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PSYA3/Unit 3/Topics in Psychology
Report on the Examination
June 2013
Version: 1.0
Further copies of this Report are available from
Copyright © 2013 AQA and its licensors. All rights reserved.

General Comments
This sitting of the PSYA3 examination pr...

focussed on developing understanding of psychological ma...

In relation to AO2/3, better answers used case studies o...

explanation (e.g. protection of resources or access to f...

General commentary included the complexity of AN and the...

In better answers a range of studies was presented, with...
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  1. 1. GCE PSYCHOLOGY (A) PSYA3/Unit 3/Topics in Psychology Report on the Examination 2180 June 2013 Version: 1.0
  2. 2. Further copies of this Report are available from Copyright © 2013 AQA and its licensors. All rights reserved. AQA retains the copyright on all its publications. However, registered schools/colleges for AQA are permitted to copy material from this booklet for their own internal use, with the following important exception: AQA cannot give permission to schools/colleges to photocopy any material that is acknowledged to a third party even for internal use within the school/college.
  3. 3. REPORT ON THE EXAMINATION – GCE PSYCHOLOGY A– PSYA3 – JUNE 2013 General Comments This sitting of the PSYA3 examination produced the usual range of answers, with many students producing impressive work and demonstrating excellent knowledge and understanding. However, there are still major and consistent errors in many scripts. In relation to evaluations skills and in particular the use of Issues, Debates and Approaches (IDA) in evaluation, there is still an overreliance on rote learned lists of evaluative points. Examiners commented that in some scripts the same paragraph of generic IDA had simply been slotted into each answer, regardless of whether it was relevant or not. Similarly, methodological evaluation of studies often consisted of a list of assertions relating to gender and cultural bias, small sample size, use of questionnaires, ethical issues, etc but these were not explained or elaborated. If the question requires evaluation of theories/explanations, then methodological evaluation of studies is irrelevant unless the implications for the theory/explanation are made clear. For example, a student might argue that because the methodological criticism compromised the reliability and validity of findings so the study provides little or no support for the theory/explanation. If the relevance to the theory/explanation is not made explicit, methodological evaluation of studies will not receive credit. If the question allows for studies as AO1 material, then evaluation (including methodological issues) of those studies would qualify as AO2/3. Disappointingly, there were few signs of improvement in students’ understanding of IDA. All theories are determinist (they are trying to explain what ‘determines’ behaviour) so there is little value in using this criteria for evaluating a theory unless the implications are explored. In this sitting, the free will/determinism debate was made relevant to genetic factors in aggression by many students, who pointed out the implications for the justice system and notions of criminal responsibility. ‘Reductionist’ is still being used inaccurately by many students. It does not mean ‘narrow’, it means fragmenting behaviour into smaller and basic units, and is best reserved for the biological approach. It would be far more productive for students to understand one IDA for a given area, and be able to demonstrate a clear understanding of why it is relevant and important. On a more detailed point, there were a number of instances where students clearly did not understand the rationale behind MZ/DZ twin studies, but commented that MZ concordance rates could be contaminated by environmental factors. DZ twins are used to control for environmental influences; as both they and MZ twins share environments, the only difference is that MZ twins are genetically identical. If the concordance rates for a particular behaviour are higher in MZ twins than in DZ twins we assume that this behaviour has a significant genetic influence; if it was a product of environmental factors we would expect MZ and DZ twins to have similar concordance rates. Finally, there was clear evidence of question spotting in some schools/colleges, with students failing to attempt one or more questions (this was most apparent with question 5 and question 6). Statistics indicate that the use of parted questions to examine a topic does not compromise performance in well-prepared students, but penalises those that have not covered the whole specification. This general introduction has focussed on weaknesses in students’ answers, but it should be made clear that many students produced good and in some cases exceptional work, with detailed and accurate AO1, relevant AO2/3, and effective IDA. It is clear that these schools and colleges have 3 of 8
  4. 4. REPORT ON THE EXAMINATION – GCE PSYCHOLOGY A – PSYA1 – JUNE 2013 focussed on developing understanding of psychological material, and this is evident in the answers that their students have produced. Topic: Biological Rhythms and Sleep Question 01 This popular question was done reasonably well. There were a variety of routes to AO1 and AO2/3 credit; AO1 could consist of an outline of underlying mechanisms (endogenous pacemakers interacting with external zeitgebers), consequences of disrupting biological rhythms, or research studies. AO2/3 could then consist of relevant research evidence or implications of research studies. Weaker answers often confused the roles of pacemakers and zeitgebers, and failed to interpret research findings accurately. However, there has been a clear trend of improvement in the use of relevant studies from a range of areas. These include effects of shift work on mood, physical illness and productivity, the beneficial effects of altering shift work patterns, and effects of jet lag on physical health. Some students used studies of sleep deprivation, in particular the case studies of Tripp and Gardner. It is not easy to focus these studies on the question, but credit was given where the implications for the question were explicit and accurate. Effective IDA in this area included the application of findings to, for example, improving the health of workers, or to reduce the effects of jet lag. Topic: Perception Question 02 Although not a popular question, and one that unusually required knowledge of a specific study, this was done reasonably well. The vast majority of students used the work of Gibson and Walk on the visual cliff. Answers varied in the degree of accurate methodological detail. Evaluation took a variety of forms. Most popular was methodological issues, although there were impressive discussions of the implications of findings. More rarely, other studies were used to evaluate the target study, ie in terms of supporting or contradicting findings. Work with non-human animals was creditworthy as long as the focus was on perceptual development. A number of answers used cross-cultural work. This earned credit to the extent that the focus was on perceptual development. Effective IDA included the nature-nurture debate and cultural differences. Question 03 The second half of the Perception topic assessment was a very straightforward question. Again, there was great variability in the accuracy and depth of detail in descriptions of the Bruce & Young model. In particular, some students clearly knew many of the components but failed to indicate underlying processes, and so did not access the top band for AO1. One impressive development was the effective use of diagrams; as long as they included some indication of information flow through the system they could earn AO1 marks across the scale. 4 of 8
  5. 5. REPORT ON THE EXAMINATION – GCE PSYCHOLOGY A – PSYA1 – JUNE 2013 In relation to AO2/3, better answers used case studies of prosopagnosia very effectively, but evaluation in general was superficial, though there were some impressive accounts of the ‘face inversion’ effect. Although IDA is less obvious in this area, there were some excellent references to applications of the Bruce & Young model to, for example, e-identikit systems used by the police. Topic: Relationships Question 4 By far the most popular theories of the maintenance of romantic relationships were taken from the economic area, usually social exchange or equity models. Weaker answers tended to confuse these. Better answers gave reasonable detail of what might constitute costs and benefits and the role of ‘comparisons’. Some students lost focus on maintenance and included material on breakdown, which was not creditworthy. Where more than one theory was presented, both were marked and the best mark recorded. Although there are many relevant studies in this area, evaluation tended to focus on methodological criticism of any study outlined (often without the implications for the theory being made explicit. Such material did not earn marks), and general commentary on eg cultural relativity. There were many references to ‘abusive’ relationships, but analysis of the reasons these are maintained was usually superficial. Better answers often used applications of research to, eg relationship therapy, as effective IDA. Alternative IDA credit was earned through, eg an informed reference to cultural differences, or to alternative approaches, eg evolutionary theory. Question 05 The most popular approach to this question was to outline differences between individualistic and collectivist cultures in terms of romantic relationships (mainly marriage), and then use studies to support or contradict these differences. There were issues over shaping material to the question of cultural influences on romantic relationships; some studies were outlined quite accurately but the appropriate conclusions not drawn. However, better answers did refer to a number of relevant studies and also incorporated relatively new work on, for example, differences between urban and rural settings rather than between individualistic and collectivist societies, and acculturation of ethnic groups in different societies. There was also some effective commentary on methodological issues in cross-cultural research, and on the rapid pace of change in romantic relationships. Less effective was evaluation based on methodological points such as the use of questionnaires; often this point was not elaborated (why might they be unreliable?) and so little credit was earned. Buss’s 37 culture study was quoted in weaker answers; it could have been made relevant to the question of romantic relationships, but this was rare. Topic: Aggression Question 06 For this short AO1 question students were required to outline an example of group display and an evolutionary explanation for this example. Disappointingly, many answers failed to address both requirements. Straightforward examples, such as warfare, were relatively rare, with more students referring to, for example, lynch mobs without an evolutionary explanation, or to an evolutionary 5 of 8
  6. 6. REPORT ON THE EXAMINATION – GCE PSYCHOLOGY A – PSYA1 – JUNE 2013 explanation (e.g. protection of resources or access to females) without a clear example of group display. Outlines of the behaviour of sports crowds or the All Black haka did not earn marks unless there was some understanding of their relevance to the question. At the bottom end answers outlined social psychological theories of, for example, lynch mobs. Question 07 The Aggression topic overall was the most popular, and there were many impressive answers to question 7. Some students failed to access the range of AO1 marks, by not outlining genetic factors in aggressive behaviour. Better answers referred to the MAOA gene and the XYY genotype, and gave some indication of process, eg the link between MAOA and neurotransmitter levels. For AO2/3 there was a wealth of research evidence from both human and non-human animal studies. MZ/DZ twin studies were popular, but often the rationale was confused and sometimes inaccurate (see General Comments). If the link between MAOA and serotonin levels had been made, then research on serotonin and aggression could receive full credit, and this included some effective use of animal studies. Findings from adoption and familial transmission research were often used effectively. General commentary included the complexity of aggressive behaviour and problems in measuring it, and IDA included gender differences and alternative approaches, eg social psychological. However, the most consistently effective IDA was the implications of genetic research into aggression for the free will/determinism debate. Better answers outlined this debate and brought out the implications for the legal profession and individual responsibility for