Mental Health, Mental Illness and Classification

Dear Year 11 students,

As you can appreciate, defining any set of complex human behaviours is a complicated operation. Since the topic of mental illness has often been plagued by entrenched prejudices and social stigmas, the labelling of a mental disorder is particularly open to dispute. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association has been revised and updated several times and is nevertheless open to development and improvement. In this task, you will have the opportunity to delve into the categories of mental illnesses as defined in the DSM and select a single disorder for closer study. I hope you find this challenging and worthwhile.

Kind regards,

Ms Green



Handouts and Activities


Research Investigation – Unit 1, 2017

Online Activities

Handy Downloads

Dear Year 11 Psychology students,

Welcome to the new school year. Thank you for choosing the subject of Psychology, with its rewarding mixture of human stories and scientific research. 

The “Research Investigation” (Area of Study 3) is a challenging task. The main rule is: don’t panic. This assignment is all about learning and exploring the diverse field of psychology that you have chosen to study. Select a topic that you find interesting and then enjoy deepening your knowledge.

Break complicated tasks into parcels…

Most important of all, avoid stress by breaking the task into small, manageable parcels of work. Tackle your workload in do-able chunks; this approach will help you in other subjects as well. Following these instructions should help:

♦Chunk 1: Select a key study that interests you. See the long list of links below our instructions for ideas and starting points. There is also a “pinboard” that will allow you to visualise the range of possibilities. Feel free to search for and contemplate other options as well.

♦Chunk 2: Write an open research question that relates to your key study. Here are some examples of appropriate wording, in which we have employed phrasing that requires exploration of possibilities, rather than a closed, yes-no answer: 

  • How does stress influence the ageing of the brain?
  • To what extent and in what circumstances is multi-tasking possible?
  • How does the use of marijuana affect the social and cognitive development of teenagers?
  • In what ways (if any) does stress affect women differently from men?
  • In what ways can biofeedback benefit people’s health?
  • How does learning change the physical structure of the brain?

♦Chunk 3: Find another, related study on a similar topic. This will allow you to extend your writing and contemplate another perspective. If you are able to find two related studies, that would be ideal.


Finally, here is a handy plug-in and/or app that can be used on laptops, smartphones or tablets: Pocket allows you to save all the articles you find and so maintain an online digital logbook of your reading, accessible on all your devices: iOS | Android | Chrome | Safari. This could be useful in other subjects as well. 

Kind regards from Ms Green, Ms Corbo and Ms Bottrell

Useful websites for independent exploration:

Brain and Behaviour Research Foundation 

Forbes: Top 10 Psychology and Brain Science Studies of 2015 (see links to earlier years as well)

Links to specific subjects and studies:







Click here to view the pinboard below on the whole screen
Psychology – Research Investigation


People in Groups

Group of diverse students

People in groups act in strange, counter-intuitive and sometimes disturbing ways. The reasons for this are complicated, to say the least. It appears that being in a group reduces one’s sense of responsibility and intensifies one’s inhibitions while simultaneously increasing one’s sense of anonymity. While these tendencies do not necessarily allow us to predict a single individual’s behaviour in a group, certain patterns of behaviour emerge when groups are studied as a whole. For instance, helping behaviour tends to be reduced as the size of a group increases. Bystanders are more likely to be helpful if there are fewer of them. This is known as the bystander effect.

Another example of the surprising effects of group membership is the tendency to conform, that is, to do what others do or say what others say, even when this goes against one’s own judgement; to ensure that one’s own attitudes, reactions and beliefs adhere to group norms

Girls conformityFor instance, Asch (1951) illustrated through his supposed “line perception task” that about 33% of participants, after observing a number of confederates uniformly giving the wrong answer, conformed with the judgement of the majority. The mistake of the confederates was obvious, yet their unanimity moved the real participants in a substantial number of cases to conform, despite the evidence of their own eyes. Although this study’s findings are open to question for several reasons, conformity as a form of social influence is clearly an important topic of study in psychology.

