A frequently posed exam question relates to the principles that govern each of the three levels of analysis: The Biological, Cognitive and Socio-Cultural levels of analysis. There are always three different principles that govern each of these levels of analysis. For example, in the Biological Level of Analysis the three principles are: (i) there are biological correlates of behaviour, (ii) animal research can provide insight into human behaviour, and (iii) human behaviour is, to some extent, genetically based. The exam question that is often asked will ask you to outline, describe or explain one or two of these principles (e.g., Outline two principles that govern the Biological Level of Analysis.).
Now students being students, and human nature being human nature, we have a need to show our examiners how intelligent we are; exams are our time to showcase the knowledge we have accumulated over the last two years. So we begin our short answer responses ... "There are three principles that govern the Biological Level of Analysis, and these are (i) there are biological correlates of behaviour, (ii) animal research can provide insight into human behaviour, and (iii) human behaviour is, to some extent, genetically based. ... " before going on to outline the second and third of these stated principles. Here the examiner face palms herself. Literally. The IB Psychology examination board has decided in their infinite wisdom that the first two principles that are mentioned in a student responses are the ones they have to be graded on. Thus the student picks up zero marks for the first principle because she hasn't outlined it, and zero marks for the third principle as the examiners consider it superfluous - the examiner has to focus on the first two principles mentioned in the response. A response worthy of the full 8 marks gets hammered down to a 3 or a 4. Yes, very, very pedantic!
Below, we present a model short answer question (SAQ) response that will be awarded the full 8 marks.
A model short answer question (SAQ) response to the examination question: Outline principles that define the biological level of analysis.
SAQ: Outline principles that define the biological level of analysis
Biological psychology is a branch or type of psychology that brings together biology and psychology to understand behaviour and thought. Biological psychology looks at the link between biology and psychological events such as how information travels throughout our bodies (neural impulses, axons, dendrites, etc.), how different neurotransmitters effect behaviours. There are three principles that define the biological level of analysis which will each be covered, in turn.
Principle 1: There are biological correlates of behaviour. This means that there are physiological origins of behaviour such as neurotransmitters, hormones, specialised brain areas, and genes. The biological level of analysis is based on reductionism, which is the attempt to explain complex behaviour in terms of simple causes.
Principle 1 demonstrated in: Newcomer et al. (1999) performed an experiment on the role of the stress hormone cortisol on verbal declarative memory. Group 1 (high dose cortisol) had tablets containing 160 mg of cortisol for four days. Group 2 (low dose cortisol) had tablets with 40 mg of cortisol for four days. Group 3 (control) had placebo tablets. Participants listened to a prose paragraph and had to recall it as a test of verbal declarative memory. This memory system is often negatively affected by the increased level of cortisol under long-term stress. The results showed that group 1 showed the worst performance on the memory test compared to group 2 and 3. The experiment shows that an increase in cortisol over a period has a negative effect on memory.
Principle 2: Animal research can provide insight into human behaviour. This means that researchers use animals to study physiological processes because it is assumed that most biological processes in non-human animals are the same as in humans. One important reason for using animals is that there is a lot of research where humans cannot be used for ethical reasons.
Principle 2 demonstrated in: Rosenzweig and Bennet (1972) performed an experiment to study the role of environmental factors on brain plasticity using rats as participants. Group 1 was placed in an enriched environment with lots of toys. Group 2 was placed in a deprived environment with no toys. The rats spent 30 or 60 days in their respective environments before being killed. The brains of the rats in group 1 showed a thicker layer of neurons in the cortex compared to the deprived group. The study shows that the brain grows more neurons if stimulated.
Principle 3: Human behaviour is, to some extent, genetically based. This means that behaviour can, to some extent, be explained by genetic inheritance, although this is rarely the full explanation since genetic inheritance should be seen as genetic predisposition which can be affected by environmental factors.
- Researchers interested in the genetic origin of behaviour often use twins so that they can compare one twin with the other on a variable such as intelligence, depression or anorexia nervosa.
- Identical twins (monozygotic twins – MZ) are 100% genetically identical as they have developed from the same egg. They therefore act as a control for each other. Fraternal twins (dizygotic twins – DZ) have developed from two different eggs. They share around 50% of their genes so they are no more similar than siblings.
- Twin research never shows a 100% concordance rate so it is believed that genes are a predisposing factor rather than the cause of behaviour. Therefore it is also important to consider what environmental factors could influence the expression of the genetic predisposition.
Principle 3 demonstrated in: Bouchard et al. (1990) performed the Minnesota twin study, a longitudinal study investigating the relative role of genes in IQ. The participants were MZ reared apart (MZA) and MZ reared together (MZT). The researchers found that MZT had a concordance rate of IQ of 86% compared to MZA with a concordance rate of IQ of 76%. This shows a link between genetic inheritance and intelligence but it does not rule out the role of the environment.