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  • Sixth Form

    Psychology (AS / A Level)

    Examination Board: AQA Psychology A (7181 / 7182)

    Introduction and Structure: GCE Psychology is a broad and diverse social science subject. The AS course covers topics such as memory, social influence, psychopathology and attachment, all topics which affect our lives. Research methods are taught in context throughout the year, emphasizing the importance of the scientific method. The behavioural, cognitive and biological approaches are also introduced. The course is designed to focus on the application of knowledge and understanding, thereby developing transferable skills of analysis, evaluation and critical thinking. The A2 course covers three topics; addiction, schizophrenia (psychopathology) and relationships. The study of research methods are continued as are further approaches. At A2 the topics bring together explanations from different approaches and engage in issues and debates in contemporary Psychology. The following course details relate to the A Level course.

    PAPER 1; Introductory topics in psychology:

    Cognitive Psychology – Memory

    • The multi-store model of memory: sensory register, short-term memory and long-term memory. Features of each store: coding, capacity and duration.
    • Types of long-term memory: episodic, semantic, procedural.
    • The working memory model: central executive, phonological loop, visuo-spatial sketchpad and episodic buffer. Features of the model: coding and capacity.
    • Explanations for forgetting: proactive and retroactive interference and retrieval failure due to absence of cues.
    • Factors affecting the accuracy of eyewitness testimony: misleading information, including leading questions and post-event discussion; anxiety.
    • Improving the accuracy of eyewitness testimony, including the use of the cognitive interview.

    Developmental Psychology – Early Social Development

    • Caregiver-infant interactions in humans: reciprocity and interactional synchrony. Stages of

    attachment identified by Schaffer. Multiple attachments and the role of the father.

    • Animal studies of attachment: Lorenz and Harlow.
    • Explanations of attachment: learning theory and Bowlby’s monotropic theory. The concepts of a critical period and an internal working model.
    • Ainsworth’s ‘Strange Situation’. Types of attachment: secure, insecure-avoidant and insecure-resistant.
    • Cultural variations in attachment, including van Ijzendoorn.
    • Bowlby’s theory of maternal deprivation. Romanian orphan studies: effects of institutionalisation.
    • The influence of early attachment on childhood and adult relationships, including the role of an internal working model.

    Social Psychology – Social influence

    • Types of conformity: internalisation, identification and compliance. Explanations for conformity: informational social influence and normative social influence, and variables affecting conformity including group size, unanimity and task difficulty as investigated by Asch.
    • Conformity to social roles as investigated by Zimbardo.
    • Explanations for obedience: agentic state and legitimacy of authority, and situational variables affecting obedience including proximity, location and uniform, as investigated by Milgram.
    • Dispositional explanation for obedience: the Authoritarian Personality.
    • Explanations of resistance to social influence, including social support and locus of control.
    • Minority influence including reference to consistency, commitment and flexibility.
    • The role of social influence processes in social change.


    • Definitions of abnormality, including deviation from social norms, failure to function adequately, statistical infrequency and deviation from ideal mental health.
    • The behavioural, emotional and cognitive characteristics of phobias, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
    • The behavioural approach to explaining and treating phobias: the two-process model, including classical and operant conditioning; systematic desensitisation, including relaxation and use of hierarchy; flooding.
    • The cognitive approach to explaining and treating depression: Beck’s negative triad and Ellis’s ABC model; cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), including challenging irrational thoughts.
    • The biological approach to explaining and treating OCD: genetic and neural explanations; drug therapy.

    PAPER 2; Psychology in context:

    Approaches in psychology

    • Origins of psychology: Wundt, introspection and the emergence of psychology as a science.

    The basic assumptions of the following approaches:

    • Learning approaches: the behaviourist approach, including classical conditioning and Pavlov’s research, operant conditioning, types of reinforcement and Skinner’s research; social learning theory including imitation, identification, modelling, vicarious reinforcement, the role of mediational processes and Bandura’s research.
    • The cognitive approach: the study of internal mental processes, the role of schema, the use of theoretical and computer models to explain and make inferences about mental processes. The emergence of cognitive neuroscience.
    • The biological approach: the influence of genes, biological structures and neurochemistry on behaviour. Genotype and phenotype, genetic basis of behaviour, evolution and behaviour.
    • The psychodynamic approach: the role of the unconscious, the structure of personality, that is ID, ego and superego, defence mechanisms including repression, denial and displacement, psychosexual stages.
    • Humanistic psychology: free will, self-actualisation and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, focus on the self, congruence, the role of conditions of worth. The influence on counselling psychology.
    • Comparison of approaches.


    • The divisions of the nervous system: central and peripheral (somatic and autonomic).
    • The structure and function of sensory, relay and motor neurons. The process of synaptic transmission, including reference to neurotransmitters, excitation and inhibition.
    • The function of the endocrine system: glands and hormones.
    • The fight or flight response including the role of adrenaline.
    • Localisation of function in the brain and hemispheric lateralisation: motor, somatosensory, visual, auditory and language centres; Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas, split brain research. Plasticity and functional recovery of the brain after trauma.
    • Ways of studying the brain: scanning techniques, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); electroencephalogram (EEGs) and event-related potentials (ERPs); post-mortem examinations.
    • Biological rhythms: circadian, infradian and ultradian and the difference between these rhythms. The effect of endogenous pacemakers and exogenous zeitgebers on the sleep/wake cycle.

    Research Methods

    Candidates will be required to understand different methods and techniques used in psychological studies. They must be familiar with the investigation design (scientific processes) and confidently perform data handling and analysis, including statisitical analysis.

    PAPER 3; Issues and options in psychology:

    • Issues and debates
    • Relationships / Gender / Cognition and development
    • Schizophrenia / Eating behaviour / Stress
    • Addiction / Aggression / Forensic psychology


    AS Examinations

    At least 10% of the overall assessment of psychology will contain mathematical skills, equivalent of GCSE A-C or above.

    At least 25-30% of the overall assessment will be related to research methods.

    Marks are shared evenly between the three papers, all two hours long.

    Careers: Having studied psychology possible career options include working in education, mental health, government, social work, forensics, medical professions and business-related careers, however most require a higher level of education. A-level psychology can lead to degrees in psychology, medicine, nursing, midwifery, sports science, business studies, social sciences and many more. The skills and knowledge obtained through the course can enhance any career and enable the candidates to understand the world around them.

    Entrance Requirements: Standard entry requirement for entry onto A Level programmes of study is 6 GCSE’s at grade C or above including at least a C for Maths, English and Science (preferable a B).

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