore there are four possible outcomes for the child’s alleles for eye
colour as shown (only one allele from each of the parents’ pairs is inherited). There is a 75% chance of the child having
bb (blue eyes) and a 25% chance of the child having Bb (brown eyes).


 When one parent contributes two copies of chromosome 21, the result is that the child will have three copies
of that chromosome – the consequence of this is Down’s syndrome
 Some diseases and characteristics are sex-linked in that they are controlled by the sex genes – this is why some
diseases and characteristics are more common in one particular sex (for example, colour-blindness primarily in
 There is a marker known as G8 present in chromosome 4, and whilst its contribution towards genetic makeup
is not certain yet, the gene for Huntington’s disease lies close to it, and if a parent and child both have the
disease, then in 98% of cases they both have the same form of G8 marker – suggesting that the gene for
Huntington’s disease travels with the G8 marker
 Cancer involves damage to the DNA as cells divide, and, for example, with one type of leukaemia, almost every
white blood cell carries an unusually small chromosome 22

Some genes do not influence a person’s makeup from day one. Instead they might have environmental triggers. This
means they require the right environmental conditions to be “switched on”. An example is phenylketonuria (PKU),
which is a disease which leads to brain damage. When a baby is born, they have a blood sample taken from their heels
immediately after birth, to test for PKU disease. This is because when diet is controlled, the effect of PKU can be
avoided, so the effect of the gene can be averted if diet (an environmental, not genetic, factor) is controlled.
Is it genes or environment which makes a person what they are?

The genotype of an individual is their genetic constitution. This is essentially what their chromosomes make them. Their
phenotype is the result of interaction between their inherited characteristics and the environment. To investigate the
differences between the two (i.e. whether it is genes or environment which cause certain characteristics), many studies
of the approach try to separate the two to find out the causes of certain characteristics and behaviours.

We say that what we inherit is the ‘nature’ aspect, and that which is learned from the environment is ‘nurture’. Nature
concerns the influence of genes, among other biological structures, on an individual. This includes the effects of
neurotransmitter functioning, brain structure and function, genetic makeup and other similar biological structures.

Nurture is more concerned with environment, so anything other than the biological aspects. This includes the style and
environment of upbringing and growing up, schooling experience, social influences, position within a family and other
similar issues. An example might be children who watch more violent TV are more likely to act aggressively.

The nature-nurture debate is discussed in more detail in M7 Twin and Adoption Studies. See the Methodology section to
locate these notes.
Various explanations of gender development and developmental abnormalities as evidence

There are a range of biological explanations which try to explain gender development. This is how an individual behaves
and develops, in terms of gender. Gender is not necessarily the same as sex. Gender is about the (mental) development
and behaviour of a person, whereas sex is about whether you are biologically male or female.


As discussed in 4.2 Genetics and Inheritance, each body cell has 46 chromosomes, except for gametes which have 23.
The body cells have their chromosomes in 23 pairs, making the total 46. The gametes only have one chromosome from
each pair, so they are all unpaired chromosomes. This is because they are to be matched up with the other sex cell to
form a new organism, with the complete set of 46 chromosomes. A male baby will receive an X chromosome from the
mother and a Y chromosome from the father, so a male has an XY genotype. A female baby will receive an X
chromosome from both parents, so a female has the genotype XX.


In mammals, having the X and Y chromosomes is the determinant of whether a fertilised egg develops into a male or
female offspring. Fruit flies, like humans, it is the combination of XX or XY which decides. This is evidence that genes
start to influence the embryo immediately – at conception. The four main steps to sex differentiation in humans are
shown in the flow chart below:

•fertilisation determines the genetic sex based on the chromosomes donated by Mullerian Duct -
d the egg and the sperm female sex ducts,
1 composed of the uterus
and fallopian tubes
•the fertilised egg divides, forming many identical cells, which divide to form the
organs as the embryo develops, including sex organs (at this stage, both males Wolffian Duct -
male sex ducts
2 and females have a gonadial ridge and both Mullerian and Wolffian ducts)

•the gonadial ridge becomes either an ovary or a testis - the Y product then Hormone -
develops testes in males, other genes develop the ovaries in females due to a chemical messenger
3 lack of the Y chromosome used to transmit a signal
or trigger a response

•horomes then trigger the sexual development of the embryo: Mullerian

inhibiting substance (MIS) inhibits the growth of the Mullerian ducts and
4 androgens stimulate Wolffian growth as female development stops in males

There are a large number of potential problems with sex differentiation. They can occur at any of the four
stages described above. An example is Klinefelter’s syndrome (or XXY disease) which occurs in males who
inherit an extra X chromosome (leaving their sex pair as XXY), which results in breasts developing, smaller
testicles, poor beard growth and wide hips – i.e. female features attempting to be present in a male.

Similarly, in females there can be problems, such as Turner’s syndrome. This is where there is a lack of the
second chromosome from the sex-determining pair, so we describe their genotype as XO. This again results in
physical abnormalities, such as a low hairline and broad-chestedness.
A hormone is similar to a neurotransmitter, except it does not work solely in nerve cells. They are similar in the sense of
that they carry messages to trigger cellular responses. Hormones affect mood, metabolism, growth and development.
However, their messages are passed on a lot more slowly as they travel through the bloodstream, not due to electrical

Hormones are produced in endocrine glands, which include the pituitary gland, pineal gland, adrenal gland and thyroid
gland. In males, they are also produced in the testes, and likewise in the ovaries in females. Just a minute amount of
hormone can trigger large changes in an organism, and having too much or too little will cause problems.

The female hormones are oestrogen and progesterone and the male hormones are
androgens (an example of an androgen is testosterone). All of these are reproductive Working Memory -
short-term memory
hormones. Such hormones cause gender differentiation and can affect male and female
brains to develop differently. They are essential in gender differentiation as their
Reference Memory -
production results in the development of male and female sex organs. In the brain, long-term memory
hormones can affect working memory and reference memory.

Hormones might also be involved in the experience of pain, and why some diseases associated with chronic pain occur
more frequently in females. PET scans have been used to see how pain affects the brain. In one study, men had an
increase in the amount of endorphins released compared to women, and women reported more feelings of pain. These
females were tested at the beginning of their menstrual cycle, when levels of oestrogen were low. They were then given
oestrogen and retested later during their cycles, where more endorphins were released and they said the pain was less
severe. This is evidence of hormones affecting gender behaviour.

There is more evidence supporting the role of hormones in gender development with abnormal development
with androgenital syndrome. This is caused by the overproduction of androgens, and a deficiency in

aldosterone and cortisol. In males, this may result in an enlarged penis and small testes, females may have
ambiguous genitals.

The disorder can be causes by congenital adrenal hyperplasia linked with the three hormones, produced by the
adrenal gland. If during development the adrenal gland does not produce enough cortisol, then the pituitary
gland is stimulated to release the hormone ACTH. This travels to the adrenal gland and causes its cortex to
increase in thickness (become hyperplasic). This, together with the increased production of testosterone can
cause early sexual development. In females, the excess testosterone causes abnormal genital development in
the embryo, and unwanted hair growth and irregular periods in adult females.


The brain is divided into two halves: the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere.

Left hemisphere Right hemisphere

Receives information from and Receives information from and
controls the right-hand side of the controls the left-hand side of the
body, and receives information from body, and receives information from
the right visual field the left visual field

The left hemisphere controls: The right hemisphere controls:

 speech, language and  creativity
comprehension  spatial ability
 analysis and calculations  context/perception
 time and sequencing  recognition of faces, places and
 recognition of words, letters objects
and numbers
Generally, it is thought that females tend to use both sides of the brain equally, and males seem to use the right side of
the brain more. This is because it is said that the corpus callosum (a large network of fibres connecting the two
hemispheres) is larger in female brains.

There is also said to be a gender difference in visuospatial ability. Visuospatial tasks

Lateralisation - require the use of the right hemisphere, which is the one that male brains are
one hemisphere which is thought to have preference towards. Studies have shown that males do use this side
used more than the other more than the left, a quality females do not share. This means that generally males
should be better at visuospatial tasks and maths.

However, studies have not constantly been able to show a correlation between the size of the corpus callosum and
gender. Whilst its size differs between the individual, there is no distinct relationship between the two. These theories
had been put together around 30 years ago, and whilst there is still agreement that it is true, there is now doubt.

Various pieces of evidence for brain lateralisation include:

 If the idea of visuospatial tasks using the right side and verbal tasks the left side is true, it is thought that brain
damage to either side would lead to problems with their respective tasks, however, studies which have worked
with people suffering brain damage to only one side of the brain have shown that this is only true for males,
not females
 Women with Turner’s syndrome (see before) use both sides of the brain even more evenly and display very
feminine behaviour
 Men who do not have regular exposure to androgens in the womb tend to use both sides of the brain more
 In patients with damage to the left hemisphere, speech difficulties occur more commonly in males

There is more abnormal developmental evidence supporting brain structure theories. Child abuse and neglect

appear to lead to brain abnormalities. Whilst a child may be born with a healthy brain and all the neurones, the
brain continues to develop throughout childhood and adolescence, and can be damaged by environmental
influences at any stage.