aggressive behaviour. Other IDA, such as reductionism and cultural differences, tended to be rote learnt and often failed to demonstrate understanding. Less successful students presented essays on neurotransmitters, hormones such as testosterone, and brain structures, without any link to genetic factors. Such answers did not receive marks. Topic: Eating Behaviour Question 08 Question 8 was another popular question. For marks in the higher bands there needed to be a reasonable balance between the two explanations, but this was not an issue for most students. Anorexia nervosa (AN) was the most popular choice of disorder. Psychological explanations included psychoanalytic and behavioural approaches, and there was a welcome increase in the depth and detail of the psychoanalytical approach. However, in contrast, answers outlining social learning theory and the influence of parents, peers and media tended to lack detail of the SLT processes involved. Biological explanations included the possible role of the hypothalamus, neurotransmitters, evolutionary theory and genetic factors. Evaluation of explanations focused on research studies, and, especially for psychoanalytic explanations, the effectiveness of therapies and familial characteristics. There was often confusion over the interpretation of twin studies and the relevance of work with non-human animals, eg hypothalamic mechanisms and feeding behaviour, was sometimes not explicit. 6 of 8
  7. 7. REPORT ON THE EXAMINATION – GCE PSYCHOLOGY A – PSYA1 – JUNE 2013 General commentary included the complexity of AN and the need for a variety of approaches. Other IDA included gender and cultural differences and reductionism, with marks awarded according to the level of understanding and relevance demonstrated. There were few answers on bulimia nervosa, but some impressive accounts of obesity. Psychological explanations included socio-cultural factors (eg accessibility of high carbohydrate foods, lifestyle changes) and mood regulation. Biological explanations included hypothalamic mechanisms and evolutionary approaches (the ‘thrifty’ gene). Where more than one explanation was explicitly presented under an umbrella term, eg behavioural approaches including operant and classical conditioning, social learning; neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, all were credited. Topic: Gender Question 09 This was a relatively popular and straightforward question. Most students were able to outline Kohlberg’s stage theory of gender development, but to access the top band for AO1 there needed to be some account of underlying processes or concepts, eg maturation or universality. There was often variation in the age ranges of the different stages, but this reflects available textbooks and examiners were tolerant to minor variations. Answers varied in accuracy and detail, and in particular confusion over ‘stability’ and ‘consistency/constancy’ was common. There are many relevant studies in this area and these provided the bulk of AO2/3 material for most students. The key to credit was the extent to which the implications of findings for Kohlberg’s theory were understood and clearly presented; some impressive answers followed the outline of each stage with relevant experimental findings. Methodological evaluation of studies was often repetitive and not linked back to the theory in terms of, for example, the reliability and validity of findings; such evaluation received little credit. Alternative approaches, especially gender schema theory, were sometimes used effectively to evaluate Kohlberg. Often, however, the student went on to evaluate gender schema theory at great length, losing focus on the question. At the top end, though, there were some very impressive answers. IDA used effectively in this area included cultural relativity, nature-nurture and alternative approaches, such as evidence for biological factors in gender development. Too often, however, such IDA points were simply stated, with no elaboration and no indication of clear understanding of their significance. Topic: Intelligence and Learning Question 10 This was not a popular question, but there were a range of answers. At the top end students clearly understood the implications of, eg twin and enrichment studies, and could discuss the key nature-nurture debate in relation to intelligence. Weaker answers failed to fully understand the rationale of twin studies and did not engage with debates in this area. 7 of 8
  8. 8. REPORT ON THE EXAMINATION – GCE PSYCHOLOGY A – PSYA1 – JUNE 2013 In better answers a range of studies was presented, with accurate interpretation of findings. Although not required, some students outlined evidence for both genetic and environmental factors (intervention programmes, the Flynn effect, etc) in intelligence, and this provided more scope for AO2/3 evaluation and commentary. Besides the nature-nurture debate, controversies over the nature and measurement of intelligence, cultural biases and differences, and applications of research to, eg education, featured as relevant IDA. The Burt controversy was also popular, but was not usually used effectively. Topic: Cognition and Development Question 11 This was a very straightforward question that produced a range of answers. In particular, knowledge of Vygotsky’s theory was extremely variable. Some answers referred only to, for example, the role of language and the zone of proximal development (ZPD). At the top end there were outlines of the stages of concept formation and stages of speech, plus more general issues such as the ZPD and the sociocultural context. Evaluation tended to be less impressive. There are studies that directly test some of Vygotsky’s ideas, especially the ZPD and the role of the instructor, while for some students applications of his ideas to education provided IDA credit. Comparison with Piaget was also popular, but some answers became diverted into describing and evaluating Piaget rather than Vygotsky. Additional IDA included the emphasis on sociocultural factors rather than on biological maturation, but although the point was occasionally raised students did not usually demonstrate a clear understanding of the issue. Mark Ranges and Award of Grades Grade boundaries and cumulative percentage grades are available on the Results Statistics page of the AQA Website. Converting Marks into UMS marks Convert raw marks into Uniform Mark Scale (UMS) marks by using the link below. UMS conversion calculator 8 of 8