Welcome to Psychology, 2019

Dear Psychology Students,

Welcome to psychology, a study which is rich in intriguing human stories and challenging questions about who we are and how we became that way.

As you know, psychology can be defined as the scientific study of behaviour, thoughts and feelings. On this blog page, you can read an explanation of this definition.

Scientists know much more about the brain than 30 years ago, yet this organ is yet to reveal all its secrets.

The study of psychology is constantly evolving as a result of advances in biological knowledge and new techniques in scanning technology. For instance, our understanding of the human genome continues to grow. As scientists work towards creating a computer model of the human brain’s “genetic landscape”, we are learning more and more about the factors that influence human behaviour.

With each scientific discovery and technological advance, paradoxically, the study becomes more complex. For instance, scientists have so far identified 360 genes that appear to contribute to the development of schizophrenia, yet how these genes work and how they may lead to actual symptoms is still unclear. The more we learn about our genome and our brains, the more we need to learn.

New technologies have changed not just the methodology of biological sciences, but also the way in which humans interact, view themselves and engage with the social world.

There are also changes in psychology as a result of social and cultural developments. For instance, how we define “normal” and “abnormal” — and therefore what we classify as a “mental disorder” — has shifted dramatically in the past five decades. Another change is the digitalisation of human communication ( including even this modest blog), which has led to a transformation in how we interact with one another, how we work and how we learn. For reasons such as these, psychology is a continuously developing discipline.

I hope that you will learn something about yourselves as well as about psychology.

I hope that you will enjoy studying this vast and absorbing subject in 2019 and that you will gain new insights into yourselves and others.

Kind regards,

Ms Green

Extra Reading and Materials

Online Activities

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The Müller-Lyer Illusion – A Research Activity

Handout for this activity

An explanation of this illusion on this blog

Our apparatus is shown below.

This design requires the use of a cut-up envelope. If you would like to use a variation of this design for your own perceptual experiment, I recommend that you create a similar apparatus, perhaps with an alternative version of the illusion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Possible Hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: Since participants will perceive the line with V-shaped ends (Line B) as longer than the line with arrowheads (Line A), they will draw out the card depicting Line B to a length less than the length of Line A (10 cm).
 
Hypothesis 2: Since participants are aware of the potential illusory influence of the two lines, they will try to compensate for the power of the illusion and draw out Line B more, on average, with each succeeding trial.

To go further:

Alternative explanations of the illusion from VeryWellMind

Alternative explanations of the illusion and recent studies from The Illusions Index

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Perceptual Set/Expectancy

My husband can recognise individual countries in Africa just from their contours. His love of maps and experience in reading them lead to a perceptual set that enhances his skill in this kind of perceptual task.

Experience makes us more efficient and predictive perceivers. My husband, for instance, spends hours poring over maps; as a result, he can recognise several seas and countries by their contours alone. In my role as an English teacher, I have read so many student texts that I can identify misspelt words more swiftly than my husband, who as a Maths teacher has developed other (possibly more useful) perceptual abilities. In the same way, a person who takes an interest in a particular brand of clothing can recognise another person wearing that brand, even from a distance. These are all examples of how one’s emotions, motivation, training and experience can influence one’s perceptual set. Another term for this is perceptual expectancy.

Perceptual set refers to a readiness or a predisposition to perceive a visual stimulus in a particular way. Your background, knowledge, motivation and emotions all affect what you pay attention to, which features of a stimulus you focus on and, conversely, which details you ignore. You bring your own expectations to any perceptual task; the context in which you view the stimulus also plays a role. All of these factors allow you to formulate perceptual hypotheses more quickly and accurately, which influences your interpretation of the scene before you and generally enhances your perceptual skill.

For example, in the visual stimulus below, you presumably perceive a horse.

It’s a horse. Or is it?

The following picture, however, provides more context. When you look at it, assuming that you have experience of chess and can therefore be influenced by the other figures surrounding the “horse”, you are likely to perceive a “knight”. In this case, both the context provided and your cultural and educational experience work together to influence your perception of the stimulus and your interpretation of its meaning.

Well, yes, it’s a horse. Yet in this context, it’s also a knight. 

Class presentation on this topic

Questions and Key Terms

a Write a definition of perceptual set. (See my presentation and your text.)
b List the factors that influence perceptual set and provide an example for two of these factors.
c Identify a perceptual set that influences your interpretation of a particular visual scene. Use key terms in your explanation of your perceptual set example.

Suggested key phrases for (c)
►I have a perceptual set as a result of my interest in…
►As a result of my prior experience and training, I…
►I tend to pay visual attention to…
►I focus on certain features of the visual sensory data, namely…
►I am able to formulate rapid and accurate perceptual hypotheses about…
►My motivation and my emotions also play a role, because they influence my attention to…

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Perceiving Depth

relative size, height in the visual field

light and shadow

linear perspective, texture gradient

linear perspective, texture gradient

♦ Handout: Depth principles – blank

♦ Handout: Depth principles – answers

♦ Interactive quiz: Cues to depth 

Tiny Cards: Overview of sensation and perception

Kahoot: Perceptual principles → With others | Alone

Quiz: Categories and depth principles


To go further:

Article: Perception of depth from Webvision

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The Gestalt Principles

The word “Gestalt” means “figure”, “form” or “shape”. For the Gestaltist school of thinkers, an organised whole was more than the sum of its parts.

In other words, the Gestaltists believed that human perceivers search for whole forms in any perceptual endeavour. We seek coherence, order and meaning. We look for the complete entity that can be discerned in a stimulus, rather than focusing on the fragmentary elements that make up the visual scene.

Notice my teacup, for instance: you perceive it as a whole, connected object, not as a number of disjointed parts; yet the main component, the bowl shape, does not actually exist at the sensory level. There is nothing there for your sensory receptors to detect, yet your brain still manages to perceive it.

The Gestalts believed that our brains apply certain rules or principles in order to organise the elements from any visual scene or stimulus into a cohesive whole. 

Revision quiz on eye structures and their functions

Quiz on the Gestaltists and their main principles

♦ Kahoot on sensation and perception: Preview Mode | Class Mode

To go further:

An absorbing account of the Gestalt principles and their applications in art, advertising and design

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A Perceptual Walk

Class Activity Handout: Catch yourself in the act of perceiving

Quiz

♦ Task: Use this diagram (public domain from here) and your text to create a set of notes on the functions of each structure in the eye.

♦ To go further:

More about the human eye on this blog 

Crash Course: Vision

An excerpt from The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

 

Is it a rose or, as Dr P. referred to it in the intriguing account by Oliver Sacks, “a convoluted red form with a linear green attachment”?

 

Visual stimuli for class activity: rose, snow mystery, coffee, brain tree, scrambled, neglect, Rubin, cube, partial faces, wild animals

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Distinguishing Sensation and Perception

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

Read

Watch

Handouts and Activities

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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:

BRAIN

STRESS AND ANXIETY

SCREEN TIME

MENTAL ILLNESSES AND DISORDERS

VIDEO GAMES

ADDICTIVE BEHAVIOURS

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

 

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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

Read

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

Activities

Downloads

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