3.2 Social context and behaviour

Students will be expected to:

  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of psychological ideas, processes, procedures and theories in relation to the specified Paper 2 content
  • apply psychological knowledge and understanding of the specified Paper 2 content in a range of contexts
  • analyse and evaluate psychological ideas, information, processes and procedures in relation to the specified Paper 2 content and make judgements, draw conclusions and produce developments or refinements of psychological procedures based on their reasoning and synthesis of skills
  • evaluate therapies and treatments including in terms of their appropriateness and effectiveness
  • show how psychological knowledge and ideas change over time and how these inform our understanding of behaviour
  • demonstrate the contribution of psychology to an understanding of individual, social and cultural diversity
  • develop an understanding of the interrelationships between the core areas of psychology
  • show how the studies for topics relate to the associated theory.

Knowledge and understanding of research methods (see Research methods), practical research skills and mathematical skills (see Appendix A: mathematical requirements) will be assessed across all topic areas in Paper 2. These skills should be developed by studying the specification content and through ethical, practical research activities, involving:

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

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

Social influence


Additional information


Identification and explanation of how social factors (group size, anonymity and task difficulty) and dispositional factors (personality, expertise) affect conformity to majority influence.

Asch’s study of conformity.


Milgram’s Agency theory of social factors affecting obedience including agency, authority, culture and proximity.

Explanation of dispositional factors affecting obedience including Adorno’s theory of the Authoritarian Personality.

Prosocial behaviour

Bystander behaviour: identification and explanation of how social factors (presence of others and the cost of helping) and dispositional factors (similarity to victim and expertise) affect bystander intervention.

Piliavin’s subway study.

Crowd and collective behaviour

Prosocial and antisocial behaviour in crowds: identification and explanation of how social factors (social loafing, deindividuation and culture) and dispositional factors (personality and morality) affect collective behaviour.

Language, thought and communication


Additional information

The possible relationship between language and thought

The effect of language and thought on our view of the world

Piaget’s theory: language depends on thought.

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: thinking depends on language.

Variation in recall of events and recognition of colours, eg in Native American cultures.

Differences between human and animal communication

Limited functions of animal communication (survival, reproduction, territory, food).

Von Frisch’s bee study.

Properties of human communication not present in animal communication, eg plan ahead and discuss future events.

Non-verbal communication

Definitions of non-verbal communication and verbal communication.

Functions of eye contact including regulating flow of conversation, signaling attraction and expressing emotion.

Body language including open and closed posture, postural echo and touch.

Personal space including cultural, status and gender differences.

Explanations of non-verbal behaviour

Darwin’s evolutionary theory of non-verbal communication as evolved and adaptive.

Evidence that non-verbal behaviour is innate, eg in neonates and the sensory deprived.

Evidence that non-verbal behaviour is learned. Yuki’s study of emoticons.

Brain and neuropsychology


Additional information

Structure and function of the nervous system

The divisions of the human nervous system: central and peripheral (somatic and autonomic), basic functions of these divisions.

The autonomic nervous system and the fight or flight response. The James-Lange theory of emotion.

Neuron structure and function

Sensory, relay and motor neurons. Synaptic transmission: release and reuptake of neurotransmitters. Excitation and inhibition. An understanding of how these processes interact.

Hebb's theory of learning and neuronal growth.

Structure and function of the brain

Brain structure: frontal lobe, temporal lobe, parietal lobe, occipital lobe and cerebellum.

Basic function of these structures.

Localisation of function in the brain: motor, somatosensory, visual, auditory and language areas.

Penfield’s study of the interpretive cortex.

An introduction to neuropsychology Cognitive neuroscience: how the structure and function of the brain relate to behaviour and cognition.

The use of scanning techniques to identify brain functioning: CT, PET and fMRI scans.

Tulving's 'gold' memory study.

A basic understanding of how neurological damage, eg stroke or injury can affect motor abilities and behaviour.

Psychological problems


Additional information

An introduction to mental health

How the incidence of significant mental health problems changes over time

Characteristics of mental health, eg positive engagement with society, effective coping with challenges.

Cultural variations in beliefs about mental health problems.

Increased challenges of modern living, eg isolation.

Increased recognition of the nature of mental health problems and lessening of social stigma.

Effects of significant mental health problems on individuals and society

Individual effects, eg damage to relationships, difficulties coping with day to day life, negative impact on physical wellbeing.

Social effects, eg need for more social care, increased crime rates, implications for the economy.

Characteristics of clinical depression

Differences between unipolar depression, bipolar depression and sadness.

The use of International Classification of Diseases in diagnosing unipolar depression: number and severity of symptoms including low mood, reduced energy levels, changes in sleep patterns and appetite levels, decrease in self-confidence.

Theories of depression

Interventions or therapies for depression

Biological explanation (influence of nature): imbalance of neurotransmitters, eg serotonin in the brain.

Psychological explanation (influence of nurture): negative schemas and attributions.

Use of antidepressant medications.

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).

How these improve mental health, reductionist and holistic perspectives. Wiles’ study of the effectiveness of CBT.

Characteristics of addiction

The difference between addiction/dependence and substance misuse/abuse.

The use of International Classification of Diseases in diagnosing addiction (dependence syndrome), including a strong desire to use substance(s) despite harmful consequences, difficulty in controlling use, a higher priority given to the substance(s) than to other activities or obligations.

Theories of addiction

Interventions or therapies for addiction

Biological explanation (influence of nature): hereditary factors/genetic vulnerability. Kaij’s twin study of alcohol abuse.

Psychological explanation (influence of nurture): Peer influence.

Aversion therapy.

Self-management programmes, eg self-help groups, 12 step recovery programmes.

How these improve mental health, reductionist and holistic perspectives.