IB Psychology

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The IB Diploma Programme standard level psychology course aims to develop an awareness of how research findings can be applied to better understand human behavior and how ethical practices are upheld in psychological inquiry. Students learn to understand the biological, cognitive and sociocultural influences on human behavior and explore alternative explanations of behavior. They also understand and use diverse methods of psychological inquiry. In addition, the course is designed to
  1. Encourage the systematic and critical study of human experience and behavior and environments
  2. Develop the capacity to identify, analyze critically and evaluate theories, concepts and arguments about the nature and activities of the individual and society.
  3. Enable students to collect, describe and analyze data used in studies of behavior ; test hypotheses; and interpret complex data and source material
  4. Enable students to recognize that the content and methodologies are contestable and that their study requires the toleration of uncertainty
  5. Develop an awareness of how psychological research can be applied for better understanding of human behavior.
  6. Ensure that ethical practices are upheld in psychological inquiry.
  7. Develop an understanding of the biological, cognitive, and sociocultural influences on human behavior.
  8. Develop an understanding of alternative explanations of behavior.
  9. Understand and use diverse methods of psychological inquiry.

Biological Levels of Analysis

At the most basic level of analysis, human beings are biological systems. Our cognition, emotions and behaviors are products of the anatomy and physiology of our nervous and endocrine systems. Over the last few centuries, discoveries have shown that:
  • the nature of the nervous system is electrical in part (Galvani)
  • different areas of the brain carry out different functions (Broca)
  • small gaps exist between nerve cells that require the action of chemicals to carry neural transmissions across these gaps
  • hormones play an important role in our psychological functioning.
Since the 1960s, with the invention and development of brain imaging technologies (for example, CAT (computerized axial tomography), PET (positron emission tomography), fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging)) it has become possible to directly study living brains in action as various tasks are performed, and to correlate specific areas of brain damage with specific changes in a person’s personality or cognitive abilities. Advances in psychopharmacology—the field of medicine that addresses the balance of chemicals in the brain—have led to the development of new medications for problems as diverse as depression, anxiety disorders and Alzheimer’s disease.
After Darwin published his theory of evolution through natural selection, animals came to be studied in order to shed light on human behavior. With the completion of the human genome project, the chimpanzee genome project, and with other species having the full structure of their DNA mapped, the contribution of genes to our cognition emotions and behavior is becoming better understood. Behavioral genetics takes the skills of biological analysis used to study the differences between species and applies these skills to studying individual differences in humans. These are the components at the biological level of analysis needed to understand our complex biological system and the psychological functions it supports.

Cognitive Levels of Analysis

At the second level of analysis, the products of our biological machinery can be seen in our cognitive system, which includes our cognition emotions and behaviors. Around the 1950s, psychologists began systematically to explore cognition to further understanding of human behavior. This shift in focus from studying observable behavior to studying mental processes, such as memory and perception, is called “the cognitive revolution”. Cognitive psychologists suggested that humans form internal mental representations that guide behavior, and they developed a range of research methods to study these. In recent years, researchers within social and cultural psychology have used findings from cognitive psychologists to understand how mental processes may be influenced by social and cultural factors. Cognitive psychology represents a vast array of research areas including cognitive psychology, cognitive science, cognitive neuro-psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Topics such as memory, perception, artificial intelligence, amnesia and social cognition are studied. 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 neuro-scientists, social psychologists and cultural psychologists in order to explore the complexity of human cognition. This approach is illustrated in the field of cultural and social cognitive neuroscience, indicating the complementary nature of social, cognitive and biological levels of analysis. Research that integrates these three levels can develop more meaningful theories to explain the mechanisms underlying complex behavior and the mind.

Socio Cultural Levels 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. At its beginning, psychology largely confined itself to the study of the individual acting alone. As the discipline matured, a few psychologists recognized that human behavior could be fully understood only if the social context in which behavior occurred was also taken into account. This recognition led to many investigations of social influence, that is, how the presence and behavior of one or a few people affect the behavior and attitudes of another individual. It also provided a broader context for exploring topics such as aggression and helping behavior that had largely been regarded as individual personality traits. Although there has long been an exchange between the sciences of psychology and anthropology, the study of culture has largely been the province of anthropology. Recently, as many societies have become more multicultural, the need to understand the effect of culture on a person’s behavior has risen to a new prominence. Social psychologists saw the need not only to achieve an understanding of the role of culture in human behavior, but also to devise means for alleviating problems that arise from misunderstandings when individuals from different cultures come into contact with each other. In what appeared to be a contrary movement, as social psychologists turned their attention to exploring the power of culture, other investigators were focusing attention on the biological bases of human social behavior: the role played by genes. These investigators explained important social behaviors as special adaptations to becoming social organisms acquired throughout the course of human evolution. As social psychologists continue to integrate the biological and cultural contributions to social behavior, 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.