What will I learn?

Through studying this course, you will develop the following:

  • an understanding of the biological, cognitive and sociocultural factors affecting mental processes and behaviour.
  • an ability to apply an understanding of the biological, cognitive and sociocultural factors affecting mental processes and behaviour to at least one applied area of study.
  • an ability to understand diverse methods of inquiry.
  • an understanding of the importance of ethical practice in psychological research in general and observe ethical practice in your own inquiries.
  • the ability to ensure that ethical practices are upheld in all psychological inquiry and discussion.
  • an awareness of how psychological research can be applied to address real world problems and promote positive change.
  • an ability to critically reflect on the evidence as well as assist in the design, implementation, analysis and evaluation of your own investigation
  • an understanding of contemporary real-world issues such as war and conflict, the environment, poverty, injustice, and human rights.
  • critical thinking skills and application.
  • an ability to explore the characteristics and complexities of social and cultural life and develop new ways of thinking about the world that demonstrate the interconnectedness of local, regional and global processes and issues.
  • the capacity to foster an awareness of how cultural and social contexts inform the production of anthropological knowledge.

What is the structure of the course?

Higher Level

Standard Level

Part 1: Engaging with Psychological Approaches

As SL with extensions

  •  The Biological Approach
  • The Cognitive Approach
  • The Sociocultural Approach
  • Research Methodology

Part 2: Engaging with Applied Psychology

  • HL – One from each of the below three groups plus one additional
  • SL – One from each of the below three groups
  1. Abnormal Psychology
  2. Developmental Psychology
  3. Health Psychology
  4. Psychology of Human Relationships

Part 3: Coursework

Experimental Study

Demonstrate the skills and knowledge acquired through the study of Psychology.  Plan and implement a research project.  Through the application of  the science-practitioner model, develop a hypothesis;  conduct an experiment; collect and analyse the data; report and discuss the findings.

How will I be assessed?


Higher Level

Standard Level

Research Project

A report on an experimental study undertaken by the student (20%)

A report on an experimental study undertaken by the student (25%)


Paper 1 – 2 hours (40%)
Paper 2 – 2 hours (20%)
Paper 3 – 1 hour  (20%)

Paper 1 – 2 hours (50%)
Paper 2 – 1 hour  (25 %)

Frequently Asked Questions

Which CAS opportunities are available?
MOOC courses. Debating Club. Seminars.

Which opportunities for further study are available?
Studying Psychology will open the doors to many fascinating and rewarding careers, with the opportunity to  study further.  Psychology prepares you for any university course that requires students to possess analytical skills; be critical thinkers; and understand the behaviour of people in real life situations.  You would be well prepared for an undergraduate degree in Psychology, and it is appropriate to  a range of careers , such as:  academic research, counselling, education, wellbeing, clinical psychology, midwifery, and other allied health services.

For more information on careers related to Psychology visit the British Psychological Society at www.bps.org.uk/career-options-psychology.

Is there anything else I need to know?
This course will engage you in concepts, methods, theories, in addition to real life application.  At the heart of the subject is the practice of psychologists, who through a wide range of specialisms help people understand why they think, feel and behave the way they do.  From a personal perspective you will gain a better understanding of yourself. Through insights into motivation, mental processes, and how you interact with others in social groups and situations, you will gain a better understanding of why you behave the way you do.

Back to ks5 curriculum

Curriculum map

Topics / Units

  • Research in Psychology

Core Declarative Knowledge
What should students know?

  • What is Psychology?
  • Research methodology: What are quantitative and qualitative methods?
  • Sampling, credibility, generalisability and bias in research.
  • Experiments – variables, sampling, design, credibility and generalisability.
  • Bias.
  • Quasi-experiments, natural experiments and field experiments.
  • Correlational studies.
  • Qualitative research – credibility, bias, sampling and generalisability.
  • Qualitative research methods: observation, interview, focus group, content analysis and case study.
  • Ethics in psychological research.

Core Procedural Knowledge
What should students be able to do?

  • Understand the difference between quantitative and qualitative research.
  • Be able to identify the difference between quantitative and qualitative methodology.
  • Be able to identify the different methods for quantitative research and be able to choose the appropriate method, design, and sampling techniques.
  • Understand how different types of bias can impact psychological research and what steps can be taken in order to control for bias as far as practicable.
  • To know when a correlational study is appropriate. Know the main strengths and limitations of correlational research.
  • Understand and be able to identify how credibility, bias, sampling and generalisability differs in qualitative research.
  • Understand the difference between the different research methodologies of qualitative research and be able to identify these. To know the strengths and limitations of these.
  • Understand the history of ethics in psychological research. Know who sets ethical guidelines in the field of psychology and its importance. Be able to identify ethical issues existing and potential research.
  • Be able to apply their knowledge in order to design and implement their own research study in Module 6 (internal assessment).

