Approaches cheat sheet
Topic Outline (A01) Evaluation (A03)
The origins of
He believed that all aspects of nature (includingthemind) could be
studied scientifically. His aimwas to study the structureof the mind
and he believed that the best way to do this was to break down
behaviours such as sensation and perception into their basic
elements – known as introspection.
Introspection (look in to)
With training,mental processes e.g., memory/perception could be
observed systematically e.g., observers might be shown an object
and asked to reflect upon how they were perceivingit.
PPs might be given a carefully controlled stimulus (e.g., image) and
then asked to providea description of the inner processes they were
experiencingas they looked at the image. This made is possibleto
compare PPs responses.
Psychology as a science
Empiricism = knowledge comes from observation and experience
(rather than innate). This meant that Wundt was ableto claimthat:
All behaviour is caused (determinism).
We can predicthow human beings would behave
Scientific method in psychology
Refers to objective, systematic and replicable.
Although PPs could report on their conscious experiences,the processes
themselves were considered to be unobservableconstructions =lack of
Introspection – not accurate
Nisbett and Wilson (77) state that many of our attitudes/behaviours arethe
resultof implicitattitudes e.g., a person may be implicitly racistand this
influences the way they reactto members of a different ethnic group, yet
such attitudes existoutsideof their awareness = self-reports of
introspection wouldn’t uncover this!
Systematic methods of observation = objective
Able to establish causeand effect.
Tells us littleaboutthe natural environment.
Much of psychology is beyond scopeof ‘observable’.
Not all psychologists agreeon how to measure human behaviour
i.e., should scientific methods be used?
Classical Conditioning (CC) – Pavlov (27)
Investigated the salivary reflex in dogs and found that animals not
only salivated when food was placed in their mouths, but also when
reactingto other stimuli.
Natural stimulus in any reflex is referred to as an
unconditioned stimulus (UCS) and the natural response
A neutral stimulus (NS) is presented (which does not cause
the UCR) before the UCS.
After many pairingsNS & UCS, this changes and the NS is
now ableto reproduce the same responsein the absence of
of the UCS.
The NS is now referred to as a conditioned stimulus (CS) and
the response itproduces is called a conditioned response
Strengths of CC
Led to development of treatments for the reduction of anxiety associated
with various phobias. SD is a therapy based on CC (see Psychopathology
Limitations of CC
Different species facedifferent challenges to survive. Therefore, some
species may find the link between CS and UCS more difficultto establish.
Seligman (70) proposed the concept of ‘preparedness’to explain this.
Animals areprepared to learn associationsthatarequickly significantin
terms of their survival needs e.g., a dog will learn the presence of food BUT
find it difficultto associatea bell with food.
Strengths of OC
Can you link this to Pavlov’s dog?
Other features e.g…
Timing: if the NS cannot be used to predictthe UCS (e.g., if
the time interval is too long), then conditioningbetween the
two does not take place.
Stimulus generalisation: he discovered that once an animal
has been conditioned,they will also respond to other stimuli
that are similar to the CS.
Operant conditioning (Skinner)
Skinner believed that an animal/human/organismrepeats a
particularbehaviour based on the nature of consequences – it is
Types of reinforcement
Positive reinforcers: occurs when behaviour produces a
consequence that is satisfying/pleasante.g., a child is given praisefor
Negative reinforcers: this removes something unpleasante.g.,
turning off an alarmor avoidingsomethingyou are scared of.
Punishment: this refers to where a behaviour is followed by
a consequence that is undesirable/unpleasant.As with
reinforcement, punishment can also bepositive (e.g.,
slappinga naughty child) or negative (e.g., takingaway
something pleasante.g., a toy).
Use of experimental method (controlled conditions) =high in reliability =
possibleto discover causal relationships.
Skinner used non-human animals.The relianceon rats and pigeons means
that the work doesn’t tell us much about humans. Human beings have free
will over our actions BUT Skinner said thatthis is an illusion and external
influences ‘guide’ our behaviour.
SLT – Bandura (86)
Modelling: in order for SL to take place,someone must
model the attitude/behaviour e.g., parent, actor.
Imitation: this is the act of copyingsomeone. This is usually
determined by the characteristicsof the model and the
observer’s perceived ability to perform that behaviour.
Identification: refers to how the observer relates to the
model e.g., a male may be more likely to imitate another
Vicarious reinforcement: Bandura noted that children who
are rewarded for aggressivebehaviour were much more
likely to imitate that behaviour than children who had
Applied to understandingof other areas of human behaviour e.g., criminal
activity.Akers (98) found that the probability of someone engaging in
criminal behaviourincreases when they are exposed to models who commit
the criminal behaviour.