The corpus callosum of anyone abused as a child is smaller in adults. Males who had suffered neglect had a
reduction of 24-42% in size, but those who had been sexually abused as boys had no change. Females who had
suffered neglect had no change, but those who were neglected decreased between 18-30%.

This shows us there are differences in the use of each hemisphere and how they can be affected.


A brief evaluation of the biological explanations of gender development is outlined below:

 The results of these explanations have been based on  Most of the studies are usually done on animals,
tests which can be replicated, so reliability can be because of ethical constraints with humans – their
tested genes and hormones are not always the same as ours,
 Several different research methods have been used so the results may not be applicable to humans,
(such as brain scans, laboratory experiments, twin making them hard to generalise
and adoption studies, and animal studies) and they  These explanations focus solely on biological aspects,
all seem to result in similar findings, so the such as differences in male and female brains based
conclusions tend to be more reliable on structure and function, but the results may just
only be down to males and females using different
strategies (strategies being a result of upbringing), so
they do not consider environmental aspects
Aim: To investigate the theory of gender neutrality

Dr John Money ran this experiment which he studied for a total of 9 years. It was a longitudinal study, therefore, and it
was volunteer-sampled, because the participant(‘s parents) actually sought Money out, rather than Money finding them
as participants.

They study was to look at the possibility of gender neutrality. This was a term which Money had coined, which outlined
what he believed, this being that when a child is born, for the first two years they are “gender neutral” (i.e. have no
fixed gender). This is because he believed biology does not determine the phenotype of a child, and that their gender at
this young age is malleable and can be controlled by environmental factors – in other words, a baby born as a boy can
be brought up as a girl, and will act and “be” a girl.


Overall, there were 45 cases studied, but one case study in particular is looked at a penis which has been
here. Each case studied a genetic male reassigned and brought up as females: 43 removed for some reason,
had defective penises, the other 2 had ablatio penis a common cause
(including that for the one
The case study studied in detail here is one of the ablatio penis cases. It studied in this case study) being
one child who was brought up as a girl after gender reassignment as an infant. due to a mishap in a
This was the perfect case study: the causes were natural, and the subject had an circumcision on an infant
identical twin brother who provided a natural baseline measure


At seven months old, one of two identical twins suffered what was called a “surgical mishap” from a circumcision,
which was done surgically using an electric current (this is quite a rare method not used very often), and the
current was too strong, causing his penis to become ablated. His name was baby Bruce. Surgeons offered the
solution: sexually reassign him to a female. Not sure what to do, his parents left it, until seeing Money on a TV
programme, discussing what he considered to be the success of male-to-female transsexual operations. Bruce’s
parents went to Money and asked him to help them bring Bruce up as a girl successfully. At 17 months old, Bruce
was gender-reassigned, and became Brenda.

Brenda was given this new name, as well as new hair, new toys, new clothing… whatever would help. Money
assured the parents that (based on the success of adult operations) Brenda would become a girl and would
conform to the gender she had been brought up as. Money instructed the parents what to tell friends and family,
as well as the other twin brother, about the situation.

Money met with the twins regularly, most often Brenda, to assess how well the experiment was going and to make
her feel more comfortable and to try and reassure her she was normal. At age 4, Brenda was said to be neater
than the other brother, which Money considered a sign of potential future success, due to her feminine toys, hair,
clothes and style of upbringing. The children began to copy the image of their same-sex parent, and Brenda
wanted dolls to play with, whereas her brother wanted cars.

However, Brenda was tomboyish also, with abundant physical energy, stubbornness and being the dominant in an
all-girl group. The mother tried her best to make Brenda become more lady-like. She was the more dominant
sibling of the two twins.

Money decided at the end of the study, after 9 years, that the girl would one day have to be told the truth about
her gender reassignment, for all of her family knew the truth that it would be hard to keep a permanent secret.
There were several sources of data collection. Money himself met with the parents and the children, to inform the
parents on how to deal with the study, and the children to assess the proceedings of the study and help move it
along. But most of the findings were obtained from the mother, who made most of the observations at home and
reported them back to Money.

Money’s most basic early conclusion was that she was like any other normal little girl. Her mother reported Brenda
had a liking for wearing dresses, playing with dolls, and would like to be a teacher or doctor when she grew up,
rather than her brother’s ideas of becoming a policeman or fireman (more masculine roles).

At the time of the study, Money’s idea was widely accepted as a success. It had seemed that Brenda had
successfully taken on the role of a female and was happy as a girl, and understood that is what she was. This had
meant that the theory of gender neutrality was a strong possibility. Money’s conclusion was: “with surgery and
hormonal therapy it is possible to habilitate a baby with a grossly defective penis more effectively as a girl than as
a boy”. The study concluded it is possible to bring up a child avoiding ambiguity and uncertainty of gender.


Money provided the conclusion to the study, which essentially claimed it to be a success. However, the subjects of
a study are able to voice their opinions and add to the conclusions and findings of a study. Since the “ending” of
the study, events have taken place which allowed us to re-evaluate the case.

Bruce had become Brenda, but as an adult, Brenda later changed back to a male, becoming David Reimer. David
told his story to the public, which gave a better insight into the parts of the study previously missed. The key
feature here is that David Reimer explicitly made clear he was never happy as a girl, which is what Money had
claimed was the complete opposite of. David said he hated wearing dresses and playing with dolls, etc.

At the age of 14, Brenda was told the truth about her gender reassignment. She said that this made everything
make sense, as she thought she was crazy as a girl. She underwent surgery becoming David. David’s mother
attempted to commit suicide; his father turned to alcohol; and his twin brother, called Brian, turned to crime, and
became clinically depressed. David also was depressed and attempted suicide twice.

Eventually, David Reimer married and his wife was a huge help to him. She made David far more confident and he
became a lot more stable. However, Brian later overdosed on some antidepressants, and David’s marriage became
troubled. After his wife left him, David, an angry and violent person, could not cope with no wife, no brother and
no job, and so also committed suicide.


This study by Money was extremely controversial for a number of reasons. It is suggested that he in fact knew
Brenda was never happy as a girl, but lied for the purpose of his study. But as he only studied the case for nine
years, it cannot be said for sure, as it’s possible this was unclear at that age.

But also, both Brian and David later in life claimed Money was inappropriate in their meetings. On numerous
occasions, Money had reportedly asked them both to remove their clothes and show him their genitalia, and he
wanted to take photographs of them naked. All of their meetings were recorded, but four of those years have
been made unavailable to anyone by Money, so this again is unclear.

When David Reimer was in his thirties, he met with a psychologist called Diamond. Diamond published a journal
paper about Reimer, which said that all of Money’s conclusions were wrong: Brenda was never happy as a girl, the
case was therefore unsuccessful.

It was later accepted that gender neutrality was not true.
An interesting but controversial case study overall, it is unclear about the reliability of Money’s methods, and his
procedure was a little edgy in some areas. The story of David Reimer, and all of his family, is very sensitive,
considering both the brothers committed suicide and his parents became depressed. Money’s influence in this had
to be taken into consideration
 There was a lot of detail taken about Brenda, such  The study was 9 years long and Money concluded it
as her likes and dislikes, which could be related to a success but it was later revealed by Reimer that
the progress of the study – these were controlled he was never happy as a girl, which is shown by the
carefully by Money fact he later changed back to a male, therefore
 These could be compared to her brother Brian, there is no validity
which provided qualitative data, which is much  It is hard to generalise these findings as this is a
more valuable as it is more valid than quantitative very unique case study – the ablatio penis study is
 More than one person contributed to the data – rare enough, but also having an identical twin
both Money and the parents observed the brother as well as willing-to-be-studied parents

The study has a lot to say about the nature-nurture debate. Money’s conclusions supported the idea of nurture over
nature, stating that we are born gender neutral, and environment and upbringing decides on your phenotype.
However, David Reimer himself helped to show these findings to be wrong, which were outlined in Diamond’s paper
published about Reimer. The study actually shows that it is nature over nurture, and that it is biological. This study was
meant to show gender neutrality to exist, but actually it acts as support for the biological approach.
Aim: To investigate differences in brain function within gender and age differences

De Bellis et al. (2001) studied individuals using the MRI scanning technique, with the aim of investigating the possibility
of biological differences between different ages and different sexes during childhood and adolescence. Three areas of
the brain were looked at, and the study observed how the volume of each of the three areas changed over time. Other
studies which had taken place previously provided De Bellis et al. with an idea of what to expect: grey matter should
decrease over time and white matter should increase over time.

White and grey matter

There are two components of the central nervous system, white matter and grey matter.
Grey matter is the central bit of the spinal cord, and the brain, which is made up of cell
bodies, their axons and their dendrites. White matter is the outer coating layer which
surrounds all grey matter in the brain and down the spinal cord: this is made purely of
myelinated axons. Myelin is a substance which is protective and insulates nerve fibres

Previously, MRI scanning had shown that after the age of 4, the volume of grey matter
Myelination -
decreases, whereas white matter increases over childhood throughout to adolescence, as
the process of
biological matter does the size of the corpus callosum. However, some studies have shown that grey matter
becoming coated by increases up to adolescence and then decreases, so not all findings agree with each other. It
the substance myelin is most likely that white matter and the corpus callosum increase due to myelination.

De Bellis used 118 participants overall, 61 males and 57 females, all of who were healthy children and adolescents.
They were collected using volunteer sampling (an advert in a paper). Each participant went through clinical
evaluations to check there were no mental disorders. Written informed consent from each parent was obtained.

Before the actual study took place, the participants were put in a machine which replicated the sights, sounds and
feel of an MRI machine. This was a ‘practice run’ to let them know what would happen, and to encourage them, as
well as to reduce head movements in the real thing, having had the practice run behind them.

Each participant was then scanned using the MRI machine, with their head wrapped to keep it comfortable and
held to keep it still. In order to keep them motivated, they were told that they would be able to see the images of
their brain at the end, but the images would be blurred if they moved – this was to stop them from moving and to
keep their heads in the right place.

A professional neuroradiologist conducted each scan and a child-adolescent psychiatrist supervised the procedure.

A piece of computer software was used to analyse individual structures within the brain. This piece of software
produced valid and reliable measurements. Further measurements were made by trained and reliable raters, who
had no access to participant information. At comparison of results, the reliability of the raters was as high as 0.99.

Careful attention was paid to the areas of grey matter, white matter and the corpus callosum, and how they were
separated and measured.

The practice run, using the machine which reproduces the MRI scanner, and motivating the participants by letting them
see their non-blurred videos of their brain, were essential components of the procedure in order to ensure there were
no head movements and they were in the right place, to make the findings reliable.
The results showed age-related changes between genders:
 The grey matter, white matter and corpus callosum all showed significant differences when sex by age
interactions were tested
 Girls showed significant developmental changes with age, but at a slower rate than boys
 Males had a 19.1% reduction in grey matter between 6 and 17 years of age compared to 4.7% in females
 Males had a 45.1% increase in white matter compared with a 17.1% increase in females
 Males had a 58.5% increase in the corpus callosum compared with a 27.4% increase in females


Overall, the volume of grey matter showed the decrease which was expected, as did the white matter and corpus
callosum increase as expected, with age. There were also sex differences, where females increased or decreased
the volumes of their respective brain areas at a slower rate and by smaller amounts. This shows further differences
between the male and the female brain

An evaluation by De Bellis et al. (2001)

De Bellis et al. offered their own evaluation of their study. Here are some of their strengths and weaknesses:
 The participants used made it a cross-sectional study (i.e. different participants were studied all at one time),
and needs to be replicated as a longitudinal study (i.e. the same participants are tested over time for a better
and more reliable series of results)
 There were quite large differences between participants of similar ages, which suggests a need for
 Grey and white matter had to be separated by estimation, as they are not easily-measured areas
 The sampling and procedure were carefully controlled
 Giedd et al. (1999) found similar increases and decrease, adding to the reliability of the findings

 The study had strong controls, including trained  It was hard to operationalise the dependent
raters who did not have access to the participants’ variable which means it was difficult to measure
information the grey and white matter – estimation of results
 Each participant was positioned carefully in the could mean the findings might not be reliable, or
same place, providing more strong controls, so valid
reliability can be tested  The overall sample used high-functioning young
 Although the sampling was volunteer sampling, people with higher-than-average IQs of an average
they were matched as best as possible with regard of 116, which could have affected the results
to socioeconomic status, IQ and race, providing a (however, all the participants were like this, so it
group control was still controlled)
Using MRI and PET scans to investigate brain activity Biological Approach

A wide variety of scanning techniques exist. These are used to provide biological data, rather than psychological.
Scanning techniques include PET, MRI, fMRI, CAT and MEG scans. Only PET scans and MRI scans are studied as part of
the methodology for the Biological Approach.

Scans have scientific purposes. They are commonly used to investigate for possible tumours, strokes or other
abnormalities. However, they can be used as research methods too, such as aiding psychologists into understanding of
how information is processed. Psychologists and scientists are also using brain scans as research methods, to investigate
both normal differences between brains (such as differences between a male and female brain) and abnormal
differences (such as differences between the brain of a murder and a non-murderer).

Possibly the main drawback of these scans is that they are expensive and fairly hard to access. Scanning machines costs
tens of thousands of pounds and using them is not cheap. For this reason, they tend to be reserved for hospital needs
primarily. However, when used, the main strength is that they offer scientific, reliable and valid findings.

Before brain scanning was made possible, corpses were the only brains available for scientific research.

MRI scans
An MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging) is used to look at structure. It studies
the tissues, looks for abnormalities and can measure the blood flow. It involves
injecting a dye into the body to help show organs and relevant areas. A strong
magnetic field is passed over the body to pick up radio waves from hydrogen atoms
in water molecules, to build up a detailed image of the brain

Different areas of the brain emit differing amounts of radio waves, producing
different densities on the image produced of the cross-sectional views of the body

The MRI scan allows the comparison of the structure of brains that are performing
normally versus abnormally; belonging to males versus females; and belonging to
the younger versus the older people

PET scans
A PET scan (positron emission tomography) is used to look at function. It studies
brain activity levels and can be used to look for evidence of a stroke. It involves
injecting a radioactive tracer into the bloodstream with a chemical used by the
body, such as glucose, to see where most of the blood is flowing

The radioactive particle emissions (positrons) from the tracer give signals which are
recorded so levels of activity in different parts of the brain can be detected. Greater
levels of brain activity appear on the scan as different colours

Participants are scanned in two conditions – when inactive (to provide a baseline
measure) and when performing an activity. The difference between the two scans
shows which part of the brain is being used

The PET scan allows the study of areas of activity within the brain when stimuli such as faces or names are shown; but
also the study of memory and looking at sufferers of schizophrenia or epilepsy

You do not need to know strengths and weaknesses of each scan as part of the course.
Using twins and adoptive families as the subjects of experiments Biological Approach

The Nature-Nurture Debate

When we talk about the nature-nurture debate, we mean ‘nature’ as in what people are born with, and ‘nurture’ is
what is learned through interaction with various environments. Therefore nature refers to what is inherited, and
nurture refers to what is picked up or learned

A twin study can be used to look into the nature-nurture debate. This is because nature is what we are born with and
what is controlled by our inherited genes. This can be compared to the nurture, i.e. what we develop. There are two
types of twin which are studied in the Biological Approach.

Identical twins are monozygotic (MZ twins), meaning they come from only one fertilised egg. Their DNA is always 100%
shared and so they are also always the same sex. Anything which is totally genetic and is inherited by one twin will also
be inherited by the other twin. No characteristic is entirely genetic though, as environment is a depending factor on
everything, no matter how small its effect. Features of MZ twins:
 MZ twins do not always share the same environments, even in the womb, so they will develop somewhat
differently in certain respects, even though they share 100% of their DNA
 there are a few physical differences between MZ twins, including their different fingerprints
 some genetic characteristics are triggered by environment, and so MZ twins may become less identical over time

Non-identical twins are dizygotic (DZ twins), which means they come from two different fertilised eggs. This means
that the DNA is never 100% the same, but is only as similar as that of any sibling pair. DZ twins are expected to share an
inherited characteristic to only an extent, not as much as MZ twins.

A twin study compares certain characteristics possessed by both MZ and DZ twins. This is to see if it is genes which
influence whether or not they share certain characteristics, or environment. If two MZ twins share the same
characteristic, but only one DZ twin does (the other doesn’t), it is likely to be an inherited characteristic. When two
twins share a characteristic, there is said to be a concordance rate. For example, if the concordance rate for
schizophrenia in MZ twins is 70% then studies have found that of those tested, 70% of MZ twins both developed
schizophrenia when one twin had it. Only 30% would have had the condition in only one twin. Concordance rates are
studied in both types of twin for things such as schizophrenia, alcoholism, IQ, depression and anorexia.
 Both MZ and DZ twins are born at the same time and  MZ twins are the same sex and identical, therefore
share the same environment, but MZ twins have are more likely to be treated alike than DZ twins
identical DNA, whereas DZ twins only share 50% so  Although the variation between MZ and DZ twins are
they help to identify how inheritance of genes useful for finding differences, but epigenetic
influence certain characteristics modification can also have an effect on the findings
 There should not be significant environmental (this is the term to describe how over time different
differences with regards to treatment of twins, environmental influences affect which genes are
because generally, most people will treat all twins as switched on and off
twins, not separately

Because the environment is not the same as their biological parents’, adoption studies are used studying adopted
children in their adoptive families. These are useful because they share their genetic information with their parents,
even though the environment is different. This could be used to study, for example, schizophrenia. If a parent of a child
has schizophrenia and they are adopted (brought up in another environment) you can study the likelihood of the child
having schizophrenia later in life – again, finding out the extreme that genes or environment affect it.
 Adoption studies are the best way of separating  It is possible that the environment of the adoptive
genes from environment so the two can be tested families is not as different as it could be from the
 The studies are longitudinal and so developmental biological family’s
trends can be identified from them  Children requiring adoption are often placed with
families similar to their own, so the differences are
Many studies have looked at MZ twins reared apart (separated at birth). This is useful for looking at two or more twins
which are identical, and share 100% of their DNA, and grow up in separate environments. This is usually down to
adoptions, where an adoptive parent(s) do not want all twins.