Links to TOK

  • Empirical evidence
  • Falsification/falsifiability
  • Replication
  • The probabilistic nature of research
  • How do we know a qualitative phenomenon is ‘true’?
  • Content analysis (induction and deduction)

Links to Assessment

  • How can we tell if a research study is credible?
  • How can we study subjective phenomena objectively?
  • How is correlation different from causation?
  • How is quantitative research different from qualitative research?
  • Why do experiments allow cause-and-effect inferences?
  • How can bias in experimental research be prevented?
  • How can findings from a small group of people be generalised to an entire population?
  • How can experiments be designed?
  • What does it mean for two variables to correlate with each other?
  • What should be avoided when interpreting correlations?
  • Can two correlating variables be unrelated in fact?
  • Can correlations show curvilinear relationships?- To what extent can findings from qualitative research be generalised?
  • How can credibility of qualitative research studies be ensured?
  • What are the differences and similarities in how qualitative and quantitative
    research approaches sampling, credibility, generalisability and bias?
  • What is the range of qualitative methods used in psychology?
  • How and why should one qualitative method be chosen over the others?
  • Since psychology is a study of living beings, what ethical issues does it raise?
  • How can we decide what is ethical and what is not in psychology?

Topics / Units

  • Biological Approach to Psychology

Core Declarative Knowledge
What should students know?

  • Introduction
  • Localisation: Brain structure, research supporting localisation, research opposing localisation. Relativity of localisation, the split brain study.
  • Neuroplasticity: Definitions, remapping of the sensory cortex, neuroplasticity as a mechanism of learning, practical applications.
  • Neurotransmitters and behaviour.
  • The processes of the nervous system.
  • Limitations of neurotransmitter research.
  • Effect of serotonin on prosocial behaviour.
  • Effect of dopamine on romantic love.
  • Role of dopamine in Parkinson’s disease.
  • Role of serotonin in depression.
  • Etiology of depression.
  • The serotonin hypothesis.
  • Formation of personal relationships.
  • Techniques used to study the brain.
  • Neuroimaging techniques (strengths and limitations). Use in research. Studies relative to this approach.
  • Hormones and behaviour: function of hormones, Oxytocin, role of oxytocin in interpersonal trust, role in fidelity, role in inter-group conflict.
  • Pheromones and behaviour. Pheromones, localisation of processing pheromonal information in the brain.
  • The search for the human sex pheromone (laboratory experiments and field experiments).
  • Criticism of the research into human pheromones.
  • Genes and behaviour (genetic similarities).
  • Genotype and phenotype, nature-nurture debate.
  • Methods of research (twin, family and adoption studies).
  • Genetic heritability (the Falconer model). The influence of genetics on the environment (niche picking).
  • Heritability and intelligence (twin studies, adoption studies). Contradictory findings.
  • Influence of environment on genetics (regulation of the gene expression).
  • Behaviour epigenetics (regulating response to stress).
  • Why human brain research is limited.
  • Behavioural epigenetics and personality traits.
  • Evolutionary explanations for behaviour. Theory of evolution.
  • Range of evolutionary explanations in psychology (disgust).
  • Criticism of the evolutionary explanation in psychology.

HL Only: Role of animal research in understanding human behaviour.

  • The value of animal models in psychology research.
  • Examples of animal research.
  • Ethical considerations.

Core Procedural Knowledge
What should students be able to do?

  • Have a thorough understanding of how the brain is structured.
  • Understand the processes of the brain.
  • Have an understanding of the methods used to examine the living brain.
  • Know the key research studies related to the biological approach to psychology.
  • Be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the research studies.
  • Be aware of the strengths and limitations of conducting brain research.
  • Understand the ethical implications in this area of psychological research.
  • Have an understanding of limitations of this area of psychological research.

Links to TOK

  • Function (mathematics)
  • Structure (Physics, chemistry)
  • Localisation (geography, astronomy)
  • System (natural sciences, mathematics)
  • Relative and absolute ( physics)
  • The weak and strong (religious knowledge systems)
  • The static and dynamic (history)
  • Paul Bach-y-Rita’s research (1959): how personal knowledge can affect shared knowledge within a discipline.
  • Determinism versus free will (teleology).
  • The trolley problem (impersonal version and personal version).
  • Prisoner’s dilemma (game theory).
  • Can negative social events be the result of positive, rational reasoning?
  • Development of knowledge (consideration of science as a logical system and also as a social institution).
  • Evolutionary ideas in history, natural and human sciences, mathematics, arts, religious knowledge systems, indigenous knowledge systems and ethics.
  • Evolution in an artificially constructed environment.
  • Ethics and the use of thought experiments.

Links to Assessment

  • Is every behaviour associated with a specific brain region?
  • Is there a specialised centre for psychological function in the brain?
  • How can these brain centres be discovered?
  • Are some psychological functions more localised than others?
  • If behaviour is a product of brain structure, to what extent can be the brain
    itself be changed:
  • If a patient’s Broca’s area is damaged, would it be possible to re-grow this
    area in another region of the brain?
  • Does the brain change itself in response to other environmental influences for example, when learn a new skill?
  • If the brain does change itself, what are the potential practical applications of using this process?
  • Some aspects of human behaviour can be explained by chemistry – but can we use chemistry to control people’s behaviour in constructive ways?
  • Do you think we can invent a drug that will make people fall in love with each other?
  • Can we invent the effects of neurotransmitters on behaviour
  • To what extent can we see inside the brain using modern technology?
  • Is there a limit to what and when we can see?
  • Can we observe mental processes as well as brain structure?
  • What are the principles of brain imaging?
  • Do hormones influence behaviour?
  • How far does this influence spread? For example if might be easy to admit their hormones influence sleep-wake cycles but do they also influence things such as a moral choice?
  • Can we say hormones influence some behaviour negatively and some
  • What is the role of hormones in interpersonal relationships (for example,
    friendship or conflict)?
  • Do human pheromones exist?
  • If they do, what effects do they have on human behaviour?
  • What are the major limitations of research into human pheromones?
  • To what extent is our behaviour determined by genetic inheritance?
  • Is intelligence genetically predetermined?
  • Can genetic and environmental influence interact?
  • In what ways can genetic inheritance be moderated by environmental
  • How can we estimate the heritability of a trait or behaviour?
  • Is the theory of evolution useful for explaining human behaviour?
  • What is the explanatory power of evolutionary explanations for behaviour? Can they be used for all possible behaviours?
    – If we are genetically similar to animals and genes affect behaviour, does it mean we are behaviourally similar to animals too?
  • Can animal studies provide an insight into human behaviour?
  • Is psychological experimentation with animals ethical?
  • To what extent can findings from qualitative research be generalised?
  • How can credibility of qualitative research studies be ensured?
  • What are the differences and similarities in how qualitative and quantitative research approaches sampling, credibility, generalisability and bias- What is the range of qualitative methods used in psychology?
  • How and why should one qualitative method be chosen over the others?
  • Since psychology is a study of living beings, what ethical issues does it raise?
  • How can we decide what is ethical and what is not in psychology?
  • What is love?
  • Is love a cultural concept or is universal?
  • Why do some relationships last where others fail?
  • How does competition affect behaviour?
  • How can we explain mob behaviour?
  • How do stereotypes influence the way we perceive ourselves?
  • How does isolation lead to extremism?
  • How can psychology explain anti-immigration bias?
  • How can we reduce conflict?
  • What is prejudice?
  • Why do people discriminate against others?
  • How can stereotyping influence decision-making?
  • What factors influence discrimination?
  • What is conflict?
  • Why are men more violent than women?
  • How can contact reduce conflict?
  • What drives self-sacrifice and helping?
  • Why do some people help when others do not?
  • Do some cultures help more than others?
  • How can society encourage more prosocial behaviour
  • How do we decide what symptoms to include in a diagnosis?
  • How do we define the threshold between the present and the absence of
    a disorder?
  • What should be done to enable early diagnosis and prevention of
    mental disorders?
  • Would you prefer to overdiagnoses or underdiagnose?
  • What are the symptoms of clinical depression?
  • How many people in the population are clinically depressed?
  • How can this be estimated?
  • How can we ensure that diagnosis is accurate, that is, the diagnosis corresponds to the real problem.
  • How can we assess if a diagnosis has been accurate or not?
  • After you have been given your diagnosis, what information will you use to see if this diagnosis is accurate?
  • Is it important that other clinicians independently arrive at the same diagnosis?
  • Can we quantify validity and reliability of diagnosis?
  • Since clinical diagnosis is essentially a human judgement, is it affected by the biases inherent in human thinking and decision-making?
  • What can we do to minimise bias in diagnosis?
  • Since the purpose of diagnosis is to understand a person’s experiences
    deeply and this is only possible with a subjective approach, do we even need to eliminate bias?
  • Although it is understood that human behaviour is caused by multiple
    interacting factors (biological, cognitive and sociocultural), how can we
    establish the major cause of a disorder?
  • How do we untangle this complex knot of interacting variables?
  • Should an effective treatment target the cause rather than the symptoms?
  • How would you design the research programme to establish the primary
    cause of depression?
  • How do biological factors of depression interact with other factors (cognitive and sociocultural?
  • How can patterns of information processing influence the development of
  • Are patterns of information processing (cognitive factors) an independent
    group of factors or are they the results of some sort of interaction between
    biological predisposition and environmental stimuli?
  • How can culture and society influence the development of mental
    disorders? Which sociocultural variables influence depression the most?
  • How can we assess the effectiveness of treatment?
  • Is it quantifiable?
  • Can we account for placebo effects and assess ‘pure’ effectiveness?
  • What methods of research are most suitable for this purpose?- Are antidepressants an effective treatment?
  • Do they outperform other treatment methods?
  • Do all antidepressants have the same clinical effect?
  • Are antidepressants equally effective when it comes to response rates and relapse rate?
  • Is psychological treatment better than medication?
  • Should cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for depression be recommended to people from collectivist cultures?
  • Is group therapy better than individual therapy?
  • What are the factors that need to be considered before CBT is recommended to a client?
  • Would CBT be a good choice for Anoushka?
  • Will people with different cultural backgrounds respond to treatment