How we perceive people in groups is also potentially problematic. While stereotyping people in groups can allow swift and even accurate judgements in social situations, it can also lead to prejudice if our stereotypes are too rigidly applied or overly simplistic. For instance, the stereotype of “doctor – white coat – expert” could be useful in determining which person to ask a question when you enter Casualty at a major hospital. On the other hand, if one persists in the belief that all people from a particular social group are snobbish or, worse, somehow inferior, it may become impossible to develop friendships, break down prejudice, engender understanding or accept diverse views. 

Watchrat facing right


  • Asch (1951): Classic conformity study from – an excellent account that outlines the limitations of the study as well as its findings



Sensation and Perception

teacup turquoise

The sensory data that are normally required to see a cup are not present in this stimulus – and yet we perceive a cup. Would we perceive it if we hadn’t been raised in a coffee-drinking society?

We tend to assume in everyday life that we perceive the outside world exactly as it is. In reality, however, there are many physical energies that we are not equipped to detect. Furthermore, we organise and interpret the information we receive based on our past experience and other psychological factors. Our perceptions are therefore our own personal representations of the physical energies that batter our senses at every turn.

The sensory data that our sensory organs receive are at that stage meaningless; only when our brain receives the electrochemical energy that is sent to it from each set of sensory receptors can we begin to organise this information and make sense of the bewildering environment around us.

Yet every day we conjure meaning from the cacophony of sound, the blazes and flickers of light, the chemical compounds and the physical taps, nudges and thumps that we encounter. This is an indication of our astonishing perceptual gifts, yet in some respects I find the perceptual oddities and surprises, along with the errors that we make, more intriguing. Mistakes are always more revealing than perfection.

– Ms Green

book2, clipartlord, pdRead

television with play button







Examples of Visual Stimuli

Bec, Emily and James

This stimulus illustrates the Gestalt principle of closure, since most English speakers can read it despite the missing elements. (Designed by Bec, James and Emily)

clock by ngoc

Ngoc designed this visual stimulus to illustrate the principle of closure. You could also argue that the principle of similarity is at work.

Convergence and Retinal Disparity two times Roslyn Green

How retinal disparity works: If you focus on my two faces from a distance of 5-10 centimetres (crossing your eyes slightly might help), you may discover after a while that you have fused the two images into another, spookily three-dimensional one in the middle. This procedure works better when the image is on paper, so you can also try printing this version: download paper version here.

teacups improved gestalt similarity

This stimulus illustrates the Gestalt principle of similarity. We perceive the red saucers and their “cups” as belonging to a group.

gestalt proximity

We perceive  the the dots as columns rather than rows as a result of the Gestalt principle of similarity.

Green illusion

An illusion: In the context of the gradual change of colour gradient in the background rectangle, the block of green in the foreground is perceived as having a gradual colour gradient too, yet in reality it is a solid block of colour like the green rod at the bottom.

Jesus in snow drawn by me

If you perceive this as a man’s face, you must be applying the Gestalt principles of figure-ground and closure at least. If you interpret the face as that of Jesus, then your cultural background or artistic experience is also coming into play and influencing your perception. (This is a simplified version of the original stimulus, which may be viewed here.)

FullSizeRender (13)

This stimulus, designed by Jude, can be organised and interpreted in more than one way, as either a mouth with rather narrow teeth or as a forest behind a meadow. You notice yourself switching back and forth between the alternative interpretations, which indicates that this is a successful ambiguous stimulus. Would you be more likely to perceive a mouth if you had just kissed someone? Would you be more likely to see the trees if you were a nature-lover?

Sam boat Sam alien

Sam’s stimulus is organised and interpreted differently, depending on which way up you look at it. The figure on the left could be a boat in rocky waters, while the figure on the right could be an alien – or a psychology teacher.


Kate’s stimulus provides an example of the principle of closure. We perceive a head, a face and dark glasses, even though none of these features is completely represented.


Althea’s visual stimulus is perceived as complete circles and lines, even though none of the circles have a complete contour. This demonstrates once more our tendency to apply the closure principle in order to perceive wholes.