When two twins are identical and brought up in separate environments, we can draw conclusions based on whether or
not they share characteristics. For example, when the twins share one certain characteristic, it is most likely going to be
down to a genetic basis, because they are still growing up in separate environments. When they don’t share a
characteristic, but only one twin does have it, it will be most likely down to the environment they are growing up in.

 Environmental conditions are controlled, and  Not many MZ twins are reared apart, so the number
because their environments are controlled to be of studies which can be conducted of this type are
different, reliable conclusions can be drawn stating if minimal and so the conclusions may not be as strong
concordance is more likely down to genes or as they could be
Using animals in laboratory experiments for research Biological Approach

A large number of psychological studies use animals for research. They can be used to help study language usage,
memory and learning. The animals used mostly are rodents and birds (mainly mice, rats and pigeons). Very rarely might
you find studies on primates, cats and dogs.

Studying genes
Mice have been used to find out how certain genes affect behaviour. Mice are useful for experiments because the
breed quickly and the arrangement of genes along their chromosomes is similar enough to humans for the studies to
be meaningful. Genes can cause abnormalities in humans; mice are tested to see if that particular gene causes the
same abnormality in mice. For example, mice have been used in experiments on deafness

Rats have been used to study Parkinson’s disease and gene therapy. Researchers used drugs to replicate in rats the
disease. They then used gene therapy to try and reverse the symptoms

Studying the central nervous system

Rats have been used in investigations of the effects of antipsychotic drugs on the brain structure and on the nervous
system within the brain. The changes caused by antipsychotic drugs appear to be:
- increased size of the straitum – it is thought that this increased size due to increased blood flow
- increased density of glial cells in the prefrontal cortex
- increases in the number of synapses and changes in the synapses

Studying brain function

Research has been carried out into the way that antipsychotic drugs affect the brain and its nervous system. Most of
this research has been carried out on rats and the findings have only been generalised to humans. The research needs
to be replicated in humans because of the differences in brain structure and function between them and rats. Some of
the findings have come from MRI scans of humans, however, so animal studies are not the only way of researching the

Advantages Disadvantages

Brain differences in structure and function;

Relatively small; easy to handle; short
Practical different genetic structure; human lives are
reproductive periods; some have brain
advantages and complex and rarely occur in isolation; diseases
structures similar to humans; short lifespan;
disadvantages being studied have to be artificially replicated
strict environmental control
in animals which mean they might be different

Procedures can be carried out which cannot on

Animals feel pain too; animals are in isolation in
humans; pro-speciesism suggests we should do
Ethical unusual conditions and so feel distressed;
whatever to protect our own species; drugs
advantages and animals are not sufficiently different to humans
have been developed which would not have
disadvantages to be treated as objects, and should be treated
been otherwise; knowledge obtained from
ethically similar to us
studies can also improve animal treatment

There are a set few guidelines which any experiment involving animals must adhere to. These include:
 the researcher(s) must have a Home Office licence and certificates
 anaesthetics must be used appropriately by someone who knows about them
 caging and social environment must suit the species
 a deprived animal must be monitored and its suffering kept to a minimum
It is said that a decision cube should be used to see whether a study should be carried out or not. It weighs up the
potential benefits from running the experiment, and measures them up against the costs of doing so. This is particularly
important when deciding whether or not to do an animal study, as these are among the most controversial (ethically).

The three dimensions to consider in the decision-making process are:

1. what benefit (either for animals or humans) the findings of the study are likely to have
2. the cost of the study in terms of pain or suffering
3. scientific quality (going from poor to excellent)

If the benefits are not considerably higher than the costs of the study, and the study has not been planned well, it
shouldn’t be conducted. Similarly, when the benefits highly outweigh the costs and the study is well-thought out and
controlled and monitored well, it should be carried out.
Levels of significance and the Mann-Whitney U test Biological Approach

There are two types of statistic covered here. A descriptive statistic is used in all areas of the course. This includes
measures of central tendency (e.g. mean, median and mode) and measures of dispersion (e.g. range). This section of the
methodology, however, focuses on inferential statistics, those looking to draw inferences about the data, rather than
just describe the results. In M9 Inferential Statistics – Spearman’s Rank Correlation Coefficient you were introduced to
the Spearman’s test, which is one form of inferential statistical test, belonging here to the Psychodynamic Approach.

You will here learn about the Mann-Whitney U test, the statistical test of the Biological Approach; and later will meet
the Chi-squared test of the Learning Approach. To see information on the Chi-squared test as well as a guide on how to
choose the correct statistical test for a given scenario, see M15 Inferential Statistics – Chi-Squared Test.

Levels of significance
Statistical tests are designed to see if the null hypothesis (which says that the results of a study are due to chance) is
true. So the tests are used to assess whether the findings were found by chance. Every study will have chance factors.
The idea is to be able to decide what is down to chance and whether a relationship is significant.

In Psychology, anything that occurs due to chance in more than 1 in 20 cases is not accepted. For example if a study
looks at whether or not women gossip more than men and you only study 20 women and more than 1 woman goes
against the hypothesis, the null hypothesis cannot be rejected. Similarly, testing 100 people and more than 5 people
going against your hypothesis means your alternative hypothesis cannot be accepted.

The level of significance shows the probability of the results being down to chance. This will be shown as a decimal
value. Anything in Psychology must be at most 1 in 20 due to chance, so the maximum level of significance is 0.05 (the
same as 1 in 20). Sometimes, acceptable levels may be even higher, such as 0.025 (1 in 40), 0.01 (1 in 100) or 0.005 (1 in
200). We use the letter p to show probability, so p ≤ 0.05 means the probability of the results being due to chance are
less than 0.05 (basically, 5%).

The choice of the researcher in which level of significance to use depends on what is being tested. A level of 0.05 is fairly
lenient, whereas a level of 0.01 is quite strict. It a study has been done previously and the results proved not to be due
to chance at 0.05, it might be worth repeating the second study at a stricter significance level. However, a new study
which has not been seen before may wish to begin with a fairly gentle level of 0.05. The choice of level of significance
can also depend on other factors, such as the seriousness of the consequences of the findings, such as with a new drugs
trial or for a new educational scheme.

Mann-Whitney U test
The Mann-Whitney U test is used to see if findings are statistically significant for studies where an independent groups
design has been used, and the type of data collected is ordinal or interval. You will meet more on types of data and
when to choose each test in M15 Inferential Statistics – Chi-Squared Test.

Whereas the Spearman’s Rank correlation coefficient is used to test for a relationship between two variables, both the
Mann-Whitney U test and the Chi-squared test look for differences between two groups.

The formula for the test looks rather complicated, but as with the Spearman’s test we can break it down into steps:
𝑁A (𝑁A + 1) 𝑁B (𝑁B + 1)
𝑈A = 𝑁A 𝑁B + − Σ𝑅A 𝑈B = 𝑁A 𝑁B + − Σ𝑅B
2 2
In our example, we will use a study looking at males and females completing jigsaw puzzles. Eight males and nine
females were asked to complete a jigsaw puzzle. The hypothesis is that males will be faster completing the jigsaws
because they are better at visuospatial tasks. Each participant’s ‘score’ was taken – the score is the amount of time, in
seconds, it took the participant to complete the puzzle.
Participant Group 1 Participant Group 2
Score Score
(Males) (Females)
1 95 1 100
2 78 2 123
3 102 3 89
4 79 4 140
5 84 5 97
6 93 6 110
7 62 7 150
8 92 8 104
9 96

Step 1: Rank the scores for the participants as a whole

Unlike with Spearman’s where you rank each series of data by itself, here, we are going to rank the scores of all
seventeen participants as if they were from one group. The lowest score (i.e. fastest time) gets rank 1, and so on

Step 2: Label the groups NA and NB and work out the value of N for each group
If one group is smaller than the other, the smaller group will be NA

Step 3: Taking the groups separately, add together the ranks for each group
This is described as ΣRA for Group A, and ΣRB for Group B

Participant Group 1 Participant Group 2

(Males) Score Rank (Females) Score Rank
NA = 8 NB = 9
1 95 8 1 100 11
2 78 2 2 123 15
3 102 12 3 89 5
4 79 3 4 140 16
5 84 4 5 97 10
6 93 7 6 110 14
7 62 1 7 150 17
8 92 6 8 104 13
ΣRA = 43 9 96 9
ΣRB = 110

Step 4: Use the formula to calculate a Mann-Whitney U test result for Group A
UA = NANB + (NA(NA + 1))/2 - ΣRA UA = (8 x 9) + (8 x 9)/2 – 43 UA = (72 + 36) – 43 UA = 65

Step 5: Use the formula to calculate the result for Group B

UB = NANB + (NB(NB + 1))/2 – ΣRB UB = (8 x 9) + (9 x 10)/2 – 110 UB = (72 + 45) – 110 UB = 7

Step 6: Take the smaller of UA and UB and label that value as U

In our example, 7 is smaller than 65, so UB becomes U (so in our example, U = 7)

The value for U can then be checked against the critical value tables to see if the findings are statistically significant. U
must be less than or equal to the critical value in the table. An exemplar table is shown here.

