‘Psychology Sorted’ Book 1 second edition (including all the new additions) out now on Amazon!

Laura and I have been working hard to get the second edition of ‘Psychology Sorted’ Book 1, Core Approaches out – and here it is! This second edition includes key study summaries for all of the new additions to the Core Approaches – yes, those pesky topics that could come up on Paper 1, Section A. So, if you have been wondering about which study to use for agonists, antagonists, excitatory/inhibitory synapses, neural pruning etc. (I mention the Biological topics as these are the ones that seem to have caused us all so much grief!) then do not fear, we have them here!

You can order the book here

And if you love it please leave a review to say that you do!

Planning your course effectively – the sociocultural approach and health


The sociocultural approach is increasingly used in health psychology, as it became obvious that not all disorders could be explained through a biological etiology.  For example, addiction can be caused and sustained through our position in social groups, and treated through the support of social networks. Pegg et al. (2018) conducted a survey that investigated social identity and alcohol use in teens and found that higher levels of exposure to alcohol-related content on social networking sites was associated with higher levels of alcohol use, as the online social identity was maintained through an alignment of behaviour with other members of the online social group. Many health promotion programmes are underpinned by social cognitive theory, with its focus on the interaction of behaviour, internal personal factors (biology and individual cognition) and environmental influences and the key concepts of agency, self-efficacy, vicarious reinforcement and motivation.

More examples on the way!


Bandura, A. (2004). Health promotion by social cognitive means. Health Education & Behavior, 31(2), 143-164.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: a social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall.

Pegg, K. J., O’Donnell, A. W., Lala, G., & Barber, B. L. (2017). The role of online social identity in the relationship between alcohol-related content on social networking sites and adolescent alcohol use. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 21, 50-55

Tajfel, H., Billig, M. G., Bundy, R. P., & Flament, C. (1971). Social categorization and intergroup behaviour. European Journal of Social Psychology, 1(2), 149-178

Wenzel, S. L., Green, H. D. Jr, Tucker, J. S., Golinelli, D., Kennedy, D. P., Ryan, G. & Zhou, A. (2009). The social context of homeless women’s alcohol and drug use. Drug and Alcohol Dependence105(1-2), 16–23.


Contrast two theories of altruism ERQ.

This is a useful task to get students to focus on the command term of ‘contrast’ which they tend to find quite tricky. I give them the essay that I’ve written and they have to highlight all of the phrases/sections that really address the ‘contrast’ aspect of the question i.e. those which explicitly point out the differences between theories/studies/evaluation issues. I also ask them to fill details in the right-hand column so that they know why the essay works. This is a good active learning task, particularly for year 13s and they seem to really engage with it. I have highlighted some examples of explicit ‘contrast’ terms below:

The two theories of prosocial behaviour that will be contrasted in this essay are reciprocal altruism which takes the biological approach and the negative-state relief model which views prosocial behaviour using the cognitive approach. Research into prosocial behaviour is problematic in that it is difficult for psychologists to operationalise prosocial behaviour as a variable and to measure it precisely because it is a very subjective variable which may differ from person to person. Investigating it from a biological perspective (RA) involves using different methodology to that of a cognitive approach (NSR).

Reciprocal altruism is a biological theory that is based on the principles of evolutionary psychology, namely that altruistic acts are performed in order to gain some future benefit from the recipient. The basis of reciprocal altruism is that the donor’s fitness is temporarily compromised in order to help another, fellow organism. This help is given with an expectation of future help from the recipient to the original donor. It is difficult to find empirical support for evolutionary theories – unlike lab-based NSR studies – so psychologists use the idea of ultimate causes to account for current behaviour that may be rooted in primeval instincts.

In contrast to reciprocal altruism, the negative-state relief model considers the extent to which personal discomfort at the sight of another’s distress motivates altruistic acts. The assumption of this model is that when someone witnesses another in need of help they experience a negative mood such as concern, anxiety, guilt. This negative mood may then prompt the individual to offer help in order to improve their own mood, so prompting an egoistic motivation to help rather than being a purely altruistic act. This is a cognitive approach to prosocial behaviour which does not assume evolutionary instincts as the basis to behaviour (which is RA), rather researchers can use the model to draw inferences about behaviour.

Reciprocal altruism is based on the idea that there is a reasonably good probability that two organisms (e.g. two unrelated individual human beings) will meet again at some point in the future, making reciprocity possible. The negative-state relief model, however, focuses on a here-and-now approach, with the individual seeking relief from negative feelings in the moment rather than for some future gain. This is a real point of contrast between the two theories as reciprocal altruism assumes that human beings are programmed to instinctively help someone in need as a way of storing up future favours whereas the negative-state relief model is possibly easier to relate to as it identifies egoistic motivation as a factor in prosocial behaviour. In other words, most people are unlikely to believe that by helping a stranger in the street they are protecting themselves against future misfortune: they may never see this person again, their paths may never cross.

Axelrod & Hamilton (1981) devised a computer-based model of chess games involving two players to test reciprocal altruism. Batson et al (1989) in contrast, used a lab experiment with some manipulation of naïve participants. Axelrod & Hamilton took the unusual route of analysing a range of strategies used in chess games that had been provided by economists, sociologists, political theorists and mathematicians. This contrasts to Batson et al’s more conventional use of a lab experiment involving 44 students taking an introductory psychology course at the University of Kansas. Batson et al’s sample represents a typical group of participants for psychological research whereas Axelrod & Hamilton’s represents a more diverse and less ethnocentric population.

In Batson et al half of the participants were told that they would be watching a video that would make them feel sad; the other half were told that the video would make them feel happy. The experimenter left the room and a confederate entered and asked the participant if they would be willing to give some time to help make phone calls related to blood donation. There were more offers of help from participants in the sad mood condition than in the positive mood condition. The researchers concluded that the participants in the sad condition may have helped in a bid to feel better (self-reward), thereby supporting the Negative State Relief model. Axelrod & Hamilton did not implement an independent variable, unlike Batson et al but their results, they claim, supported reciprocal altruism: the most successful way of achieving the highest average chess score was to employ a strategy known as tit for tat which may ultimately be more beneficial to an individual than pure self-serving acts.

There are limitations to each study, mainly linked to the operationalising of prosocial behaviour, for different reasons. Axelrod & Hamilton assumed that the players were drawing from evolutionary instincts to derive the most successful strategy but they may simply have been playing cautiously and using cognitive decision-making processes to plan their moves. This is the major flaw with reciprocal altruism: it is very difficult to use Axelrod & Hamilton’s research as evidence of a biological approach as chess is a highly skilled game at which players must constantly think, process information, form judgements and make decisions.

Batson et al’s research also has limitations but these are not at the level of the approach used (cognitive) but rather they are concerned with the issue of demand characteristics as a possible source of bias. The sample in this study were psychology students, (contrasted to Axelrod & Hamilton’s sample of experts) so they might have guessed the aim of the study or behaved in an artificial way due to the contrived nature of the procedure. It is also possible that individual differences affected the result (more likely with a small sample) i.e. some participants may be naturally less caring than other participants. It would be very difficult therefore, for the researchers to be confident that they had successfully operationalised the negative-state relief model in their study.

To conclude, the main points of contrast between the two theories is that reciprocal altruism assumes that people behave prosocially for an expected future benefit – and that they do so without real, conscious thought – whereas the negative-state relief model assumes that help is given in the moment for egoistic reasons. The main source of difficulty in accepting reciprocal altruism as a valid theory of prosocial behaviour is the paucity of evidence to support it whereas for the negative-state relief model the main problem concerns the operationalising of the negative state and its subsequent ego-driven motivation towards prosocial behaviour.

[1236 words]


Introduction to a topic – acculturation


Acculturation is the process of adaptation to another culture, both by the people who move to the new ‘host’ culture and those already living there, who are receiving the immigrants.  It is an interesting topic, with many complex layers, encompassing as it does the ideas of ‘acculturative stress’ and ‘culture clash’ as well as issues of bilingualism and transmission of values. For a touching introduction to the topic, see this Youtube film – Refugees in Europe on their adopted homelands.  I identified language, sport and food as adaptations that the refugees had made in order to integrate. You will probably find others.

Berry (2008) argues that the process of acculturation leads to cultural and psychological changes in both parties. Instead of one rather homogeneous global society ensuing, as the ‘non-dominant group’ (the minority group) is absorbed into the host culture, the behaviours of those engaged in acculturation are varied and complex, and he identifies four acculturation strategies used by immigrants.  He points out that the responses of the host culture are crucial in shaping these.

Assimilation When individuals do not wish to maintain their own culture and seek daily interactions with people from the host culture.
Separation When individuals wish to maintain their own culture and do not wish to integrate, therefore they avoid contact with the host culture. This can only be pursued if the host culture does not impose marginalisation or assimilation.
Integration When individuals wish to interact with the host culture and be an integral part of this culture, while maintaining their own identity as well. Integrated individuals are bicultural. This can only be pursued if the host culture is open and welcoming and does not impose marginalisation or assimilation.
Marginalisation Often follows on enforced cultural loss, and is when individuals have no interest in integration or assimilation into the host culture, even though they have lost their own.

Application of this theory can be seen in the works of Lyons-Padilla et al. (2015), who have developed a hypothesis that marginalisation in a globalised society leads to radicalisation. See her TEDx talk on ‘cultural homelessness’.

Maybe you are living in a culture that is not your own?  Think about the adjustments you make each day, and how people adjust to you.  This is a part of the psychology course that you can really make your own!

Emic and Etic Explained


Are you confused by the terms ’emic’ and ‘etic’ when applied to research methods?  It is hardly surprising, for a quick Google of these terms will produce diverse definitions, applied to both language and culture.  Once you get further into reading about how culture influences behaviour you will find that some writers even use them as nouns (’emics’ and ‘etics’) rather than as adjectives applied to particular approaches and research methods.

The origin of the words lies within the field of linguistics, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, and has been used in the terms ‘phonetic’ (representing speech sounds by symbols) and ‘phonemic’ (related to specific underlying sounds that distinguish two similar words).  Their first use in anthropology seems to date back to the 1950s, according to several dictionaries, and the way they are used in psychology is the same.

Etic research is research that compares data from different cultures in an effort to uncover general rules regarding human behaviour. Think eTic = ‘T for telescope.’  A telescope allows us to take a large comparative view of landscapes and see a lot from a distance.   This is often quantitative research that generates data tables.  (Höfstede’s research into cultural dimensions is a good example of  etic research).

Emic research is conducted within one culture or sometimes within one social group within the culture, and focuses on uncovering the individual and group meaning of people’s actions, communications and attitudes.  Think eMic = ‘M for microscope.’ A microscope allows us to take a very close look at very small details, and see the meaning of changes in cells, for example.  This is almost exclusively qualitative research that generates written data, often from video- or audio-recorded observations or interviews.  (Howarth’s focus group interview method researching the construction of social identity of Brixton youth, with detailed transcription of the interviews, is a good example of emic research).