Supporting research for identification
Fox and Bailenson (09) found evidence for this using ‘virtual’humans
engaging in exerciseor merely loitering.The models looked either similar or
dissimilarto individual PPs.PPs who viewed a similar model exercisingwere
more likely to do more exercisefollowingthe viewing.
observed a model punished for the same behaviour. VC =
individualslearn aboutthe consequences of an action,and
then adjusttheir subsequent behaviour.
Meditational processes: he claimed thatthe observer must
form mental representations of the behaviour displayed by
the model and the probableconsequences of that
behaviour in terms of expectations of the future.
Key Study: Bandura (61)
Procedure: experiment usingchildren who observed aggressiveor
non-aggressiveadultmodels.½ were exposed to adults acting
aggressively towards a lifesizeBobo doll and the other ½ exposed to
Aggressive situation included props e.g., malletand also verbal
aggression e.g., POW. Followingexposure,the children were taken to
a room and a Bobo doll.
Findings: children who observed the aggressivemodel reproduced a
lot of aggressivebehaviour (physical and verbal),similar to adult
model. About 1/3 who observed aggressivemodel repeated adult’s
verbal responses.They found in a follow-up study that the children
rewarded for aggressiveacts were more likely to show a high level of
Does SLT explain all types of ‘learnt’ behaviour? E.g., criminal behaviour
could have other ‘causes’such as genetics or parental upbringing.
Internal mental processes
This approach studies information processingi.e.,ways in which we
extract, store and retrieve information.This approach recognises
that these mental processes cannotbe directly studied and must be
studied indirectly (inferred) as a way of measuringbehaviour.
Schemas: cognitiveframework that helps organiseand
interpret information around us e.g., expectations of how to
behave in certain situations.They fill in the gaps in the
absence of all theinformation. A possiblenegative
consequence of these however is that we develop ‘set
ideas’or stereotypes that aredifficultto disconfirm.
Theoretical/computer models: e.g., MSM (Atkinson and
Shiffin) – simplified representation based on current
research evidence. Also computers allow us to focus on the
way certain information is encoded e.g., a computer model
of memory is a good example. Information is stored on the
Applications: applied to other areas of psychology.E.g., ithas been
used to explain how much of the dysfunctional behaviourshown by
people can be traced back to faulty thinkingprocesses – so this has
led to the successful treatment of people sufferingfrom OCD using
Scientific: use of experimental method – rigorous method for
collectingand evaluatingevidencein order to reach conclusions.
Computer models: difference between field of computing (e.g.,
encoding, input) to humans. Computers do not make mistakes.
Ignores emotion and motivation: approach tells us howthings
happen but not why.
hard disk (RAM = longterm memory).
The use of non-invasiveneuroimaging techniques (PET scans and
fMRI) help psychologists understand howthe brain supports
different cognitiveactivities and emotions by showingwhat parts of
the brain become activeunder certain circumstances e.g., Burnett
(09) found that when people feel guilty,several brain regions
become activeincludingtheprefrontal cortex, associated with social
Biological influences on behaviour
Heredity: genes are passed from one generation to the
next. They carry important information e.g., intelligencebut
how this develops depends on the environment (nature-
Genotype and phenotype: Genotype = code written into
DNA and phenotype = physical appearancethatresults from
this inherited information (recessiveand dominant genes
can affect this).
Basis of behaviour: everyone possesses a unique
combination of genetic instructions so we differ in terms of
CNS: brain and spinal cord
PNS: somatic and autonomic nervous systems
Neurotransmitters: e.g., dopamine = excitatory
neurotransmitter that is associated with motivation.
Serotonin = inhibitory neurotransmitter that is associated
with to stabilisemood.
Hormones: produced by endocrine glands e.g., pituitary
gland.In responseto signals fromthe brain,they are
secreted into the bloodstreamand travel to target cells.
Over time organisms become adapted to their environment
through biological evolution - natural selection. Individuals
differ from each other in terms of their physical
characteristicsand in their physical characteristicsand in
Scientific method: experimental method, highly controlled
environments, replicable.Use of imaginghas increased precision
Applications: clear predictions e.g., led to research into the role of
neurochemical imbalancein depression =development of drug
Reductionist: this is the belief that complex human behaviour can
be explained by breakingit down into small parts.
Problems for evolutionary explanations: some argue that patterns
of human behaviour have cultural originsand NOTsurvival or
reproductive valuee.g., existence of incestin societies. This would
causegenetic mutations and therefore natural selection would
favour those individuals thatavoided such practices.
their behaviour,and at leastsome of this is inherited.
Because individuals mustcompete with each other, those
who do survivewill reproduceand pass on their genes etc…
therefore successivegenerations will develop behaviours
that are even more likely to lead to survival and
Biopsychology Cheat Sheet
Topic Outline (A01)
Central Nervous System (CNS)
The CNS, comprising of the brain and spinal cord, has two main functions:the control of behavior and the regulation of the b ody’s physiological processes.
In order to do this, the brain must be able to receive information from the sensory receptors (eyes,ears, skin etc.) and be able to send messages to the
muscles and glands of the body.This involves the spinal cord, a collection of nerve cells that are attached to the brain and run the length of the spinal cord.
Spinal cord: relay information between the brain and the rest of the body.This allows the brain to monitor and regulate bodily processes,such as digestion
and breathing, and to coordinate voluntary movements. The spinal cord is connected to different parts of the body by p airs of spinal nerves,which connect
with specific muscles and glands.
Brain: The brain can be divided into 4 main areas: cerebrum, cerebellum, diencephalon and brainstem.
● The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain and is further divided into 4 different lobes. For example, the frontal lobe is involved in thought and
production of speech,the occipital lobe is involved in the processing of visual images. The cerebrum is split down the middle in two halves called
cerebral hemispheres. Each hemisphere is specialised for particular behaviours and the two halves communicate with each othervia the corpus
● The cerebellum sits beneath the back of the cerebrum. It is involved in controlling a person’s motor skills, balance and coordinating the mu scles
to allow precise movements. Abnormalities of this area can result in a number of problems, including speech,motor problems a nd epilepsy.
● The diencephalon lies beneath the cerebrum and on top of the brain stem. Within this area are two important structures,the thalamus and the
hypothalamus. The thalamus acts as a relay station for nerve impulses coming from the senses,routing themto the appropriate part of the brain
where they can be processed.The hypothalamus has a number of important functions,including the regulation of body temperature, hunger and
thirst. It also acts as a link between the endocrine systemand the nervous system, controlling the release of hormones from the pituitary gland.
● The brainstem is responsible for regulating the automatic functions that are essential for life. These include breathing, heartbeat and swallowing.
Motor and sensory neurons travel through the brain stem, allowing impulses to pass between the brain and the spinal cord.
The Peripheral Nervous System (PNS)
All the nerves outside the CNS make up the peripheral nervous system.This function of this part of the nervous systemis to relay nerve impulses from the
CNS (the brain and spinal cord) to the rest of the body and from the body back to the CNS.
● The somatic system is made up of 12 pairs of cranial nerves (nerves that emerge directly from the underside of the brain and 31 pairs of spinal
nerves (nerves that emerge from the spinal cord). These nerves have both sensory neurons and motor neurons.Sensory neuro ns relay messages to
the CNS, and motor neurons relay information from the CNS to other areas of the body. The somatic systemis also involved in reflex actions
without the involvement of the CNS, which allows the reflex to occur very quickly.
● When you are taking a drink or typing on a keyboard, you’re performing voluntary actions that you’re conscious of. However your body als o
carries out actions without your conscious awareness.E.g. yourheart beats and yourintestines digest food. Involuntary actions like these are
regulated by the ANS. This systemis necessary because the body wouldn’t work as efficiently if you had to think about them.
○ The Sympathetic Nervous System: The SNS is primarily involved in responses that help us to deal with emergencies (fight or flight)
such as increasing heart rate and blood pressure and dilating blood vessels in the muscles. Neurons from the SNS travel to virtually every
organ and gland within the body, preparing the body for the rapid action necessary when the individual is underthreat. E.g. The SNS
causes the body to release stored energy, pupils to dilate and hair to stand on end. It slows bodily processes that are less important in
emergencies such as digestion and urination.
○ The Parasympathetic Nervous System: If we think of the SNS as pushing as individual into action when faced with an emergency, then
the parasympathetic nervous system(PNS) relaxes them again once the emergency has passed.Whereas the SNS causes the heart t o beat
faster and the blood pressure to increase, the PNS slows the heartbeat down and reduces blood pressure.Anotherbenefit is that digestion
will begin again under PNS influence. Because the PNS is involved with energy, conservation and digestion,it’s sometimes referred to as
the body’s rest and digest system.
Structure and function of neurons
Neurons are specially designed cells that carry information around the body.
● Sensory neurons: carry nerve impulses from sensory receptors to the spinal cord and the brain.
● Relay neurons: most common in the CNS. They allow sensory and motor neurons to communicate with each other.
● Motor neurons:form synapses with muscles and control their contractions.
Once an action potential (an action to do something) has arrived at the terminal button at the end of the axon, it needs to be transferred to anotherneuron or
tissue.It must cross a gap between the presynaptic neuron and the postsynaptic neuron.This is known as the synapse -this includes the end of the
presynaptic neuron, the membrane of the postsynaptic neuron and the gap in between. The physical gap between the pre and post synaptic cell membranes is
known as the synaptic gap.At the end of the axon of the nerve cell are a number of sacs known as synaptic vesicles. These contain the chemical messengers
that assist in the transfer of the impulse, the neurotransmitters. As the action potential reaches the synaptic vesicles, it causes themto release their contents
through a process called exocytosis.
The released neurotransmitter diffuses across the gap where it binds to specialised receptors on the surface of the cell that recognise it and are activated by
that particular neurotransmitter (like a specialist lock and key).This transmission takes a fraction of a second,with the effects terminated at most synapses
by a process called ‘reuptake’. The neurotransmitter is taken up again by the presynaptic neuron, where it is stored and made available for later release
Excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters
ENs (e.g., noradrenaline) - nervous system’s ‘on’ switches.These increase the likelihood that an excitatory signal is sent to the postsynaptic cell, which is
then more likely to fire. An EN binding with a postsynaptic receptorcauses an electrical change in the membrane of that cell = excitatory postsynaptic
potential (EPSP) - meaning that the postsynaptic cell is more likely to fire.
INs (e.g., serotonin)- ‘off’ switches. They decrease the likelihood of that neuron firing. They are generally responsible for calming the mind e.g., inducing
sleep. An IN binding with a postsynaptic receptorresults in an inhibitory postsynaptic potential(IPSP), making it less like ly to fire.
A nerve cell can receive both EPSPs and IPSPs at the same time. The likelihood of the cell firing depends on the adding up the EN and INs. The net result
(summation) determines whether or not the cell fires.
Glands and Hormones
The endocrine systemis regulated by feedback to ensure stable concentration of hormones. For example, a signal is sent from the hypothalamus to the
pituitary gland in the form of a ‘releasing hormone’. This causes the pituitary to secrete a ‘stimulating h ormone’ into the bloodstream. This hormone then
signals the target gland (e.g. the adrenal glands) to secrete its hormone. As levels of this hormone rises in the bloodstream, the hypothalamus shuts down
secretion of the releasing hormone and the pituitary gland shuts down secretion of the stimulating hormone. This slows down secretion of the target gland’s
hormone, resulting in the stable concentration of hormones circulating the bloodstream.
Hormones are chemicals that circulate in the bloodstreamand are carried to target sites throughout the body.Although hormones come into contact with
most cells in the body, a given hormone usually affects only a limited number of cells, known as target cells. There has to b e particular receptors for
particular hormones. Cells that don’t have such a receptor cannot be influenced directly by that hormone. When enough receptorsites are stimulated, this
results in a physiological reaction in the target cell.
The pituitary gland produces hormones whose primary function is to influence the release of hormones from other glands, and in so doing regulate many of
the body’s functions.The pituitary is controlled by the hypothalamus, a region of the brain just above the pituitary gland.
As the “master gland,” the pituitary produces hormones that travel in the bloodstreamto their specific target. These hormones either direct ly cause changes
in physiological processes in the body or stimulate other glands to produce other hormones. High levels of hormon es produced in otherendocrine glands
can stop the hypothalamus and the pituitary releasing more of their own hormones to stop hormone levels from rising too high.
Hormones produced by the pituitary gland
The pituitary has 2 parts: the anterior (front) and the posterior(back). They each release different hormones that target different parts of the body. E.g. the
anterior pituitary produces adrenocorticotrophic (ACTH) as a response to stress.ACTH stimulates the adrenal glands to produc e cortisol. The anterior also
produces 2 other hormones important in the control of reproductive functioning: Luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). In
females these hormones stimulate the ovaries to produce oestrogen and progesterone,and in males t hey stimulate the testes to produce testosterone and
The posterior pituitary releases oxytocin, which stimulates the contraction of the uterus in childbirth, and is important for mother-infant bonding.Research
using mice has found that oxytocin is indispensable for healthy maintenance and repair, and that it declines with age (Elabd et al 2014).
