Online research

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Most of the studies you will want to read can be found online, but some will be behind what is called a ‘pay wall’.  This means that your school librarian should be able to help you with access, in that most school libraries will subscribe to at least one online data repository of resources.  However, that is no guarantee of availability, and you may have to do some online searching of your own.

The best place to start your search is Google Scholar, where you can type in key words, or the study title and authors, and a list of versions will come up.  If one of these is a ‘pdf’ then you are in luck.  If it is not, sometimes a site like Researchgate will have a pdf version for free. If they don’t, then they may have the abstract and, unlike other sites, if you join them (it’s free, and also spam-free) you can then request the full text direct from the author.  (This works for teachers, who can declare their interest in Psychology, but I am not sure if students would be able to join). I have put in 65 requests over the past few years, and received 12 texts, so while it’s not a sure method, it’s worth pursuing.

Finally, while most teachers will say steer clear of Wikipedia because of sometimes inaccurate information, the list of references at the end of the entry may prove very useful.  For example, it is well known that in 1986 researchers Yuille and Cutshall published research into eyewitness testimony of a crime that can act as a useful critique for Loftus and Palmer.  However, it is behind a pay wall, though may be requested through Researchgate.  But, if you go to Wikipedia and find Canadian psychologist John C. Yuille, scroll down and look at the references, you will find some that can be tracked and are freely available – such as this one on the effect of alcohol on eyewitness memory.  All of the hyperlinked articles at the bottom of Yuille’s Wikipedia page come up in PsycNET first, where they must be paid for, but by taking the article title and typing it into Google Scholar, or even into your usual search engine, the pdf can often be found.

This does take time, but once you have these items, you have them forever, which is a useful thought for teachers, or for students hoping to take their study of Psychology further. And if you don’t want all of your online searching to be tracked by Google, try using DuckDuckGo as a search engine.  Happy hunting!

What is a ‘key study’?

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Key studies are studies that are the most useful for any Psychology course, because they provide the ‘key’ to understanding a concept or theory.  For example, Maguire’s famous ‘taxi driver’ study, Loftus and Palmer’s ‘car crash’ study or Rosenhan’s research into the validity of diagnosis on admission to mental hospitals.

Teachers and students can benefit by summarising these studies according to Background, Aim, Participants, Procedure, Results, Conclusion, Evaluation.  This can be done on 1-2 sides of paper and kept to be used for essays, revision and even for HL Paper 3 practice if you are an IB Diploma teacher or student.  Below is a short example of what this could look like, from the biological approach.

KEY STUDY: Caspi et al. (2003) Influence of Life Stress on Depression: Moderation by a Polymorphism in the 5-HTT Gene.

 Background

Looked at the relation between inherited short alleles on the 5HTT serotonin transporter gene and incidences of stress and subsequent depression.

Links to:

  • Abnormal Psychology: Genetic explanation for inherited predisposition to depression as a response to environmental stressors.

Aim

To investigate whether a functional change in the 5HTT gene is linked to a higher or lower risk of depression in an individual.

Participants

The researchers used an opportunity sample from a cohort of participants who were part of another longitudinal study. There were 847 participants of 26 years old and they were split into three groups, depending on the length of the alleles on their 5HTT transporter gene.

Group 1 – two short alleles

Group 2 – one short and one long allele

Group 3 – two long alleles

Procedure

  1. Stressful life events occurring after the 21st birthday and before the 26th birthday were assessed using a life-history calendar.
  2. Past-year depression was assessed using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule.
  3. A correlation was tested for between stressful life events and depression, between the length of the alleles and depression and an interaction between perceived stress and the length of the alleles.
  4. A further test was done to see if life events could predict an increase in depression over time among individuals with one or two short alleles.

Results

The participants with two short alleles in the 5HTT transporter gene reported more depression symptoms in response to stressful life events than either of the other two groups. Those participants with two long alleles reported fewer depression symptoms. Moreover, childhood maltreatment was predictive of depression in adulthood only in adults with either one or two short alleles.

Conclusion

While there is no direct relation between short alleles on the 5HTT gene and depression, there is a relationship between these and incidences of stress and subsequent depression. The long alleles seem to protect against suffering depression as a result of stress. The effects of the gene adaptation are dependent on environmental exposure to stress.

Evaluation of Caspi et al. (2003)

Strengths

  • This was a very large cohort of males and females and the age was controlled in order to isolate the variable of number of stressful life events between the ages of 21 and 26.
  • It was a natural experiment, with the naturally occurring IV being the length of the alleles. If the results are replicated this would suggest high reliability.

Limitations

  • Gene action is highly complex, and actions of other genes could not be controlled. While the stressful life events were standardised as employment, financial, housing, health and relationship, whether or not a participant experienced a certain event as stressful is highly personal.
  • The symptoms of depression were self-reported, although each participant was contacted in order to verify the symptoms; self-reporting can be unreliable.

Reference

Caspi, A., Sugden, K., Moffitt, T. E., Taylor, A., Craig, I. W., Harrington, H., … & Poulton, R. (2003). Influence of life stress on depression: moderation by a polymorphism in the 5-HTT gene. Science301(5631), pp. 386-389.

Exam tips – for the days themselves.

First tip is – don’t panic. Once the exams are upon you, then make sure you know the Panicdates and times (timetable on fridge, on bedroom wall, in school bag, on phone, etc.) Once you have sat an exam, no matter how badly – or how well – you feel it’s gone, it is gone.  Forget it and move on mentally, and physically, to some revision for the next exam, or move on to eat lunch if the your next exam is in an hour or two. And avoid any panicking friends if possible!

Be prepared, with several pens and pencils and any other necessary equipment.  Make sure your phone is not even in the room – leave it in your locker, or at home. (Radical thought, I know!)  Have a bottle of water, and make sure you have visited the loo and have eaten something.  Otherwise your rumbling stomach will be all anyone is thinking about! If you have allergies/a cold make sure you have tested any medication beforehand to ensure it doesn’t make you either twitchy or sleepy, and have plenty of tissues.  Tell the invigilator, who may be able to move you away from any open windows, or to the back corner of the room so you don’t feel you’re disturbing others.  Don’t forget your glasses if you wear them.

On non-exam days, revise for the next exams, but give yourself an hour extra in bed first.  It will feel like a reward and lighten your mood.  Don’t let yourself dwell on anything.  Revision by now should be going over your weak points, handwriting test answers, book closed, and going over them either alone or with other ‘study buddies.’

If you don’t have to wear school uniform, dress in comfortable layers. Exams that start early in the morning in a cool room can make you feel like you’re in a sauna several hours later.

Bad handwriting needs space so the examiner can read it – write on every second line.  Everybody should leave a couple of lines or more between paragraphs and start each answer on a new page.  This gets rid of the need to write vertically in the margin if you think of something that you want to put into your essay.  Exams are marked on screen nowadays, and these inserts run the risk of not being read if they can’t be seen easily.

Plan your time carefully, answering questions you know first, and those you will find harder last.  Leave at least ten minutes for looking over your answers.

Never leave an exam early.  Ask if you need to use the bathroom, and then come back and stay for the whole of the exam.  If you have finished very early, then you have done something wrong, and need to check your work again.  If you have missed out answering one question, because you don’t know the answer, then go back and try it; even one or two marks are better than zero.  There is usually something you can add, so use the time allotted to you.

Finally, try and ignore the other people in the room, whether they look confident and are writing away like crazy, or look as if they are about to burst into tears.  Try and think a ‘little bubble’ around yourself as you focus on answering the questions.

Good Luck!

 

How do you revise?

Woods to sunshineYou will all have your favourite tips for revision, but here are a few more that might help move you out of the dark woods into the sunlight.

  1. You are looking for retrieval, not recognition, so stop highlighting big chunks of your textbook and start writing or planning answers with the book closed.  The IB Diploma exams are very near,  A levels are not much further away, and many of you will be sitting end-of-year exams.
  2. Revise what you don’t know, not what you know. This is linked to the above: it is reassuring to realise that we know some things, but testing yourself on what you know is pointless.  You need to test yourself, using old  on what you are not sure of.
  3. Write, write, write.  Don’t type your answers, unless you’ll be typing them in the exams.  Your writing muscles need to get into shape now! So, when you are planning answers, writing notecards of material in your own words, summarising studies, do it by hand.  You may have 5 or 6 hours of writing in one day in your exams, so get training now.
  4. Output, not input. Yes, by all means make recordings, diagrams, notes, overviews, pictures, but the crucial test is if you can use all these theories and studies you have learned to answer the question. So get hold of old papers and markschemes, or at least old questions, and start now.
  5. Plan your revision now.  Make a revision timetable, and plan to cover at leat two different academic subjects (like Psychology and French, for example) each day, for up to an hour each.  If you get tired, swap topics – so maybe study half an hour of sociocultural psychology and then half an hour of biological, planning the answers as you go.  Stick to your timetable.

These exams will soon be over, but learning is a life-long skill.

So What? How to engage in critical thinking.

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We all know what critical thinking is when we see it – it is the ability not to stop at the seemingly obvious, but to look at the several possible meanings and probable explanations behind it.  It involves analysis and synthesis of ideas and explanations. Without critical thinking, psychology becomes a list of studies to learn and boxes to tick, with no engagement and argument.   The command terms at the beginning of the essays you write (Discuss, Evaluate, To what extent, Contrast) all require more than a list of research.

Next time you write an essay if you are a student, or mark one if you are a teacher, stop at the end of each sentence and ask ‘So what?’  This should trigger some critical thinking.  Think of these statements:

The results of the experiment lack ecological validity. Thousands of students will write this in the upcoming exams this May.  So what? Does this matter?  Does it affect what we can do with the results? Well, yes it does.  If the experiment was carried out in a lab with all variables controlled apart from the manipulated one (independent variable) and the measured one (dependent variable) then this unnatural situation could have led to all sorts of changes in participants’ behaviour.  In this case the results may not be a true reflection of how they would have behaved under natural conditions.

Researchers at the biological level of analysis sometimes use lab experiments on animals to investigate the effects of certain neurotransmitters on human behaviour.  This is another common point made in  answers about either neurotransmitters or research methods. The critical thinker will then go on to point out that this is because they believe that, as some animals have similar brain structures to humans, then they use brain chemicals in the same way. These experiments are used when it would be impractical or unethical or plain impossible to test  hypotheses on humans in the same way, but of course, the assumption of parity of brain processes between human and non-human animals is a contested belief and certainly not all results from animal studies can be successfully be applied to gain a better understanding of human behaviour.  However, it is significant that it was initially in rodents that the link between acetylcholine and memory was discovered, which has been verified in adult humans with Alzheimer’s disease.

So, while it is important to revise studies for your exams,  don’t forget to use them to make an argument, look at why they are relevant and always explain the explanations!

How to structure a short-answer question response on models of memory

MSM for blogHow to structure a 9-mark SAQ on models of memory (for the new curriculum, exams May and Nov 2019):

Describe one model of one cognitive process, using suitable research to support your answer. [9]

1 Introduce your model of memory – draw and label it. Say how it conceptualises memory e.g. as separate storage components; as a version of the STM etc.

2 Go into more detail on the model – what does it assume about memory? What does each component/aspect of it say about how memory works? DO NOT EVALUATE! Focus only on description and detail; expand your ideas, give examples.

3 Use ONE piece of research to demonstrate the model in action e.g. Serial Position Effect studies or the case study of HM for the MSM; dual-task studies or the case study of KF for WMM.

4 Expand on how the study you’ve used supports the MSM or the WMM. Be absolutely EXPLICIT in doing this, don’t leave any question marks or assume that the examiner knows what you mean. You should be LINKING BACK to the question throughout your answer, but particularly in your last paragraph

Word count – should be around 250-300 words. Use your time well – you only have 20 minutes to write this in an exam!

Describe or Discuss? Applied to a biological approach question.

easter-3204589_640Every question on your IB Diploma exam paper, indeed every question you answer in class, begins with a command term.  A command term is a word (or a few words) that tells you the focus to take in your answer.  If it is a response to a short-answer question, then one of the most common command terms is ‘describe’:

Describe one ethical consideration in research at the biological approach.

However, an essay question might be:

Discuss ethical considerations in research at the biological approach.

For describe you will need to think of one ethical consideration that is very important for biological research, and describe it in detail – why it is particularly relevant to the biological approach, why it is necessary for studies to implement this consideration, and what the implications are if it is not applied.  Then find one biological study and show why this ethical consideration is vital for this study.  It doesn’t have to be a study where there is an ethical problem, and should be a study that you will be using anyway for other answers.

Discuss requires you to review at least two ethical considerations, say why they are particularly relevant to the biological approach and how they can be assured. There will need to be discussion over the role of ethics in biological research, which are the most important (two is plenty to discuss), and an in-depth analysis of the role of these two ethical considerations in specific studies.  There should be an argument (How important is anonymity? Is fully informed consent given by parents for children and young teenagers enough, or should the youngsters have to consent as well? Is it ever possible to meet all ethical requirements and have a valid study?)  Your conclusions should be supported by empirical data from studies that show a good knowledge of the research you have chosen.

But you knew this anyway, really: if a parent says to you, ‘Describe your new girlfriend/boyfriend’ you are not nearly as ready for an argument as if they say ‘Let’s discuss your new girlfriend/boyfriend.’  Are you? So – apply the same thinking to your writing, and you’ll be fine!