4.3 Issues and options in Psychology

Students will be expected to:

  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of psychological concepts, theories, research studies, research methods and ethical issues in relation to the specified Paper 3 content
  • apply psychological knowledge and understanding of the specified Paper 3 content in a range of contexts
  • analyse, interpret and evaluate psychological concepts, theories, research studies and research methods in relation to the specified Paper 3 content
  • evaluate therapies and treatments including in terms of their appropriateness and effectiveness.

Knowledge and understanding of research methods, practical research skills and mathematical skills (see Annex: Mathematical requirements and exemplification) will be assessed in Paper 3. These skills should be developed through study of the specification content and through ethical practical research activities, involving:

  • designing research
  • conducting research
  • analysing and interpreting data.

In answering questions on Issues and Debates in Psychology students will be expected to illustrate their answers with knowledge and understanding of topics studied elsewhere in the specification as appropriate.

In carrying out practical research activities, students will manage associated risks and use information and communication technology (ICT).

Issues and debates in Psychology

  • Gender and culture in Psychology – universality and bias. Gender bias including androcentrism and alpha and beta bias; cultural bias, including ethnocentrism and cultural relativism.
  • Free will and determinism: hard determinism and soft determinism; biological, environmental and psychic determinism. The scientific emphasis on causal explanations.
  • The nature-nurture debate: the relative importance of heredity and environment in determining behaviour; the interactionist approach.
  • Holism and reductionism: levels of explanation in Psychology. Biological reductionism and environmental (stimulus-response) reductionism.
  • Idiographic and nomothetic approaches to psychological investigation.
  • Ethical implications of research studies and theory, including reference to social sensitivity.


  • The evolutionary explanations for partner preferences, including the relationship between sexual selection and human reproductive behaviour.
  • Factors affecting attraction in romantic relationships: self-disclosure; physical attractiveness, including the matching hypothesis; filter theory, including social demography, similarity in attitudes and complementarity.
  • Theories of romantic relationships: social exchange theory, equity theory and Rusbult’s investment model of commitment, satisfaction, comparison with alternatives and investment. Duck’s phase model of relationship breakdown: intra-psychic, dyadic, social and grave dressing phases.
  • Virtual relationships in social media: self-disclosure in virtual relationships; effects of absence of gating on the nature of virtual relationships.
  • Parasocial relationships: levels of parasocial relationships, the absorption addiction model and the attachment theory explanation.


  • Sex and gender. Sex-role stereotypes. Androgyny and measuring androgyny including the Bem Sex Role Inventory.
  • The role of chromosomes and hormones (testosterone, oestrogen and oxytocin) in sex and gender. Atypical sex chromosome patterns: Klinefelter’s syndrome and Turner’s syndrome.
  • Cognitive explanations of gender development, Kohlberg’s theory, gender identity, gender stability and gender constancy; gender schema theory.
  • Psychodynamic explanation of gender development, Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, Oedipus complex; Electra complex; identification and internalisation.
  • Social learning theory as applied to gender development. The influence of culture and media on gender roles.
  • Atypical gender development: gender dysphoria; biological and social explanations for gender dysphoria.

Cognition and development

  • Piaget’s theory of cognitive development: schemas, assimilation, accommodation, equilibration, stages of intellectual development. Characteristics of these stages, including object permanence, conservation, egocentrism and class inclusion.
  • Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development, including the zone of proximal development and scaffolding.
  • Baillargeon’s explanation of early infant abilities, including knowledge of the physical world; violation of expectation research.
  • The development of social cognition: Selman’s levels of perspective-taking; theory of mind, including theory of mind as an explanation for autism; the Sally-Anne study. The role of the mirror neuron system in social cognition.


  • Classification of schizophrenia. Positive symptoms of schizophrenia, including hallucinations and delusions. Negative symptoms of schizophrenia, including speech poverty and avolition. Reliability and validity in diagnosis and classification of schizophrenia, including reference to co-morbidity, culture and gender bias and symptom overlap.
  • Biological explanations for schizophrenia: genetics and neural correlates, including the dopamine hypothesis.
  • Psychological explanations for schizophrenia: family dysfunction and cognitive explanations, including dysfunctional thought processing.
  • Drug therapy: typical and atypical antipsychotics.
  • Cognitive behaviour therapy and family therapy as used in the treatment of schizophrenia. Token economies as used in the management of schizophrenia.
  • The importance of an interactionist approach in explaining and treating schizophrenia; the diathesis-stress model.

Eating behaviour

  • Explanations for food preferences: the evolutionary explanation, including reference to neophobia and taste aversion; the role of learning in food preference, including social and cultural influences.
  • Neural and hormonal mechanisms involved in the control of eating behaviour, including the role of the hypothalamus, ghrelin and leptin.
  • Biological explanations for anorexia nervosa, including genetic and neural explanations.
  • Psychological explanations for anorexia nervosa: family systems theory, including enmeshment, autonomy and control; social learning theory, including modelling, reinforcement and media; cognitive theory, including distortions and irrational beliefs.
  • Biological explanations for obesity, including genetic and neural explanations.
  • Psychological explanations for obesity, including restraint theory, disinhibition and the boundary model. Explanations for the success and failure of dieting.


  • The physiology of stress, including general adaptation syndrome, the hypothalamic pituitary-adrenal system, the sympathomedullary pathway and the role of cortisol.
  • The role of stress in illness, including reference to immunosuppression and cardiovascular disorders.
  • Sources of stress: life changes and daily hassles. Workplace stress, including the effects of workload and control.
  • Measuring stress: self-report scales (Social Readjustment Ratings Scale and Hassles and Uplifts Scale) and physiological measures, including skin conductance response.
  • Individual differences in stress: personality types A, B and C and associated behaviours; hardiness, including commitment, challenge and control.
  • Managing and coping with stress: drug therapy (benzodiazepines, beta blockers), stress inoculation therapy and biofeedback. Gender differences in coping with stress. The role of social support in coping with stress; types of social support, including instrumental, emotional and esteem support.


  • Neural and hormonal mechanisms in aggression, including the roles of the limbic system, serotonin and testosterone. Genetic factors in aggression, including the MAOA gene.
  • The ethological explanation of aggression, including reference to innate releasing mechanisms and fixed action patterns. Evolutionary explanations of human aggression.
  • Social psychological explanations of human aggression, including the frustration-aggression hypothesis, social learning theory as applied to human aggression, and de-individuation.
  • Institutional aggression in the context of prisons: dispositional and situational explanations. 
  • Media influences on aggression, including the effects of computer games. The role of desensitisation, disinhibition and cognitive priming.

Forensic Psychology

  • Offender profiling: the top-down approach, including organised and disorganised types of offender; the bottom-up approach, including investigative Psychology; geographical profiling.
  • Biological explanations of offending behaviour: an historical approach (atavistic form); genetics and neural explanations.
  • Psychological explanations of offending behaviour: Eysenck’s theory of the criminal personality; cognitive explanations; level of moral reasoning and cognitive distortions, including hostile attribution bias and minimalisation; differential association theory; psychodynamic explanations.
  • Dealing with offending behaviour: the aims of custodial sentencing and the psychological effects of custodial sentencing. Recidivism. Behaviour modification in custody. Anger management and restorative justice programmes.


  • Describing addiction: physical and psychological dependence, tolerance and withdrawal syndrome.
  • Risk factors in the development of addiction, including genetic vulnerability, stress, personality, family influences and peers.
  • Explanations for nicotine addiction: brain neurochemistry, including the role of dopamine, and learning theory as applied to smoking behaviour, including reference to cue reactivity.
  • Explanations for gambling addiction: learning theory as applied to gambling, including reference to partial and variable reinforcement; cognitive theory as applied to gambling, including reference to cognitive bias.
  • Reducing addiction: drug therapy; behavioural interventions, including aversion therapy and covert sensitisation; cognitive behaviour therapy.
  • The application of the following theories of behaviour change to addictive behaviour; the theory of planned behaviour and Prochaska’s six-stage model of behaviour change.