Mental Well-Being and Mental Disorders

three sad silhouettes




•Revision Quiz: Sample Exam Questions (with Answers) | Quiz as PDF with Answers

•Revision Quiz: Unit 1 Trivia by Ms Corbo | PDF: Solutions

population and sample

Click on the picture to try the first revision quiz.



cognitive social motor

Development | Piaget and a Child’s Mind

“Human knowledge is essentially active.”

• Jean Piaget •

A child, as Piaget showed, thinks in a qualitatively different way from an adult.

A child, as Piaget showed, thinks in a way that is qualitatively different from an adult.

Children think differently from adults.

This seems self-evident to us now, yet before the theory of Jean Piaget permeated the ideas of parents and educators, it was more commonly believed that children were like miniature adults who just needed to receive the knowledge we imparted. So it was that they were seated in straight lines in primary schools, where they wrote in copy books and learnt by rote. To a large extent, they were viewed as “empty vessels” needing to be filled.

Piaget revolutionised our view of children’s minds by challenging the notion of children as passive receivers of adult knowledge. He viewed them instead as “little scientists” who learn by doing, by theorising, by experimenting and by constantly refining their mental constructions, or schemas, of the world.

Piaget’s ideas have been studied, evaluated and questioned for decades. Many aspects of his stage theory of cognitive development have been challenged and disputed. Yet his theory remains as a monumental contribution to our understanding of children and their intriguing “ways of knowing”.

Ms Green

"Children have real understanding only of that which they invent themselves, and each time that we try to teach them something too quickly, we keep them from reinventing it themselves." - Piaget

“Children have real understanding only of that which they invent themselves, and each time that we try to teach them something too quickly, we keep them from reinventing it themselves.” – Piaget


television with play button



Downloads (as PDFs)

Crash Course Psychology: The Growth of Knowledge

"It’s just that no adult ever had the idea of asking children about conservation. It was so obvious that if you change the shape of an object, the quantity will be conserved. Why ask a child? The novelty lay in asking the question." – Piaget, 1970

“It’s just that no adult ever had the idea of asking children about conservation. It was so obvious that if you change the shape of an object, the quantity will be conserved. Why ask a child? The novelty lay in asking the question.” – Piaget, 1970

Ethical issues | More on the brain

Your brain and your dancing neurons…





Although the phrenologists were wrong, they did have the influential idea that brain functions are localised. When their pseudoscience was ultimately debunked, the idea of localisation of function remained.

This video, from the superb “Crash Course Psychology” series, explores the link between the brain as a physical object and the mind, that concept we employ to refer to our consciousness, our memories, our decisions, our being, our very selves: what makes us who we are.

I always find that Hank Green, in his Crash Course videos, provides a sweeping, brilliant overview of everything you’ve ever wanted to know and understand – with fast talking, funky graphics and true human stories to boot.

Click on each red pin in order to identify the parts of a neuron.

Split-brain experiments

Essential links

An example of a split-brain experiment




PDF: Chart showing structure of nervous system – to be filled in

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 12.48.17 pm

From Primate to Human

Essential links:





Handy App

«Pocket» lets you save all your articles and studies to one place and revisit them later – like a reference list maker – Apple App | Android App | Mac | Windows & Chrome

rodent brain, primate brainThe TED talk presented below by Suzana Herculano-Huzel,  an eminent neuroscientist, should whet your appetite for our first major unit of study: the human brain.

This creative and determined scientist had heard many times that our brain contained about 100 billion neurons. Rather than take this figure for granted, especially as she had not been able to discover the original source of this assumption, she invented a systematic and innovative way to count the number of neurons in the human brain and indeed in the brains of other mammals. She used her findings to investigate the different kinds of mammalian brains and draw conclusions about what makes our brain different from that of other mammals – and yet similar to that of other primates.

After watching the video, try this quiz, which may jog your memory on the main points and even inspire you to a second viewing of the presentation.

Video of a patient whose brain is being electrically stimulated during an operation to remove a tumour:

An example of MRI-guided laser ablation surgery: