Course Description

Psychology is defined as “the scientific study of behaviour and mental processes” and was established as a science at 1879, when Wilhelm Wundt created the first formal psychology laboratory in Germany. Some examples of behaviours and mental processes include the way we develop, we remember and think about the world, we solve problems, we react, we feel, we form relationships, we suffer, and many others. Psychologists try to explain the above from a variety of different theoretical perspectives. In order to draw valid conclusions they use scientific methods to conduct empirical research; they perform experiments and other scientific procedures in order to systematically collect data, analyze them and reach conclusions about the various psychological issues. In modern psychology there is a strong emphasis in the use of research methodology.

The Core

a. The Biological level of analysis

It examines the physiological aspects of psychological phenomena. Our cognitions, emotions and behaviours are products of the anatomy and physiology of our nervous and endocrine systems. The emphasis is on the interrelation between biological and psychological factors in the formation of behaviour. For example, it includes the study of the nervous and endocrine systems, genetic explanations of behaviour, emotion etc.

b. The Cognitive level of analysis

It studies in depth various cognitive processes such as memory, language acquisition, attention, problem solving, cognitive dissonance, artificial intelligence, etc.

Cognitive psychology represents a vast array of research areas including cognitive psychology, cognitive science, cognitive neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience. Cognitive psychologists use traditional research methods (for example, experiments and verbal protocols) but there is an increasing focus on the use of modern technology. Cognitive psychologists collaborate increasingly with neuroscientists, social psychologists and cultural psychologists in order to explore the complexity of human cognition.

c. The Sociocultural level of analysis

At the third level of analysis, the biological and cognitive systems that make up the individual are embedded in an even larger system of interrelationships with other individuals. Social psychology studies social influence, that is, how the presence and behaviour of one or a few people affect the behaviour and attitudes of another individual. It also provided a broader context for exploring topics such as aggression and helping behaviour that had largely been regarded as individual personality traits. Recently, as many societies have become more multicultural, the need to understand the effect of culture on a person’s behaviour has risen to a new prominence. Social psychologists saw the need not only to achieve an understanding of the role of culture in human behaviour, but also to devise means for alleviating problems that arise from misunderstandings when individuals from different cultures come into contact with each other.

There is a general consensus in the discipline of psychology that a synthesis of the biological, cognitive and sociocultural levels of analysis holds out the greatest promise of bringing us closer to the goal of more fully understanding the nature of the complex interacting systems that make up the human being.

The Options

There is also an in-depth study of one (for standard level) or two (for higher level) areas of the field of psychology. The options that are usually covered are:

a. Abnormal Psychology

Abnormal psychology focuses on diagnosing, explaining and treating humans suffering from psychological disorders. This option begins with a consideration of normal and abnormal behaviour. An understanding of issues related to diagnosis provides a framework for the subsequent study of disorders and therapeutic approaches.

By studying two psychological disorders, students are encouraged to develop an awareness of the range of psychological disorders. This approach embraces the etiology, symptoms and prevalence of each disorder. As a consequence of this understanding, it is possible to administer effective treatments while at the same time having an appreciation of relevant cultural and gender variations. Different therapeutic approaches to treating disorders are discussed.

b. Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology is the study of how and why people change over time in the way they behave, think, and relate to others. Developmental psychology focuses on developmental themes such as identity, attachment and adolescence. It is important to gain an understanding of the extent to which early experience may influence later development and if there are critical periods in development. Controversies related to developmental psychology include the extent of the impact of early experiences and why some children seem to be more resilient than others after stressful experiences in childhood.

c. Health Psychology

Health psychology is concerned with how different factors, such as lifestyle and social context, may influence health and illness. The health psychology option focuses on stress, substance abuse, addiction, obesity and health promotion. Health psychologists have investigated causes of health problems in order to find ways to counter their damaging consequences and prevent their occurrence. This helps in the development of prevention and treatment strategies, for example, in terms of understanding how people value their health. It also enables health promotion campaigns to be more efficiently designed. There are differences in attitudes towards health-related behaviour among different cultures, so it is important for health psychologists to take these factors into account.

Research Methodology (Examined only for the Higher Level)

Higher level students must have an understanding of quantitative and qualitative research methodology, while standard level students only quantitative. Knowledge and understating of quantitative methods and statistics is acquired and examined internally through the completion of one experimental study. Knowledge and understanding of qualitative methods will be externally assessed in a separate exam paper, only for HL students.

Course Assessment 

There is an internal assessment component (the completion of an experiment and the writing of its report) compulsory for both the HL and SL students. Internal assessment covers 20% of the final grade for HL and 25% of the final grade for SL.

There is also an external assessment component comprising two exam papers for SL and three exam papers for HL. Paper one covers the levels of analysis, paper two the option(s), and paper three the qualitative research methodology (HL only). Paper one combines short answer and essay questions, while paper two has only essay questions.

Usefulness of the Subject

Psychology is one of the social sciences and its study at this level would be useful for anybody who is interested in studying any social science, or later working with people either in the business or the health domain. Moreover, its emphasis on research methods and statistics makes it an interesting subject for those that have an inclination in these areas.

Download the subject guide