The Adrenal Glands
The two adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys. Each adrenal gland has two parts. The outer part: adrenal cortex, and the inner region: adrenal medulla.
The adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla have very different functions.One of the main distinctions is that the adrenal cortex releases hormones necessary
for life, whereas the adrenal medulla releases hormones that do not.
Hormones produced by the adrenal glands
The adrenal cortex produces cortisol – a stress hormone. It has a variety of functions such as cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory functions.If cortisol
levels are low, the individual has low blood pressure,poor immune function and inability to deal with stress.The adrenal cortex also produces aldosterone,
which is responsible for maintaining blood volume and blood pressure.
The adrenal medulla releases adrenaline and noradrenaline – hormones that prepare the body for flight or flight. Adrenaline helps the body response to a
stressfulsituation e.g. increasing heart rate and blood flow to the muscles and brain. Noradrenaline constricts the blood ve ssels,causing blood pressure to
Anotherhuge part of the endocrine systemis the ovaries. The 2 ovaries are part of the female reproductive system. Ovaries a re responsible for the
production of eggs and for the hormones of oestrogen and progesterone. Progesterone is more important in the post-ovulation phase ofthe menstrual
The testes are the male reproductive glands that produce the hormone testosterone. Testosterone causes the development of male characteristics such as
growth of facial hair, deepening of the voice and growth spurts.Testosterone production is controlled by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. The
hypothalamus instructs the pituitary gland on how much testosterone to produce,and the pituitary gland passes this message t o the testes.Testosterone also
plays a role in sex drive, sperm production and maintenance of muscle strength and is associated with overall health and well-being in men. Testosterone is
not exclusively a male hormone. Women also have it, but in smaller amounts.
The fight or
Fight or flight response to stress
The amygdala and hypothalamus
When someone is faced with a threat, an area of the brain called the amygdala
is mobilised. The amygdala associates sensory signals (what we see,hear or
smell) with emotions associated with fight or flight, such as fear and anger.
The amygdala then sends a distress signalto the hypothalamus,which
functions like a command centre in the brain, communicating with the rest of
the body through the sympathetic nervous system.The body’s response to
stressors involves two major systems,one for acute (i.e. sudden)stressors such
as an attack, and the second for chronic (i.e. ongoing)stressors such as a
Acute (sudden) stress
● SNS: prepares the body for sudden rapid action. Sends message to
adrenal medulla by releasing adrenaline.
● Adrenaline: circulates in bloodstream e.g., heart beats faster, blood
pressure increases… Also triggers release of blood sugar (glucose)
Tend and befriend
Taylor (00) suggested that females do this rather than ‘fight’. This
involve protecting themselves and their young e.g., forming alliances.
Negative consequences of fight or flight
Stressors of modern life rarely requires action like that required for this.
However modern life means that the stress response is constantly
activated e.g., increased blood pressure (SNS activation) can lead to
physical damage in blood vessels and heart disease.
Fight, flight OR freeze?
and fats to supply energy.
● PNS: when the threat has passed,this dampens the stress response.
This slows things down e.g., lowers blood pressure.
Chronic (ongoing) stressors
If the brain continues to perceive something as threatening the second system
kicks in. As the initial surge of adrenaline subsides,the hypothalamus activates
a stress response systemcalled the HPA axis. This consists ofthe
hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands.
“H” – The hypothalamus
The HPA axis relies on a series of hormonal signals to keep the SNS working.
In response to continued threat, the hypothalamus releases a chemical
messenger, corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), which is released into
the bloodstreamin response to the stressor.
“P” – The Pituitary Gland
On arrival at the pituitary gland, CRH causes the pituitary to produce and
release adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH). From the pituitary, ACTH is
transported in the bloodstreamto its target site in the adrenal glands.
“A” - The Adrenal Glands
ACTH stimulates the adrenal cortex to release various stress-related hormones,
including cortisol. Cortisol is responsible for several effects in the body that are
important in the fight or flight response.Some of these are positive (e.g. a
quick burst of energy and lower sensitivity to pain) whereas others are negative
(e.g. impaired cognitive performance and a lowered immune system).