Level of significance p ≤ 0.05 Our value for U was 7. The critical value is 18 (which
has been highlighted in the table) as NA was 8 and NB
NB ► 8 9 10 11 12
was 9. Because 7 is less than 18, we can say that the
NA 7 13 15 17 19 21
results are statistically significant, and that they
▼ 8 15 18 20 23 26
9 18 21 24 27 30 support the alternative hypothesis, that males are
10 20 24 27 30 33 better at jigsaw puzzles than women.
11 23 27 31 34 37


An introduction to the learning approach and classical conditioning

An introduction to the approach

The Learning Approach is, if you like, the counterargument to the Biological Approach. It focuses on that which is
learned from interaction with the environment. The approach studies how nurture shapes and develops an individual
(see 4.3 The Nature-Nurture Debate)

Key assumptions of the learning approach

There are three key assumptions of this approach:
1. Behaviour is determined by learning experiences
2. The focus of the approach is on observable behaviours, investigation of mental processes and unconscious
forces is seen as unscientific and untestable
3. There are three learning mechanisms: conditioning, reinforcement and social learning
You will meet each of the three mechanisms over the approach, where they are covered in more detail

Research methods used in the approach

The approach uses laboratory experiments on humans and animals in order to investigate behaviour. These
experiments are used in because only lab experiments have the strong controls necessary to draw the cause-and-effect
conclusions which have to be made to observe behaviour. For strengths and weaknesses of using animal experiments,
see M8 Animal Experiments, and for strengths and weaknesses of lab experiments see M5 Experimental Design

The term classical conditioning refers to the association of a response to its stimulus. Research into classical
conditioning started with Ivan Pavlov. Classical conditioning works by building up an association between two stimuli,
one which produces a certain response, and another which initially does not cause a response. Pavlov investigated
classical conditioning in his dogs, when he noticed that they would salivate even when they just heard his footsteps,
even though at the time he would not be carrying food, it was the association of him coming and him coming and
carrying food that caused the salivating. The storyboard below outlines the steps involved in this conditioning:

The dog is presented with some food, so the dog salivates

At this stage, the food is an unconditioned stimulus (UCS), which provokes the dog
to salivate – this is an unconditioned response (UCR)

A bell is rung, which causes no response from the dog

The bell is a neutral stimulus (NS) – it has not been condition with another stimulus,
and therefore causes no response within the dog

The bell is rung, and the dog is presented with some food

This causes the dog to salivate, because he is being presented with some food. The
bell is still an NS, the food still a UCS and the salivation a UCR

The bell keeps ringing each time food is presented. Eventually, even when the food
is not there, the dog will still salivate at the sound of the bell: the bell has become a
conditioned stimulus (CS) and the salivation a conditioned response (CR)
In the final stage there, classical conditioning has been achieved: an association between the ringing of the bell and the
presentation of the food was made, so the dog would salivate each time at the ringing of the bell, even if there was no
food presented to him.

Neutral stimulus - Unconditioned stimulus - Unconditioned response -

a stimulus which has not been a stimulus which causes a natural a triggered response which is caused
linked to another stimulus which response, usually a reflex action, by an unconditioned stimulus, that
causes a response, and therefore such as blinking or salivation, has not been linked to a conditioned
does not trigger a response which has not been conditioned stimulus

Conditioned stimulus - Conditioned response - Spontaneous recovery -

a trigger for a behaviour which a response which appears as the reappearance of a previously lost
produces a response only after provoked by a certain trigger with conditioned response when the
being repeatedly paired to which it has been repeatedly conditioned stimulus is later
another stimulus paired with introduced after a period of time

Sometimes, the association between the conditioned stimulus and the condition response might be lost. This process is
called extinction. However, the conditioned response may reappear again in the future if it is recovered by the
reintroduction of the conditioned stimulus: this is known as spontaneous recovery. An example of this using Pavlov’s
dogs would be that eventually, the bell ring along would not cause the dogs to salivate. However, bringing back the bell
ring alongside the food being presented would cause the conditioned response to be recovered.
Voluntary (instrumental) conditioning as a mechanism of learning

Classical conditioning is only concerned with involuntary, reflex behaviour. However, operant conditioning looks at
voluntary behaviour. It is a type of learning in which future behaviour is determined by the consequences of past
behaviour. In classical conditioning, the stimulus comes before the behaviour; in operant conditioning the behaviour
comes before the consequence.

The central component of operant conditioning is reinforcement. Behaviours are learned by reinforcement:
 a positive reinforcement involves being given a reward for showing a certain desired behaviour
(e.g. a child tidies his room as his mother asks him to, and so receives additional pocket money that week)
 a negative reinforcement involves having something negative taken away for showing a certain behaviour
(e.g. a mother not shouting at her child for behaving well whilst on a car journey)

Also to consider are punishments. A punishment is not the same as reinforcement. A reinforcement encourages desired
behaviour (as it has pleasant effects); and a punishment discourages undesired behaviour (as it has unpleasant
consequences). An example of a punishment therefore might be a naughty child not being allowed to play with his toys.


Operant conditioning has mainly been studied through animal experimentation. There are two researchers in the field
which you should know about.

Edward Thorndike (1911) used a puzzle box to which the exit could only be opened when the cat inside pressed the
levels which would open the door. Thorndike’s experiment placed a cat inside a box, and a dish of cat food just outside
the box. The cat would want to reach the food, but could not. As the cat moved around inside the box, it accidentally
pressed the levers, and eventually learned by trial and error how to get the food.

B.F. Skinner (1935) was a leading researcher into operant conditioning, who was responsible for developing the theory
to what it is today. He used much animal experimentation. The most famous example is his use of rats, and food pellets
as reinforcement (because the rats are hungry, the pellets are a reward). A Skinner box was used in these experiments
(named after B.F. Skinner), where the rat is inside, with a light, lever and food dispenser. Skinner controlled the
experiment so that if the rat pulled the lever when the light was red, a food pellet would be dispensed, and if the rat
pulled the lever when the light was green, it would not dispense food. The rat would soon learn to pull the lever only
when the light was red.

It is important that you know and understand the strengths and weaknesses of using animals in experiments for
research. For more information on the topic, refer to M8 Animal Experiments.


Not only is there positive and negative reinforcement, but also primary reinforcement and secondary reinforcement.
Primary reinforcement occurs when the reward is a basic need (i.e. food, drink, warmth or shelter). For example, a rat
learning how to correctly dispense food pellets is primary reinforcement.

Secondary reinforcement provides a reward that can satisfy a basic need, but is not a basic need itself. For example, if a
child behaves well and is given pocket money – this is not a basic need, but could be used to buy food – a basic need.

One important aspect of operant conditioning is that the complete desired behaviour may not be exhibited immediately
so that it can be reinforced. The process of shaping involves reinforcing each stage towards the completed behaviour.
With shaping, there is a reward for moving towards the desired behaviour; then a wait for an action that is closer to the
desired behaviour; and finally, the wait for the actual behaviour, before offering the reinforcement.
Treatments and therapies for classical and operant conditioning

Note: As part of the course, you are only required to know ONE treatment or therapy that uses the principles of either
classical conditioning or operant conditioning. You need only know ONE of the three choices discussed here.

Aversion therapy
This is a therapy based on the principles of classical conditioning. Aversion therapy is used to combat addictions, such
as those to alcohol. In this example, the therapy is used to replace the pleasure response with an aversion response,
that is pain or something equally unpleasant, so the alcohol, which normally provides
a pleasure response, is paired with an emetic drug to provoke an aversion response. Emetic drug -
After a while, the alcohol should make the person feel sick (even in the absence of a prescribed drug that makes
the drug). [Note that it is important alcoholics drink soft drinks during the course of people feel or be sick
the therapy so they are not conditioned to feel sick in response to all drinks]

Aversion therapy has been used to try and convert homosexuals to heterosexuality, and still is used in some situations.
In this case, homosexuals were shown naked images of both men and women, but were electrically shocked when they
saw the naked men, not when they saw the women. The aim was to pair pain to the naked men, and the negative
reinforcement of having the pain removed with the naked women. One gay man, Benny Clegg-Hill was reported to have
died from coma and convulsions due to injections of apomorphine that were given to make him feel sick during aversion
therapy. This occurred in the 1960s, and it was not by choice that Benny had chosen to undergo aversion therapy to
“cure” his homosexuality, but had been arrested for it and sentenced by a judge to mandatory treatment.

 In some situations, the therapy has proven to be a  Seligman did, however, later report that most of the
success, more so than alternative therapies, and in men who were considered a “success” were bisexual,
spite of criticism on ethical grounds, Seligman (1966) not homosexual; and when homosexuals only were
said that 50% of the gay men did not continue to studied the success rate was lower, and one gay man,
practice homosexuality (although this was later Benny Clegg-Hill died from the therapy
questioned as it was thought to be biased)  There are ethical issues to consider as those
 The therapy rests on a clear theoretical explanation as administering the therapy have power over the
to how the initial behaviour came about, and is patient, who may not feel they have the power to
therefore easier to accept as a treatment decline, such as homosexuals in the past times

Systematic desensitisation
This is also based on the principles of classical conditioning, which suggests that a stimulus and an involuntary response
are associated. One such response is a phobia. A phobia is a fear which is irrational, preventing normal functioning of
life, and needs treatment to help overcome the fear. Using systematic desensitisation is just one of these treatments. It
is sometimes also known as graduated exposure therapy.

The treatment involves getting the phobic person used to the phobic object or situation (or desensitised) in small steps
(or systematically). This is based on the theory that a phobia is learned through classical conditioning and can be
unlearned in the same way. The fear response is replaced by a relaxed, calm state. People are taught how to relax their
muscles, as it is not easy to do, and then are gently introduced to the phobic object using a step-by-step approach.

The graduation involves starting with showing the person just a simple photograph, through to a film, and so on until
eventually they are presented head-on to the actual object. As people learn to relax as each stage progresses, they
should eventually be able to remain relaxed come meeting the real object.

The main issue with systematic desensitisation is that it is shown to work with classical conditioning principles, but there
is an element of operant conditioning with phobias. A phobic object is unpleasant and so a phobic person avoids it, this
is an example of negative reinforcement.
 Compared with other therapies which deal with  There are other factors other than classical
phobias, this is probably the most ethical (for conditioning at work with phobias – operant
example, flooding is where the phobic person is just conditioning should also be taken into consideration,
confronted straight away with the phobic object until as well as cognitive processing (note that this does not
they calm down, theoretically when they run out of mean the therapy is any less successful, it merely
energy for maintaining the fear response) questions the explanation behind the therapy)
 Again, the therapy is based on a clear theoretical  Although the therapy is useful for phobias and anxiety
explanation (classical conditioning) which is generally disorders, it is not useful for other mental health
well-accepted issues, such as psychoses; also the individual needs to
 There is a wide range of evidence supporting this type be able to learn to relax and remain calm throughout
of therapy with high success rates, such as that of the whole process: not everyone can do this
Capafons et al. (1998) which reduced fear of flying

Token economy programmes

This is based upon the principles of operant conditioning. This involves encouraging desired behaviour with the use of
reinforcement and discouraging unwanted behaviour with the use of punishments. One method of shaping behaviour,
based on operant conditioning, is the token economy programme.

A token economy programme might well be used in a prison, mental health unit or school. The aim is to obtain the
specific desired behaviour using a rewards system. The tokens act as rewards and can be exchanged for something that
the individual desires. People are paid these tokens for behaving in the desired way.

The steps for using a token economy programme are outlined below:

Identify the behaviour that has to be changed

It should be positive, rather than negative (for example, “remain quiet” rather than “don’t shout”)
Select the tokens and decide what they can be exchanged for
Physical tokens can be used, or a points system; you should decide where they will be kept and recorded
Make sure that the tokens ‘buy’ significant rewards
The rewards must have meaning to the individuals, otherwise they will not be worthwhile having as rewards
Set goals that are achievable
The individuals must know what they have to do to achieve the goals, and they should be obtainable
Explain the whole programme to the individuals involved
Make sure that the whole programme is clear to all of the participants, otherwise it won’t work
Feedback on progress
The individuals who are not progressing so well will need guidance on how to do better
Provide the reward
Every so often should come the point where the points or tokens can be cashed in for the rewards
Review the programme
Make amendments, such as altering the frequency of tokens given out, also give praise to those who do well

 The programme has been seen to work quickly and  The programme can be very time-consuming,
effectively, especially in schools, where they produce especially in schools, where the time-investment is
the desired behaviour the programme originally set too much for many teachers who would rather focus
out to achieve on the teaching than a rewards system
 The programme can be adjusted to suit each  The programme is only targeted at one certain
individual case, by altering the goals, tokens and the situation, outside that situation the individual may not
rewards they can be cashed in for, to make them reproduce that same desired behaviour
meaningful to the individuals
Learning from observation, imitation and modelling

In this approach, there are three types of learning which are covered: classical conditioning and operant conditioning
are two of them. The third type of learning is social learning, put forward by social learning theory which explains how
learning can occur via observation, imitation and modelling.

It was Bandura who developed the model. He noticed that clearly there were some behaviours that weren’t
conditioned but appeared without conditioning. So social learning theory (alongside operant conditioning, not in the
place of) suggests people learn by observing others – this is called observational learning. This is where people watch
what others do and copy their actions, learning new behaviours. Observational learning includes:

1. The behaviour is modelled by a role model (this person could be a parent, peer or celebrity), who will always
have some significance in the eyes of the observer
2. The observer identifies with the role model
3. The behaviour is observed and noticed
4. The behaviour is learned and imitated (whether or not it is repeated depends upon reinforcement)

Whether or not behaviour of a role model is imitated depends on how that is reinforced. For example, if they are
rewarded for displaying that behaviour, it is likely to be repeated by the observer. But if they have been punished for
showing that behaviour, it is less likely that they will imitate the role model, although not impossible.

Cognitive processes involved in observational learning

There are four cognitive processes which have been identified with social learning. When observing it is important
that the behaviour is observed, and also attended to, and then that it is stored in memory, also that the behaviour is
rewarded so that there is sufficient motivation to reproduce the action

The term vicarious learning is used to describe the process of vicarious reinforcement. This suggests that learning can
occur from being reinforced through other people being reinforced. Social learning theory puts forward the idea that
learning occurs from both direct reinforcement (operant conditioning) and indirect reinforcement (vicarious learning).

Examples of vicarious reinforcement include:

 vicarious reinforcement – a person works hard because a colleague has been rewarded for hard work
 vicarious punishment – someone does not park in a particular place because they have seen someone else receive
a parking ticket for parking in that same place
 vicarious extinction – people stop doing something because they have seen that people are not rewarded for it

There are certain factors which can influence the likelihood of a role model being imitated by an observer via vicarious
learning. One such factor is gender (observers are more likely to imitate same-sex models) and also age is another
(observers are more likely to imitate those role models from the same age group). Also, it may depend on whether the
observer can relate to the role model, this will depend on if they find themselves to be similar to that person. Similarly,
behaviour is more likely to be copied if the role model is seen as important, powerful or prestigious.

Evaluation of social learning theory as an explanation of behaviour:

 There is a lot of evidence from research which  It is difficult to test for observational learning,
supports the theory and its suggestions, such as that because the behaviour is often not exhibited
of Bandura, Ross and Ross (1961) immediately – it may be imitated a while after the
 The theory is a good explanation which can be applied learning has taken place
as a therapy, such as the treatments for OCD  Some of the research was has been conducted are on
animals (see M8 Animal Experiments)
Operant conditioning and social learning theory as explanations of gender development

The Learning Approach uses both operant conditioning and social learning theory to help explain gender behaviour and
the way it is learnt. You should also be able to compare the explanations of gender development of this approach to the
Biological Approach and the Psychodynamic Approach.

Operant conditioning
This explanation uses the principles of shaping (shaping behaviour) due to reinforcements and punishments. The ways
in which babies are treated, in face from the very moment they are born, differs: boys are treated as strong and big,
whereas girls are treated as delicate and pretty.

The study by Smith and Lloyd (1978) set in a doctor’s surgery used the scenario of a mother being asked to look after a
baby for a short time whilst the mother’s baby went to see the doctor. The baby would be dressed “wrongly” and the
babysitting mother would always offer a hammer more often to a baby “boy” than a baby “girl”.

The principles of operant conditioning suggest than behaviour is reinforced with rewards. Boys are more likely to be
rewarded for showing male behaviour, and girls for female behaviour, and this may be with attention or a different type
of direct reward. Children are also punished sometimes for showing inappropriate gender-specific behaviour. So gender
behaviour is learned through punishments and reinforcements. The development of the gender behaviour is shaped by
continually reinforcing desired behaviours and punishing undesired behaviours.

Social learning theory

This explanation uses the principles of social learning theory, specifically, vicarious reinforcement and observational
learning. At a young age, children would have to identify with one gender to adopt vicarious learning, which is unlikely,
and so gender behaviour can be adopted by children at an older age. The study of Bandura, Ross and Ross (see 5.6
Bandura, Ross and Ross (1961) for more) showed that boys are more likely to imitate the behaviour of males, and girls
are more likely to copy females.

There are two important issues in observational learning:

1. relevance – behaviour that is seen as relevant is likely to be imitated, such as gender behaviour
2. identification – the learning will only occur if the learner identifies with the model, which social learning theory
suggests happens when the individual finds some similarity between themselves and the model, such as gender

Evaluation of the learning explanations for gender development:

 The learning can be observed, and indeed, observations have been carried out to show that boys are more likely to
imitate male models and girls are more likely to imitate female models
 Animal studies show that learning explanations can also explain animal behaviour and that such explanations are
 Learning theories suggest that gender behaviour is learned through observation and reinforcement, which if true
would mean that the way in which gender behaviour is developed would show variation over different cultures,
who all have different customs – but in reality, there are many similarities in the way gender development takes
place, such as when children undergo gender identification
 There are gender differences in newborn babies which cannot be explained by learning theories, and so there are
still some elements which have to consider other explanations for gender development

Note: As part of the course, you are expected to know the explanations for gender development of each of the three
approaches from this second unit. The following page covers a brief outline of all three (Psychodynamic Approach,
Biological Approach and Learning Approach) explanations for gender behaviour and development. However, you must
also be able to compare any combination of the approaches, so also included on the next page is a comparison of each
pair of approaches and their explanations.
How the Psychodynamic Approach explains gender development…
Freud explained that boys identify with their fathers and take on their behaviours and moral codes, in order to resolve
the Oedipus complex, because their feelings for their mothers produce guilt, and only by ‘becoming’ their fathers can
they resolve this guilt. Girls identify with their mothers to avoid feelings of guilt (although in a slightly different way).
Therefore, Freud explains gender behaviour by stating from the age of around four or five children identify with their
same-sex parents and take on their behaviour

How the Biological Approach explains gender development…

This approach uses genes and hormones to explain gender behaviour. Boys have the chromosomal pair XY and girls have
XX, which leads to developmental differences of the foetus, such as the levels of hormones produced and the type of
genitalia developed. There are also brain structure and function differences between males and females. The approach
takes on board not only nature, but also nurture – i.e. how these things interact with the environment. For example, male
babies are more assertive and restless, whereas female babies are more cooperative

How the Learning Approach explains gender development…

Social learning theory explains that a combination of operant conditioning and observational (and vicarious) learning lead
to gender development. For example, conditioning suggests an explanation in the treatment of babies based on their sex.
They are rewarded and punished for their gender-specific behaviour. Observational learning has also been seen, where a
male baby is more likely to imitate their mother and a female more likely to imitate their mother

A comparison of the psychodynamic and biological approaches

Similarities between the approaches… Differences between the approaches…
 they both examine biological features (e.g. id, ego  the psychodynamic focuses on mental aspects, the
and superego in the psychodynamic and genes and biological focuses on physiological aspects
hormones in the biological)  the psychodynamic looks at gender development,
 both consider environmental influences (e.g. the biological looks at sex assignment
parents and society in developing superego and  the psychodynamic does not use scientific measures
issues like abuse in brain development) (e.g. superego), the biological does use scientific
 both have case studies (e.g. Little Hans in the measures (e.g. chromosomes)
psychodynamic and Brenda in the biological)

A comparison of the psychodynamic and learning approaches

Similarities between the approaches… Differences between the approaches…
 they both look at behavioural development  the psychodynamic allows for biological
according to norms (e.g. same-sex parent behaviour explanations as well, the learning says only
in psychodynamic and reinforcement in learning) environment affects behaviour after birth
 they both use the concept of identification (e.g.  the psychodynamic is mainly nature, the learning is
same-sex parent identification in psychodynamic mainly nurture
and learning as well)  the psychodynamic doesn’t use scientific measures,
 neither approach focuses on biological aspects whereas the learning does

A comparison of the biological and learning approaches

Similarities between the approaches… Differences between the approaches…
 they both use scientific research methods, favouring  the biological considers mainly nature and biology,
experiments rather than observations, and look for the learning considers only nurture and
cause-and-effect relationships environment after birth
 they both heavily rely on animal studies to find  the biological looks at sex assignment (biological
cause-and-effect relationships (e.g. mice in the makeup), the learning looks at behaviour
biological and rats in the learning) development (connected with upbringing)
 the biological uses case studies, the learning mainly
uses observations and very few case studies
Aim: To see if children will imitate behaviour even without reward

The general aim of this study was to see whether or not children exposed to an aggressive model would imitate the
behaviour, not straight away, but a while after it had been observed, even without reward.

 Participants who would see an aggressive model would later reproduce similar aggressive acts to those modelled
 Those exposed to a non-aggressive model and the control group would not produce aggressive acts
 Control group participants would actually produce more aggressive behaviour than the participants who saw a
non-aggressive model, as the latter group is inhibited in their subsequent behaviour
 Participants are more likely to imitate same-sex models

The participants used in the study were 36 boys and 36 girls between the ages of 37 and 69 months (between 3 and 5
years).The participants were taken into a room where they were shown how to design a picture at a table in the
corner. The model then went to another corner where there was a table and chair, plus an inflatable Bobo doll, a
mallet and a tinker toy set. The experimenter told the model that it was their “play area” and the child had no access
to it, then left the room.

In the non-aggressive condition, the model played with the toy set. In the aggressive condition, the model played for a
minute and then started acting aggressively towards the Bobo doll by (for example), laying it on its side and sitting on
it and punching it, and hitting the doll with the mallet. In the control condition, the participants underwent the same
procedure except without a model present.

After ten minutes, to ensure all participants were in the same frustrated mood before the next phase of the
experiment, they were taken to another room and given more toys to play with. The toys were then taken away from
them. Once again, each participant was then taken into another room, where they were given a variety of aggressive
and non-aggressive toys to play with during 20 minutes of free play. These toys included a Bobo doll very similar to
the one they had seen previously.

Their behaviour was then observed through a one-way mirror by two judges, one of whom did not know the child nor
the condition which they had been allocated.

The diagram displays the structure of the participant groups, and how they were equally divided.

72 children – 36 boys and 36 girls

enrolled at Stanford University nursery

24 children 24 children 24 children

aggressive condition non-aggressive condition control group

12 males 12 females 12 males 12 females

6 saw a 6 saw a 6 saw a 6 saw a 6 saw a 6 saw a 6 saw a 6 saw a 12 males and 12
male female male female male female male female
model model model model model model model model
females saw no model
In total then, there were three different conditions:
 in the aggressive condition, the children would witness a model being aggressive towards the Bobo doll
 in the non-aggressive condition, the children would witness a model playing with a toy set
 in the control group, the children would not see a model during the experiment

All of the participants were children between the ages of 37 and 69 months, and they had all been enrolled at the
nursery of Stanford University. The children were all matched for their original levels of aggression, in scales of
physical aggression, verbal aggression and aggression towards objects

The participants were then grouped in threes on the basis of similar aggression ratings, making it a matched pairs
design. They were then randomly assigned groups. This ensured an even spread of similar children across each
condition, making the results more reliable

The findings of the study were as follows:
 Children exposed to the aggressive model displayed much more direct imitation than children exposed to the
non-aggressive model
 In the non-aggressive and control conditions, much less aggressive behaviour was observed, although even in
those groups, boys were more aggressive than girls
 Watching an aggressive model generally had more of an effect on boys than it did on girls, especially when it was
a same-sex model
 About one third of those in the aggressive condition also imitated the model’s non-aggressive verbal responses,
but no one in the other conditions did so
 In general, girls spent more time playing with the tea set and colouring books, whilst boys spent it with the guns
 There were no sex differences observed for toys such as the cars or animals
 Those in the non-aggressive condition spent more time sitting quietly, not playing than in the other groups

The results of the study are shown in the table below:

Experimental group
Aggressive condition Control
Male Female Male Female
model model model model
Girls 7.2 5.5 0.0 2.5 1.2
Physical aggression
Boys 25.8 12.4 1.5 0.2 2.0
Girls 2.0 13.7 0.0 0.3 0.7
Verbal aggression
Boys 12.7 4.3 0.0 1.1 1.7
Girls 18.7 17.2 0.5 0.5 13.1
Mallet aggression
Boys 28.8 15.5 6.7 18.7 13.5
Girls 8.4 21.3 1.4 7.2 6.1
Non-imitative aggression
Boys 36.7 16.2 22.3 26.1 24.6
Girls 4.5 1.8 2.3 2.6 3.7
Gun play
Boys 15.9 7.3 16.7 8.9 14.3

From the findings and the results obtained from the experiment, it was concluded:
 Not all behaviour depends on reward or punishment, some is learned through observation
 Behaviours can be learned without the reinforcement, and imitated after being witnessed by an individual
This study is particularly important because it did not involve any reinforcement of the behaviour, it was all done
through observational learning. Even though there was no type of reinforcement present, the behaviour was still
imitated – but not immediately, it was even imitated some time after having witnessed the model do so.


 The study was set up very carefully with strong controls as a lab experiment, which meant that cause-and-
effect conclusions could be drawn as there were isolated and operationalised variables

 There was high inter-rater reliability – there were two judges present assessing the levels of aggression, one
of whom had no idea what condition the participant being observed had been allocated (a “blind” procedure
which eliminates rater bias); so the findings were reliable


 Whilst the rooms had been set out to look like the rooms at the Stanford nursery, so it might be argued that
there was some ecological validity, the study lacked experimental validity – it wasn’t very natural to find an
adult deliberately being aggressive towards a Bobo doll

 Similarly, the Bobo doll and tools were placed in the room where the children were given time for free play,
and those who witnessed the adult models being aggressive towards the Bobo doll may have felt that they
had to do the same thing

 There are big concerns considering the ethics of the study: at no point during the write-up was there any
reference made to the informed consent obtained from their parents; however, it might be assumed that the
university had an ethics committee who oversaw the study
Aim: To test the principles of classical conditioning in humans

Watson and Rayner wanted to test whether the principles of classical conditioning would also work in humans. To be
able to do this, a reflex action was needed. In babies, one instinctive emotional reaction is fear, so this is what they
chose to use as their unconditioned response (UCR).

i To see if the fear of an animal could be induced by presenting an animal to a child whilst making a loud noise to
frighten the child (classical conditioning)
ii To see if that fear could be transferred to other objects
iii To see the effect of time on the conditioned response (CR)

A lab experiment was used – the researchers thought early experiences for a baby at home were similar to like being
in an unknown laboratory. The baby chosen was baby Albert, from a hospital for invalid children where his mother
was a wet nurse. Albert was healthy, “stolid and unemotional” and so the researchers thought they could do
“relatively little harm” to him during the study

He showed no fear of animals when tested at around 9 months of age by the researchers. When a suspended 4 foot
steel bar was struck with a hammer just behind Albert, however, a fear response was shown as “the child broke into a
sudden crying fit”

Creating a CR:
The researchers had considered ethics of the study, but concluded that Albert would face more worrying situations in
his later life anyway. When Albert was 11 months old, the procedure to create a CR began…

The main procedure was split into five stages. The study was run over a total of around 2 months, but Albert was only
studied on five of those days. Each of those stages are explained in the boxes below, with the outline of that part of the
procedure, as well as the appropriate results (i.e. how Albert responded)…

Part 1: Albert was 11 months, 3 days: Part 2: Albert was 11 months, 10 days:
 Albert was shown a white rat – he showed no  The rat was shown to Albert unexpectedly:
fear and reached out for it with his left hand  he reached out, but did not touch it
 As Albert touched the rat, the steel bar was  he was given bricks to play with
struck behind him – he jumped, fell forward,  it was concluded there had been some conditioning
but did not cry  The rat was then shown to Albert a number of times, with
 When Albert touched the rat with his right and without the steel bar, until the presentation of the rat
hand, the bar was struck and this time he not alone was enough to lead Albert to immediately begin
only jumped forward and fell, but also crying and turn away from the rat – the association had
whimpered been properly re-established

Part 3: Albert was 11 months, 15 days:

 Albert still displayed some fear when showed the rat without any sound, but played happily with his bricks when
the rat was removed
 The researchers looked for transference of the fear to other objects:
 Albert was shown a rabbit, dog, fur coat, hair of observers and a Santa mask
 in between the first three he was given bricks to play with and would play with them quite happily
 his reaction to each stimuli was recorded
 The strength of his reaction varied between objects, but some transference had been shown
Part 4: Albert was 11 months, 20 days:
 When Albert was shown the rat once more, without any sound, his response was weaker than previously, so the
researchers renewed the association between the rat and the steel bar
 They then showed him the rabbit and the dog both with and without the sound to strengthen the fear of these too
 The researchers moved the experiment to a lecture theatre, to study the transference of fear to a different setting
(four observers were present):
 they concluded that transference could occur to both different stimuli and different situations

Part 5: Albert was 12 months, 21 days:

 The researchers tested Albert again to see if he retained the conditioned response
 Although a little weaker, a negative response was shown by Albert when presented with the succession of stimuli
without any sound (the rat, rabbit, dog, hair, coat and Santa mask)
 He would still continue to play happily with his bricks
 Albert then left the nursery that day, so the researchers were unable to remove the conditioned response – and
believed that it would last for a lifetime (note: Albert was always due to leave that day, his departure was not
connected to the running of the experiment)

Classical conditioning would explain the effects

shown in Albert as shown to the right. UCS: steel bar sound UCR: fear and crying

The term transference was used to describe the UCS: steel bar sound
process of transferring the fear from one object to + UCR: fear and crying
other objects. Therefore, transference means CS/NS: presentation of rat
generalising the conditioned response across
multiple stimuli. This process is also called CS: presentation of rat CR: fear and crying

 It is possible to create a conditioned emotional response in humans after only a few pairings of the stimuli

 It might be necessary to repeat the pairings though to maintain the strength of the conditioned response – i.e.
there may be some extinction of the response

 A conditioned response may be transferred to other, similar objects and other settings – i.e. there can be


 There were careful controls, and the independent  Lack of ecological validity because there was an
variable was clear and operationalised with the artificial setting for Albert and the lab setting may have
dependent variable being carefully monitored and heightened Albert’s level of fear
measured (if the study were more ethical, it could be  The ‘tasks’ could be argued to lack validity – playing
again repeated to test for reliability) with animals and loud noises are both true to life, but
 The study demonstrated Pavlov’s evidence for the frequent coincidence of the two is not common
classical conditioning in dogs and how it could be  The biggest concern is the ethics of the study (it could
generalised to humans (although the drawback to this not be repeated today) – there was distress to Albert,
is that the study used only one case study of one and there was no informed consent nor right to
particular child) withdraw from the study
You have to study at least one key issue for each approach to psychology

Female violence is a big concern at the moment, as it is constantly increasing. One possible explanation is due to
cultural images which are being copied. Female violence and ladette culture seems to be increasing in today’s world
and some people believe this to be due to the recent images of “hard” and “strong” women being plastered in
society, such as Tomb Raider Lara Croft and ‘bad girls’ in TV series, films and books

Whereas previously ladette behaviour and violence was only seen in males, it is now seen as frequently in females.
The police in Scotland have commented a large increase in actual female violence, and problems due to said offence
has seen the rates of women being banged up increase fourfold over the past few years, whereas with men at a
much lower rate

Application of concepts and ideas:

 The ‘bad girl’ image painted in books, films and TV shows (such as those of Lara Croft) could explain the
behaviours being seen due to social learning theory (women relate to these models and so imitate them)
 According to social learning theory and vicarious learning, the behaviour of role models is imitated
 If the characters in these films and video games are seen as glamorous, like Lara Croft, and/or get what they
want from behaving as they do, also as Lara Croft, then this could be seen as the “reinforcement” to imitate
 Although alternative explanations must be considered, such as alcohol being the pure cause for this behaviour
(again, though, the drinking itself could be imitation of a characteristic they have seen their role models do and
want to portray themselves in a similar way)

The term anorexia is used to describe the eating disorder characterised by being extremely underweight, and
refusing to eat properly. Sufferers view themselves as fat, when they are in fact painfully thin. Common sufferers
are teenagers, who desire the perfect body. An effect of the disorder in girls is the stoppage of menstruation, as
their bodies begin to shut down. Boys also suffer from it, and although less common, the rates are on the rise

Application of concepts and ideas:

 Social learning theory suggests that people imitate the behaviour of role models they can identify with
 The trend towards size zero on the catwalk – the desire to be thin – leading to anorexia influences young
 The work of Bandura suggest that we are more likely to copy the behaviour of our same-sex models: these size
zero models are all women, and many teenage girls want to copy their image
 Operant conditioning also contributes an explanation: positive reinforcement might be glances from other
people and compliments for being thin or losing weight; negative reinforcement might be no longer being
picked on for being fat; and negative vicarious reinforcement might be observing others being bullied due to
them being overweight
 Again, alternatives must be considered, for example, the psychodynamic approach offers a different one, that
a girl might want to remain a child because of a fixation at an early developmental stage