The systemis also very efficient at regulating itself. Both the hypothalamus
and pituitary gland have special receptors that monitor circulating cortisol
levels. If these rise above normal, they initiate a reduction in CRH and ACTH
levels, thus bringing cortisol levels back to normal.
Gray (88) says that many animals/humans freeze instead of attacking or
running away. This allows them to look for more information about the
Individual Differences Cheat Sheet
Topic: Outline (AO1) +/- Evaluations (AO2)
Definitions of abnormality 1. Statistical infrequency: abnormality is defined as those
behaviours that are extremely rare i.e., any behaviour
that is found in very few people.
2. Deviation from social norms: this is where a person’s
behaviour is considered deviant, anti-social or
undesirable by the majority of society e.g., paedophilia.
3. Failure to function adequately: from an individual’s
POV, abnormality can be judged in terms of not being
able to cope e.g., feeling depressed and therefore you
may not be able to go to work.
4. Deviation from ideal mental health: abnormality is
seen as deviating from an ideal positive mental health.
Ideal mental health would include a positive attitude
towards the self, resistance to stress and an accurate
perception of reality. Jahoda identified 6 categories for
people with IMH = self-attitudes (e.g., self-esteem),
personal growth, integration (e.g., cope with stress),
autonomy, mastery of the environment (e.g., ability to
1. Susceptible to abuse: what was seen not socially
acceptable in the past may now be e.g., homosexuality.
Deviance is also relative to time and the context.
2. Who judges? It is assumed that a doctor will determine
what categorises someone as failing. Some apparently
dysfunctional behaviour can actually be adaptive and
functional for the individual e.g., depression may lead to
welcome attention for the individual. Cultural relativism.
3. Who can fit the criteria all of the time? Is mental
health the same as physical health? It is difficult to
diagnose a mental health issue using similarcriteria to
4. Cultural relativism: this is where cultural factors may
play a bit part on what is seen as deviant or not i.e., no
universal rules for labelling a behaviour as abnormal.
E = emotional
B = behavioural
C = Cognitive
A group of mental disorders characterised by high levels of anxiety in response to a particular stimulus or group of stimuli. The
anxiety interferes with normal living.
E = panic, fear
B = avoidance
C = irrational thought process. Person recognises that their fear is irrational/excessive – although this may be absent in children.
A mood disorder where an individual feels sad/lacks interest in their usual activities. Also includes irrational negative thoughts,
raised/lowered levels and difficulties with concentration, sleep and eating.
E = e.g., sadness, feeling empty, worthless, loss of interest in hobbies, lack of control…
B = e.g., tiredness, reduced energy, restless, sleep problems, appetite affected.
C = negative self-concept/beliefs, irrational – HOWEVER, these thoughts can become self-fulfilling.
Anxiety disorder where anxiety arises from both obsessions (persistant thoughts) and compulsions (behaviours that are repeated
over and over again). People believe that by repeating behaviours this will reduce anxiety.
E = e.g., embarassment and shame.
C = recurrent, intrusive thoughts/impulses perceived as forbidden/inappropriate. Uncontrollable urges e.g., wash hands. At some
level, person does recognise that obsessions are excessive.
B = Behaviours are meant to reduce anxiety, repetitive. They can unconcealed or hidden e.g., praying.
The behavioural approach
to explaining phobias
All behaviour is learned –
This learning can be
understood in terms of
conditioning and modelling.
What was learned can be
No need to analyse
thoughts/feelings, only the
Two-process model (Mowrer, 47)
CC – initation
A phobia is acquired through association – association between a
NS (e.g., white rat) and a loud noise (see Little Albert study).
OC – maintenance
The likelihood of a behaviour being repeated is increased if the
outcome is rewarding. In the case of a phobia, the avoidance of
(or escape from) the phobic stimulus reduces fear and is thus
reinforcing. This is an example of negative reinforcement
(escaping from an unpleasant situation e.g., avoiding a dog).
Not part of 2-process model.
Phobias may be acquired through modelling the behaviour of
others e.g., child sees a parent react to a spider.
Importance of CC
People with phobias often do recall a specific incident when their
phobia appeared e.g., being bitten by a dog (Sue, 94). HOWEVER,
not everyone remembers such an incident (Ost, 87).
DiNardo (88) explains that people may have a genetic
vulnerability for developing mental disorders and a phobia may
only develop if triggered by an event e.g., being bitten by a dog.
Seligman (70): argued that animals and humans are genetically
programmed to rapidly learn an association between life-
threatening stimuli and fear. These are referred to ancient fears
e.g., heights, snakes. It would have been adaptive to rapidly learn
to avoid such stimuli. This would explain why people are less
likely to develop fears of modern objects e.g., cars that are much
more of a threat than spiders – they weren’t present in our
The behavioural approach
to treating phobias
Systematic Desensitisation (SD)
Counterconditioning: patient is taught a new association
that runs counter to the original association i.e.,
relaxation instead of fear – in effect they are
Relaxation: e.g., slow, deep breaths, mindfulness.
Desensitisation hierarchy: this works by gradually
introducing the person to the feared situation one step
at a time so it isn’t overwhelming. (5 steps).
Patient has one session where they experience their fear at its
worst while at the same time practising relaxtion – this continues
until the patient is relaxed (and adrenaline levels has dropped).
This can be conducted in vivo (actual exposure) or virtually.
Evaluation – SD
Effectiveness: McGrath (90) found about 75% of patients
with phobias respond to SD. Key = actual contact with feared
stimulus (in vivo) rather than imagining (in vitro).
Appropriate? Ohman (75) SD not appropriate for all phobias
e.g., those with evolutionary survival component e.g., snakes.
Fast and requires less effort than other therapies. It can also be
Evaluation – Flooding
Individual differences: not for every patient – highly
Effectiveness: generally good and quick. Clarke (08) found
that SD and flooding were equally effective.
The cognitive approach to
Ellis’ ABC Model (62): irrational thinking = mental disorders
A = Activiating event – you get fired at work.
B = belief – (irrational) the company was overstaffed or I was
sacked because they had it in for me.
C = consequence – unhealthy emotions e.g., depression.
The source of irrational beliefs lies in ‘mustaboratory thinking’ –
thinking that certain ideas or assumptions MUST be true in order
Supporting research: Krantz (76) found that depressed PPs
made more errors in logic when asked to interpret written
material than non-depressed PPs.
Correlation NOT causation: there is a link between negative
thoughts and depression but this does not mean that negative
thoughts cause depression e.g., a depressed individual develops
a negative way of thinking because of their depression rather
for an individual to be happy e.g., ‘I must be approved of or
accepted by people I find important’.
An individual who holds such assumptions is bound to be
disappointed or depressed.
Beck’s Negative Triad (67)
He believed that depressed individuals feel as they do because
their thinking is biased towards negative interpretations of the
world and they lack a perceived sense of control.
Negative schema: this is acquired during childhood (adopt a
negative view). Caused by a variety of factors e.g., parental/peer
rejection. These schemas are activated when the person
encounters a new situation that resembles the original
conditions in which these schemas were learned. Negative
schemas lead to cognitive biases in thinking e.g., they over-
generalise, drawing a sweeping conclusion regarding self-worth
on the basis of one small piece of negative feedback.
The negative triad: The negative schema maintains the negative
triad (irrational/pessimistic view:
The self: I am unattractive.
The world: I can understand why people find me ugly.
The future: I am always going to be on my own.
than the other way round. It is possible that the faulty thinking is
a vulnerability factor for abnormality e.g., genetic predisposition.
Blames client rather than situation: suggests client is
responsible for their disorder. In one way this is good as it gives
the power to a client to change the way things are. HOWEVER, it
may cause a client and therapist to overlook e.g., family
Practical applications: CBT has been found to be good in
treating depression (see next section).
Irrational beliefs may be realistic: Alloy and Abrahmson
(79) suggest that depressive realists tend to see things for what
they are (with normal people tending to view the world through
rose-tinted glasses). For depressed people this creates the
‘sadder but wiser’ effect.
Alternative explanations: Zhang (05) research shows that low
levels of serotonin in depressed people is linked to people with
The cognitive approach to
Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT) – Ellis (he also renamed
He extended the model to ABCDEF:
D = disputing irrational thoughts and beliefs
E = effects of disputing and effective attitude to life
F = feelings (emotions) that are produced.
It is the beliefs that lead to self-defeating consequences. REBT
therefore focuses on challenging/disputing the irrational
thoughts/beliefs and replacing them with effective rational
Logical disputing: self-defeating beliefs do not follow
logically from the information available e.g., does this
thinking make sense?
Empirical disputing: beliefs may not be consistent with
reality e.g., where is the proof that this belief is accurate?
Pragmatic disputing: emphasises the lack of usefulness
of beliefs e.g., how is this belief likely to help me?
Homework: clients are asked to complete assignments between
Research support: Ellis claimed a 90% success rate for REBT.
Individual differences: CBT less suitable for people who have
high levels of irrational beliefs that are both rigid and resistant to
change (Elkin, 85).
Alternative treatments: antidepressants is most popular form
of treatment (SSRIs). Drugs require less effort from the client and
can be used with other treatments like CBT.
sessions e.g., asking someone out on a date. This is to test
irrational beliefs against reality.
Behavioural activation: CBT involves a specific focus on
encouraging depressed clients to become more active and engage
in pleasurable activities. Based on common-sense idea that being
active leads to rewards that act as an antidote to depression.
Unconditional positive regard: Ellis came to realise that if
clients feel worthless, they will be less willing to consider
changing their beliefs and behaviour. However, if the therapist
provides respect and appreciation regardless of what the client
does/says, this will cause a change in beliefs and attitudes.
The biological approach to
This may contribute to OCD. It regulates the production of
dopamine. One form of the COMT gene is more common in OCD
patients than people without the disorder. This variation
produces lower activity of the COMT gene and higher levels of
An individual gene only creates a genetic vulnerability
(diathesis) for OCD as well as other conditions, such as
depression. Other factors (stressors) affect what condition
develops or indeed whether any mental illness develops.
Abnormal levels of neurotransmitters
Dopamine levels are thought to be abnormally high in people
with OCD. Based on animal studies – high doses of drugs that
enhance levels of dopamine induce stereotyped movements
resembling the compulsive behaviours found in OCD patients.
Also lower levels of serotonin are associated with OCD. This is
based on the fact that antidepressants that increase serotonin
activity have been shown to reduce symptoms (Pigott, 90).
Abnormal brain circuits
PET scans of patients with OCD, taken while their symptoms are
active e.g., when a person with a germ obsession holds a dirty
cloth – scans show a heightened activity in the OFC (orbitfrontal
cortex). Serotonin and dopamine are linked to these regions of
the frontal lobes.
Studies of 1st degree relatives (parents/siblings) shows evidence
for genetic basis. Nestadt (00) identified 80 patients with OCD
and 343 of their 1st degree relatives and compared them with 73
control patients without mental illness and 300 of their relatives.
They found that people with a 1st degree relative with OCD had a
5x greater risk of having the illness themselves at some time in
their lives, compared to the general population.
Concordance rates: diathesis-stress model stresses importance
of environment (nature vs nurture).
More supporting research
Menzies (07) used MRI scans to produce images of brain activity
in OCD patients and their immediate family members without
OCD and a group of unrelated healthy people. OCD patients and
their closerelatives had reduced grey matter in key regions of
the brain, including the OFC. This supports the view that
differences are inherited.
Real-world application: hope that specific genes can be
‘mapped’ and linked to particular mental and physcial disorders
e.g., a parent to be has the COMT gene, mother’s eggs are
screened and the parents given the choice of aborting those eggs
with the gene. HOWEVER this raises ethical issues.
The biological approach to
Antidepresseants (SSRIs): low levels of serotonin are
associated with depression as well as OCD, so drugs
increase levels of serotonin. Drugs are used to reduce
the anxiety associated with OCD. Selective serotonin
reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are currently the preferred
drug for treating anxiety e.g., Prozac. Serotonin is
released into the synapse from one nerve (neuron). It
targets receptor cells on the receiving neuron at
receptor sites and it reabsorbed by the initial neuron
sending the message. In order to increase levels of
serotonin at the synapse and increase stimulation to the
receiving neuron, this reabsorption (reuptake) is
Antidepressants tricyclics: Anafranil was first
antidepressant used for OCD and today is used for OCD
rather than depression. This blocks the transport
mechanism that reabsorbs both serotonin and
noradrenaline into the presynaptic cell after it has fired.
= more of these neurotransmitters are left in the
synapse, prolonging the activity.
Anti-anxiety drugs: BZs are used to treat anxiety e.g.,
Valium. They slow down activity of the neurotransmitter
GABA – which has a quietening effect on the brain.
Soomro (08) reviewed 17 studies of the use of SSRIs with OCD
patients and found them to be more effective than placebos in
reducing the symptoms of OCD up to 3 months after treatment
i.e., the short term.
Drugs preferred to other treatments
Less effort required from patient, cheaper and require less
monitoring from e.g., NHS.
Addiction (Ashton, 97), and can make some symptoms worse!
Not a lasting cure
May better used with other psychological treatments e.g., CBT.
Areas I feel confident in: Areas I feel less confident in: