Summary for Psychological Science by Gazzaniga: 5th international student edition

What is the science of psychology? - Chapter 1 (5)


1.1 What is psychological science?

The aim of contemporary psychology is to understand mental activity and behaviour in humans. A psychologist tries to understand and predict the mental activity and behaviour and he looks at how people are being influenced by individual, social and biological factors. People are intuitive psychologists who try to understand and predict the behaviour of others, however, conclusions drawn based on intuition are often wrong. The science of psychology refers to research on the mind, the brain and behaviour. Mind is the mental activity, such a thoughts, feelings and perceptions. For example, when you are smelling fresh baked cookies you might think about times when you were a child helping your mother baking cookies. Mental activity is the result of biological (chemical) processes within the brain. The association between mind and brain has been discussed for years. Behaviour refers to observable actions in which humans and animals can engage. For a long time, behaviour was seen as the only objective measurement of the mind. The purpose of psychology is to understand mental activity, how people react differently to social situations and how to teach people healthy and unhealthy behaviours.

Psychology and critical thinking

One of the aims of this textbook is to learn to think more critically. A critical attitude is required towards all kinds of information, especially information that seems logical. Scientists have to learn to be sceptical. Critical thinking involves systematic questioning and evaluation of the information at hand. It is important to ask critical questions and not to take information for granted. Often seemingly logical explanations are used for certain phenomena, for instance that listening to Mozart’s music makes babies more intelligent. Research has shown that this is not true. Critical thinkers have to look for alternative explanations of behaviour. Critical thinking involves looking for alternative explanations, detecting weak use of evidence and the use of logic. In addition, it is important to be open to new information and to examine whether a study might be influenced by personal or political interests. Also, think whether the used research designs are appropriate.

Psychological reasoning

Psychological reasoning refers to drawing conclusions with regard to people’s thinking on the basis of psychological research. There are several ways in which one can have biased reasoning.

Confirmation bias: people evaluate information that is similar to the beliefs they already had as more positive. At the same time, they underestimate the value of information that is different from their own ideas.

Source reliability: the reliability of the information source should always be questioned. Reliability of a source might overestimated due to authority (information about one’s health is seen as more reliable if it is provided by a physician compared to a random neighbour).

Misunderstanding statistics: people have generally difficulties in using statistics accurately. Gamblers believe that a roulette ball that has landed on a red 5 times in a row is now more likely to land on black, however, this probability does not change. Also the fact that your aunt is smoking for more than 40 years without lung cancer does not mean that there is no relationship between smoking and cancer. The relationship between smokers and cancer is that smokers are more likely to get cancer, not every smoker gets cancer.

Seeing relationships that do not exist: it is often assumed that if two things happen at the same that they should be related to each other which is not the case. Often it is just a coincidence.

Using relative comparisons: how a question is framed, or presented, also changes how people answer the question. People tend to prefer information that is presented positively rather than negatively. For example in medical treatment, people feel more positive about a treatment if they know about the survival rates than if they know about how many people do not survive the treatment.

After-the-fact explanations (hindsight bias): people often come up with explanations for why events happen, also when they have incomplete information. Evidence is reinterpreted in a way that it fits better to the outcomes, as a result, existing evidence becomes biased.

Mental heuristics: heuristics are decision rules that are followed to decrease the effort that it takes to make good decisions. However, using heuristics can also lead to more inaccurate decision making.

Self-serving bias: People want to feel good about themselves, therefore, they think that they are better than average on a variety of aspects. To support this positive view, people credit personal strengths for successes whereas they blame outside forces for their failures. People also have difficulty recognizing their own weaknesses.

1.2 what are the scientific foundations of psychology?

Psychology originated in philosophy, in which the great thinkers tried to understand the human nature. In the 19th century, psychology became an own discipline with different schools of thought that would dominate the field for a period of time.

Nature-nurture debate

The nature-nurture debate already started with Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle and Plato. The question is whether psychological characteristics are biologically determined or caused by the environment, for example by culture. Culture refers to the attitudes, norms and beliefs that are important within a group of people who share their language. These factors are transmitted from one generation to the next. The result of the debate is a compromise, namely, there is always an interaction between genes and environment.

Mind-body problem

In the past, it was thought that the mind was located in the organs of the body, for example in the heart or in the liver. In the following ages, people realized that the mind would be essential for mental functioning. This insight originated in the observation of people with brain damage. The mind-body problem involves the question whether the mind and the body exist separately from each other or that the mind a subjective experience of the brain is. Early philosophers thought that the mind and body functioned separately from each other. Leonardo da Vinci was one of the first who attempted to connect mental functions to different brain areas. Around 1500, he made anatomical drawings of brains. He believed that sensory information would arrive in a certain brain area called ‘sensus communis’. In this area, all kinds of thinking would take place. Around 1600, Descartes introduced another interpretation, which is called dualism. Dualism refers to the idea that the mind functions separately from the body, however, the mind and body are connected. The body was viewed as an organic machine that was led by reflexes. The other way round, many psychological functions, such as memory and imagination would be products of the body. This was a very controversial idea. Descartes thought that the body could affect the mind and vice versa. He was the first who believed in an interaction between mind and body.

The start of psychology: introspection

The topics studied in contemporary psychology are not new, since Greek philosophers asked themselves the same questions as psychologists do nowadays. Physicists from the ancient times were wondering whether brains would be important for mental activity. In China, in the third century B.C., assessments were used to select people for certain jobs. Muslim authors in the ninth century B.C. emphasized the importance of therapy and development of children. Century’s later, psychology would develop into an experimental science. In 1843, Mill states in his book ‘

System of Logic’ that psychology should use observation rather than philosophical reasoning after which a revolution took place. Psychology was no longer about speculation but about carrying out experiments. In 1879, Wundt established the first psychological laboratory. He is seen as the founding father of experimental psychology. He introduced the principle of mental reaction times that an individual would need for a simple and a complex task. He thought that the difference between the time needed to accomplish a simple and a complex task, would be the time that the mental effort would cost. He wanted to measure conscious experiences as well. This was done by introspection: the study of subjective mental experiences in which (trained) individuals had to describe their thoughts. After some time, introspection was being rejected because it is subjective and not representative.


Titchener, one of Wundt’s students, used introspection as a foundation for his own new idea, namely, structuralism. This school of thought is based on the idea that conscious experiences can be divided in underlying basic elements. Titchener believed that the mind could be understand if one knew the underlying elements of consciousness. For instance, the quality, intensity, duration and pureness of music could be analysed with the use of introspection. Wundt rejected this way of using introspection.


James was a physicist with a philosophical interest in the mind. His ideas were of great influence on psychology. He was one of the first professors who wanted to have more interaction with his students during lectures. He was also very interested in the origination of conscious experiences. Therefore he had a critical attitude towards structuralism. He believed that it was not possible to divide the mind into different elements because the mind is way too complex. According to James, the mind existed of a never ending stream of thoughts that continually changed, called stream of consciousness. He thought that structuralism was as trying to study a house by looking separately at every brick. According to James it was more important to know how the mind and behaviour were of influence on adaptive functioning. This approach is called functionalism. The mind came into being by evolution. Apparently, the mind is of importance in survival and reproduction. Knowledge from functionalistic research should be applicable on problems that we face in daily life. Functionalism was strongly criticized and became less popular. Today, the relevance of functionalism is recognized.

Gestalt psychology

Gestalt psychology arose because of all the critics on structuralism. The founding fathers of gestalt psychology are Wertheimer and Kohler. According to the Gestalt theory, the whole is more than the sum of its parts, which also applies to personal experiences. The subjective experience is not just the sum of its different elements, which was thought by strucuralists. For instance, if you see a circle with two pints and a line beneath it, you might think it is a face although there is minimal evidence that it is actually a face. The sum (the circle, points and line) is less than the whole picture (seeing the face). Gestalt psychologists are doing experiments with normal, untrained people. The phenomenological method refers to reporting the experiences of people in a unstructured way. In this approach, subjective conscious experiences are important, which are different among individuals.


In the twentieth century, the ideas of Sigmund Freud became popular. Freud started his career as a neurologist and he worked with people suffering from neurological diseases. He believed that their conditions were caused by psychological factors. He also believed that behaviour was elicited by unconscious mental processes. Freud thought that disorders were caused by the unconscious (mostly sexual) conflicting mental forces. In psychoanalysis, it is tried to make the unconscious conscious in order to solve psychological conflicts. Solving these conflicts was done with the use of dream interpretation and free association. Free association means that the patient is encouraged to speak freely about everything that pops up in his mind. although these ideas were very popular in the beginning, nowadays very few psychologists support these ideas. Freuds theory is not scientifically testable and the methods, such as dream analysis, are subjective. Nevertheless, the idea that mental processes take place out of awareness, is widely accepted.


Because the mental processes describe by Freud are very difficult to study, behaviourism came into being. Watson was the most important founding father of behaviourism and he thought that mental processes should not be studied because they are not directly observable. According to behaviourism, all kinds of behaviour are evoked by the environment (nurture). Every action is a response to a certain stimulus and it can be predicted by the stimulus. Skinner did not believe that behaviour was determined by mental processes, he viewed mental processes as an illusion. Skinner thought that behaviour was determined by the consequences of certain actions. He looked especially at the consequences of reinforcement and punishment. Behaviourism became very popular because many people were unsatisfied with the vagueness of psychoanalysis. Until 1960, behaviourism was dominant but afterwards the focus shifted again towards mental processes.

Cognitive psychology

The results of several studies made behaviourism less popular. Gestalt psychologist Kohler discovered that monkeys were able to grab a banana that was out their scope by putting to sticks together in order to reach the banana. The monkeys showed this solution because of a sudden insight or because observation but not as a result of reinforcement or punishment. In addition, a growing amount questions could not be answered from a behavioural perspective, for instance, how the human development was influenced by cultural aspects. These factors led to a cognitive revolution initiated, among others, by Miller.

Cognitive psychology refers to the study of higher mental functioning, such as intelligence, thinking, language, memory and decision making. From cognitive research it became clear that thinking influences behaviour. at the same time the computer was introduced. Cognitive psychologists, such as Simon and Newell, were fascinated by computers and tried to explain the working of the mind by the working of computers. The information processing theories perceive the brain as the hardware and the mind as the software. The brain codes information, processes the information, save the information and retrieve it when necessary. The cognitive psychologists were initially interested in the software (the mind) but around 1980 their interest for the hardware grew. In this time cognitive neuroscience arose, which is focused on the brain and the nervous system as underlying mechanisms of thinking, learning, perception, language and memory.

Social psychology

After the second world war, many new research questions arose. Psychologists became interested in the question why so many people had obeyed in the war. Social psychology studies these questions on authority, obeying others and group behaviour. it is studied how people develop a social identity through interactions with others and how this social identity influences the way people response to others. From research it is know that people are strongly influenced by social situations. Lewin, Gestalt psychologist, made from social psychology a scientific and experimental field. His field theory emphasizes interactions between people (their genes, habits and beliefs) and their environment.

Humanistic movement

Humanists such as Rogers and Maslow emphasize that an individual has to get to know and accept himself in order to reach self-actualisation and to treat psychological disorders. They developed therapies with the aim that people would use their full potential. The therapy existed especially of asking specific questions and listening. Over time, different methods to treat psychological problems were developed. These methods all represent different schools of thought that were dominant in a certain period of time. in behaviourism, techniques to treat problematic behaviour were developed. In cognitive psychology, techniques to treat problematic thoughts were developed. During the biological revolution, more medicines were developed. Medicines do not replace therapy, they can have side-effects and can be addictive. Often a combination of medicines and therapy is the best treatment. From the humanistic tradition, everyone is unique and has the right to get a tailor made treatment. Over time, it became clear that different people with different disorders need different treatments and that there is no universal treatment that suits everyone.

1.3 latest developments in psychology – biological revolution

Until a few decades ago, it was not possible to answer questions about the connection between body and mind as there were no systematic methods. Nowadays, these questions can be better answered because there are more advanced methods available. We learn more about psychological and physiological processes of mental activity. For instance, the brain functions by means of neurotransmitters, which are messengers that transmit information between different neurons. There are about hundred different neurotransmitters, each having its own function in psychological processes. People remember things better if they are aroused than when they are calm because if they are aroused, more neurotransmitters facilitate the memory processes. Also, there is localisation within the brain, specific areas are relevant for specific thoughts, feelings and actions.

We learn also more about genetic processes. A map with all the human genes, the human genome is made. With the help of this map, it is tried to find a relation between certain genes and behaviour. it is studied how certain genes are influencing one’s thoughts, actions, feelings and difficulties. In animal research, genes are being manipulated to study the effects on psychological processes. It has been shown that if a mouse did not have a certain gene, its memory was restricted. This information can be used in the development of people with memory problems. the relation between genes and a certain psychological characteristic is complex: often there are more, interacting genes involved in behaviour. Moreover, genes interact with environment. The brain can be studied with the help of brain imaging techniques. With these techniques it is studied how and where different brain areas are located. Specific areas are responsible for certain functions but there is often interaction between the different areas. Brain imaging arose in the 80’s and changed psychology dramatically.

The evolutionary approach

James and his colleagues, who were all functionalists, thought that the human mind was shaped by evolution. From an evolutionary perspective, the brain, brain activity and resulting behaviour have evolved over millions of years. Evolution theory views the brain as an organ that is evolved in order to make survival and reproduction of the human species. In psychology, mental traits are seen as products of natural selection. Functions such as memory, perception and language can be seen as adaptations. Adaptations are facial characteristics, skills or other actions that increase the likelihood of reproduction and survival, therefore, they are inherited to the next generations. There is growing evidence that the brain adapts biologically and that the mind adapts under influence of culture. Adaptations are caused by gen mutations. These physical characteristics, skills or abilities contribute to the solution of a certain adaptive problem, therefore, the probability that they will be given to the next generation is high. Through natural selection we received build-in mechanisms that solve adaptive problems from the past. The evolutionary perspective is important in the explanation of social behaviour. behaviour that leads to exclusion is disapproved in almost all cultures. Another example is that everyone has his own food preferences, however, these are influenced by one’s culture. According to the evolutionary perspective, we should look at the function of behaviour in the past in order to find an explanation for contemporary behaviour. the brain evolves very slow. This means that a characteristic that was useful a long time ago, in the hunter-gatherers time, is still present, although not useful anymore. In the past, sweet foods with a lot of calories were scarce. This kind of food had a great survival value and a preference for fatty and sweet foods was adaptive. Nowadays, people still have this preference but it leads to maladaptive behaviour, as it can make people obese. There are also many behaviours that are not caused directly evolutionary. For example, driving a car or exercising to intentionally offset calorie intake does not reflect evolutionary heritage but is displayed only recently.

Culture provides adaptive solutions

Culture can also be seen as adaptation. It is adaptive for people to be in a group because of protection. Living in groups causes the development of culture. Culture is also influenced by the principles of evolution: what is adaptive in a certain culture is determined by environment. Cultural evolution goes much faster than biological evolution. In the last century, great changes have occurred in how people interact. The flow of people, commodities, and financial instruments among all regions of the world are referred to as globalization. Also the internet has created a new form of culture. According to Nisbett, members of Asian cultures think more holistically that members of western cultures (that is more individualistic). People from Asia think less analytically compared to people from Europe and North America. These difference might be caused by a different history. The culture in which one is living is determining the norms and beliefs someone has. Norms specify which behaviour is expected from the people living in a certain culture. Culture contains also material aspects such as media, technology, health care and transportation. These factors are of influence on how people interact with each other. psychologists try to understand the relation between culture and behaviour.

Levels of analysis

Many psychologists work together with researchers from other field, such as biology, physics or anthropology. A question is divided in sub-questions and studied within the appropriate research field. The focus lies on social, individual and biological approaches. There are different levels of analysis which are described here by use of an example study on influence of music.

The social approach looks at:

  • Interpersonal interaction: groups, relations, social influence.

  • For example: do groups determine which influence music has on somebody?

The cultural approach looks at:

  • Thoughts and behaviour within a culture: norms, beliefs, symbols and ethnicity.

  • Ethnomusicology: does culture determine which music people like?

The individual approach looks at:

  • Individual differences: personality, development, self-concept.

  • Perception and cognition: perception, thinking, deciding, language and memory.

  • Behaviour: observable behaviour, reactions and movements.

  • For example: which effects has music on mood, memory, deciding etc.?

The biological approach looks at:

  • Brain systems: neuro-anatomy, animal research, brain imaging.

  • Neurochemistry: neurotransmitters, hormones and medicines.

  • Genetics: gene mechanisms, heritability.

  • For example: do different brain areas become active if music is presented than when other sounds are presented?

Different fields

Psychologists are working in different fields which are described here:

Neuroscientists and biologists study the influence of biological systems on mental activity and behaviour.

Cognitive psychologists look at how people think, perceive, solve problems, make decisions, use language and learn new skills.

Developmental psychologists study the development of individuals during the life-span.

Personality psychologists are interested in traits of people and how these traits differ per context. They also look at differences between individuals.

Social psychologists try to understand how people are influenced by the presence of others and how people perceive others.

Cultural psychologists study how people are influenced by societal norms that belong to a certain culture.

Clinical psychologists study factors that might cause psychological difficulties and they search for treatments.

Counselling psychologists try to improve daily well-being of people. The difference with the clinical psychologist is that a counselling psychologist is more focused on a difficult situation in which on is currently rather than treating psychological disorders.

School psychologists are working in education where they help students with learning difficulties.

Industrial and organizational psychologists study behaviour and productivity at work. for example, motivation is studied.

Psychologists are working in many more fields such as forensic settings or sports. Health psychologists are working interdisciplinary and they study factors that influence ones physical health.

Which research methods are used in psychology? - Chapter 2 (5)


2.1 The scientific method

Research always start with an empirical question, a question which can be answered with data. In general, the what, when and why of a certain phenomenon is being asked. Also, it is studied through which mechanisms certain phenomena arise. The purpose of science is to describe, predict, control and explore a situation. The systematic procedure of observing and measuring phenomena that should provide answers on these questions is called the scientific method. Within the scientific method, critical thinking is very important. the first step of critical thinking is to question the information available by looking at the evidence. Also, the precise definition should be examined, this is the evaluation of information. The evidence should be based on accurately conducted research. Accurate evidence can be find in peer-reviewed journals. Peer- reviewed means that a study is being evaluated by other researchers. Nevertheless, one always have to remain critical because peer-reviewed does not automatically mean that the study was conducted in the right way.

The scientific method makes use of three elements: theory, hypotheses and the study itself. A theory is a model of related concepts and ideas that tries to explain observable phenomena and that predicts something. For example, there is a theory which states that all phobias come from anxiety disorders. A good theory results in hypotheses which are specific, falsifiable predictions of what should be observed given that the hypotheses and therefore also the theory is right. For example, someone who has a social phobia should also have an anxiety disorder. A good theory exists of a variety of falsifiable hypotheses. A good theory is also parsimonious, which is called Occam’s Razor. According to this principle, a simple theory is preferred above a complex theory.

Step 1 in doing research exists of formulating hypotheses. Step 2 is conducting a literature study in which existing literature is being examined. Step 3 is choosing a research design. Step 4 is conducting the study in which all data has to be collected systematically and carefully. Step 5 is the analysis of the data. First the data is being described, afterwards a conclusion is drawn. Step 6 involves the report of the results so that other researchers and society can benefit from it.

If the hypothesis is not supported by data, predictions are wrong and one can doubt the correctness of a theory. After formulating a conclusion, the entire process starts again, the scientific method is cyclic method.

If the hypotheses are being supported, you can formulate new hypotheses based on the previous ones. Studies can also be replicated which means that an experiment tis being conducted in exactly the same way in order to examine whether the results are the same. If this is the case, it is more likely that the found results are correct. Human behaviour is often explained by more than one theory. It is not possible that one study gives a definite answer. Sometimes other phenomena outside of the scientific method are found. Finding an important result coincidentally is called serendipity.

2.2 Research in psychology

There are different kinds of research methods. To test a hypothesis, a research can choose from three scientific research designs. Variables are things that are measurable and that can vary. A variable can be something that is measured or something that is manipulated. These variables have to have a clear definition so that it is clear what is exactly measured, this is called a operational definition. In an operational definition, the variables are converted to something that can be counted or measured. Below the descriptive, experimental and correlational design will be described.

Descriptive design

In a descriptive design, also called observational design, behaviour is being observed in order to analyse it systematically and objectively. There are three methods within descriptive designs: case studies, observation studies and self-report measures. Descriptive techniques are especially useful in early stages of a research project, for example, in examining the existence of a phenomenon.

Case studies

A case study is used to study one person or situation intensively, for example the live of serial killer Charles Manson. A case study is often seen as a observational study with only one participant. Case studies are applied in business. Participants in case studies often suffer from brain damage or a psychological disorder. By studying someone with such a damage or disorder, insights can be gathered on normal functioning. A big disadvantage of case studies is that it is difficult to verify whether conclusions are accurate because the research has no control over the life of the participant, therefore, he has to make assumptions with regard to the influence of other life-events.

In a case study, it is easier to interpret findings incorrectly or subjectively. Another problem in case studies is the lack of generalization to other people.

Observation studies

There are two types of observation studies. There is natural observation in which the researcher is not part of the situation and where the researcher does not want to interfere (taking photos of a monkey that acts in a certain way). In participation observation studies, the researcher is part of the situation. The researchers joins, for instance, a sect in order to observe without being noticed. Observation techniques attempt to measure observable behaviour in a careful and systematic manner. These techniques are especially important in descriptive studies but they could also be used in experimental and correlational designs. Three important questions are:

  • Do we have to observe the behaviour in a natural setting or in a laboratory? There is the possibility that people behave differently from how they do normally.
  • Do we have to describe the actions literally or do we categorize actions? If you want to look at cultural differences in how intimate people say hello to each other on an airport, you could write down all kinds of behaviour or you could categorize them. You can categorize them per culture per level of intimacy because the same action is seen as more intimate in one culture than in another. Categorization has also a disadvantage, it is subjective because it is dependent on the research who chooses the categories which actions belong to which category.
  • Does the observer have to be visible? A visible observer can cause reactivity: if people know that they are being observed, they change their behaviour accordingly, for instance, because they want to give a good impression. This is also called Hawthorne-effect, based on a study conducted in 1939 in which it was tried to make women work harder in a factory. It was found that anything the researchers did , did made the women work harder, just because of their presence.

A disadvantage of observation studies is the possibility of observer bias. An observer bias refers to systematic mistakes in observations caused by expectations of the observer. An example is the experimenter expectancy effect, in which the behaviour of participants changes through expectancies of the researcher. In order to prevent experimenter expectancy effects it is best if the researcher is not aware of any of the research hypotheses.


In a study, interviews, questionnaires and surveys can be used. These are different forms of self-reports, methods in which people can provide information about themselves. In a questionnaire, open questions can be used, questions without formulated answers. People can answer such questions very detailed, therefore, they are appropriate for in an interview. Closed questions, where the participant has to choose an answer are easier and faster, therefore, they are used in self-reports on provided on paper. Survey studies are cheap, fast and easy to conduct. Interviews are useful in a population who is not able to fill in a questionnaire, such as very young children. With an interview, the researcher can get detailed information and he can ask more extensively about a certain topic.

When researchers want to understand how thoughts, feelings and behaviour vary throughout the day or week, they can use a relatively new way of collecting data: experience sampling. Researchers take different samples of experiences of the participants over time. Nowadays, also smartphone applications are used that ask the participant questions at random chosen times.

Self-report biases

In self-reports, there is a possibility that the answers are biased by social desirability. This means that people want to present themselves more positively than the reality (faking good) because they want to be evaluated positively. In addition, there is the better-than-average effect, in which people perceive themselves as being better than others. This effect is less present in eastern cultures. To prevent these biases, there are usually more data collection methods used simultaneously. If, for instance, you want measure prejudice by using self-report, you can better also use another measurement, such as the implicit association test (IAT). It is more difficult for the participants to influence results of an IAT.

Correlational design

A correlational study is used to measure and evaluate the relation between variables that naturally exist. This could not be studied in an experiment because it is not possible to manipulate these variables that naturally exist, such as gender. The main disadvantage of correlational research is that you cannot say anything about causality. If two variables are present together it does not mean that one causes the other. the first problem is that you do not have control over the situation, it is not clear which factors were of influence. The second problem is the problem of direction, you do not know whether variable A causes variable B or vice versa. An additional problem is the third variable problem, there could be a third variable that is not measured but that is of influence on the studied variables. A third, not measured variable, can cause both the independent and the dependent variable. In a study on driving under influence of alcohol, driving and being distracted are correlated. Stress can be a reason why people start drinking just before they start driving or stress causes the distraction during driving. There are statistical procedures that can be used to exclude possible third variables in order to provide more information on causality. Despite these problems, correlational research is used a lot because of the advantages. It is used a lot in studies about mental disorders.

Experimental design

In an experimental design, the researcher can control the situation. An experiment is a study that (causal) hypotheses tests by manipulating variables. One variable is manipulated in order to see the effect on the other variable. The variable that is being manipulated is the independent variable. The dependent variable is the variable that you want to measure, this variable varies because the independent variable is manipulated. In the example of driving under influence of alcohol, the independent variable is the amount of alcoholic drinks and the dependent variable is the way of driving. Often, two groups are used in an experimental design. The first group is the experimental group (who receives a certain treatment or intervention), in this group the independent variable is manipulated. The second group is the control group, this group is receiving no treatment at all or a different treatment. This group is used to compare the experimental group with. It is important to know in which kind of studies a control group is of relevance.


The advantage of an experiment is that you can be relatively sure that found relations are causal. However, a strong level of control in the experiment is necessary. This means that the likelihood that other variables than the independent variable influenced the dependent variable has to be reduced as much as possible. A confound variable is a variable that is not the independent variable and that influences the dependent variable. This factor leads to a biased effect of the independent on the dependent variable. An example of a confound is whether all the cars in the study were having gears or were automatically, this would influence the performance of participant who drank alcohol. The more confounds are eliminated, the more alternative explanations are excluded and the stronger is the causal relation between the independent and dependent variable.

Generalisation of results

In research it is important whether results are generalizable to a large group of people or only the participants in the study. The small group of people who is participating in the study is called the sample (all students at the University of Groningen). This group is taken from a large group of people called the population (all students in the Netherlands). The aim of the researcher Is becoming able to say something about the population. Therefore, the question is whether the results based on the sample are generalizable to the population. To achieve this, the sample has to be representative for the population, that is having the same characteristics as the population. To get such a sample, random sampling can be used in which everyone has the same probability of taking part in the study. Often, convenience sampling is used in which participants that were easy to recruit are used, such as psychology students. This is only done when the chance that the sample differs from the population on important aspects is little. It is also important that the groups within the experiment are equal. If they differ on certain aspects, these factors might be causing a difference between the groups. Selection bias refers to groups that are systematically biased because of how the participants are selected. Some studies are more often chosen by women than by men. Groups can be made more equal by random assignment so that everyone has the same chance to be in a certain group. This reduces the chance that a certain type of people ends up in only one group and not in the other one. Factors that could be of influence on the dependent variable are divided equally between groups.

Sample size

The results from a large sample are more reliable than from small samples because the scores in small group vary more than in a large group. In a large group the chance that the scores are similar to the average of the population is high. In a small group the chance is higher that the found average score is different because of more extreme scores. A larger group scores more towards the mean and is therefore more representative, this is called law of large numbers.

Data collection

First, level of analysis has to be determined. This refers to the level on which data is collected, biological, individual, social or cultural data. Subsequently, a method of data collection that fits this level has to be chosen. Many levels of analysis have their own most appropriate methods developed. In studying biological processes, brain processes and changes in chemical processes in the body are measured. In studies on individual differences, researchers can ask the participants directly or with indirect measurement instruments (such as reaction time on certain questions).

Cross-cultural data collection

In studies on a cultural level, attitudes could be measured. This can be done on all levels of analyses. Culture is a transcending level of analysis. A problem with cross-cultural research is that concepts that people from one culture try to understand, do not necessarily have to exist in the other culture. Differences in vocabulary per culture can reflect differences in other aspects of the culture. In the English language there is no word for gezelligheid. This could mean that gezelligheid is les accepted in the English culture. Cultural sensitive research tries to take into account how culture can influence behaviour and feelings of people living in that particular culture. Also within a population there can be a lot of cultural differences which should be taken into account, such as ethnicity.

2.3 Research ethics

When a researcher wants to conduct a study, he has to take all kinds of ethical issues into account. To guarantee the safety of animals and people, research institutes have to follow strict guidelines. An Institutional Review Board (IRB) examines whether a study is designed following ethical guidelines. Privacy is an important aspect. One guideline is that it is only allowed to observe people in public settings without them knowing about it. Another issue is whether you can ask participants very emotional and personal questions? Moreover, confidentiality is important, data from a participant has to be kept secret. The researcher has to explain the participant that data will be processed confidential in order to prevent social desirable answers. In studies about very confidential topics, anonymity can be guaranteed which means that the data is not linked to a certain participant. Confidentiality means that the data is linked to a participant but that this information is only accessible for the researchers.

Informed consent and deception

Informed consent refers to the fact that people have to be provided with enough information about the study so that they are able to decide if they want to participate. Informed consent is often given on paper. For some groups, informed consent is not possible, such as children or people with a mental disorder. In these cases, permission from parents or caretakers is needed.

It is not always possible to tell the participants every detail of the study because this can influence their behaviour. therefore, deception is used in which the real purpose of the study is not explained to the participants. Deception is only used if other methods are not possible and if the aim of the study is important. Deception cannot be applied if the researcher knows that participants would not have joined if they would knew about the actual purpose of the study. There are many guidelines on how and when deception can be used and every study has to be approved by an ethical committee. If deception is used, the researchers have to justify this at the end of the study by giving a debriefing in which the actual purpose is being explained.

In the concentration camps during world war 2, the Jews were forced to participate in horrible expermients. Based on this, the Neurenberger-code was written in which the basis for the informed consent was created and in which deception was forbidden. However, important research findings cannot be gathered without deception. Therefore, deception is allowed by the APA if there are more advantages than disadvantages.

Relative risk

In a study, the ratio between risk and advantage has to be in proportion. Animal research is only conducted if it can provide important new insights and when the studies are prepared well. Distress has to be minimalized.

2.4 Data-analysis

Validity, reliability and accuracy

A study can be evaluated according to three principles: validity, reliability and accuracy.

  • Validity: refers to the extent to which it is possible to answer the research hypotheses with the data. A study is valid if the measurement instrument are measuring what they should be measuring.
  • Reliability: this is about the question to what extent a measurement is stable over time and in similar situations. If the mean score of many measurements is taken, this mean score is more reliable. Studies are reliable if they can be replicated.
  • Accuracy: the extent to which an experimental measurement is free from errors is the accuracy. A measurement has to be accurate. It is possible that a measurement is valid (it measures what it has to measure) and reliable (the results can be replicated), but not accurate. There are systematic errors and random errors. Systematic errors are errors that are the same at each measurement. For instance, a scale that is always indicating 10 kilogram too much. Random errors are errors that are different per measurement, for instance, a stopwatch that sometimes counts too fast whereas at other moments it is too slow. Random errors usually cancel themselves out. From that perspective, a systematic error is worse than a random error.

Descriptive statistics

After data collection, the raw data is being checked for errors, such as an impossible age. In descriptive statistics, a summary of the raw data is made. By taking the means of scores it becomes easier to compare and evaluate the data. The most simple descriptive is the central tendency which is a number that reflects the most typical score or an entire group. There are three measurements:

  • Mean: add all scores and divide by the number of scores.
  • Median: the different scores are ordered from small to large and the number that is in in the middle is called the median. The median is useful if there are some extreme scores that lead to a biased mean score.
  • Mode: score that is present the most in a dataset. The mode is less sensitive to deviating scores because it indicates what most of the participants scored.

In addition, you have to look at the variability within a set of scores. Variability is the distance between different scores or between scores and the mean score. The most used variability measure is the standard deviation which indicates the distance between the score and the mean score. If the mean is 45 and the standard deveiation is 3, then the most scores are between 24 and 48. The interval indicates the distance between the smalles and largest value. This interval is less informative compared to the standard deviation because it is only based on two scores.


Correlational research is used if the independent variable cannot be manipulated and if the aim is to look for an relation between values. For instance, it is not possible to assign people randomly to a group of men or a group of women. If two variables have to be compared (for example, length and weight), a scatterplot can be used. In a scatterplot each point the graph reflects one person or measurement. If there is a relation between x and y, it means that people who scored a certain x also scored a certain y. if there is a predictable relation between x and y, there is a correlation between x and y. a correlation coefficient is a number between -1 and 1. If two variables are strongly related to each other, you can predict the score on the one variable by knowing the score on the other variable. -1 or 1 means a perfect (negative or positive) relation, 0 means there is no relation at all. A negative correlation (between -1 and 0) shows that high scores on the one variable go together with low scores on the other variable. The more alcohol is consumed, the less balanced can one walk around. A positive correlation (between 0 and 1) shows that variables decrease or increase together. One who doe a lot of sports has a better condition whereas one who does not any sports has probably a worse condition. These kind of relations can be plotted in a scatterplot. If it is possible to draw a line throught the points, there is a correlation. The closer the points are to the line, the stronger the correlation. A descending line refers to a negative correlation.

Inferential statistics

Whereas descriptive statistics are used to summarize data, inferential statistics is used to find differnces between the scores of two groups, was the hypothesis right: did the intervention work? if yes, there will be difference between the groups. If the probability is very small that the difference is the result of coincidence (smaller than 5%), the researchers may conclude that the intervention had an effect which is called ‘statistically significant’.


A meta-analysis is a study in which the results of many studies are combined and an overall conclusion is drawn based on all these studies. A meta-analyses summarizes previous results. Studies that were conducted accurately weigh more in the calculations. In addition, the researchers look at how big the difference between the groups is (effect size). Because the conclusions of meta-analyses are based on more studies, it can be argued that these results are more reliable.

How does biology influence psychology? - Chapter 3 (5)


In the past 30 years, new knowledge is gained with regard to the working of the brain. Knowledge on genetics, heritability, DNA and physiology in relation to the mind has increased in the last decennia. Genetic analysis shows that some disorders are heritable. Researchers attempt to connect certain genes to psychological processes. In addition, knowledge on the nervous-system and neuro-chemical processes has increased. This chapter focusses on the relation between psychological processes and biological aspects, such as genes, the endocrine system and the nervous system.

3.1 working of the nervous-system


The nerve-system is responsible for all kind s of psychological activities. It is a communication network that is the basis of what people feel and think. The nervous-system contains billions of nerve cells. These nervous cells are called neurons which function via electrical impulses that communicate with other neurons via chemical signals. Neurons receive information, integrate and transmit this into the nervous system. The nervous system is divided in two parts: the central nervous system (CNS) which contains the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system (PNS) which contains the other nerve cells in the rest of the body.


There are three types of neurons. Sensory neurons receive information from the physical world and carry this to the brain. These neurons are afferent, which means that they bring information to the brain. Somatosensory neurons are sensory neurons that receive information from the body, for example the muscles. Motor neurons are neurons that make it possible that muscles contract or relax, resulting in the ability to move. These neurons are efferent, that means that they bring information from the brain to the muscles. Inter neurons are neurons that only communicate with other neurons, often within a certain brain area. Inter neurons do not communicate with other brain areas but with body parts.

Sensory and motor neurons together are responsible for movement. If you are writing something down with a pen , you use your motor neurons to adjust the muscle tone to the pen. You use your sensory neuros to adjust the pressure of your fingers in order to use the pen. We make many movements without thinking about it. If you touch a cup of tea that is too hot, you automatically put it back. These are reflexes: automatic motoric nerve responses. Sensory neurons send the message that you have pain to the spinal cord (afferent). In the spinal cord the message is transmitted by interneurons. A motor neuron sends a message from the spinal cord (efferent) that you should move your hands away from the painful stimuli.

Complex networks existing of thousands of neurons, which send and receive signals, are the basis for all kinds of psychological activity. Neurons select the other neurons with whom they will exchange information. By doing so, neural networks are being formed.


Nerve cells have different forms and sizes but they share four characteristics. They exist of dendrites, a cell body, an axon and terminal buttons:

  • The core of a neuron, the cell body, contains information from thousands of other neurons. In the cell body, information is collected, integrated and transmitted.
  • The dendrites are the receivers. These are branchlike appendages of a neuron (nerve cell) which detect information from surrounding neurons.
  • The axon sends information, a thin branch of the neuron through which information is being transported to the terminal. Axons can be a few millimetres long to more than a meter. The longest axons are located from the spinal cord to the toes.
  • Terminal buttons are located at the end of the axons. They carry chemical signals from the sending neuron to the receiving neuron.
  • A synapse is the place where the chemical communication between neurons takes place. Neurons do not have direct contact with each other but they send chemical signals to the synaptic cleft, a small space between the axon of the sending neuron and the dendrites of the receiving neuron. Chemicals go from one neuron through the synapse and give signals to the other neurons. In this chemical communication, the neurons can be pre- or postsynaptic.
  • The membrane is the cell wall. The membrane is important for the communication between neurons: it regulates the concentration of electric charged molecules that are the basis of the electrical activity of a neuron.
  • These electrical signals move over the axon via the myelin sheath , existing of glial cells. Myelin increases the speed of the electrical signal that is send by the axon. The myelin sheath is spread over the axon with small spaces in between.
  • These spaces between the different parts of myelin are called nodes of Ranvier. At these points, the action potential is being carried along the axon.

Action potential

Resting membrane potential

When a neuron is not active (not sending or receiving information) the inner side and outside of the neuron differ from each other in electricity. Communication between neurons is dependent on the ability of a neuron to respond to incoming stimulation. The resting membrane potential refers to the electric charge of a neuron, if it is not active. The electric charge within the neuron is then negative (-70mV) compared to the outside of the neuron because of the negative ions that are concentrated within the neuron. If the electrical charge changes inside and outside from the neuron, polarisation takes place. This principle makes the action potential possible.

The electrical charge in a resting potential is caused because there are more negatively charged ions within the neuron than outside of the neuron. The cell membrane has gates through which positively charged sodium ions or negatively charged potassium ions can pass. These canals are selectively permeable, only one type of ions can pass the canal. In the resting potential, the canals are set in such a way that they maintain the negative charge within the neuron. Therefore, in the cell is more potassium than outside the cell.

Dendrites receive chemical signals of surrounding neurons which cause them to fire. Firing refers to a signal that is transmitted along the axon resulting in the release of chemicals in the terminal buttons. This signal is called the action potential. There are two kinds of signals: (1) excitatory and (2) inhibitory. The first stimulates the neuron to fire, whereas the inhibitory signals decrease the chance of firing. Excitatory signals lead to depolarisation, whereas inhibitory signals lead to hyperpolarisation. Depolarisation means that the ion-canals open and potassium goes outside, whereas sodium ions come in. This results in a positively charged inside and a negatively charged outside of a neuron. This is the basis of the action potential. Afterwards the sodium canals close, through which the cell is no longer positively charged. Slowly the cell comes back in the resting potential: the inside of the cell is again negatively charged.


If a neuron fires, the depolarisation spreads out over the axon, which is called propagation. The idea is that the propagation at the beginning of the axon changes the electrical charge at the first node of Ranvier so much that the threshold is reached. If this is reached, the ion-canals at this node open and depolarisation takes place. In this way the depolarisation is being transmitted from node to node. The action potential jumps from node to node and reaches a very high speed. In multiple sclerosis (MS), the myelin sheath is damaged. Therefore, the action potential cannot go via the myelin sheath to the nodes of Ranvier. This leads to restricted neural impulses that make movement and perception impossible over time.

All-or-nothing principle

The all-or-nothing principle means that each neuron fires as strong as the others. If the critical threshold of 0 mV is reached, the neuron fires. The strength of firing cannot vary per neuron, however, the frequency of the of the firing can vary. This frequency is inherent to the strength of the stimulation. A lot of stimulation leads to more action potentials and automatically to more firing.

Neurotransmitters and communication in the synapse

The neuron that send the signal (via the axon) is called presynaptic. The receiving neuron (via one of the dendrites) is postsynaptic. The communication in the synapse works with chemicals that are called neurotransmitters. If the action potential reaches a terminal button, the vesicles releases neurotransmitters into the synapse. These neurotransmitters bind to receptors of the postsynaptic neuron. Receptors are specialised protein molecules in the postsynaptic membrane. If the neurotransmitter bind to a receptor, the ion canals become opened which leads to an inhibitory or excitatory signal. Each receptor can be influenced by only one type of neurotransmitter.

When the neurotransmitters finished their work, they disappear. There are three different processes that are able to stop the influence of a neurotransmitter.

  • Reuptake: de neurotransmitter goes back to the presynaptic neuron where they are being ‘recycled’.
  • Enzyme deactivation: the neurotransmitters are broken down by enzymes (certain proteins).
  • Auto reception: the neurotransmitters bind to the receptors of the presynaptic neuron through which the neuron knows how many neurotransmitters are present in the synapse.

Influence of neurotransmitters on emotion, thoughts and behaviour

In the past, it was thought that there were only 5 types of neurotransmitters. Nowadays, we know that there are more than 60 kinds of neurotransmitters. Medicines and drugs can influence the working of the neurotransmitters. They can influence the release, reuptake and effect on the postsynaptic neuron. Agonists are drugs that imitate or reinforce the working of neurotransmitters. They increase the release and the effect on the postsynaptic neuron or block the reuptake. Drugs that block or inhibit the effects of neurotransmitters are called antagonists. These medicines can block the release and can facilitate the destruction of the neurotransmitters. Knowledge about the influence of certain chemicals on neurotransmitters can lead to the development of medicines. In recent studies, it is tried to turn of neurotransmitters that facilitate appetite, in order to prevent obese.

Types of neurotransmitters

There are nine neurotransmitters important in psychology. These neurotransmitters are relevant for how we think, feel and behave. These neurotransmitters and their functions are summarized in table 3.1 , page 86.

  • Acetylcholine (Ach): is responsible for the control of motor activity and is involved in the contraction and relaxation of muscles. It can be both excitatory and inhibitory depending on the receptors. Botulism (botox) is a substance that blocks the working of Ach (antagonist) and it can lead to paralysis, therefore, it is used in small amounts in plastic surgery. Moreover, this substance is involved in learning, memory, sleeping and dreaming, therefore, ACh-antagonists can lead to memory loss. In Alzheimer, the working of ACh is impeded. Therefore, ACh-antagonists may become a solution in memory problems.
  • Monoamines (MAO’s) are four substances that are important for the regulation of arousal, emotions and motivation:
  1. Epinephrine: causes bursts of energy in arousing situations
  2. Norepinephrine: involved in alertness and consciousness and attention.
  3. Serotonin: involved in all kinds of behaviours. Substance is important for emotion, impulse control and dreaming. Too little serotonin is associated with sadness, anxiety, increased appetite and aggression. Medicines that block serotonin reuptake (agonists) are used for mental disorders, such as depression or compulsive disorders.
  4. Dopamine: involved in motivation and motor control. It is a reinforcing substance: eating, drinking and sexual arousal all lead to the activation of dopamine receptors. Dopamine leads to a pleasant feeling and plays a role in smoking and drug use. Dopamine is also responsible for the control of voluntary muscle movements. People with Parkinson’s disease have to little dopamine. The muscles become stiff, trembling arises and voluntary movements become almost impossible. The neurons that produce dopamine are eliminated. After some time, cognitive functioning becomes worse. L-DOPA is the precursor of dopamine. Injecting L-DOPA increases the production of dopamine. In patients with Parkinson’s disease, L-DOPA causes temporary relieve. An alternative treatment could be implanting dopamine producing cells from a foetus.
  • GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid): it is the most important inhibiting neurotransmitter in the nervous system and it inhibits the action potential. The substance leads to hyperpolarisation of the postsynaptic membranes. GABA-agonists (benzodiazepines) are used to treat anxiety disorders because they relax the nervous system. Alcohol has similar effects on GABA-receptors. Therefore, a certain amount of alcohol is often experienced as relaxing.
  • Glutamate: is the most important excitatory neurotransmitter in the nervous system, this substance increases the speed of the action potential. Glutamate leads to depolarisation because it opens the sodium canals in the postsynaptic membrane. Glutamate facilitates learning and improves memory by reinforcing the synaptic connections.
  • Endorphin: a substance that is important in reducing pain perception and in rewarding. Because of this substance you can survive despite of severe pain.
  • Substance P: this substance is involved in pain perception and mood. This substance sends a signal to the brain about the presence of pain. Hot peppers often contain substance P.

3.2 what are the most important brain structures and functions?

The brain

The nervous system can be divided in the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). These systems are anatomically independent but functionally they are strongly dependent. The CNS exists of the brain and the spinal cord. The PNS exists of all other nerve cells in the body. The PNS collects information and sends it to the CNS which organizes and evaluates the information and sends signals back to the PNS. The PNS controls specific behaviour or leads the body adjust to the situation. The brain is the most important in this process.

Knowledge that we have about the brain is often based on special cases of people with brain damage. A very famous case is the one of Phineas Gage. At age 25, he had an accident during his construction job in which an Iron pole penetrated his fore head. Interestingly, he survived the accident but his personality changed. He had difficulties controlling himself. Afterwards, autopsy revealed that his prefrontal cortex was damaged, which is an important area for social behaviour, empathy and self-control. These were indeed aspects that were very difficult for Gage.

History: Thoughts on the brain

People did not always believe that the mind is in the brain. In Egypt, they thought that the mind was in the heart. The Greek and Romans started to think that the brain would be important for the mind, which became an well-accepted idea at the end of the nineteenth century. Now the question arose, how does the brain exactly work? Do different parts produce different kinds of behaviour or is each part equally important for each process? Gall and Spurzheim were convinced of the first idea. In phrenology, characteristics are distracted from the form of the skull: if a certain brain area was big, one possessed the belonging characteristic to a high extent. According to phrenology, the entire skull was divided into many different areas with a certain characteristic. However, there was no evidence for this idea. Lashley believed the second: he thought that specific brain areas were involved in motor control and sensory experiences but that the rest of the cerebral cortex would contribute equally to all the other mental skills. This idea is called equipotentiality.

Nowadays, we know that this is wrong and that the brain exists of specialized areas with multiple functions. Broca studied someone who could say very little but who did understand what other people were saying. He say that the left frontal part of the brain was damaged and concluded that this specific frontal area (Broca’s area) was important for the production of language. After brain imaging techniques have been developed, more became known about the role of the different brain areas because they can be studied empirically. Our brain is viewed as a product of million years of evolution. The brain has developed special mechanisms to regulate bodily and psychological processes. Brain areas have different functions but they also work together to produce behaviour.

Psychophysiological measurements

Psychophysiological measurements are measurements in which it is examined how changes in bodily functions are connected to behaviour or mental states. These bodily changes are muscle tone, heart rate, temperature, dilation of the pupils etc. For example, stress can be measured based on how much someone sweats or how high the heart rate is. A lie-detector works according this principle as well, if someone lies, he is probably a bit stressed and has the belonging bodily symptoms.


Brain activity can be measured by looking at electrical activity in the brain. An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a device that measures the electrical activity in the brain. This activity is being related to cognitive or perceptual processes. A researcher attaches electrodes to the skull of an individual. The device gives an image of the brain activity. Certain mental states have their own pattern, a predictable EEG pattern. EEG shows, for instance if one is falling asleep, specific consistent patterns of activity. However, EEG registers all brain activity, therefore, activity in specific areas cannot be studied separately.

Brain imaging

Brain activity is indicated by changes in blood circulation. Blood brings oxygen and nutrition to the brain. Brain-imaging techniques measure blood supply, areas that are active need more oxygen and thus more blood is going there. By measuring the blood supply, you can see which parts become active during certain tasks. Among others, research found that some specific areas become active if the participant is presented with pictures of faces. To make sure that the activity is caused by the task, you can compare the activity to another somewhat different task.

An important technique is PET (Positron emission tomography). A PET-scan makes a three-dimensional, digital reconstruction of the metabolism within the brain. If body cells are active, they use glucose. If you look at metabolism in which glucose is converted, you know where cells are active and which brain area is active. Metabolism is measured by injecting a radioactive substance in the blood. A second technique is MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), this is the most strong technique which produces high quality images of the brain. A strong magnetic field is created around the person. Subsequently, the field is released through which the brain releases energy. Because each area is releasing energy in a different way, measuring the amounts of energy can give a detailed image of the brain. This technique is used to detect brain damage, for instance. In fMRI (functional MRI), an image is made based on measurements of the blood supply No radioactive substances are needed because the oxygen levels are studied (as brain activity requires oxygen).

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)

A disadvantage of brain-imaging techniques is that the results are correlational: only relations between tasks and brain activity can be found. The problem of correlations is that you know nothing about causality. To solve this problem, in TMS the difference between performance of a functioning brain area and a not functioning brain area is measured. In TMS, a magnetic field stops the functioning of a brain area. A disadvantage of this method is that only areas directly beneath the skull can be studied and it can only be used for a short period of time. If TMS is used with other imaging methods, it is a very strong method to study which brain areas are involved in psychological functions.

Spinal cord and brainstem

The spinal cord exists of grey and white matter and is important for the exchange of information between the body and the brain. The grey matter exists of cell bodies of neurons and the white matter exists of myelin of the axons. The brainstem is located below the brain. This part is responsible for the most important survival skills such as breathing, swallowing, vomiting and urinating. The brainstem has nerves that are connected specifically to the skin and muscles of the head. The brainstem contains the reticular formation, these neural networks cause alertness and sleep-and wake patterns.


The cerebellum is located behind the brainstem. This brain area is essential for making coordinated movements and balance. A damaged cerebellum results in movement and balance problems. where the problems arise is dependent on the part of the cerebellum that is damaged. In addition, the cerebellum is important for learning and for doing tasks automatically (for example biking). Finally, the cerebellum plays a role in feeling empathy.

Subcortical structures

  • The subcortical structures are located within the brain. Some of them are part of the limbic system, the evolutionary older part of the brain, important for basic needs. Other structures are displayed in fig. 3.24, page 95.
  • The hypothalamus: is important for bodily processes that are essential for survival. It also regulates the body temperature, blood pressure, motivational behaviour such as thirst, hunger, aggression and sexual behaviour.
  • The thalamus: here sensory information arrives, is organized and goes to the cortex (except for olfaction which has a direct route to the cortex).the thalamus closes its gates when you are sleeping.
  • The hippocampus: is important for the creation of new memories of a certain type. It is surprising that the size of the hippocampus changes if it is used more often. The longer someone is a taxi driver, the larger the hippocampus because taxi drivers have to remember a lot of spatial information.
  • The amygdala: makes it possible that we can associate concrete objects with emotions, such as bad food with disgust, and that we can process emotional information. If we experience a strong emotional or threatening situation, we will not forget these stimuli anymore because of the amygdala. It also leads to feelings of anxiety if we detect those stimuli again. The amygdala is also involved in positive emotions such as sexual arousal.
  • The basal ganglia: is a system of subcortical structures that are important for the initiation of planned movements. Probably, it is also involved in acquiring habits. The nucleus accumbens, a part of the basal ganglia, is important for feelings of being rewarded. This feeling is caused by activation of dopamine neurons, for example when you look at an attractive person or if you eat delicious food.

The cerebral cortex

The cerebral cortex (fig. 3.25, page 96. ) is the outer layer of the hemispheres. This part is relatively large in humans. The cerebral cortex regulates thinking, detailed perceptions and consciousness, it makes people think before they engage in action. In the cortex, complex communication is possible via the corpus callosum, a bridge existing of millions of axons that connects the two hemispheres and that transmits information through the cortex. Our brain exists of several lobes:

  • The occipital lobe is located at the posterior part of the brain and is responsible for vision. The primary visual cortex in this lobe is the place where visual information is collected.
  • The parietal lobe is important for touch and orientation at objects in the same room. This lobe contains the primary somatosensory cortex. It is organized in the same way as the visual cortex. Body parts that are close to each other are also close to each other in the somatosensory homunculus which is a representation of where the processing of touch takes place. Some body parts are more sensitive than others, these parts have a bigger area in the homunculus than body parts that are less sensitive. For example, the face is much more sensitive than the back. Also spatial information enters here. Damage to the right parietal region causes hemi neglect, which means that people do not notice what happens to the left side of the body. When two objects are presented, they only notice the object at the right side.
  • The temporal lobe is located next to the ears and it contains the primary auditory cortex. This lobe is important for hearing, detailed visual perception (such as faces) and memory. At the border between the temporal and occipital lobe, the fusiform gyrus is located which becomes active if people look at faces but not if they look at other things.
  • The frontal lobe is located at the front of the brain and it is essential for planning and movement. The primary motor cortex is part of this lobe. This cortex has as well a homunculus on which body parts are represented. Neurons assign tasks to the muscles. The part of the frontal lobe that is not responsible for motor movements is the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is 30% of the brain. This part is involved in attention, working memory, decision making, social behaviour and personality. In the prefrontal cortex are all the characteristics located that distinct humans from animals. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the frontal lobe was often being damaged on purpose (lobotomy), to treat mental disorders. Lobotomy resulted in people with very flat emotions.

Split brain

To treat certain problems, such as severe epilepsy, the two hemispheres are sometimes disconnected at the corpus callosum. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and vice versa via the corpus callosum. In individuals with a split brain, the communication between the left and right side cannot take place anymore through which the hemispheres function independently from each other. if, simultaneously, two pictures are presented, a patient with a split brain is only able to say something about the picture on the right because the left hemisphere controls speech. The picture on the left side is being seen by the right hemisphere and the left hand can be controlled to point at the object on the picture.

3.3 how does the brain communicate with the body?

The PNS can be divided in the somatic nervous system (SNS) and the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The SNS carries sensory signals to the CNS via the nerves. The ANS regulates the internal environment of the body, such as the functioning of the bladder, stomach and heart. The ANS can be divided in a sympathetic and parasympathetic part. The sympathetic part of the ANS prepares the body for engaging in action. It makes you ready to fight or flight if there are threats. This nervous system is also activated in situations with anxiety or sadness. If this system is active for a long time, in cases of stress, it can lead to all kinds of medical problems, such as stomach ulcers , heart problems and asthma. The parasympathetic system brings the body back to the resting situation.

The endocrine system

The endocrine system uses hormones to influence behaviour, thoughts and actions. These chemical substances are released by the endocrine glands and transported via the blood. In sexual behaviour, the most important glands are the gonads. In men these are the testes and in women the ovaries. The two major gonadal hormones are the same in males and females but what differs is the quantity. Androgens such as testosterone are more prevalent in males, whereas estrogens such as estradiol and progesterone are more prevalent in females. Removal of the testes in males, castration, leads to difficulties in developing an erection. Testosterone is important in sexual behaviour of males. The influence of gonadal hormones is more complex in females. Removal of the ovaries does not change the sexual arousal in females. In nonhuman animals, the removal of the ovaries during estrus, the receptive and fertile period, results in the end of sexual behaviour.

Coordination of the endocrine system

The endocrine system is controlled by the CNS. Hormones are controlled by the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus secretes some of its releasing factors which cause the pituitary gland and other hormonal glands to release their hormones. The hormones are carried by the blood and have influence on all kinds of processes. Growth hormone (GH), gives signals through which bones and muscles start to grow. People try to influence their GH to improve their performances. The release of GH is dependent of proteins, therefore, an increase in food consumption can stimulate growth. The body facilitates protein intake by releasing more GH releasing factors because then people start to eat more proteins and the release of GH increases. GH releasing factor neurons are connected to a part of the hypothalamus that regulates the sleep and wake patterns. Protein intake and therefore GH are being regulated by the biological clock of the body.

3.4 How does the brain change?

The brain is plastic, this means that the brain can change through experiences, medicines or damage. The brain can reorganize itself based on whether the parts are used often or not. The brain develops in a predictable way. Some parts develop slower than other parts. The prefrontal cortex is finally full grown at the end of adolescence.

Growth of the brain

The environment plays an important role in brain development; how our genes act, which genes are expressive, is also dependent on environment. The cells of an developing embryo receive signals of the environment. Based on these signals the cells develop into certain types. These embryonal cells can develop into all kinds of cells, therefore, they are used to replace dead cells of people who are ill . the embryonal cells adjust to their environment.

The connections in the brain are determined by axons that respond to substances that tell them where and when they have to migrate. The large connections are caused by these substances but the more detailed connections are caused by experience. if the eyes of a cat are closed at birth, the cat cannot get visual input. The visual cortex does not develop well and if the eyes open later on, the cat remains blind. Brain development has some critical periods in which experiences have to take place in order for the brain to develop optimally. If rats get insufficient stimulation, they do not develop the same skills as rats who are raised in a normal environment.

Brains of males and females

Differences but also similarities between the brain of males and females are the result of biological influences and influences of the environment. In general, the male brain is bigger compared to a female brain but the size of the brain structures differs per person. Already in the womb, the brain is influenced by hormones that differ for males and females. Men and women are treated differently in society and this also has an influence on brain development. Men are better at certain tasks but women are better at other tasks. although men have a bigger brain than women, they are not more intelligent. Men have a stronger dominance for language in the left hemisphere than women. If women have had a stroke and one hemisphere is not functioning well anymore, the language skills are often still intact because this skill is spread over the two hemispheres, contrary to men. Research has shown that men and women perform similar at a task but they use different brain areas.

Changes in the brain

We create new memories constantly which causes changes in the brain. Existing connections are reinforced. Two neurons firing together leads to a stronger synaptic connection, ‘’fire together, wire together’’ . In the future, they can fire quicker together. This process is similar to learning.

Sometimes the brain develops totally new connections. This happens when someone is healing from being injured. New neurons (for example in the hippocampus) are being produced in the brain of an adult and we call this neurogenesis. Neurogenesis depends on the social environment. Stress decreases neurogenesis in rats whereas a dominant position in the group increases it.

Cortical reorganisation takes place if the representation of body parts in the homunculi changes. If a body part is used very often, the representation of that part increases in the homunculus. After amputation, the representation of the amputated body part has to be adjusted. This cortical reorganization can go wrong. If so, people report that they still feel the body part or the body part still hurts, this is called phantom pain. This can occur if the pain nerves do not grow properly at the end of the amputated body part. The pain is interpreted by the cortex as coming from the amputated limb, the cortical representation remains intact.

Recovery of the brain

The brain of children is more plastic compared to adults, therefore, a child’s brain can better reorganize itself after injury. The surrounding grey matter within the brain takes over the functions of the brain part that is damaged. In children who suffer from severe epilepsy, sometimes, an entire cerebral hemisphere is removed which is called radical hemispherectomy. This is not possible in adults because they would be paralyzed afterwards. In children this happens as well but they will regain almost complete use of their limbs. The functions of the removed hemisphere are taken over by the other hemisphere.

3.5 the genetic basis of psychology

Genetics refers to the characteristics that are passed along to offspring through inheritance and to the processes involved in turning genes ‘’on’’ and ‘’of’’. It is studied how genes influence thoughts, feelings and behaviour but also how genes and environment influence each other. Whether genes are turned on or off depends also on environment but genetic predispositions determine also what kind of environment we select for ourselves. The human genome project is an large research project to map the structure of the human genetic material. The genome is the blueprint in which is determined where a cell has to go and what is function is.

The gene

Each body-cell contains chromosomes, structures existing of genes. A human has 23 pairs of chromosomes. Each parent contributes half of a person’s DNA, half of his or her genes. The structures of a chromosome are made of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This substance consists of two intertwined strands of molecules in a double helix shape. Genes are the segments of these cells. A gene produces proteins that have specific tasks. proteins are the cells that form the basis of each cell. Gene expression is the process in which a gene starts to produce proteins, it turns on and certain genes are expressed. Genes provide the options whereas the environment determines which options are chosen. For instance, the gene for a certain colour pattern is only turned on if a butterfly is born in a certain season.

An interesting founding of the Human Genome Project is that humans do not have a larger amount of genes than certain plants or animals. The complexity of human functioning cannot be found in the amount of genes but in the complex way in which these genes are expressed and how their activity is regulated. Although the large genetic structure is almost mapped, researchers are still studying how the interaction between genes can lead to or prevent certain diseases.

Selective breeding

Mendel was the first who discovered something about the principles of heredity. He developed selective breeding as experimental technique to study genetics. He cross-pollinated a with and purple flower and first he only got white or purple flowers. He tried to cross-pollinate these flowers as well and a generation arose in which 75% of the flowers was purple and 25% white. He concluded that there are two types of genes (white and purple). These gene versions are called alleles and one is dominant and one is recessive. Dominant genes are always expressed even when there is only one present. Recessive genes are only expressed if there are two similar recessive genes. Mendel’s plants were only white if there were two recessive genes for white and no dominant gene for purple.

Genotype and phenotype

Even though there are dominant and recessive genes, that does not mean that each gene will be expressed (a recessive gene remains unexpressed if a dominant gene is also present). The genotype is the genetic basis of an organism (is determined at the conception and never changes). The phenotype exists of all observable characteristics of an organism. These are caused by genetic influences and environmental influences. If you parents are very tall but there is no sufficient amount of food available, you will not be able to grow fast. Genes are only shown in the phenotype is the genes are dominant or if the genes are expressed stimulated by the environment.

Polygenetic effects

The experiment conducted by Mendel was only about single-gene characteristics (colour). However, many characteristics (length or intelligence) are caused by an interaction between genes. These characteristics are called polygenetic. Many genes and environment are involved the expression of these characteristics.

Sexual reproduction

Everyone has an own unique combination of genes which are determined by random cell division at the time of reproduction. Reproduction cells of each parent divides to produce gametes. Gametes are egg cells and sperm cells. Gametes contain half of each pair of chromosomes. The gametes of one parent are combined with the gametes of the other parent during the conception which leads to a cell called the zygote. The zygote consists of 23 pairs of chromosomes, one half from the mother and one half from the father. The zygote grows through cell division: each cell copies his chromosomes which form a new cell. Cell division is the basis of each life cycle and is responsible for growth and development.

Sometimes there are mistakes in the cell division which lead to mutations. Most of these mutations have little influence on reproduction and survival. These mutations form the basis of the evolution process: if a mutation is an advantage for survival it will be passed along to the next generation. This is also how variation within a species is caused. An example is the colour of butterflies. Because of a random mutation, a butterfly was born who was darker than the other butterflies. Because of industrialization, the environment had become darker and more grey, therefore, the dark butterfly survived better than the other butterflies because of his protective colouration. His reproduction resulted in many dark butterflies. Another example of a mutation is the recessive form sickle-cell disease. A recessive sickle-cell gene is not expressed but it provides protection to the malaria mosquito. People in Africa with a recessive sickle-cell gene have an advantage compared to others. Therefore, in Africa, sickle-cell disease is more prevalent than in other areas where malaria is less prevalent.

Behavioural genetics

Behavioural genetics studies the interaction between genes and environment. This interaction leads to the mind of an individual. Behavioural genetics gives information about the extent to which biology influences the mind, brain and behaviour. Facial characteristics are being influenced by genes. Behaviour and personality traits are partly genetically determined. Research that concludes that certain characteristics are genetically determined is controversial. Many people find it difficult to accept the idea that they a certain characteristic is predestined. The aim of behaviour genetics is not easy to realize: how can you know to what extent something is heritable and to what extent something is learned? Is a brother and sister differ a lot, how is that possible? They share a lot of their environment and genes, where is the difference? To answer these questions, two methods are being developed: twin studies and adoption studies.

Twin studies

In twin studies, two types of twins are compared. This is done to determine the genetic basis of characteristics. Monozygotic twins have an identical genetic make-up because the zygote divides itself in two. Each zygote has therefore the same chromosomes, DNA and genes. Dizygotic twins are genetically not identical to each other. They are not more identical than brothers and sisters (50% sameness). The idea is that if identical twins are more similar with regard to a certain characteristic than non-identical twins, then the characteristic is probably heritable. A critical notion is that identical twins do not have to live in a similar environment, therefore, their phenotype can be different, which is alternative explanation.

Adoption studies

Adoption studies compare individuals with the same genes (twins) to individuals with the same environment but not the same genes (adopted children). Adopted brothers and sisters have similar environments but different genes. Similarities in characteristics cannot be caused genetically and are therefore probably caused by the environment. Research suggests that being raised in the same family has little influence on personality.

Combination adoption and twins

Sometimes, identical twins who are raised separately are compared to twins who are raised together. This is an ideal situation for a researcher. If twins who are raised in another environment share certain characteristics, it means probably that the characteristic is heritable. If the similarities are stronger in twins who are raised together that in twins who are raised separately, the characteristic is at least partly determined by the environment. This technique is used in the Minnesota Twin Project. This project suggests that identical twins share a lot of characteristics regardless whether they are raised in the same family or not. Another example is that of the Jim twins, who were not raised together but who were identical on bizarre aspects. Both drank the same beer, smoked the same cigarettes, had a dog named Toy and had an ex-wife called Linda and a son called James Alan, the same job, went to the same place for holiday and had the same car. From this example it becomes clear that genes are very important.

Many critics think that the similarities between twins who are raised separately are caused similarities between the adoption and biological family. However, another case-study of twins of which one was raised in Germany and the other in Trinidad, showed as well striking similarities between the two. Many critics believe that the similarities are just coincidence, however, some research findings show that twins who are raised separately, are more similar than twins raised together. The reason behind this might be that parents of children who are raised together, stimulate their children more to be different from each other and to develop an own identity.


Heredity refers to parents who pass along certain characteristics to their children via genes. This is not the same as heritability because that is only the statistical estimation of variation in characteristics in a population caused by heredity. The heritability is the percentage of differences between people in a population that is caused by differences in their genes. For instance: length has an heritability of 0.60. This means that 60% of the variance in length between individuals is caused by their genetic make-up. This estimation is only applied to the population and not to the individual. It is not that everyone gets 60% of his length from his genes and 40% from the environment but that the 60 % of the variation in the population is determined by heredity.

Influences on gene expression

As explained earlier, the environment determines which genes are expressed (activated). An example is a longitudinal study about criminality conducted by Caspi. The researchers investigated why some people who are abused in their childhood become criminal whereas others with the same background don’t. The study showed that people, who had a certain gene that is leading to higher levels of MAO, were more likely to be criminal given that they were abused in their childhood. Others who were as well abused but did not have the MAO production gene were less likely to become criminal. This means that abuse might be an environmental factor that turns on the MAO gene.

Scarr emphasizes the interaction between genes and environment again. Different children react differently to events in the environment. A child that is shy evokes another reaction that a very outspoken child.

Changes in gene expression

Gene expression can be studied in genetic modification in animals. By comparing genetically modified animals to normal animals you can examine the effects of adding or removing certain genes. The knock-out method refers to the elimination of certain genes in order to study the effect of the gene. Changing one gene can have dramatic effects in for example behaviour. mice in which only one gene was changed cannot learn anymore or become hyperactive. Another example is that they injected a gene of a highly social prairie-vole into a normal aggressive mouse which led to a transgenic mouse that was much more social than was considered normal for its species. If certain genes were knocked-out, this had far reaching influences on complex behaviour. The mice had difficulties to remember other mice that they had met earlier. If the expression of a gene is changed, this influences expression of all other genes because genes work in interaction with each other.


Research on the function of brain structures is mostly correlational, therefore, causality cannot be found. To solve this problem, optogenetics is developed which involves a technique that controls when a neuron starts to fire through a combination of light and gene modification. Genes are modified in a way that will respond to certain lights. Subsequently, fiberoptics are injected in the brain. If light is presented, this will cause the neurons to fire. With this technique, the researchers determine which neurons are active or inactive.

What is the difference between conscious and unconscious processes? - Chapter 4 (5)


Consciousness is a characteristic that functions differently from others characteristics. There are cases in which people were totally conscious, however, they could not respond to the situation at all. This is called the locked-in syndrome. Ramsey, a famous patient who suffered from this syndrome could only blink with his eyes to direct at certain letters. It is tried to convert the brain activity of Ramsey into sounds. Another example of the independence of consciousness is a woman who lay in coma but if she was asked to imagine herself playing tennis, her brain activity was to a high extent similar to that of healthy people. Consciousness and brain activity is addressed in this chapter.

4.1 Consciousness

Consciousness is defined as the individual, subjective experience at a certain moment. This experience can be the awareness of the own environment or thoughts. The basis of consciousness has been studied for more than thousand years. Descartes (17th century) stated that consciousness would exist separately from the body. Nowadays, these two are not thought to be separated anymore. Everything that can be in our consciousness, such as perceptions, will lead to a certain extent of brain activity and these two cannot be separated, therefore, by looking at the brain, we can study consciousness.

What is consciousness?

Two points that are being emphasized in this chapter are:1. People can be aware of their environment, even though it does not seem to look so. 2. Conscious experiences are connected to brain activity. To understand the relation between consciousness and brain, we have to examine how conscious experiences differ among people. This is called subjectivity. We will never know whether we perceive the world in the same way as others do. Do we see the same kind of red others see? Maybe it looks purple to them. This subjectivity makes it difficult to study consciousness empirically. A conscious experience requires focused attention and ignorance of unimportant things. Attention is, therefore, inherent to consciousness. Over the day, the extent to which you are aware differences. If you are sleeping or if you just drank alcohol, you are less aware than when you are paying attention. At some tasks you are less conscious than at others. As explained in the book Thinking Fast and Slow, there are tasks that can be accomplished without paying attention and tasks that really need attention, these are controlled tasks. Tasks that do not require attention, such as walking or cycling, are called automatic tasks. Often, if you pay more attention to a task that can be done automatically, it becomes more difficult to perform.

Cherry described the cocktail party effect which refers to the fact that you have to focus if you want to follow a conversation on a party, but that when your name is called, you will immediately pay attention. Cherry developed the selective listening task in which a technique called shadowing is used. In this task two different stories are presented, one to the left and one to the right ear. The participant has to paraphrase one story which lead to less attention for the other ear. Therefore, he hears the story at the other side but cannot give detailed information and will probably mix up both stories.

Selective attention

Broadbent thought that people have a restricted capacity for sensory information and that this information is being scanned for important aspects. Only relevant information is accepted for further processing. It is the question whether information can really be ignored. From studies with selective listening tasks, we know that if people are presented with text and they do not process it consciously, it still has an influence on the interpretation of texts that they did hear.

Change blindness

Change blindness refers to the fact that we often do not notice big changes because we cannot pay attention to everything simultaneously. In a study, students were asked something and then the asking person was made invisible by a large object. Behind the object, the person was replaced by someone else and many people did not notice afterwards. This phenomenon shows that we can only process a limited amount of information. There is a big difference between what we think we see and what we actually see and we are not even aware that we miss so much information. The use of laptops during lectures results in students missing a lot information because do other things than making notes. A study suggested that making notes on a laptop rather than on paper leads to worse performance on a knowledge test. Students have the illusion that they are paying attention because they are not aware of the information that they missed because they did not pay attention.

Unconscious information processing

Galton already thought in 1879 that unconscious mental activity could influence behaviour. This was also part of Freud’s theories. A Freudian slip of the tongue is an unconscious thought that is expressed at an inappropriate moment. If smokers watch a movie in which actors smoke, the report more craving for cigarettes afterwards. Unconscious (or subliminal) perception can influence our cognitions. Subliminal perception is when our brain processes information without us being aware of it. This occurs when stimuli are processed but because they are presented so shortly, people do not notice it. There are multiple studies that found that subliminal perception is of influence. In a well-known study, the participants (group 1) were asked to make sentences of words that had to do something with old age. The other group (group2 ) had to use neutral words. After the study, the participants of group 1 were somewhat influenced and walked down the stairs more slowly than group 2. Another study found that people also started to buy more drinks if they were presented with the word ‘thirsty’, especially when they were thirsty before.

Brain imaging might be useful to gain more knowledge on consciousness. By looking at your brain activity, researchers can determine what you are looking at. If your perception changes between an image of a face or a house, this is visible for the researchers. Studies show that different kinds of sensory information is probably processed in different brain areas.

Global workspace model

The global workspace model states that consciousness is caused by active brain areas because a stimulus that is able to activate a certain brain area leads to feelings of being aware. Different parts of the brain are involved in different types of information, each of these systems is independently responsible of noticing different types of information. According to the model, there is not a specific area for consciousness which Is supported by the fact that some people are not able to perceive part of their visual field without being aware of this. They don’t know that they don’t see it because a brain area is damaged and it does not provide output to indicate that something is wrong. Often, the interpreter fills in what is missing.

Changes after brain injury

Most people who get in coma after an injury or surgery, come out within a few days. However, sometimes, a coma can be very long. In a persistent vegetative state, people have a sleep-wake cycle and they can open their eyes but they cannot respond to their environment. The longer this state takes, the smaller the change that someone will wake up from a coma again. An example is mw. Schiavo, who was in coma for 15 years. Her parents did not want her to die. Especially brain areas important for consciousness were severely damaged. Between the vegetative state and the full consciousness state is the minimal consciousness state. In this state people can respond to a limited extent to their environment, for example, they can follow an object with their eyes. The prognosis in this state is much better. Another example is Grzebski, a man who woke up after 19 years from a minimal consciousness state. By looking at the brain activity it can be determined in which state some is. Based on this information, a treatment can be chosen. A treatment could be the stimulation of the thalamus, this is quite effective in people in minimal consciousness state.

Split brain

In severe epilepsy, if medication is not working, the corpus callosum, bridge between the two hemispheres can be cut, partly or totally. After this intervention, the hemispheres function separately from each other, this is called the split-brain condition. People do not visibly change after this surgery but some interesting things happen. The left hemisphere receives information from the right visual field and vice versa. If a split brain-patient sits in front of a screen and at the left side a key is presented and on the right side a ring, something unusual occurs. The person can name the ring, because information from the right visual field goes to the left hemisphere and this one is important for speech. With the right hemisphere, he does perceive the key but is not able to name it, however, one will be able to point at it. This shows that he two hemispheres work independently from each other. this only happens in patients whose language abilities are concentrated in the left hemisphere. If people’s language abilities are also controlled by the right hemisphere, the right hemisphere can take over a large part after removal of the corpus callosum.


In an experiment, split-brain patients had to indicate with their left hand which picture they saw with their right hemisphere. If the patient had to explain why he chose a certain picture, he used the left hemisphere. The left hemisphere did not know what the right hemisphere had seen and interpreted the choice of the right hemisphere in a way that it fits into the choice of the left hemisphere. The left hemisphere is therefore called interpreter: he tries to interpreted the actions of the right hemisphere in a logical way. Interpreting does not always take plays immediately. In an experiment in which the patient saw a telephone with his right hemisphere, he could not explain what he had seen, however, he could draw the object with his left hand. When he finished his drawing, he could tell that he saw a telephone, but the left hemisphere could not interpreted it earlier (fig. 4.12, page 143). The left hemisphere can distort memories, it tries to form a coherent story and adds details that seem logically but which never happened. The right hemisphere does not fill in things but remembers them. An example is a study in which people with a split-brain get the command ‘’stand up’’ presented to the right hemisphere. The person will stand up but if he is asked why he does so, he will say something that sounds logically because the command was not available to the left hemisphere.

4.2 Sleep

Brain activity and other physiological processes follow patterns that are called circadian rhythms. For instance, body temperature and sleep/wake cycles are regulated by the circadian rhythms. These rhythms are regulated by the biological clock and are influenced by light and dark. In the maintain of these circadian rhythms, multiple brain areas are involved. Information about light is caught by the eyes and is sent to the suprachiasmatic nucleus. This area sends signals to the pituitary gland which produces melatonin. The melatonin production is stimulated when it is dark and inhibited when it is light. Brains do not turn of during sleep, they process information and complex thinking still takes place. This is shown by the fact that people solve a task earlier if they slept before. The brain is active, only the awareness is minimalized. Many scientists believe that sleep has a biological function, however, this is not yet clear. There is a lot of variation between individuals in the amount of hours sleep needed. The average is 8 hours per night but there are also cases known of people who needed only hour sleep.

Stages of sleep

With the use of electro-encephalogram (EEG), researchers can see how brain activity changes when people are sleeping. Neurons in the brain are extremely active when people are awake. This produces beta waves on the EEG. When people close their eyes and relax, the brain activity decreases and this leads to alpha waves on the EEG. If you fall asleep, the EEG shows theta waves, you are in the first stage of the non REM-sleep from which you can easily awake. In stage 2, the breathing becomes more stable and one becomes less sensitive to external stimulation. The EEG still shows theta waves but sometimes there are periods of activity which is expressed in sleep spindles and k-complexes (large waves) on the EEG. A sudden sound can lead to k-complexes. The older someone is, the less sleep spindles are visible because people sleep lighter when they grow older. Subsequently, people become in stage 3 and 4 which is both called slow-wave sleep. On the EEG are delta waves visible. In these stages it is very difficult to wake someone up. Parents can wake up, if there child starts to cry whereas thy won’t notice the sirene of an passing ambulance. This means that the brain is still able to scan for potential dangers in the environment. After 90 minutes one goes back from stage 4 to stage 3 and 2 and to the REM-sleep.


During REM-sleep, beta waves are visible on the EEG. This points at an alert and active brain. During the REM-sleep, people have rapid eye movements and they dream more emotional than in the non-REM-sleep. In addition, the motor system is temporarily paralyzed. The REM-sleep is called paradoxical sleep because the body is very relaxed whereas the brain is highly active because they process sensory input from the brain itself. Neurons in the occipital cortex and brain stem are more active during REM-sleep than if someone is awake. During REM-sleep, sexual arousal is present. The sleep cycle repeats the entire night but it becomes shorter with a longer REM-sleep as the morning is coming.

Sleep disorders

Everyone has sleeping problems sometimes, but some people have them in such an amount that it has a great impact on their life’s.

Insomnia: the inability to fall asleep. People experiencing insomnia are restricted in their life’s and they often have emotional problems as well. 12-20% of the adults is suffering from insomnia, most of them are female. In pseudo insomnia, people underestimate the amount of hours they are sleeping because they dream that are not sleeping. Being afraid to fall asleep can cause insomnia but this fear can be reduced with (cognitive behavioural) therapy.

Sleep apnea: a disorder in which people stop breathing during their sleep and wake up from this. This disorder is associated with obesity but it is not clear which is caused by what. Often the person is not aware of how worse his sleep is and how often he was awake during the night.

Narcolepsy: a disorder in which people fall asleep suddenly, sometimes with experiencing paralyses as in REM-sleep. Stimulants are prescribed to treat this condition.

REM-behavioural disorder: people do not get paralyzed during REM-sleep and are acting out their dreams (moving around) while they are sleeping. There is no treatment as it is a neurological problem.

Sleep walking: a harmless phenomenon that is mostly present in young children. It happens usually within the first hour after one has fallen asleep.

Functions of sleep

Sleep seems to be illogical from an adaptive perspective, since not being able to pay attention to the world around you could be dangerous. The hemispheres of dolphins sleep separately from each other which is called unihemispherical sleep. There are three theories about why people need sleep.

The restorative theory: emphasizes that the brain and body have to rest in order to recover. Growth hormone is released during sleeping. Sleep also boosts the immune system. If you are doing a lot of sports, you need more sleep. People who sleep too little on a regular basis have often problems in attention and working memory. They can also become sensitive for micro sleeps which means that they can fall asleep for a few seconds to one minute.

According to the circadian rhythm theory, sleeping makes animals calm and inactive during highly dangerous periods. Dangerous situations are mostly present at night (because it is dark). The regulation of the sleep and wake cycle are examples of circadian rhythms. According to this theory, animals only need a few active hours to be able to survive (to find food). The rest of the time can be used to be inactive.

Facilitating learning processes: sleeping leads to the strengthening of connections between neurons which is the basis of being able to learn new information. Research has shown that people who sleep in between some tasks, become better at those tasks. Both REM-sleep and slow-wave sleep are stimulation the neural connections in the brain.


Dreams are the product of a decreased stage of consciousness; images and fantasies are confused with reality. Dreams are present in both REM-sleep as non-REM sleep. Dreams are not produced by the REM-sleep but the REM-sleep influences the content of your dreams.

Non-REM sleep

Dreams in the non-REM sleep are often boring compared to those during REM-sleep. During non-REM-sleep, there is a general deactivation of much of our brain areas.


During REM-sleep, some brain areas show increased activity, where others show decreased activity. Dreams during REM-sleep are often weird with strong emotions, hallucinations and illogical content but not with taste, smell or pain. The brain area that is more active is the one involved in motivation, emotion and rewards, namely, the amygdala. Also areas involved in visual experiences are active. The prefrontal cortex is deactivated, in which self-reflection takes place.

The meaning of dreams

Freud believed that dreams had a hidden meaning. The manifest content is the literal content of a dream, however, Freud was more interested in the latent content, de symbolic meaning of a dream and the conflict that it would reflect. There is, however, no evidence for the ideas of Freud.

Hobson came with the activation-syntheses-hypothesis which states that during sleep more random brain activity takes place. Because of the neural firing, mechanisms are activated that normally interpret sensory input. The sleeping brain tries to understand the random firing of neurons by making a story out of it. According to Hobson, dreams are epiphenomenal, side-effects of mental processes.

Revensuo tried to explain dreams from a an adaptive perspective. Dreams would be imitations of threatening situations so people could practice how to deal with those situations. this hypotheses is supported by the fact that dreaming is associated with an active amygdala. People have, however, also nightmares about events that happened a long time ago (trauma’s).

4.3 Changing states of consciousness

Below different states of consciousness will be described. A changed state of consciousness can be used as an escape from yourself.


Hypnosis is a social interaction in which a person, following the directions of someone else, experiences changes in his memory, perception and voluntary actions. People under influence of hypnosis obey the suggestions of a hypnotist. Also, a hypnotist can ask the person to remember the tasks he had to do after hypnosis. it is found that this does has some influence on behaviour. people were asked to feel disgust when a neutral word was presented. When they heard a story in which this word was used, they rated the story more negatively. There are different opinions on hypnosis. according to the social-cognitive theory of hypnosis, people just behave as they expect one would behave under hypnosis in order to please the hypnotist. According to the dissociative theory of hypnosis, hypnosis is a state in which consciousness is split. This theory is supported by brain imaging-research: people show different patterns of brain activity if they are under hypnosis. If people are told, under hypnosis, that they will not be influenced by the Stroop-effect, they are indeed not influenced. This is very interesting because the Stroop-effect cannot be influenced usually. Hypnotic analgesia showed that hypnosis can be used to reduce pain perception. Empirical research showed that hypnosis helps in dealing with immediate or chronic pain. People experience the aim pain but they can feel it from a distance. This is supported by brain imaging where you can see the same activity in sensory areas but not in the emotional areas.


Meditation is a mental procedure in which the attention is focused on an external object or a on a feeling of awareness. During meditation you don’t pay attention to the thoughts that pop up and you have to relax. In concentration-meditation you have to focus your attention at one thing (such as breath or a sentence), in mindfulness-meditation, you let go your thoughts without paying attention to them. The most well-known meditation method is the transcendental meditation. TM means that you have meditate two times a day for 20 minutes with high concentration. People who do TM for some time experience improvements in their physical health, cognitive processes and also brain functioning. People who meditate a lot maintain their cognitive functions better as they become older.

Losing yourself

People can lose themselves in other ways than hypnosis and meditation. A runner’s high is the phenomenon that people can forget their exhaustion and pain and feel euphoric during action. This is experienced by a lot of people who do sport (Because endorphin is released during sports). A religious extase is a spiritual state which is a bit similar to mediation. In a flow, people loose themselves in an activity, an activity that they are doing just for the sake of doing and because of external reinforcement.

4.4 How is consciousness influenced by drug use?

Psychoactive drugs are substances that can change the state of consciousness. These drugs can be used recreational, because it gives a pleasant feeling. Often, this use has negative consequences. Stimulants are drugs that increase behaviour and mental activities, they work by blocking the reuptake of dopamine.

Opiates (depressants): drugs (heroin, morphine and codeine) that lead to a pleasant and relaxed feeling. Opiates were originally used to reduce pain. Using them leads to addiction and neurological and cognitive problems.

Hallucinogens MDMA (ecstasy): is a drug that has both stimulating and hallucinating effects. The drug is a popular party drug. It works via dopamine and serotonin. Because it exhausts serotonin, long term use can lead to depression. In addition, on the long term, it can lead to memory problems and difficulties in engaging in complex tasks.

Amphetamines (speed): causes weight loss and alertness but on the long term insomnia, anxiety, heart problems and addiction. Meth-amphetamine is the most popular drug after marihuana. It increases the release of dopamine and it blocks reuptake. Finally it damages the brain and exhausts dopamine levels.


Alcohol has effect on the neurotransmitters GABA and dopamine. GABA is an inhibiting neurotransmitter and it explains why people feel relaxed after alcohol consumption. Dopamine leads to pleasant feelings. Alcohol is popular, it is seen as a standard part of social interactions. At the same time, alcohol is the cause of many societal problems. in all cultures, there is a difference between females and males in alcohol consumption: men drink more than women. This maybe because the female body processes alcohol less easily through which females need less alcohol for the same effects. Another explanation is that it is less socially accepted for women to drink than for men. Alcohol functions as symbol of power for men. In addition, people often think (wrongly) that alcohol improves the sexual performances. Another theory is that men feel attracted to the risk that comes along with drinking. A last explanation is that men would drink because they want to escape from their social responsibilities.

People have often positive expectations with regard to alcohol which are learned by observing others in positive situations with alcohol. People think they will feel better if they drink a lot and they will forget about their problems but drinking leads to more negative mood. A placebo -study also showed that the physical effects of alcohol (slower reaction times etc.) exist independently of our expectations. Another expectation is that people become more social and easy going if they drink alcohol but these social effects were also present if a placebo was given which means that certain behaviours after alcohol consumption are caused by the expectation.

Marihuana: it is both as stimulant, a depressant and it can also lead to hallucinations. MDMA is sold in the form of ecstasy pills but often these pills are mixed with other substances. MDMA decreases dopamine activity and increases serotonin activity. MDMA can damage the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus which can lead to memory problems. accomplishing complex tasks can also be difficult.


Addiction refers to the physical dependence, a a state in which people are facing withdrawal symptoms if they do not take the drug. Often, people become tolerant, meaning that they have to take larger amounts to induce the same effects. What all these drugs have in common is that they work on dopamine, a reinforcing substance. The insula is important for physical addiction. In psychological dependence, people feel forced to take the drug. Craving is a very strong wish to take drugs, usually when one is trying to stop using the drugs.

There are different reasons for drug addiction. People are presented with a positive image of drugs. People who score high on the traint sensation seeking, have an increased change to become addicted. In addition, there seems to be a genetic basis through which some people might have a predisposition. However, the environment is also very important. Most of the people who once experienced with taking drugs did not become addicted. Often, they are even better adjusted than people who did not experiment.

Also the context is of relevance if you want to understand addiction. For instance, during the Vietnam war, 1 out of 5 soldiers was addicted. When they returned to the US, 95% quit using drugs. Also a follow-up study, years later, showed that only a very little part of the addicted soldiers was still addicted. Therefore, the environment in which people live is very important for becoming addicted and for the disappearance of an addiction.

How do the processes of perception and sensation work? - Chapter 5 (5)


5.1 Perception and sensation

Sensation is the process in which senses react to external stimuli or signals in order to carry these to the brain. Perception is the processing, organisation and interpretation of sensory signals. This results in an internal representation of the perceived stimulus. An example: a green light is being detected by specific receptors in the eyes. These receptors send a signal to the brain (sensation). The brain processes this signal (transduction) and the person experiences seeing a green light (perception). Sensation and perception are integrated into an experience but experiences also lead so sensation and perception. How do we integrate parts of an object into a complete picture in our brain? To explain this, two terms are of importance: bottom-up processing and top-down processing. Bottom-up processing is determined by the physical features of the stimulus, by perceiving an object. Processing goes from the details to the general characteristics as each sensory aspect is processed, the aspects build up into perception of that stimulus. In top-down processing, higher levels influence the processing of the lower levels, you are looking at something and expectations, context and frame of reference determine how you see an object. For instance, because you what an apple looks like and therefore you see an image of an apple as an apple, and not as a circle with a short line.


Sensory coding is the process in which our senses translate characteristics of a stimulus into patterns of neural impulses. Different characteristics (form, colour, size) are coded by different impulse patterns. Transduction refers to receptors in the senses that pass along neural impulses in response to physical or chemical stimulation. Physical or chemical stimulation is received by the sensory receptors and carried to the neurons. These neurons send information to the brain in the form of neural impulses. Most of the sensory information goes to the thalamus first (except from olfaction). Here, the information will be send to the cortex where it will be interpreted. The code in which the information is carried can be quantitative of qualitative. A quantitative code reflects the intensity, brightness or loudness of a stimulus. A qualitative code is usually formed by coding that exists only of a few different types of receptors. The combination of neurons firing at different frequencies determine what type of stimulus it is. A quantitative code consists of a frequency on which the neuron fires. See table 5.1 on page 176 for an overview of the receptors per sense.


Psychophysics studies having psychological experiences caused by perceived stimuli. For instance, the amount of physical energy that the senses need to perceive something. This is called the absolute threshold, the minimal intensity that a stimulus should have so can perceive it. In case of hearing, this would be the most quiet sound that you are still able to hear. The difference threshold is the minimal amount of change that is need to notice a difference in intensity between different stimuli. For example, the difference between whispering and normal talking. According to Weber’s law, the magnitude of the difference that you can still notice is based on a relative difference rather than an absolute difference. If you are doing a test and you 6 out of 10 questions, it feels different from having 96 questions right out of 100. The absolute difference is the same (4) but the relative difference is much larger. The formula to determine the relative difference is ΔI/I.

Classical psychophysics was based on the idea of a sensory threshold: you notice something or you do not. This applies also to the intensity of a stimulus, which can be above or below the sensory threshold. The human evaluation was not of interest. The concept of an absolute threshold is not completely true because sometimes people did not notice stimuli that were presented very clear. At other times they did notice stimuli that were presented very shortly. These findings led to the development of the signal detection theory (STD). According to this theory, the presence or absence of a stimuli is immediately evaluated. This evaluation is based on a subjective interpretation of ambiguous information. Based on these theories, tests are developed in which a stimulus is sometimes present and sometimes absent. Subsequently, the participants are asked whether they saw the stimulus. It is called a reaction bias, if the participants think that they saw a stimulus when there was no stimulus presented. This bias differs per situations and is influenced by the environment. There are four options:

  • The signal is presented and the participant detected the signal (hit)
  • The signal is presented but the participant missed the signal (miss)
  • The signal is not presented but the participant thinks it was presented (false alarm)
  • The stimulus is not presented and the participant thinks it was not presented as well (correct rejection)

Sensory adaptation means that one’s sensitivity decreases when one is exposed to this stimulus at a constant level. If the stimulus is presented repeatedly, the reactions of the senses decrease. After some time you do not hear airplanes anymore, if you are living close to the airport.

Many people believe in a sixth sense, a so called extrasensory perception (ES). There is only anecdotal evidence but no scientific evidence. In only one of eleven studies, people could guess thoughts of others better than on chance level.

5.2 Vision

Vision is the most important sense that we use. In order to evaluate situations and people, vision is needed. If you open your eyes, immediately half of your brain becomes active. It is our brain which is able to see something, not the eyes. Light is first passing the cornea, a thick, transparent protection layer at the surface of the eyes. The cornea makes incoming light sharp by using refraction. Then it arrives at the lens which projects an image on the retina. The retina is the thin inner surface of the back of the eyeball. The lens can adjust but the retina cannot. The pupil (at the front of the lens) can become wider or smaller based on incoming light. The iris controls the size of the pupil. The iris is the coloured part of the eye. Behind it, muscles are located that adjust the form of the lens. The lens becomes flattened when you are focusing on objects far away and thicker when you are focusing on objects that are close by. This phenomenon is called accommodation. Each neuron has his own specialization, each neuron reacts to a specific colour, form, orientation or movement. The receptive field is the part of the visual field to which neurons in the primary visual cortex react. Neurons at one place are, for instance, sensitive for objects at the left side, neurons on another place only for objects at the right side. If a photoreceptor is stimulated, information is sent to the brain. Simultaneously, the receptor sends information to the surrounding neurons to make them less active. This process is called lateral inhibition. Because of this process, a surface looks darker if it is presented in a light environment.

Rods and cones

The retina contains two kinds of receptor cells: cones and rods. Rods are responsible for looking in the dark. They are not specialized in seeing colour or details. The cones are very sensitive to light and are responsible for colour and perceiving details. Within the rods and cones substances are present that are sensitive for light. These substances are called photo pigments. There are approximately 120 million rods and 6 million cones in the retina. Cones are mostly concentrated in the fovea, the centre of the retina. They are also elsewhere in the eye but not in the blind spot. The rods are only in the edges of the retina and not in the fovea.

Seeing starts with the generation of electrical signals of the photoreceptors in the retina. Ganglion cells are the first cells in the visual process that can produce action potentials. Axons of these cells are gathered into a bundle in the optic nerve of each eye. Where the optic nerve is attached, is a blind spot, at this place we cannot see anything because there are now rods and cones at this point. The optic nerve of each eye sends information to the central nervous system. at the optic chiasm, half of the axons, the axons that start from the portion of the retina close the nose cross to the opposing hemisphere. The other half of the axons go to the own hemisphere. Therefore, all information from the left side of visual space is projected to the right hemisphere and vice versa. The signals finally arrive in the primary visual cortex in the occipital lobe.

What and where

There is a theory stating that visual areas in the brain have two different routes. The ventral route goes from the occipital lobe to the temporal lobe whereas the dorsal route goes from the occipital to the parietal lobe. The ventral route (the what-route) is specialized in object perception and recognizing (colours, shapes), for example seeing a table. The dorsal rout (the where-route) is involved in where objects in the room are located. It prevents you from walking against the table and lets you walk around it. Different studies found these two pathways. Object agnosia is a disorder in which people cannot recognize objects anymore. They still have a good idea of spatial organisation but their ventral route is damaged.

Colour and wavelength

Colour is a characteristic determined by the brain, colour does not exist physically. The cones in the eyes are sensitive for red (long wave length), green (middle wave length) or blue (short wave length). The colour we see is determined by different wave lengths of light stimulating the corresponding cones. According to the trichromatic theory, seeing colour dependents on the three types of cones, each receiving light of different wave lengths. One type is sensitive for short wave lengths (blue-violet light), one for middle wave lengths(yellow-green light) and the third is sensitive for long wave lengths (red-orange light).

The opponent-process theory is an alternative theory because the trichromatic theory cannot explain everything. For instance, why do people who have red-green blindness still see yellow? According to the opponent-process theory, red and green are opponent colours, like blue and yellow. If you look for some time at a red picture and look away from it, you see a green after image. This also happens with a blue picture, you will see a yellow after image. In order to explain this, we have to look at the ganglion cells. A certain type of ganglion cells receives excitatory input from the L-cones (red) but these are inhibited by M-cones (green). These cells create the after image in the opponent colour.

Hue, brightness and saturation

Each colour can be categorized based on three characteristics: hue, brightness and saturation. Hue is about the distinctive characteristics of a colour, the greenness or redness for example. The hue of a colour is dependent of the wave length of light when it reaches the eye. Brightness is about the perceived intensity of a colour. This is determined by the amount of light that reaches the eye. Brightness is different from lightness. The lightness is determined by the relative brightness, compared to the environment. The same colour can be light in one context and dark in another. Saturation is the purity of the colour which varies based on a mix of wave lengths of the stimulus.

Object perception

Hubel and Wiesel state that the function of the primary cortex is especially noticing contours and edges, so you can determine where an object starts and ends. The processing of a shape starts with registering the characteristics. With the use of optical illusions, the way people form representations can be studied.

Gestalt principles

According to the Gestalt theory, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. We see a complete object, not its parts, see page 189 for examples. Gestalt psychologists made principles we use to make a whole out of several parts. The rule of similarity means that we group objects based on how much similarities they share in shape or colour. The rule of proximity means that we group objects based on how close together they are. Rule of continuation means that we view lines as continuing even though they are disrupted. For example, if you put a ruler behind a bottle of coke, you don’t think that there are two rulers instead of just one. We also have the tendency to complete a figure which has gaps which is called closure. Illusory contours refers to seeing contours and cues to depth even when they do not exist. Reversible figure illusion is when you have picture in which you can see two different objects. These kind of illustrations show that we use fore and background effects. Easterners focus on a scene holistically, whereas westerners focus on single elements in the forefront, therefore, easterners are more likely to be influenced by the background of the picture and vice versa.

Face perception

The face gives us more information than anything else about an individual (mood, age, alertness etc.). some people do not recognize faces anymore, however, they do recognize objects. This condition is called prosopagnosia. A part of the fusiform gyrus is important for the identification of faces. Other areas are important for detecting changes in faces. Looking at emotional facial expressions activates the amygdala. It has been found that people can recognize an angry face more easily than a happy face and that this is easier in men then in women. It is adaptive to recognize angry faces, especially in men, who can be more threatening than women. In addition, there is a general expectation that men feel anger more often and women happiness (this is top-down processing, about what you are expecting to see). Women are cross-culturally better in recognizing faces. It is more difficult to recognize a face upside down than to recognize objects upside down.

Depth perception

Binocular and monocular depth perception

Based on a two dimensional image of an object on the retina, our brain can create a three dimensional representation of the object. This is because of binocular and monocular depth perception. To see depth we use binocular disparity which means that we can perceive depth because we have two eyes. This is also called stereoscopic vision. It is especially important if objects are close to us.

If we close one eye, we can still see depth. This is because of monocular depth perception. Pictorial depth cues are tricks to create depth on a two dimensional picture. Many of these cues are introduced by Leonardo da Vinci. In occlusion, an object close by hides an object that is farther away. In relative size, far-off objects project a smaller retinal image than close by objects do, if they have the same physical size. In familiar size, we can estimate the size of an object because we know who big objects actually are. In linear perspective seemingly parallel lines appear to converge in the distance. Movement can also function as depth cue. In motion parallax, it looks as if the object that Is more is going faster in the opponent direction. Texture gradient means that when a uniformly textured surface recedes, its texture becomes denser. Position relative to horizon means that objects below the horizon that appear higher in the visual field are perceived as being farther away.

Depth and size illusions

People who grow up in a carpentered world in which buildings exist of straight parallel lines with straight edges are better in identifying objects in a two dimensional picture. They are also more prone to the Mueller-lyer illusion in which a line between two arrows that direct inside >--< looks longer than the same line with arrows directing to the sides >--<. Environment is seemingly important for the interpretation of a two-dimensional picture.

How big the representation of an object on the retina is, depends on how far away an object is. The brain uses information on size to calculate distance and vice versa. Optical illusions arise if something goes wrong in this process: distance is interpreted incorrectly or depth cues are misinterpreted. The illusions described below can be find on page 1930196. In Ames boxes, the two edges of the room look farther away because of pictorial cues. If you put two objects of the same length in both edges, one object looks much smaller because it is farther away but you don’t notice this. In the Ponzo-illusion it looks like if the two seemingly parallel lines appear to converge in the distance. Because of these railroad lines your brain thinks they are parallel and you perceive the horizontal lines as if they are different in size. In the moon illusion, close to the horizon the moon looks bigger because we can compare the moon close to the horizon with other objects. Farther away from the horizon, up in the sky we don’t have such a reference point.

The opponent of size and depth illusions is object constancy. The brain perceives the same objects but if someone is sitting farther away, he looks smaller even though we are not interpreting him to be smaller. For object constancy we have to know the distance towards an object, for colour and lightness constancy we have to compare the background and for shape constancy we have to know from which angle we are seeing an object.

Perceiving motion

Perceiving motion is essential. From the motion-after effects we know that motion-sensitive neurons exist in the brain. If you look for a long time at a constantly moving stimulus and look at something else subsequently, that object seems to move in the opponent direction. This is because direction specific neurons begin to adapt to the motion, they become less sensitive. Direction specific neurons in the other direction are relatively more active. In stroboscopic motion, a very fast changing object seems to move. In a phi-movement, the object seems to move continually if the interval between the two positions is longer than 60 ms.

5.3 Hearing

Audition starts when movements of objects cause the displacement of air molecules. This pattern of changes in air pressure are called a sound wave. The amplitude of a wave determines its loudness. The frequency of a sound determines its pitch. A higher frequency leads to a higher pitch. Frequency is measured in hertz (Hz). Most people are able to hear soundwaves between 20 and 20000 Hz.

The process

Changes in air pressure produce soundwaves which arrive at the outer ear. The brain can locate the sound by calculation in which ear the soundwave arrived first. The soundwave go to the middle ear. Because of changes in air pressure, the eardrum starts to vibrate. These vibrations carry on to the ossicles called the hammer, anvil and stirrup. The ossicles increase the strength of the vibrations in the eardrum and carry them to the oval window, a membrane in the cochlea. Vibrations in the oval window lead to pressure waves in the cochlea which is filled with fluid. In the middle of the cochlea is the basilar membrane. The waves stimulate hair cells in this membrane which are the primary auditive receptors. The sound waves are converted in neural signals that travel to the brain (auditive cortex in the temporal lobe) via the auditory nerve. The conversion of soundwaves in brain activity is what makes you hearing sounds. For an overview, see figure 5.39 on page 200.

Sound localization

The brain integrates sensory information from both ears to be able to locate a sound. To study this, often owls are used because they have a very fine-tuned ears. These owls know where they can find their prey based on the sound detected with both ears. Humans have less fine-tuned ears but the mechanism, how they combine information from both ears, is the same


To code pitch, two mechanisms are working simultaneously in the basilar membrane: temporal coding and place coding. Temporal coding is used to code low frequencies. A pitch of 1000 Hz causes the hair cells to fire exactly 1000 times per second. This is only exact for pitches up to 4000 Hz. In higher pitches, the cells fire together in groups. Helmholtz thought that low and high frequencies would activate different receptors, this idea is refined by Békésy, different frequencies activate receptors at different places in the basilar membrane but the receptors are the same. The basilar membrane functions similar as clarinet. The hair cells at the beginning of the cochlear are activated by a sound of high frequency and those at the end by sounds of low frequency (figure 5.41, page 201).

Cochlear implants

Children who are born deaf because of dysfunctional hair cells in the inner ear can be helped with a cochlear implant. This s a small computer which detects sound waves and converts these into neural impulses that are sent to the brain. However, this device has to be provided within two years after birth to function optimally. However, children are too young to decide whether they would like this. Is it ethically right to let other people decide this for the children? Some people who cannot hear themselves find the cochlear implants discriminating against the deaf community which is called audism.

5.4 Taste

Gustation prevents us from eating toxic substances. The taste receptors are part of the taste buds on the tongue, in the mouth and throat. Each taste bud has 50 receptor cells which give neural signals to the thalamus (figure 5.43, page 204). Different parts of the tongue are not sensitive to different tastes, which was thought in the past.

Each taste is an unique combination of basis tastes sweet, sour, salty and bitter and umami. Umami is found recently and is caused by glutamate. This substance is also used in the flavour enhancer called Accent (brand name). Not only the taste influences our taste experience. If you close your nose, you will taste less. Also the structure of the stimulus is important for the sensory experience. A stimulus is for example hard, creamy or crispy. The complete taste experience takes place in the brain and not in the mouth. Taste experiences are also influenced by the culture in which we are raised. Cultural norms influence our perception of tastes. Taste preference starts already in the womb. A baby has a preference for what the mother drinks during pregnancy. Preferences in food are also caused by differences in taste buds. Supertasters are people who are extremely aware of tastes and textures. Some even experience pain when they eat spicy food. They have six times more taste buds than other people and this is genetically determined.

5.5 Olfaction

Olfaction is the only sense with a direct path to the brain. If we smell something chemical parts, odorants, pass into the nose and are detected by the olfactory epithelium: a thin layer consisting of olfactory receptors. The quality of an odorant is determined by a unique combination of stimulated receptors. These give nerve impulses to the olfactory bulb. Olfactory bulb is the brain area for olfaction and is located directly below the frontal lobe. From here, olfactory signals go to the other brain areas. Regions in the prefrontal cortex process information about smells. The intensity of a smell is determined by the amygdala. The amygdala and prefrontal cortex are important for emotion, therefore a smell can induce strong emotions. However, it remains unclear how the receptors in the olfactory epithelium exactly distinct smells from each other. Humans can make a distinction between thousands of different smells but they are bad in naming a certain smell.

Olfactory plays an important role in communication. Pheromones are substances that are released by animals and probably also humans. These have effect on the behaviour of other people. Pheromones are perceived unconsciously and play an important role in sexual behaviour.

5.6 Haptic sense

Touch, the haptic sense is about feeling pain, temperature and pressure. Everything that touches your skin leads to a tactile stimulation (figure 5.46, page 212). Receptors for pressure and temperature are located in the outer layer of our skin. There are special receptors for high and low temperatures. Sometimes they are activated simultaneously by intense stimuli through which you feel warm and cold at the same time. There are also special receptors for vibration, movement or constant pressure. Stimulation different receptors at the same time can result in a tickling experiencing but it is not possible to induce this in yourself.

Pain reception

Pain is part of the warning system that stops you from continuing activities that might harm you (figure 5.47, page 213). The pain experience is created in the brain and is caused by activation of receptors if the skin gets harmed. Nerves that can detect pain are in the skin, muscles, membrane around bones and organs etc. there are two kinds of nervous cells for pain: fast fibres and slow fibres. Fast fibres indicate sharp immediate pain. The speed is caused by a thick layer of myelin around the axons of these fibres. They are useful in very quick reflexes in reaction to a pain stimulus, such as touching a heat cup of tea. Slow fibres are involved in long term, chronical or dull pain. This dull pain prevents that we use a body part any longer so it has the possibility to recover. Women experience stronger pain than men which has something to do with the hormones and nervous system.

The brain sometimes produces pain whereas at other moments they suppress pain experiences. The gate control theory states that pain receptors have to be activated before pain signals can arrive in the brain. These receptors can only send signals if the gate at the spinal cord is opened. A way to close the gate is to stimulate other touch receptors. Also cognitive processes can close the gate: if you really want to win a contest, you can continue running despite of sore legs. Morphine closes the gates to pain will be blocked. An area in the mid-brain causes the closing of the gate so pain signals cannot travel to the cortex. Focussing on a painful stimulus, exhaustion and or stress can open the gate and increase the experience of pain.

Pain reduction

There are different ways in which pain reception can be treated. You can close the gates by preventing being anxious or tired or you can distract yourself. Distraction can be achieved by listening to music or thinking about something nice when you are getting injections. There are two active brain areas active if we have pain: one for the physical and one for the emotional aspect. The activity in these areas changes if you teach yourself to believe that pain is something positive. You can also take painkillers, these will disrupt the process in which receptors send pain impulses.

How do people learn? - Chapter 6 (5)


As a student, Skinner was interested in the work of Watson and Pavlov and rejected introspection as a scientific method. Later, he became famous due to his research on operant conditioning, a form of learning based on reinforcement and punishment. According to Skinner, applying these principles would lead to a better and more humane world.

Learning is a lasting change in behavior caused by experience. There are three sorts of learning:

Non-associative learning is a reaction to something in the environment. Changing one's behavior because of a stimulus is a form of learning.

Associative learning happens when two events that happen close in time become associated by the learner.

Observational learning is the change in behavior that occurs due to observing the behavior of someone and adapting one's own behavior accordingly.

6.1 Habituation and sensation

In 1948, Hebb claimed that learning is caused by changes in the synaptic connections between neurons. When one neuron activates another neuron, the connection between these neurons is reinforced. This means that when one neuron fires, the chance has increased that the other neuron also fires. Although Hebb himself could not do sufficient research to back up this hypothesis, it is widely accepted nowadays.

Seminal research was conducted by Kandel in order to elucidate the changes that occur in the synapse when learning occurs. The sea snail aplysia was vital to his experiments, in which he investigated the role of habituation and sensitization.

Habituation is the gradual decrease in the intensity of a reaction that occurs when a harmless stimulus is presented repeatedly. When an animal perceives a new stimulus it is careful and attentive. This is called the orienting response. If the new stimulus is innocuous and non-rewarding the animal learns to ignore the stimulus.

Habituation can be observed in aplysia by repeatedly touching the animal. Initially, the snail retreats, but after some time this response diminishes.

We speak of sensitization when a response increases after presentation of a threatening stimulus. When you smell smoke while studying, you become more sensitive to the stimulus.

This phenomenon was demonstrated by administering electric shocks to the aplysia. After receiving the shock, the animal's retreating behavior in response to a harmless touch increases markedly. Kandel showed that habituation and sensitization can be explained by changes in the synapses. Presynaptic neurons change how they release neurotransmitters into the synaptic cleft. As a rule of thumb, less neurotransmitters are associated with habituation and and increased release of neurotransmitters is associated with sensitization.

6.2 How do we learn to predict relationships?

Conditioning means that a stimulus from the environment becomes associated with a behavioral reaction. In classical conditioning, it is learned that two events occur together. For example, going for a run while it is raining is associated with wet clothes. Operant conditioning occurs when learning that action leads to a specific outcome. We learn for an exam because we know that this increases the chance that we will pass. Watson was inspired by Pavlov and believed that science should only focus on observable behavior. As a behaviorist, he believed that abstract concepts such as attention and motivation were unimportant. As a corollary, he criticized Freud and his theories sharply. Watson claimed that environmental factors alone shape our development: A child is born as a blank slate and solely formed by its environment. This radical form of behaviorism dominated until the 1960s.

Pavlov was interested in the salivary reflex, which is the automatic increase in saliva release when food is presented to hungry animals. He designed a construction which was able to measure the amount of saliva produced by dogs. One day, Pavlov realized that a dog already began salivating when he saw the bowl that was used for feeding the dog. In order to investigate this effect, he conducted an experiment in which he paired a neutral stimulus (a bell) with the food that was presented. This is called a conditioning trial. After some time, he noticed that the sound of the bell alone was sufficient for the dogs to begin salivating. This is called classical conditioning: A neutral object leads to reflex behavior (salivating) when it is associated with the presentation of food. The unconditioned response is the salivation that occurs when food itself is presented. It is called unconditioned, because it did not have to be learned. In a similar vein, he called the the food the unconditioned stimulus. For most reflexes the unconditioned stimulus triggers the unconditioned response. Similarly, the bell is called the conditioned stimulus because the dogs have to learn that the bell is associated with the presentation of food. In this example, the conditioned response occurs after learning that hearing the bell is paired with food, which leads to salivation. Although dogs start to salivate after hearing the bell and in the absence of food, this response is slightly weaker than if real food were to be presented. Learning about the connection between the unconditioned stimulus and the conditioned stimulus is called acquisition. An essential condition in order for acquisition to occur is that the two stimuli most be presented simultaneously. Later it was discovered that learning was optimal when first the conditioned stimulus (bell) was presented and after a short delay the unconditioned stimulus was presented (food).

When there are several occasions on which the bell rings, but no food is provided, the salivary reflex diminishes. This process is called extinction: The conditioned response decreases in intensity when conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus cease to be presented concurrently. If, after extinction occurred, the two stimuli are presented together again, the conditioned response increases again (spontaneous recovery). According to Pavlov, the conditioning process is adaptive and enables living beings to cope with and to adapt to their environment.

Generalization and Discrimination

Stimulus generalization occurs when stimuli resembling the unconditioned stimulus also trigger the conditioned response. For example, somebody who is afraid of German shepherds will also experience increased anxiety when he encounters other breeds of dogs.

Stimulus discrimination happens when it is learned that the unconditioned stimulus is associated with the conditioned stimulus, but not with a stimulus that is very similar to the conditioned stimulus. Pavlov showed that dogs reacted differently to different shades of gray, depending on whether they were associated with the unconditioned stimulus or not.

Second-order conditioning can occur when a conditioned stimulus is not directly associated with the unconditioned stimulus, but with other stimuli that are associated with the unconditioned stimulus. Pavlov investigated this effect by pairing a black square with the sound of the bell. After some time, the salivary reflex could be observed when the square was presented alone. For humans, money is a second-order conditioned stimulus. A famous actor on a billboard can also be considered to be a second-order conditioned stimulus.

The Learning Response

Pavolv's original explanation for classical conditioning was that every pair of concurrent events could form a learned association. He believed that all pairs stimuli are equally likely to become associated as long as they were presented together. In this view, the extent of the association that is formed solely depends on the intensity of the stimuli. However, this did not prove to be the case. Conditioned food aversion is significantly easier to learn than is the case for many other events and stimuli. Animals learn very quickly to avoid food that made them feel sick at an earlier point in time. This avoidance behavior for food is much easier to learn when the stimulus is in the dimension of taste or smell compared to stimuli such as light or sounds. This is due to the fact that it is evolutionarily adaptive to learn to avoid poisonous or spoiled food. Similarly, monkeys quickly learn to be afraid of snakes, but take longer to be frightened by flowers.

Martin Seligman suggested that animals are genetically programmed to be afraid of specific objects, which was called biological preparedness. Different species of animals differ with regard to the stimulus associations they are prepared for. Humans, for instance, seem to be genetically prone to harbor preconceptions and prejudice about other ethnicities. Biological preparedness has been exploited by the nazis when they tried to form an association between Jews and rats.

The Cognitive Perspective

Until the about 1970, researchers primarily relied on observable stimuli and responses. Nowadays, research increasingly focuses on the processes that underly conditioning. By means of classical conditioning animals can learn to predict future events based on the presence of certain stimuli. The realization that there must be an underlying cognitive process led to the development of the cognitive perspective on learning after behaviorists vehemently denied the importanceof cognition. Rescorla demonstrated the importance of cognition by conducting a number of experiments. He proposed that the conditioned stimulus must be an accurate predictor of the unconditioned stimulus, else no conditioning should take place. He discovered that an conditioned stimulus that is predicted shortly before the unconditioned stimulus instead of afterwards facilitates the learning process. The Rescorla-Wagner model suggests that the strength of association between the two stimuli depends on how unpredictable and surprising the unconditioned stimulus is presented. Further, a conditioned stimulus, presented with another new stimulus, can prevent the stimulus from being associated with the unconditioned stimulus. This is called the blocking effect. A dog that knows that food it will receive food after the sound of the bell has a decreased need of other predictors of food.

Phobias and their treatment

A phobia is a learned disproportionate fear of objects or situations. Fear of heights or being afraid of spiders are examples of phobias. According to the classical conditioning theory, phobias originate from the generalization of anxiety provoking events. Imagine stepping onto a wasp and a consequently developing a phobia of wasps due to the painful experience. Animals can be conditioned to develop phobias of neutral objects. This is called fear conditioning. The amygdala plays a crucial role in this process. In the famous (unethical) little Albert experiment conducted by Watson, fear conditioning was demonstrated in a toddler. Watson associated a natural stimulus (a white rat, the conditioned stimulus) with an anxiety provoking stimulus (a loud noise, the unconditioned stimulus). After a few conditioning trials, little Albert began to be afraid of the neutral stimulus due to it being associated with the noise.


Classical conditioning also plays an important role with regard to drugs and addiction. The needle of a syringe or the tobacco can become conditioned stimuli over time. Seeing a needle can make (previous) addicts alert and trigger craving because it they associated it with the feeling of drugs, such as heroine. Refraining from using drugs can lead to averse sensations and emotions due to the withdrawal of the drug. Drug addicts often need to increase the dose they intake due to tolerance. According to Siegel, tolerance effects are strongest when the drug is always taken in the same place because the addict associates the place with the drug. The effect of tolerance can be large enough for addicts to take doses that would be lethal for other people. Siegel suggests that addicts are more likely to overdose after moving to a new place since the place does not yet have conditioned association with the drug, which renders the body less prepared for a high dose.

6.3 Operant conditioning

Classical conditioning is a relatively passive process. In our daily lives we often do not wait for food to be presented, but prepare food ourselves. Much of our behavior is goal-oriented. From the perspective of operant conditioning, the repetition of behavior depends on its consequences. Thorndike built a little box in which he placed hungry animals in order to observe whether they would escape. Food was provided just outside the box and animals had to pull a string in order to get out of the box. Most animals, accidentally pulled the cord after about 10 minutes. After repeating this experiment a several times with the same animals Thorndike noticed that it took them less time to pull the cord and exit the box. Based on these observations, Thorndike developed the law of effect: behavior that leads to positive consequences will be repeated faster than behavior which results in unsatisfying outcomes. Thirty years after Thorndike Skinner began studying the law of effect. Skinner was influenced by Watson to a substantial degree. He suggested that a stimulus that follows an action can increase the chance that the action is repeated. Such as stimulus he called reinforcer. Skinner believed that virtually all behavior is the result of such reinforcers.

The Skinner Box

Skinner developed a box in which animals could administer food or water to themselves by pushing a lever. He placed rats into these boxes and over time they learned that pushing the lever had positive consequences. This is a form of operant conditioning, in which the animal actively behaves in a certain way in order to receive a reinforcer.


Shaping takes place when behavior that is similar to or approximates the desired behavior is rewarded. For example, if rats do not press the lever itself, one might start with rewarding the rat for being close to the lever. If done properly, this can shape the behavior of the animal and finally approximate the desired behavior. This is extensively used for example for the training of dogs.


A primary reinforcer is a reinforcer for which we have a natural, biological craving, like food. Secondary reinforcers are objects or events that are strongly associated with primary reinforcers. Money is an example of a secondary reinforcement because we can by food and other pleasant things with it. Some reinforcers are more effective than others. Premack emphasizes that the value of reinforcers is different for different people. The Premack principle is that a valued activity (e.g. eating ice cream) can be used in order to reward performance of an activity that is values less (e.g. cleaning one's room).

People seem to evaluate reinforces based on economic principles. Rare reinforcers are seen as more valuable than common reinforcers. The value of reinforcers depends on the outcome and on how fast the outcomes is available. It depends on the situation and the person whether a reinforcer is preferred that provides a quick, but small reward over a reinforcer that offers a large reward in the future. The behavior of animals is shaped by these principles to a large extent. The food animals eat depends on the probability of obtaining the food, the time that is needed to do so and the risk that is involved. It has been shown, for instance, that animals eat more quickly if there is a chance that predators are around, even if that leads impedes the digestion of food.

A positive reinforcer increases the chance that behavior is repeated when it is rewarded with the reinforcer. This is also called a reward. Monthly salary is an example of a positive reinforcer since it provides people with an incentive to work several days a week. Negative reinforcement takes place when the chance that behavior is repeated increases because a negative, or aversive stimulus is removed. For example, we quickly learn that closing the window is an effective way of reducing noise from the outside (the aversive stimulus).


We speak of punishment if a stimulus decreases the probability that a certain behavior is repeated in the future. We differentiate between positive punishment and negative punishment. Positive punishment occurs when behavior is followed by a negative event or stimulus, decreasing the likelihood of the behavior in the future. The electric shock that is the result of touching an electric fence decreases the likelihood that the fence is touched a second time. We speak of negative punishment when the removal of a pleasant stimulus decreases the probability that the behavior occurs again in the future. For instance, taking away a child's cell phone for texting in class should decrease the probability that the behavior is repeated.

Reinforcement schedules

Continuous reinforcement to a reinforcement schedule where desired behavior is rewarded each time it occurs. In our daily lives, this scenario does not occur very frequently. Partial reinforcement occurs when the desired behavior is sometimes rewarded. The effectiveness of partial reinforcement depends largely on the reinforcement schedule, most notably the ratio and the interval schedule. In the ratio reinforcement schedule, the number of times that behavior reinforced depends on the number of times the behavior occurs. For example, a factory worker might be paid for each product that he processes. This can lead to higher productivity compared to hourly wages. In the interval schedule, the reinforcement is based on periods of time. Hourly wages are an example of this. A fixed reinforcement schedule is used when if there is consistent and reliable reinforcement, like paying per piece or per hour. Variable reinforcement schedules are different in that the amount of reinforcement or the time of the reinforcement are varied, e.g. rewarding a sales clerk for each successful sale.

When partial reinforcement is used instead of continuous reinforcement, the desired behavior persists longer even if the reinforcement ceases. This is called the partial-reinforcement extinction effect. Although continuous reinforcement is very effective in eliciting the desired behavior, the behavior also quickly becomes less frequent and extinction occurs when the reinforcers are withheld (see fig. 6.27-6.30 on pages 245/246).

Parental punishment

Research showed that parental punishment is only effective if it happens directly after the behavior that is to be punished. A common problem of punishment is that people easily learn to avoid to be caught and punished, without having to change their behavior. Another problem of parental punishment is that it can produce anxiety and sadness in children. Skinner suggested that rewarding desirable behavior is more effective than punishing undesirable behavior and many researchers agree with this statement. Physical punishment can have many aversive consequences, such as a bad parent-child relationship, worse mental health and an increased risk to engage in criminal activities. The child also learns that violent behavior is normal and acceptable. Time-outs and moderate forms of punishment, such as grounding are a better alternative, but are still less effective than rewarding positive behavior.

Behavior modification

Behavior modification is the application of conditioning to replace a undesirable behavior by desirable behavior based on the rationale that undesirable behavior has been learned and can therefore also be unlearned. One possibility is to make use of secondary reinforcers. This is done in token economies, in which symbols of value (badges, tokens etc.) can be earned by behaving correctly. These symbols can than be exchanged for real assets. This is an effective system to reinforce positive behavior and is used in schools, prisons and psychiatric institutions.

Biology and cognition

Conditioning alone cannot explain how behavior is learned since biology is also involved. The evolutionary history of humans influences how conditioning works in humans. It has been shown that animals have difficulties learning to engage in behavior that conflicts with their natural behavior and instincts. Another limitation of conditioning is that it is also possible for animals to learn without reinforcement. Tolman suggested that reinforcers have more to do with performance than with learning. He thought that animals can learn behavior without reinforcement, but that their behavioral performance would improve if they were reinforced. He discovered that rats create a cognitive map if they have to traverse a maze in search of food. He used three groups of rats: Group 1 was never reinforced, group was regularly reinforced and group 3 only after 11 days. The second group (regular reinforcement) gradually made less and less mistakes, while the other groups stayed more or less constant. When group 3 received reinforcement after 11 days, however, the number of mistakes immediately decreased to same level as in group 2. Though the learning process of group two was not visible, it seems that the group did learn the structure of the maze and the presentation of the reward after 11 days finally demonstrated what the group had learned. This hidden learning process was called latent learning by Tolman.

Another form of learning is insight learning, which can for example occur when trying to solve a difficult mathematical problem, when one suddenly becomes aware of the solution. Other important forms of learning are based on observation and imitation.

Reinforcement and dopamine

The word 'reward' has often be used synonymously with positive reinforcement, but behaviorists actually meant an increase in behavior. The neurotransmitter dopamine plays an important role in reinforcement. In operant conditioning, the release of dopamine determines whether the success of a reward. Milner and Olds showed that rats find it pleasant to stimulate certain brain areas and do so voluntarily, when given the chance. The rats pressed a lever thousands of times within a single hour in order to stimulate reward centers in their brain by means of intracranial (self) stimulation. It was shown that the rats in the experiment preferred this stimulation over all other possible rewards (such as food) and continued to apply the intracranial self-stimulation until they were utterly exhausted. The reward center that was stimulated is known as the nucleus accumbens, which is a subcortical area that is part of the limbic system. The perception of pleasure is highly dependent on the activation of dopamine receptors in the nucleus accumbens. Activities such as eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse tend to activate the release of dopamine. Dopamine is involved in motivation, emotion, movement and especially in the reinforcing effect of rewards. Dopamine gives people a pleasant feeling. Hungry animals that receive have increased activity in the nucleus accumbens since food tastes better when one is hungry. In addition to primary reinforcers, secondary reinforcers are connected to the activation of dopamine receptors. When a neutral stimulus becomes associated with a reward as a secondary reinforcer, the secondary reinforcer can also trigger the release of dopamine by itself. This means that a secondary reinforcer can also be used for operant conditioning (think of rewarding behavior with money). Drugs that block the effects of dopamine, block this process of conditioning. Rats who received this drug did not want to accomplish the tasks anymore. Individuals with Tourettes syndrome have difficulties with motor control, therefore, they often have to take dopamine blocking medication. This can be difficult because taking the medicine makes it difficult to experience pleasure.

Observation and learning

Observation learning is when behavior is learned or adjusted after at least one observation in which others were engaging in the behavior. This is called social learning and it is an adaptive mechanism for people and animals. A primate can learn that certain foods are poisonous by observing other primates. Bandura was interested in this kind of learning. In the Bobo-doll study, the gave children and their parents a dog. Some parents were asked to hit the doll whereas others were asked to be kind. The children could see how their parents behaved. Subsequently, the parents had to leave the room and children were alone with their dolls. Children who had seen their parents being aggressive to the doll acted more aggressive themselves.

Demonstration and modelling

Parents taught their children skills by specifically demonstrating them. For instance, a mother shows her child how to tie laces. Also babies learn to imitate the facial expressions of adults. There are two kinds of observational learning: modelling and indirect learning. Imitating behavior is called modelling. In modelling people and animals imitate models: people or animals who engage in a certain behavior. People have a greater tendency to imitate models who are attractive, have a high status and look like themselves. Modelling is only possible if someone is physically able to imitate the actions. Some people are influenced by models without being aware of it. If your favorite actor is smoking in a movie, there is an increased change that you’ll smoke yourself. Research suggests that people get an positive attitude towards smoking if they see the actor while smoking. In indirect learning (vicarious learning), people learn by looking at the consequences of behavior of others. If someone is being rewarded for the behavior, we will imitate it. We learn the consequences of an action by observing others getting rewards or punishments.

Violence in the media

There are numerous studies showing that violence in the media is associated with more aggressive behavior in people who watch it. People who are watching become desensitized, it predicts criminal and violent behavior and it reduces activity in the prefrontal cortex (self-control) whereas activity increases in the amygdala (for feelings of threat). However, there are some problems with these studies. According to Freedman, the violent behaviors in children should be interpreted as playful. Moreover, these conclusions are based on laboratory research in which effects can be different compared to real life. Longitudinal research could not find that watching television causes violent behavior. In addition, all results are correlational: there is no causal relationship because third variables, such as personality or parental influence can play a role. An experimental study should be conducted to determine a causal relation but that is ethically not possible. Despite these remarks, the most studies do find a relation between violence in the media and aggression. The relation might lead to children who are believing that violence is more common, because they see it in the media. In addition, violence in movies almost never leads to punishment, it is often an effective way to solve a conflict. Finally, violence can influence people without them knowing about it: one who watches it can start imitating it automatically. Should, based on these studies, violence be prohibited in the media? According to Hurley, it should be prohibited if people are not able to control themselves. Others find it incompatible with freedom of speech.

Anxiety and observation

Another example is fear learning. Mineka saw that primates who were raised in a laboratory had no fear of snakes, contrary to primates living in the wild. They noticed that primates from the laboratory became feared of snakes after they saw that other primates were feared of snakes. People can also become anxious if they see others being anxious. People become anxious for a certain neighborhood when they heard on the news that something dangerous happened there. Learning fear by observation is caused by the amygdala. In a study in which participants had to watch other people being given electrical shocks. At the same times they were presented with a conditioned stimulus. Even if the participants only looked at the conditioned stimulus, the activity in the amygdala increased. These kind of mechanisms are as well applied in conditioned and operant anxiety.

Mirror neurons become activated when we see others behaving in a certain way. These mirror neurons become active when we imitate the behavior ourselves afterwards. Both primates and humans have these mirror neurons. In primates, these neurons became only active if another primate saw both the goal and the goal-directed primate. The mirror neurons are probably at the basis of imitation. Researchers think that mirror neurons help in predicting behavior of others. In addition, it plays a role in the ability to use language to communicate. Another theory states that mirror neurons are the basis of the ability to feel empathy.

How does the memory work? - Chapter 7 (5)


H.M. is a patient with epilepsy who, at age 27, needed brain surgery in which his hippocampus was being removed. By removing the hippocampus, they tried to reduce his epileptic seizures. Although the surgery succeeded, the seizures were gone, H.M. lost his memory as well. He could remember everything that happened before the surgery but he was not able to form new memories. He was able to have short conversations because his short-term memory was still intact. Moreover, he could still learn motoric skills but without remembering that he did so. Memory is the mechanism through which organisms can learn from their experiences. Self-awareness and identity are depending on memory. Memories are often incomplete and distorted. Two people will never remind an event in the same way.

7.1 Memory is information processing

Since 1960, memory is seen as a type of information processing. According to this model, memory is like a computer. There are three stages within the memory process: encoding, storage and retrieval. Encoding is the process in which information is converted into neural impulses. Storage is the process in which a change in the nervous system registers what you just experienced. The neural connections become stronger and new synapses are created. This process is called consolidation, the newly recoded information is stored in the memory. Retrieval is when you remember the information that has been saved. According to the modal memory model developed by Atkinson and Shiffrin, these three stages correspond to the three memory systems: sensory memory, short term memory and long term memory.

Long term potentiation

In order to understand how complex learning mechanisms work in the brain, researchers studied long term potentiation (LTP). In LTP, the synaptic connection is strengthened to make the activation of the postsynaptic neurons easier. Stimulating the presynaptic neuron intensely and repeatedly makes the connection with postsynaptic neuron stronger. If the presynaptic neuron will be stimulated subsequently, the likelihood that an action potential will take place increases. There is strong evidence for the idea that LTP might be the basis of learning and memory. The fastest LTP takes place in areas that are important for learning and memory, such as the hippocampus. In addition, medicines that improve memory, are increasing LTP. Finally, conditioning has the same neurochemical effects as LTP. The process of LTP supports the idea of Hebb, that neurons that fire together, wire together. Neurons that are active if the unconditioned stimulus is presented become active together with the neurons that become active as soon as the conditioned stimulus is presented. If this happens often, the connection between the neurons becomes strengthened. If one neuron fires, the other neuron starts to fire as well. A special receptor (NMDA receptor) is needed for LTP to take place. This receptor only becomes active if two surrounding neurons start firing simultaneously. This means that this receptor might be responsible for the reinforced connection between these neurons. Research conducted by Tsien shows that NMDA receptors can be reinforced by manipulating particular genes through which the memory improves a lot. Researchers try to find ways to use this knowledge in the treatment of learn and memory disorders. Maybe the reinforcement of the NMDA receptors could be used in treatments of Alzheimer.

Epigenetics and memory

Research shows that epigenetic mechanisms are important for memory functioning. A mechanism that blocks gene-expression by the use of HDAC (histone deacetylases) is currently studied. If this system becomes blocked, it might improve memory because an increase in HDAC leads to an increase in LTP.

Location of the memory

Lashley looked for the engram: the location of the memory in the brain. He damaged certain parts of the cortex in rats and concluded that there was no such a part specifically responsible for memory. The memory was spread over the brain which he called equipotentiality. Today we know that he was only partly right. Memories are saved in multiple brain areas and they are connected to each other. Lashley did not find the areas relevant for memory because he did not study subcortical structures and because rats would compensate the loss of a function by another function. Nowadays we know that not all the parts of the brain are equally involved in memory. For instance, the temporal lobe is important for declarative memory.

Medial section of the temporal lobe

The middle part of the temporal lobe, together with the hippocampus and the amygdala, is important for memory. Removal of the hippocampus leads to anterograde amnesia: the inability to form new memories and to store new information. The process of transferring information from working memory to long term memory is called consolidation. Consolidation refers to the strengthening of neural connections whereas reconsolidation refers to the neural process of consolidating a retrieved memory for the second time. This theory is developed by Nader and LeDoux. By consolidating information again, memories can change from their original content, as if they were written again.

7.2 How are memories kept?

Sensory memory

Sensory information (such as light, smells and sounds) is stored very shortly almost in the same ways as the sensation itself. This takes less than a second and then the information is gone. When someone says to you that you are not listening, you often can repeat his last spoken words. This kind of sensory buffer is called sensory memory and it functions as a temporarily memory system for our senses. The visual sensory memory is called iconic memory and the auditive sensory memory is called echoïc memory. Sperling found support for the existence of a sensory memory. When people looked at a list which they had to reproduce subsequently, they could only repeat a few items. During repeating a few words, they forgot the other words. The longer the time between presenting the list and the reproduction task, the less items people could remember. These effects are caused by the sensory memory which is important in forming a complete picture. Because every picture is stored for a short time, you can relate the pictures to each other.

Long term memory

When people talk about memories, they often mean memories from long term memory. Long term memory is a system for the permanent storage of information. The long term memory has an almost unlimited capacity: people can remember almost everything.

Difference between working memory and long term memory

The idea that short term and long term memory are real representations of different storage systems is controversial. There is evidence for a distinction between these systems. The serial position effect means that people can remember items in a list better or worse depending on their position in the list: the primacy effect means that the items presented first are better remembered and the recency effect means that we can better remember the items that were presented recently. The recently presented items are the last ones presented. An explanation for the serial position effect is that people try to remember the list of words presented by processing it in long term memory. They start to learn the words presented first, therefore these items are remembered the best. Remembering the last items is explained by the short term memory. More support for the existence of a difference between short term memory and long term memory is derived from individual cases of people with brain injury. In H.M., short term memory was still intact whereas long term memory was not. In another patient it was the other way around: she had a very limited working memory but a very well-functioning long term memory.

What is stored in long term memory?

We are bombarded with information but there is a filter which determines which information is accepted in the long term memory. Researchers found different explanations of this process. One possibility is that information in comes in long term memory after rehearsal. If you repeat a definition very often, you will learn it someday. Researchers found that overlearning leads to a better memory. In overlearning, you repeat information that you already know. Therefore, spread learning, learning at different time points, leads to better storage of the information than when you are cramming all the information at once, which is called massed practice. However, being in presented with a stimulus very often is not inherent to remembering the stimulus. Even though we look at our watch very often, we often do not know what it exactly looks like qua design. Apparently we pay only sufficient attention to things we need to know. From an evolutionary perspective it is logical that we only remember information that is useful in reproduction and survival.

7.3 How is information organized in long term memory

During the processing of information, experiences are converted into codes. An animal that barks like is perceived as a dog. The concept ‘dog’ is a mental representation of a category with animals that share certain characteristics. Memories are mental representations that are stored in neural networks in the brain. They can be retrieved explicit and consciously or implicit and automatically. Information can be organized in different ways. According to Craik and Lockhart, the deeper an item is processed, the more meaning it gets and the better it will be remembered. Their model is called levels of processing model. What you are doing with the information determines on which level it will be sorted. In maintenance rehearsal, you repeat items constantly until you remember it. In elaborative rehearsal, you process the information in a meaningful way. For instance, by linking the item to existing knowledge in long term memory which can be done in a mind map. The information is processed on a deeper level. To process it on a deeper level, you can also think about the meaning of a word whereas superficial processing would be thinking about the spelling of the word.


Schema’s are cognitive structures that help us to perceive, organize, process and use information. Schema’s are frames of reference. Because we have these schemas, we can construct new memories by filling in missing information and neglecting information that doesn’t fit to our knowledge. Existing schema’s can also lead to wrong processing of information. Classical research conducted by Bartlett gives insights in wrong processing. British participants had to listen to a Indian folk story. Subsequently, the participants were asked to repeat the story. He noticed that everyone remembered the story incorrectly and that they distorted the story themselves. They changed the story in such a way that it fitted better into their own beliefs.

Storage and retrieval of information

Many theories about memory are based on networks of associations. The old Greek already said that knowledge about the world is organized in a way in which things that belong together in nature are also together in the memory. Each part of information is a node which is connected to other nodes. The spreading activation model developed by Collins and Loftus states that activation of a node increases the likelihood that connected nodes become as well activated. The associative network is hierarchically organized. There are main categories, comparable to folders on a hard drive of a computer. These folders help us to find information quickly.

A retrieval cue is a sign that helps people to retrieve information from their long term memory. If you cannot remember who is the president of Amerika it might be helpful if someone gives you his initials. This explains why it is more easy to recognize the answer on a question than having to reproduce it yourself. The answer functions as a retrieval cue. According to the coding specificity principle, each stimulus that is processed together with an experience , can work as a retrieval cue to remember the experience again. Therefore, you can remember events better if you are in the same context as where the event took place when you experienced it. Divers could remember information better under water than outside of the water when they learned information under water. A comparable effect is memory dependent state, in which an emotional state works as retrieval cue. You can remember something better if the emotional state of the memory equals your emotional state when you try to retrieve the memory.


Memories can be improved by mnemonics, strategies to improve memory. Rehearsal, making the information more meaningful, maintenance rehearsal, enough sleep, verbal mnemonics and visualizations are strategies that could help. One of the eldest methods comes from Greece and is called the method of Loci in which you connect the information you want to remember to physical places. If you want to remember your groceries, you can put them over the different rooms of your house.

7.4 Different system in long term memory

Since 1970, Tulving, Schacter and Squire, started to consider the possibility that long term memory exists of multiple interacting components. Researchers do not agree on the amount of components. This is because they use different criteria. One researcher make a distinction based on whether the information is stored voluntarily or involuntarily. The other researchers make a distinction based on which types of information are being stored (fig. 7.18, page 285).

Explicit memory

Explicit memory is turned on when we remember certain information consciously. The conscious information is stored in a memory system called declarative memory. This is about information in our explicit memory that we can verbalize and consciously remember. This information can be stored into words or images. There are two types of explicit/declarative memory.

  1. Personal memories are called episodic memories, for instance memories about your fifth birthday.
  2. Knowledge about the world is stored in semantic memory, for instance knowledge about countries and cities. Episodic and semantic memory are different systems because one of both systems can be damaged. In people with brain damage, sometimes episodic memory is very limited even though semantic memory is still intact.

Implicit memory

Implicit memory refers to our unconscious memories which are automatic and involuntary. Remembering implicit information takes no effort; one is not even aware of it. Knowing how to drive a car is an example. Moreover, implicit memories can take the form of an opinion and influence us subjectively. Many advertisements use this psychological process. People can have the implicit memory in which a brand is associated with happiness. This influences the way you perceive a brand and your opinion about that brand. Another example is the false fame effect in which a name sounds familiar to us, therefore we conclude that it is the name of a famous person even though it is just coincidence that you know the name.

Implicit memory is also involved in priming which means that you can process a stimulus faster if you experienced it before. In a study you could ask participants to learn a list of words by heart. When you ask in the next task to finish uncomplete words, the chance is much higher that will use the previous learned words. The participant probably does not even remember that he learned the words before: priming is an unconscious process.

A part of implicit memory is procedural memory which is used if you are riding a bike or tying your laces. If you are riding a bike, you do not think consciously about the steps you have to take in order to move the bike. It is a skill that you can do automatically.

Prospective memory

Prospective memory plays a role in remembering experiences in the future, that is, remembering what you still have to. Also attention is needed: people who have to remember something they still have to do, have less working memory capacity left for another task. Sometimes, a certain cue in your environment remembers you that you still have to do something.

7.5 Memory problems

The inability to retrieve information from long term memory is called forgetting. Forgetting is an important and very normal thing. Ebbinghaus (19th century), was the first who studied memory in a scientific way. He discovered that when you learn something for the second time, you will remember it much faster than at the first time.

Schacter defined three types of forgetting: transience, absence and blocking. He also defined three forms of distorted memory; misattribution (false connecting of memories), suggestibility (memory adjustment with the wrong information) and bias(interpreting something inaccurately because of previous information). The last one is resistance which refers to trying to forget something on purpose. Transience describes the process in which things will be forgotten after a period of time. In previous times, people thought that forgetting took place because certain memories were not used. Nowadays, people think that memories disappear because two memories are interfering. Proactive interference means that previous information inhibits the ability to remember new information. Retroactive interference means that new information leads to the inability of remembering old information. Often we experience blocking: a short inability to remember something that we actually know. The tip of the tongue phenomenon means that we have the feeling that we just cannot retrieve the information (often a name) completely. This might be cause by interference of similar words. Absentmindedness refers to the processing of an event without paying much attention to the event. For instance, when you forget where you left your keys. Change blindness is another example. People often do not notice obvious changes, for instance when they are talking to someone and this person is replaced by someone else. Change blindness is more prevalent when the replaced persons were both members of a clear outgroup, such as that they were both construction workers or elder people. Amnesia occurs when long term memory is damaged because of a neurological disease, brain damage or psychological trauma. Retrograde amnesia is characterized by the inability to remember early memories such as knowledge about facts, people or events.

Unwanted memories

When people experience severe trauma, they can have nightmares and flashbacks for months. If this is the case it can become a posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which can lead to chronic anxiety and depression. In PTSD one is not able to forget the traumatic experience. PTSD could maybe be treated with propranolol, a drug that blocks the norepinephrine receptors. If this is given after a traumatic experience, the memories and anxiety become less strong. Propranolol only works if it is given shortly after the event, thus only for recent memories. HDAC inhibiting medicines are only used in animal research but the results were promising. By inhibiting HDAC during the reconsolidation of the memory, an earlier conditioned anxiety response could be reduced. With medicines like this, questions about when they should be used arise. Also, is it a good thing to let people forget horrible experiences?

7.6 Distorted memories

There can be all kinds of mistakes in memories which can have far reaching consequences, for example when your biased memories are used as eyewitness account. Below, several mistakes are described.

Do you remember where you were during the attack on the World Trade Centre? These kind of events lead to so-called flashbulb memories. These are very vivid memories of the situation in which someone experienced a remarkable or emotional event. Some studies suggest that flashbulb memories are more accurate than other memories but other studies suggest that they are as good as other memories. The von Restorff effect refers to the fact that touching events easier but not more accurately remembered than daily events. Source misattributions means that people remember place, time, person and context of a memory wrongly. As described earlier, the false fame effect is an example of this phenomenon. Another example is the sleeper effect in which people start to believe information that first sounded unreliable. A third example is cryptomnesia, people think that they came with a new idea themselves because they don’t remember the source of the information, however, they did not create it themselves. This can lead to unwanted plagiarism. People have a better memory for people within their own culture. They are bad in identifying individuals with another ethnical background. Often explanations of eyewitnesses are not completely accurate. Research suggest that people are sensitive to suggestibility which means that giving suggestive information leads to false memories. If people are presented with an event, the choice of words of the researcher can influence the memory someone will come up with. Lofter and Palmer asked two groups of participants to indicate the speed of two cars involved in a car accident based on two questions. The group who heard the word smashed estimated the speed to be higher than the group who heard the words contacted, hit, bumped or collided. There are many suspects that have been convicted based on biased memories. It is hard to know whether a witness is accurate or not and people can be very convinced of their own biased memories. Memory bias arises when people change their memories in order to make them more congruent with their own beliefs and attitudes.

False memories

Source amnesia is a type of memory loss in which one can remember information but without knowing the source of the information. Many people cannot remember anything that happened in first 3 years of their childhood. This is called childhood amnesia. This is probably because the frontal lobe is not yet fully developed. Brain damage can lead to a false information from episodic memory. This is called confabulation. People are convinced that the false memory is accurate. People with the syndrome of Capgras have the idea that family members are replaced by others whereas they admit that they do not look the same. They come up with all kinds of evidence to support their ideas. Often the frontal lobe and limbic system are damaged and neuroscientists have to examine whether the memories are accurate or not. A true memory would activate the same brain areas that were also activated when the event took place, whereas a false memory would not. It is not clear yet whether brain imaging can identify whether the memory is accurate or not.

Repressed memories

Some researchers belief that memories can be repressed and remembered years later, however, this is a controversial issue. Some individuals say that they repressed memories of sexual abuse for years and that the memories are retrieved now, however, there is little evidence for this phenomenon. According to Schacter, false memories can be induced by suggestive questions of the therapist. With the use of hypnosis, people can start to form memories of events that never took place.

What is the psychological view on intelligence and thinking? - Chapter 8 (5)


8.1 Thought

Manipulating Mental Representations

Thinking is an adaptive process – we develop rules to help us make decisions quickly, which allows us to be more efficient and allocate our resources to more important tasks. Reasoning, however, is flawed. These rules can be shortcuts, influenced by societal or personal biases. The brain represents information. Thinking is the manipulation of this information for problem solving and decision-making. Cognition includes thinking and understandings that result from thinking.

Types of Representation

There are two types of representations: analogous and symbolic. Analogical representations look like what they are supposed to represent. A map is analogous because it looks like a landscape from bird’s eye view. Mental representations tend to be experienced as images, rather than tastes, sounds, or smells. When looking at an object, the same neurons fire as when we remember looking at that same object. The other type of representation is symbolic. Symbolic representations are words or ideas that are abstract, that we cannot represent with an image. Words are symbolic because they do not share the same visual traits of the thing they represent. Mental maps are a mixture of analogous and symbolic representation.

Symbolic Representations

Thinking combines a mental image (analogous) and a concept (symbolic). A concept is a category or class that includes subtypes and/or individual items, consisting of relationships, qualities, dimensions, and other differentiations that allow us to organize our mental images. We group things based on shared properties, which reduces the amount of extra information we need in our memory stores.

Defining Attributes

According to the defining attribute model, each concept is characterized by a list of features that determine if an object is a member of that category. For instance, a musical instrument must be an object that produces sound. The defining attribute model does not completely account for how we organize things in our heads. It suggests that categorization is all-or-none, but we actually allow a lot of exceptions. It also suggests that all category attributes are equally important, but we tend to make hierarchies in attributes, giving some more leeway than others. The theory suggests that all members of a category are equal, which is also not true, in practice.


The prototype model of concepts suggests that we tend to associate a category with a prototypical “best example” of that category. This prototype may be the most common member of the category, or maybe a combination of typical attributes.


The exemplar model suggests that there is no single best representation of a category, but that a concept is formed by examples of the category. You compare new object with all of the exemplars it resembles, and categorize it thusly.


Schemas are cognitive structures that help us organize, perceive and process information. These help us see what behaviours, objects, and events belong in which settings. We have a knowledge of contexts and how socially acceptable or natural certain things are – our schemas help us understand that picking your nose is frowned upon, not just recognize the objects “finger” and “nose”. Schemas are used to recognized common situations that have consistent attributes, and the people who have specific roles in these contextual situations. Unfortunately, schemas can also reinforce stereotypes. Gender roles are organized as a sort of schema that makes it hard to deviate. A script is a schema that directs behaviour over time within a situation. Scripts determine appropriate behaviours in sequence, like the way a person should behave before, during, and after a trip to the theatre. Children learn schemas and scripts, which later influences their behaviour. Scripts and schemas are persistent because they are adaptive – they minimize the amount of attention needed to navigate familiar environments, and help us recognize changes.

8.2 Decision-Making and Problem-Solving

In reasoning, you think about whether a solution to a problem, or a conclusion, is valid, using information you believe to be true. Decision-making involves selecting among a number of options by identifying criteria and determining which option best fits the criteria. Problem solving involves overcoming obstacles to move from a present state to a desired end state.

Deductive Reasoning

Deductive reasoning involves the use of logic and general rules to draw conclusions about specific instances. You first make assumptions (premises), and logically draw conclusions from them. A deductive reasoning task may be presented in research as a syllogism. This consists of two premises and a conclusion. For instance: if A is greater than B, and B is greater than C, than A is greater than C. Deductive reason can lead to incorrect conclusions if the premises are inconsistent or ambiguous with their use of terminology. Our schemas can interfere with deductive reasoning as well.

Inductive Reasoning

Inductive reasoning is more commonly used in daily life. It involves using specific instances or examples to draw conclusions about general rules. If your friend is late to many dates, you can inductively reason that he/she is a generally tardy person.

The Scientific Method

The scientific method is used to discover general principles, making it an example of inductive reasoning. The scientific method requires researchers to meet standards when inducing, which help diminish the effects of bias – sample sizes must be large, for example. People can be easily influenced in daily life by anecdotal information from a sample size of one. That’s why testimonials tend to convince people.


Research on decision-making has led to normative models and descriptive models. Normative models see people as decision makers who select the choice that leads to the largest gain. Descriptive models suggest that we tend to misinterpret and misrepresent probabilities underlying decision-making scenarios, and tend to make irrational decisions even if the information is accurate. Expected utility theory is a normative model that suggests we rank alternatives according to their desirability and utility. In the 1970s, Tversky and Kahneman pursued descriptive research that identified several common heuristics. Heuristics are mental shortcuts that we use to make decisions. An algorithm is a procedure that will always end up with the correct answer if followed correctly. A heuristic, on the other hand, is a guide, not a rule. We may not be consciously aware of the heuristics we use, but they can lead us to the wrong conclusions. They allow us to focus our attention on other things, letting us make quick decisions when necessary. They can also lead to biases, and faulty decisions. Using information rapidly is a valuable human skill.


Our interpretations of information are also influenced by how that information is presented. This is called framing. Decisions will be vastly different if a problem is framed so that potential gains are highlighted, or so that potential losses are highlighted. To explain framing, Tversky and Kahneman came up with prospect theory. This postulates that a person’s wealth affects their choices, and since losses feel worse than gains feel good, people are motivated to avoid situations of loss. This second aspect is called loss aversion.

Affective Forecasting

People are not good at predicting how they will feel in the future (affective forecasting). They tend to overestimate the negative impact that loss or trouble will have on their emotions. When a negative event occurs, people have certain strategies to minimize the negative impact it might have on them. For instance, they will rationalize, minimizing the event’s importance. People adapt to even the most terrible events, often returning to a positive outlook. People underestimate their coping skills. However, anticipating great pleasure at an event or outcome can cause us to be disappointed when that emotional experience does not come to pass.

Paradox of Choice

People tend to believe that having more options is better than having fewer options. In a phenomenon called psychological reactance, if we are told what to do and what not to do, we tend to develop a strong preference, where we might otherwise be ambivalent. We want to feel like we have control over our lives. However, if we have too many options, especially attractive ones, this leads to conflict, frustration, and indecision. This is called the paradox of choice. Too much choice makes some people miserable.

Barry Schwartz suggests that people can be divided into satisficers and maximizers. Satisficers will choose whatever best matches their needs, rather than seeking out what is exactly the best. Maximizers always look for the best possible choices, reading labels, consulting consumer guides…they can be easily frustrated by many good alternatives. They tend to experience more regret with their choices. The paradox of choice may be related to the shift in the average age in which people start careers and marriages. Careers and marriages used to happen before the age of 25, but industrialized nations bring with them many career options and the ability to make life whatever you might want it to be – with so much choice, many people tend to prolong their university education, explore their options more, and not settle on one person as a spouse until they feel “the clock ticking”. This indecisiveness in the face of choice may be partially responsible for high rates of depression in industrialized countries.

Problem Solving, Goals, and Sub-goals

Problem solving is a way to achieve goals. One approach to problem-solving to break a task into sub-goals, which each need to be met before the end-goal can be achieved. Using sub-goals makes a problem more approachable. However, if a problem is too complex with no clear steps, identifying sub-goals may be a challenge. Sometimes taking a break from a problem like this can lead to an insight.

Sudden Insight

An insight is the sudden realization of a solution to a problem. This may happen as you are considering solutions, or may also happen after a period of rest, distraction, or sleep. When a standard view of a problem doesn’t seem to lead to solutions, it is often a strategy to look at the elements of the problem as if structured in less obvious ways.

Changing Representations

In problem solving, as in humour, overcoming an obstacle often involves revising our mental representation of the situation. One common strategy is to restructure the problem. We may assume there are constraints on a problem that aren’t actually there. Restructuring may help us notice the real restrictions. We also tend to persist using previous strategies or mental sets when problem solving. These established ways of thinking may usually be useful, but can also make coming to a solution more difficult if the problem is unconventional. We also have a fixed way of looking at how certain objects can be used. This is called functional fixedness. In seeing a pair of scissors as something that cuts, we may not think of using those scissors as a weight or a wedge.


We can find it difficult to consciously employ the strategy of representation-restructuring. There are other strategies that are easier to use consciously. For example, working backward involves looking at the goal state as if it is the beginning state, and trying to find out how you could get from the goal to the start. Another way to solve a problem is to find an appropriate analogy for the problem. You may not be able to easily solve a complex medical issue (like attacking a tumour) by thinking of it as what it is, but by making an analogy (attacking a fortress) and seeing what solutions work in the analogous situation. These solutions may then be applied to the problem. When we look at how other people have solved a problem, especially if those people come for similar situations to our own, we can reach new insights on our own problem.


Sometimes, a problem may seem unsolvable and the problem solver may appear to be "stuck." In these cases, is it not uncommon to get an insight, or "aha' moment. Insights are essentially moments when proverbial light bulbs go off in you head. Often times, problem solvers must overcome functional fixedness to reach an insight and solve a problem. This means looking at the parts of the problem in a different light; for example, a paper clip can be used to hold papers together, that is its intended function. However, it is also possible to use an unbent paperclip to press the reset button on several devices.

8.3 Language

Language is a mode of communication that sets humans apart from other species. It allows us to build complex societies and solve more complex problems.

Language is a System

At its core, language is a system of communication using sounds and symbols to pass on bigger ideas. This system is hierarchical, meaning that there are several levels of structure. Paragraphs can be broken down into sentences, sentences into words, and words into morphemes, and morphemes into phonemes. Morphemes are things like prefixes and suffixes - small units that can be added to words to change their meanings. One level lower than morphemes is phonemes. Phonemes are units of individual sounds in speech, for example the word "passed" has two phonemes - "pass" and "ed."

Syntax refers to how words are put together to make sentences, and how sentences are put together to make paragraphs. Semantics is the study of the meanings behind the words, phrases, and sentences.

The Sounds of Language

While humans are capable of making a larger range of sounds than any single language uses, languages use specific sets of phonemes. Sounds is made by forcing air through the vocal cords, folds of membrane that are part of the larynx. Air passes through the vocal cords, up through the mouth, where the jaw, tongue, and lip positions determine the sounds that come out.

Language in the Brain

Aphasia is a disorder that results in deficits in language use, which can result from brain injuries such as a stroke or head trauma. There are several parts of the brain responsible for language. Broca's area in the left hemisphere was found to be responsible for speech production. When this area is damaged, it was found that patients develop expressive aphasia, or the inability to speak. Wernicke's area is the area in the left hemisphere where the temporal lobe meets the parietal lobe. Damage in this area results in receptive aphasia, or the inability to understand the meaning of verbs.

It has since been discovered that in most people, the left hemisphere is vital for language processing. Damage to the overall left hemisphere may result in global aphasia, or the inability to produce and comprehend language. The right hemisphere responsible for the processing of rhythm of speech and interpreting what is said, for example in a metaphor.

Language and Cognition

Studies have also been done on how language affects the way people think. For example, while we have one word to describe the colour blue, other languages may have several words for "blue," or draw the line between blue and green at a different point than we would. The linguistic relativity theory proposes that one cannot think without using language; however this has been proven untrue in later experiments. While the original theory may not be true, many researchers continually study whether language influences thought.

Learning and Development

Language development and acquisition happens in an orderly way. Learning a language has been found to begin before birth. In one study, it was found that the language spoke by birth mothers influenced listening preferences in their newborns. It was also found that babies up to six months old could distinguish between phonemes, even if the phonemes were not used in the language spoken in their homes.

The next step in language development after being able to distinguish between phonemes is learning how to produce speech. This process follows a very distinct path:


Stage in Development

0 - 3 months

Crying, fussing, breathing, and eating allow the baby to produce a wide range of sounds

3 - 5 months

Babies begin to coo and laugh

5 - 7 month

Babies begin to babble and produce vowel and consonant sounds

7 - 8 months

Babies start babbling in syllables

9 - 18 months

Babies start saying their first words

18 - 24 months

Words start being put together in simple sentences, or telegraphic speech

As children progress further in their language development, it is common to overuse new grammatical rules that are learned. For example, children who just learned that "-ed" signifies the past tense may add the suffix in more places than is necessary.

The linguist, Noam Chomsky hypothesised that all languages have a common grammatical basis, or universal grammar. This means that we are all born with the innate ability to acquire language and that differences in language rules are only part of the surface structure of a language. The deep structure, the meanings under the words and syntax remain the same.

Social and Cultural Differences

Language development requires both LAD and LASS, the language-acquisition support system, which is made up of the social world in which a child is born. People often simplify their speech to infants in ways that help them learn words and grammar more easily, enunciating more clearly and repeating important words. This exaggerated form of language is commonly called motherese. Leo Vygotsky developed the first major theory emphasizing the role of social and cultural context in language and cognitive development. Some cultures value science and rational thinking while others value spirituality – values shape how people in any given culture see the world. Vygotsky distinguished between elementary mental functions (sensory experiences), and higher mental functions (language, memory). Children learn to talk about their environment, to communicate with others, and to direct speech towards themselves. Your thoughts, then, can be seen as based on the language you have learned from your culture.

Hybrid Language

Interaction across cultures can create hybrid languages – creoles. For instance, the Cajun spoken around Louisiana is a blend of African languages and the French of the slave-owning class. A mix of two languages in a less informal way is called a pidgin. Children of parents who speak a pidgin enforce rules on the language, creating a creole.


Another important part of language acquisition is learning how to read. In the English-speaking world, there are two main schools of thought with regard to teaching someone how to read. Using phonics, learners are taught that each letter represents a specific phoneme, and by putting these letter together, children can "sound out' a word. This poses several problems in languages like English, which tend to have many phonetic irregularities. Another approach is the whole language approach, where words are not broken down into phonemes. Instead, children learn words individually, eventually stringing them together in sentences. It has been found that the use of phonics is more effective in teaching reading than the whole language approach.

Animal Communication

Non-human animals communicate in different ways. In studying chimpanzees, it was found that they could be taught rudimentary sign language – they could learn some words and understand causation, but failed to learn key components of human language syntax.

8.4 Intelligence

Intelligence is the ability to use knowledge to reason, make decisions, make sense of events, solve problems, understand complex ideas, learn quickly, and adapt to environmental challenges.

Psychometric Testing

The psychometric approach to testing intelligence involves standardized achievement tests. This has been the most dominant in the past century. These tests may focus on achievement (current skill level and knowledge) or on aptitude (predicted future abilities). Alfred Binet and his assistant put together the Binet-Simon Intelligence Scale, upon which many of today’s intelligence tests have their origins. He saw intelligence more as a collection of higher-order mental abilities loosely related to one another, and believed that natural intelligence is nurtured through schooling and environmental interaction.


In North America, the first commonly used intelligence test was the Stanford-Binet Scale, a modified version of Binet’s test. It is still used today, in a greatly revised form. The most common intelligence tests today are the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Third Edition (WAIS-III) and the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Fourth Edition (WISC-IV). The WAIS-III involves verbal subtests and performance subtests. When the score of this test is related to normative data from the population, an IQ (intelligence quotient) score is reached. An exactly average score is 100. This is a score of mental age. The IQ of adults is measured differently, because the IQ score cannot be measured with the same calculations. Across large groups, IQ scores are distributed on a bell curve, a normal distribution, meaning that most people are average, but there are some outliers.


Tests are valid when they measure what they are intended to measure. IQ scores correlate with success in school and in some lines of work. Of course, in jobs where little reasoning and mental complexity is needed, the correlation is highly diminished. IQ scores are also correlated with longevity, possibly due to better personal care. IQ scores predict only about 25% of variation in work and school performance, so other factors to success are not accurately considered. Social skills, privileged backgrounds, and other such circumstances greatly influence performance as well.

Cultural Bias in Intelligence Testing

Since environment plays a role in IQ scores, people from different environments cannot be compared in the same way. There is an IQ difference favouring white Americans over black Americans. This is not a genetic issue, but a cultural one. There is no evidence that the lower IQ scores are due to genes. Involuntary minorities, those who are in any way subjugated or outcast from society, perform more poorly in school and lower on IQ tests than the majority. According to studies, people who feel outcast and receive more limited access to achievement tend to have lower IQs. Questions on intelligence tests that require a certain type of privileged knowledge (like the difference between a violin and a viola) are culturally biased and unfair to those who may not have had the same background.

Components of General Intelligence

Charles Spearman (1927) observed that people who score high on one type of mental test also score high on other mental tests, leading him to the conclusion that there is a common factor being measured by every mental test. He called this g for general intelligence. He believed that each of the mental tests measures both its intended subject, and g. Using this logic, the WAIS-III uses different subtests to determine the IQ score.

The “G” Factor

Researchers have found that g influences life outcomes, like work and school performance. Low g is associated with a lower life expectancy. This may be the result of socio-economic and environmental forces that result from doing poorly academically – people who are lower educated tend to have more dangerous jobs and less income to afford medical care. G may actually affect health in a more direct way – people with higher g scores tend to be better informed about their health and better able to follow health advice. Some theorists propose that g allows people to more quickly adapt to their environment. However, for recurring adaptive challenges, intelligence may not matter as much. People with high g do not make better parents, or navigate better, or eat better. G may be important for adapting to new, complex technologies, however.

Fluid and Crystallized Intelligence

A student of Spearman, Raymond Cattell believed that general intelligence is actually two factors – fluid intelligence (gf) and crystallized intelligence (gc). Fluid intelligence allows a person to perceive relationships among stimuli without previous practice or instruction. Crystallized intelligence is a mental ability derived from personal experience, allowing people to hold a large knowledge of word meanings, cultural practices, and knowledge about how things work. The television show Jeopardy would require crystallized intelligence. Crystallized intelligence depends on fluid intelligence and verbal learning ability. People who score higher on one type of intelligence tend to score higher on the other.

Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner proposed a theory of multiple intelligences, identifying different types of intellectually talents that are independent of one another. For instance, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, the ability to finely control one’s body movements, is unrelated to linguistic intelligence. He also identified mathematical-logical intelligence, spatial intelligence, musical intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence, and interpersonal intelligence. His view is more democratic, suggesting that the concept of intelligence be more malleable than it currently is. Gardner pinpointed majorly successful individuals who, while high in g, specialized in different aspects of intelligence.

Robert Sternberg has suggested three types of intelligence

  • Analytical intelligence: Problem-solving, analysis, puzzle solving, and other academic skills.
  • Creative intelligence: The ability to gain insight and solve novel problems.
  • Practical intelligence: Dealing with daily tasks and problems, like leadership or spatial reasoning.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) was conceptualized by Peter Salovey and John Mayer as a sort of social intelligence consisting of the ability to manage your own emotions, to use emotions to guide language, to recognize other people’s emotions, and to understand emotional language. People high in EI would be especially adept at responding to emotional problems or interactions. EI is correlated with quality social relationships. Critics argue that perhaps EI is pushing the definition of intelligent too far. Whether or not this is true, it is a helpful ability.

Cognitive Performance

Historically, early psychologists tried to study intelligence by measuring reaction times and sensory/perceptual acuity.

Mental Processing Speed

There are positive correlations between certain reaction-time measures and IQ scores. One measure is inspection time, the time it takes to look at and listen to a pair of stimuli and differentiate between them. Mental speed might contribute to the capacity of working memory, thus increasing IQ.

Working Memory Capacity

Since working memory holds all of the information you need to solve a problem at a given time, and has a limited capacity, it makes sense that the faster one can process information and add it to the working memory, the more information can be maintained in the working memory. A high-capacity working memory helps create fluid intelligence. Working memory capacity can be measure either using a digit span or word span, a number of digits or unrelated words that a person can hold in their mind and repeat back. The link between working memory and g may be attention. Being able to pay attention for a prolonged period of time can be helpful for both working memory and for g.

Brain Structure

Strangely, there is a connection between high brain volume and intelligence that accounts for 10% of differences in intelligence. The studies that suggest this, however, are correlational. Different kinds of intelligence may be related to the sizes of different brain regions, including those associated with working memory, planning, reasoning, and problem solving. General intelligence is correlated with an increased cortex. Interestingly, Einstein’s parietal lobe, the area important for visual thinking and spatial reasoning, is 15% larger than average.


A savant is a person with minimal intelligence in most domains, but with an exceptional ability in one or more “intelligent” processes. Rain Man was based on a savant named Kim Peek, who memorized the contents of more than 9000 books. Little is known about this condition, but boy is it ever fascinating!

Genetic and Environmental Influences

Galton’s research may have led to the nature-nurture debate, in which some believe certain traits are entirely genetic, where others believe that certain traits are entirely learned through environmental stimuli. Of course, the reality is that intelligence and IQ are different among people for a variety of reasons, including genetics and environment.

IQ Differences within Cultural Groups

The question is posed whether differences in IQ among individuals are due to differences in genes or differences in environment. The answer varies among different groups of people.


Heritability is the degree to which a particular trait, within a particular population, stems from genetic rather than environmental differences. It is quantified by the heritability coefficient, (h2). The heritability coefficient can vary from 0.00 to 1.00. When it is 0.00, this means that none of the observed variances occur due to genetic differences. When it is 1.00, all of the variances are genetic.

Twin Studies

Twin studies involve looking at identical twins raised in different situations. Another type involves comparing the expression of a trait in identical twins (100% genetically similar), with its expression in fraternal twins (50% genetically similar).

IQ Heritability and Twins

Correlation coefficients can be used to estimate heritability coefficients. This is most commonly done by subtracting the correlation for fraternal twins from that for identical twins and multiplying the difference by 2. Overall, studies suggest that genetic differences account for 30-50% of IQ differences in children and more than 50% for adults.

Short-Lived Family Influence

The average IQ correlation of unrelated children living in the same family is 0.25, while the average for genetically unrelated adults in the same family is -0.01. These correlations have been shown to decline with growing up, suggesting that the family’s influence is short-lived. This may because as we grow, we increasingly choose our own environments.

Personality and Life Experience

Other traits may have an influence on IQ, as it is strengthened and maintain by active intellectual engagement with the world. Openness to experience (which includes curiosity, independence, and broadness of interests) positively correlates with IQ. IQ is like muscle strength, you need to exercise your brain to keep it sharp. It has been found that people who spend long periods in intellectually challenging jobs or hobbies have an increase in IQ over time, while those in intellectually deficient jobs and hobbies have a decrease.

Historical Increase of IQ

There has been a gradual increase in overall global IQ in the last century, with rising scores from generation to generation. Fluid intelligence has increased through better and more available schooling, and active mental stimuli like television, computers, and other technology that require more problem solving. Fast-paced videogames exercise attention and working memory capacity.

Group Differences: Sex

No evidence has been found for gender differences in g, nor in IQ. In general, men score higher in some areas, and women score higher in others.

Group Differences: Race

First of all, the concept of “race” may not be a biologically meaningful concept. Enough people are children of individuals from different racial and cultural backgrounds that we might as well all be considered mutts. It is not scientifically appropriate to conclude that genes are the cause of significant differences between groups. What must be looked at instead are the environmental and cultural circumstances in which a person exists. For instance, if they are a cultural minority group, this may impact g.

Through cross-cultural research, John Ogbu distinguished between voluntary minorities and involuntary/caste-like minorities. The first are people who have emigrated from another country in hopes of upward movement, and consider themselves better off than those in their country of origin. Involuntary minorities are those groups who became minorities through being conquered, colonized, or enslaved. Involuntary minorities everywhere perform more poorly in school and lower on IQ tests than the majority. According to studies, people who feel outcast and receive more limited access to achievement tend to have lower IQs.

Stereotype Threat

Stereotype threat is the apprehension someone may feel about confirming negative stereotypes related to their own group. Stereotype threat applies to any group who has a negative stereotype directed towards them. If reminded of a negative stereotype that relates to an ability, people of the stereotyped group will actually do worse on tests of that ability immediately after the reminder.

What is the psychological perspective on development? - Chapter 9 (5)


9.1 Development in infancy

Developmental psychology is the study of changes, over the lifespan, in physiology, cognition, emotion, and social behaviour. Growth and maturation occurs at the same times in every person’s life span – in the prenatal period, in infancy, in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Genes seem to set the fixed sequence of the body’s development. Conception is the moment when a sperm penetrates the egg of the female, to create a zygote. This firmly implants at about two weeks later, becoming an embryo. The organs, internal systems, and fundamentals of the body are formed, and at this time, exposure to harmful substances can have lasting effects on the organ systems.

Brain Development

There are two important aspects in early brain growth: 1) specific areas of the brain become functional and 2) regions or the brain begin communicating with each other. Newborns tend to have strong perceptual skills, though not all are fully developed. They have an acute sense of smell for smells associated with feeding, can distinguish tastes and prefer sweet tastes, can hear sounds and turn towards them. Their vision however is only at a clear range of 8-12 inches – the rough distance from the mother’s breast to her face. This promotes early social skills, like eye contact. Young infants have a grasping reflex, where they will hold onto things tightly (probably an evolutionary remnant of how baby apes hold onto their mother’s fur). There is also a rooting reflex, in which babies will turn to suck on a nipple or a similar form if it is brought near their mouth.


In early infancy, areas of the brain mature and become functional as regions of the brain learn to communicate through synaptic connections. In the first trimester, myelination occurs on the spinal cord, and in the second trimester on the neurons. Myelination in the brain occurs in different areas at different times in development. This process allows the infant to have a multitude of brain connections to allow them to adapt into whatever environment they are born. When these connections are not used, they decay and disappear in a process called synaptic pruning. Talking, reading aloud, singing, providing physical contact, and letting a child explore are ways to allow them to make the most of their synaptic stimulation. Depriving a child of stimulation will lead to underdeveloped mental processes and skills. The brain is genetically designed to grow, but is very plastic – it adapts quickly to new environments and stimuli. Nutrition also affects brain development- malnourishment may cause a lack of energy in interacting with one’s environment, and thus can both physically and environmentally undermine brain development.

Sensitive Periods

Certain periods are key to the creation of neural connections, and with the right stimuli during these sensitive periods, a child can be expected to best develop those connections. Languages, for instance, are easier to learn in early sensitive periods (5-10 years) than later ones.

Threats in prenatal development

Hormones in the womb influence the fetus – insufficient hormones may diminish IQ and intellectual development. If the mother experiences chronic stress, stress hormones may cause low birth weight and cognitive behavioural difficulties. Teratogens are harmful environmental agents that can impair development in the womb. Physical effects of these are usually apparent at birth, but language, social, cognitive, and behaviour disorders that result from teratogens may only be observed later in childhood. There is a history of certain drugs acting as teratogens and leading to deformations. Alcohol is a teratogen, and can lead to a variety of disorders called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. The most severe is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which causes low birth weight, face and head abnormalities, mental retardation, and behavioural/cognitive problems, and is most likely to occur in children whose mothers were heavy drinkers during pregnancy. Alcohol can cause permanent brain damage. Recreational drugs like opiates, cocaine, and cannabis can lead to unexplained sudden infant death, and even withdrawal symptoms at birth. Fathers who smoke and use alcohol may put their future child at risk of heart valve defects.

Biology and environment

Generally each child follows a standard order of basic development – they crawl before they walk, they make eye contact when born but don’t smile socially until six weeks, etc. Environmental influences can change how quickly children achieve different milestones. Development is due to the complex interplay of biology and environment. Dynamic systems theory suggests that development is a self-organizing process where new forms of behaviour emerge through consistent interactions between the child and their environment and culture. In this view, it’s all about the feedback of the environment and the child’s active engagement with their surroundings. This coincides with new abilities and strengths in the developing body.

Attachment and emotional regulation

Socio-emotional development is the development of skills and abilities needed to develop successful social interactions. Emotional regulation, for instance, is the ability to productively express and cope with emotions. Children are taught not to hit when they’re angry, how to express themselves when they are sad or in need. One fundamental element of this development is the forming of an attachment to the primary caregiver. Attachments are strong, intimate, emotional connections between people that persist over time and across circumstances.

The first bond made is the attachment between child and caregiver, and it is suggested that this bond influences how all others in life are developed. Young infants respond to their caregiver’s facial expressions. They learn to smile. As they grow, they learn to communicate, act appropriately, and establish relationships. Socialization affects gender roles, personal identity, and moral reasoning. Attachment is adaptive – infants motivate parental attention by being distressed when the caregiver leaves, joyful when they return, and they put their arms up to be lifted. Adults tend to respond to infants by picking them up when they are crying, responding to infants with exaggerated facial expressions and higher-pitched voices. Babies attend to high pitched voices and respond by maintaining eye contact.

Cross-Species Attachment

Attachment is important for survival in many species. Infant birds cry for food, and as fledglings, follow the adult who is nearby when they are born. Goslings have been known to follow a human around if they have imprinted them as a caregiver. Harry Harlow, in the late 1950’s, sought to disprove Freud’s notion that infants seek their caregiver as a way to reduce the drive of hunger. He placed infant rhesus monkeys in a cage with two surrogate “mothers”, statues made of wire. One surrogate was bare wire, and could give milk through a bottle. The other was soft terrycloth and could not give milk. The monkeys clung to the cloth mother, and only wen to the wire mother when hungry. When in fear or danger, the monkeys would run to the cloth mother, who apparently provided comfort. This comfort led to more bravery and better social adjustment than the wire mother. Infant monkeys raised in this setting of surrogate mothers, however, were all much less socially developed than normal monkeys. The females who became mothers showed no mothering skills or affection, and were often abusive towards their young. These experiments offer insights to the foundations of social skills and possible origins of abusive parenting behaviours.

Attachment Styles

Attachment encourages, first and foremost, closeness between caregiver and child. The strange situation is a technique designed to assess attachment patterns between an infant and its caregiver. In the strange situation test, the child, it’s caregiver, and a friendly but unfamiliar adult engage in 8 semi-structured episodes, to test the standard way a child reacts to being separated from the caregiver. The experiment brought to light three different types of attachment. Later research has revealed a fourth.

  1. Secure attachment: The parent is a secure base. The child leaves the mother to explore but comes back for reassurance. When she leaves the room, they cry. When she returns, they rejoice.

  2. Avoidant attachment: The child doesn't cry often when the mother leaves, and avoids her when she returns. They dislike being held and being put down, and do not seek out the mother in times of need.

  3. Ambivalent (resistant) attachment: The child becomes anxious even before the mother leaves. When she returns, they seek contact but resist it as well. They do not explore readily.

  4. Disorganized-disoriented attachment: The child lacks a strategy to deal with stress. They act in a contradictory or misdirected way. They are confused, and show varying emotions in response to their mother's return.

Most children develop a secure attachment. With insecure or anxious attachment, however, intervention can be necessary to help the parent learn to help their child adjust in a more secure way so that they function better in childhood.

Chemistry of Attachment

Attachment involves oxytocin, a hormone related to social behaviours, acceptance, bonding, and maternal tendencies. Nursing triggers oxytocin in the mother, which stimulates, in turn, lactation.

9.2 Learning

Researching Infants

In order to tell how an infant perceives and knows about the world around them, psychologists have to be clever. One technique is called preferential looking –the researcher can tell what interests a child by how long they will look at the stimulus. Other experiments use the orienting reflex, in which the child turns to pay attention to new stimuli, but not stimuli to which they have become habituated.

Visual Perception

Preferential looking techniques have helped psychologists determine the visual acuity of infants. They respond more, for example, to high contrast patterns. Visual acuity develops rapidly over the first six months of life, as cone receptors in the eyes develop more fully.

Auditory Perception

Newborns will turn their head in the direction that an interesting sound is coming from. By 6 months, they have a nearly adult level of hearing. Infants can remember and form preferences to certain sounds. They prefer, for instance, their own mother’s voice to the voice of a stranger.


Memory develops initially to help children learn about the world around them. Even very young infants possess some types of memory. Older infants are better able to retain memories than younger infants, and by 18 months, infants can remember events even if tested several weeks later.

Infantile Amnesia

Infantile amnesia is the natural inability to retain memories from the period of infancy. The ability to retain memories may be related to the development of autobiographical thinking – “I dropped my spoon”, rather than “spoons fall”. Other psychologists suggest it may be related to the ability to use words and concepts. Others, still, suggest that the problem lies in memory encoding and the retention of memory.

Inaccurate Memory

Young children tend to have source amnesia, forgetting where they have learned something. 3-year-old children forget the source of their knowledge faster than 5-year-olds. Many of our early memories may actually come from looking at photographs or hearing stories from our parents. Children also tend to confabulate when asked about their personal experiences. As cognitive abilities mature, so do memory skills.

Piaget’s Stages

In order to understand how the thinking of children develops, Piaget paid attention to the cognitive errors that children make. He proposed that we go through a number of stages of development, during which we create new schemas. Through assimilation, we place a new experience into an existing schema. Through accommodation, we create a new schema or drastically alter the existing schema to deal with new information that may not fit in the original schema. Piaget saw this as taking place in four stages:

  • Sensorimotor stage (birth-2 years)

In this stage, children need to develop classes of schemes specific for different categories of objects. They eventually develop to a level in which they can be used as mental symbols for objects when they are not present. This is object permanence, and is why games like “Peek-a-boo” are so entertaining to young children.

  • Preoperational stage (2-7 years):

In this stage, children exercise their imaginative abilities, representing absent objects but still not thinking about the reversible consequences of actions. They will not yet understand the principle of conservation of substance, the idea that when you pour liquid from a short glass into a large glass, it is still the same amount of liquid even though it looks like more. Another important element of this stage is egocentrism. Children around this age tend to see the world only from their own age. They also tend to think centrically – when solving a problem they can only really think about one task at a time.

  • Concrete-operational stage (7-12):

In this stage, children have developed schemes which allow them to understand the conservation of substance and cause-effect relationships. They begin to learn about operations, actions that can be done and undone, like flipping light switches. They begin to reason logically and understand other people in more depth. Still, they are limited to concrete things.

  • Formal-operational stage (12+):

In this final stage, children begin to recognize the similarities of schemes, and understand them as basic principles that can be applied to new situations. This is the beginning of abstract reasoning and theoretical thinking.


Piaget was right about many things, but he mistakenly believed that as children progressed through stages, they use the same kind of logic to solve problems, leaving little room for cultural and individual variation. Many children also move back and forth through stages depending on the task’s difficulty. Many adults still approach new problems concretely, only solving problems in tasks they are familiar with abstractly. Piaget also underestimated the speed at which some of the skills develop. There is evidence that object permanence can develop even in the first few months of life.

Understanding Physics

Infants have been found to have a primitive understanding of physics. They are born with the ability to perceive movement, and use that information to determine if an object is continuous if it is partially hidden.

Understanding Mathematics

While Piaget believed that young children do not understand numbers, but more recent research has found that children under 3 can understand concepts like more than and less than.

Theory of Mind

The ability to predict another person’s behaviour based on their mental state is what constitutes theory of mind. As infants we begin to learn that other people behave due to intentions. One study suggests that the ability to recognize intentional actions is developed by 13 months. The development of theory of mind seems to coincide with the development of the frontal lobes. The ability to take another person’s point of view seems to be biological and universal.


Researchers typically divide morality into moral reasoning (a cognitive process) and moral emotion (an emotional process). These are intertwined – someone with impaired cognition may have trouble translating their moral emotions into behaviours. Levels of moral development have been established by Kohlberg. These are:

  1. Pre-conventional level: self-interest and/or pleasurable outcomes determine what is moral.

  2. Conventional level: strict adherence to societal rules and the approval of others determines what is deemed moral.

  3. Post-conventional level: decisions about morality depend on abstract principles and the value of all life.

Kohlberg’s theories emphasize cognitive aspects of morality without thinking about the emotions that influence moral judgments, like shame, pride, and embarrassment. More recent research focuses on empathy, the understanding of another person’s emotional state and feeling their sorrow with them, and sympathy, feeling pity or emotions for another person. Parental behaviours influence children’s levels of moral emotions and prosocial behaviour. These are positively influenced when parents are high in sympathy and promote a focus on the well-being of others. It is important that they teach non-harmful ways of expressing negative emotions. Parents who are angry, lax in discipline, and don’t respond positively to children’s appropriate behaviour tend to have children who are high in shame.

Physiological Morality

Moral emotions may be based in physiological mechanisms. For instance, the prefrontal cortex is important for emotion-based decision making. People who experience damage to the prefrontal area fall back to a pre-conventional moral standard and fail to experience moral emotions.

9.3 Childhood to Adolescence

Psychosocial Development according to Erik Erikson

Erik Erikson proposed a theory of psychosocial development that emphasized age-related psychosocial challenges. He also believed that development continues throughout a person’s lifetime. He came up with eight stages in his theory of psychosocial development; the success of each stage can develop important virtues, the lack of which can cause psychological issues.

  1. Basic trust versus mistrust. Virtue: Hope.

  2. Autonomy versus shame and doubt. Virtue: Will.

  3. Initiative versus guilt. Virtue: Purpose.

  4. Industry versus inferiority. Virtue: Skill.

  5. Identity versus identity confusion. Virtue: Fidelity.

  6. Intimacy versus isolation. Virtue: Love.

  7. Generativity versus stagnation. Virtue: Care.

  8. Integrity versus despair. Virtue: Wisdom.

According to Erikson’s theory, adolescence is a period of identity crisis.

Physical Changes and Cultural Norms

Adolescence is biologically marked by puberty, a process of reaching sexual maturity and gaining the ability to reproduce. This period begins between 8 and 14 years for girls and 10-14 years for boys. Most girls are finished developing physically into women by age 16, while boys finish puberty by 18. Puberty is characterized by the change and increase in hormone levels that stimulate physical changes. A clear dividing line is the adolescent growth spurt that involves a rapid increase in height and weight. Primary sex characteristics develop – menstruation in women, the capacity for ejaculation in men. Secondary sexual characteristics develop, like body hair, pubic hair, muscle growth in males and fat deposits in the hips and breasts of women. Puberty is impacted by both physical imperative and environmental influence. Girls in insecure environments will begin menstruating earlier, puberty will start earlier in a girl if she lives with a non-related male. Environmental threats can cue puberty as the need to continue the gene pool becomes more prominent. We know less about the environmental influences on puberty in boys.

The Adolescent Brain

As physical changes occur, synaptic connections in the brain are also refining, and grey matter is increasing. Teenagers begin to think and behave more like adults and experiment with different identities. The brain is not fully myelinated until the early 20s. Critical thinking about consequences is difficult because the limbic system tends to become more active than the frontal cortex. Teenagers tend to act irrationally and engage in riskier behaviours than adults. However, since they have the ability to understand consequences, it is important that they are educated about them, and guided by parents and community role models. For many kids, being a teenager is not stressful or full of turmoil. Warmth, support, and guidance can prevent teenage depression.

Cultural Influences on Identity

Gender identity refers to whether you see yourself as male or female. Gender roles, on the other hand, are culturally defined norms that influence what is believed to be appropriate for each gender. In North American culture, girls may be discouraged from rough play and boys from crying.

Boys and girls create gender schemas, cognitive structures that reflect perceived gender roles. Schemas impact how people judge the world, and if children develop rigid gender schemas, they will be surprised when those are broken. Children learn to extrapolate from the gender norms they see on the media and in their lives what may be an appropriate path for them as an adult. Only seeing female nurses, a little boy might think that he shouldn’t become a nurse.

Biological Influences on Identity

Gender identity is certainly not based solely on how one is raised. In a surprising case, a boy who lost his penis due to an accident in circumcision was gender-reassigned and raised as a girl. He was plagued with identity issues and never fit in, until he was allowed to change his gender to male again and live life in the gender he was born to. Treating someone as if they are a certain gender does not make them identify as that gender – it’s deeper than that. Gender identity begins in prenatal development with the complex work of hormones, brain structure, and intrauterine environmental forces. A transgendered person is someone born with one biological sex but who feels that their gender is the opposite. This is thought to originate in prenatal development. Today, gender is looked at as more fluid than it once was, as a continuum from masculine to feminine. Many cultures have more flexible beliefs about gender that allow for a third, changeable gender.

Establishing Ethnic Identity

In countries that include many cultures, ethnic identity becomes an important aspect of identity development. Children in minority groups have been found to go through additional processes aimed at ethnic identity formation. If second generation, they may see themselves as a go-between, negotiating between their parent’s culture and their new culture. They may feel additional pressures to develop communication, negotiation, and caregiving skills. When a child successfully overcomes these pressures and is able to integrate the culture of their country with the culture of their parents, they are said to have formed a bicultural identity. Children with a bicultural identity tend to be happier than those that end up sticking to one culture or the other.

Sense of Self – Peer Influence

Physical appearances change, self-image shifts, cognitive abilities become more sophisticated, introspection increases, and the need to focus on one’s future becomes a huge personal pressure. Children spend a great deal of time interacting with their peers. Attention to peers begins after the first year of life – infants will mimic their siblings and friends, and babble together. Peers are essential in identity formation. Teenagers will form friends with others who have similar values to their own. They seek belonging and acceptance, comparing themselves to their peers. Teenagers who dress or act in a certain way as others in their peer group may be called members of a clique. Others see cliques as interchangeable representatives of a community, with identical interests. The teenagers themselves feel much more unique, of course.

Sense of Self – Parental Influence

Parents also play a vital role in identity development. Parents contribute to specific behaviours and influence the choices a child makes about what identity to choose. The most important factor in a child’s social development is the fit between their biological temperament and personality with the parent’s behaviours. Forcing a distractible child to concentrate or a shy child to be social may lead to emotional upset and stress. Parents who deal with a difficult child calmly, firmly, patiently, and consistently tend to see more positive outcomes. Adolescent conflict between parents and their teenagers can lead to minor annoyances but can also help the adolescent develop negotiation, critical thinking, communication, and empathic skills. Children also learn about the world through their parent’s expressed attitudes, values, and religious beliefs. Parents also set the environment for the child.

9.4 Meaning in Adulthood

Psychosocial Challenges

As previously mentioned, Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development include a sixth stage – intimacy vs. isolation. This occurs in early adulthood. It involves maintaining and forming committed relationships with friends and lovers. Failure to successfully pass this stage may lead to isolation from peers. In the seventh stage, generation vs. stagnation, the person will begin contributing to future generations by raising children, having a productive career, and being concerned for the future. This hopefully leads to a sense of generativity – that the efforts have led to a positive legacy, or on the opposite side leads to a sense of stagnation, that life is self-centred and materialistic. The last stage, integrity vs. despair, occurs in old age. Integrity involves honesty about how one’s life has been lived and conviction that it was good. If they feel it has been a bad life, not worthwhile, they may feel despair.

Life Transitions

Big life transitions have a large impact on adult development. Going to college, getting married, starting a career, having children… these changes all involve a search for meaning.

Early to Middle Adulthood, Physically

There are many physical changes that occur from early to middle adulthood. We live about twice as long as we once did, meaning that it feels, for us, like our physical fitness declines early. From 20-40, our eyesight, muscle mass, bone density, and hearing steadily decline. Around middle age, it becomes less easy to consume alcohol and unhealthy food without noticing side effects, and the weight around the midsection becomes harder to work off. The better cognitive, physical, and psychological shape we are in in early adulthood, the fewer declines we see with age.


People devote a great deal of effort to form and maintain romantic relationships in adulthood. Most people marry, though the age of the first marriage is becoming later and later. Married women tend to have increased longevity, and married men tend to have lower rates of problem drinking and higher incomes. Married people tend to share income, allowing them to provide better for themselves than unmarried people. However, unhappily married people are at greater risk of poor health and stress-related illness. People that are unhappily married, separated, or divorced have struggles like illness and depression. At any given time, however, most people report satisfaction with their marriage.


Having your first child is a huge event in most people’s lives. This tends to change a person’s life in many ways – first time parents can be frustrated and anxious, but also powerfully rewarded with the relationship with their child. Being a parent becomes an essential part of many adults’ self-schema. When time and money are tight, however, children can also put a strain on a marriage. Many couples do not discuss roles and responsibilities before they have a child, which can lead to misunderstandings and resentment. It’s suggested that couples discuss every task role they can think of before this time comes around.

Aging Population

The number of people in older adulthood is growing, and the number over 85 is greater than it has ever been. People over 65 contribute a great deal in contemporary society, many still working or involved in volunteer organizations.

Deterioration in Old Age

The body and mind start deteriorating around age 50. The hair grays and whitens, the skin wrinkles, and the frontal lobes of the brain begin to shrink. Memory loss and confusion was once thought to be an inevitable aspect of aging, but recent research has found that older adults who keep their brain active simply do everything a bit slower. A dramatic loss in mental ability at this time is called by dementia. It may be caused by excessive drinking or HIV, or a number of other causes. 3-5% of older adults will develop Alzheimer’s disease by age 75. Alzheimer’s begins to manifest with minor memory issues but progresses to effect daily routines, mental capacity, memory and language. The causes of Alzheimer’s are not known, but it seems to be partially genetic. By challenging one’s brain, remaining socially and physically active and learning new tasks, older people can prevent dementia to some degree. On the other hand, most older adults are happier and have fewer mental health issues than younger adults.

Meaning in Old Age

According to the socio-emotional selectivity theory, people perceive time to be more limited as they age, allowing them to adjust priorities and emphasize emotionally meaningful events instead of ambition-driven behaviour. They surround themselves with those they love.


Cognitive abilities gradually decline with age, but this may have a number of causes. The frontal lobes do begin to shrink, response time increases, and sensory-perceptual changes occur. Activities like driving may then become more dangerous.

Memory Change

Older people begin to experience problems with memory tasks which require more working memory. Long-term memory is less affected. While older people take longer to learn new skills than younger people, they are able to use them just as effectively once they have them. Older adults may have less efficient strategies for encoding information.

Intelligence Change

As mentioned previously, fluid intelligence is the ability to process new information that requires no previous knowledge and crystallized intelligence is based on more specific knowledge. Crystallized intelligence only increases over life.

How do emotions and motivations work? - Chapter 10 (5)


10.1 Experiencing Emotion

Emotion and mood are often used interchangeably, but in psychology they are considered two different aspects of the same process. Moods are diffuse, long-lasting emotional states. Emotions (a.k.a. affect) are feelings that involve subjective evaluation, psychological processes, and cognitive beliefs.

Subjectivity of Emotion

Emotions are experienced subjectively and we vary in our level of emotion felt and emotion expressed. Hyper-emotional people may suffer from a mood disorder. Hypo-emotional people may suffer from the opposite, alexithymia, a disorder in which emotional information does not get interpreted.

Types of Emotion

Basic, primary emotions are evolutionarily adaptive and shared across cultures. These include anger, fear, sadness, disgust, happiness, surprise, and contempt. Secondary emotions are blends of these, like remorse, guilt, submission, shame, and anticipation. The circumplex model of emotion is an emotion wheel in which the emotions are arranged in a circle. Through the circle run two dimensions – valence (how negative or positive the emotion is) and activation (how arousing the emotion is.) Arousal in this setting means the degree to which one is physiologically and psychologically activated.

Negative and Positive Affect

It has been found that negative and positive affect are actually independent rather than dimensional – we can experience both emotions simultaneously. For instance, when we reminisce about the good times had with someone we’ve lost. Positive activation is related to the release of dopamine and negative activation is associated with increased norepinephrine. Both positive and negative emotional states can cause a person to cry. The reason for crying is not certain, but it may be that crying is a way to relieve stress by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

Emotions and Physiology

Emotions involve the activation the autonomic nervous system, so that your body can prepare itself for challenges in tis environment. It is still unclear as to whether each emotion elicits a specific response, or whether all emotions share the same core properties of valence and arousal. Many emotions share overlaps in physiological response, and much more research is needed before conclusions can be made.

James-Lange Theory of Emotion

While it’s generally assumed that our bodies respond to our emotions – we cry because we are sad, William James suggested that the opposite was true. That we are sad because we cry. According to the James Lange theory of emotion, when we perceive physical changes in our body, we feel emotions. Some results have been found that support James’ theory.

Facial Feedback Hypothesis of Emotion

According to the facial feedback hypothesis, facial expressions trigger emotional states. One study was conducted in which people were asked to hold a pencil either clenched between their teeth (resulting in a forced smile), or held between their lips (a forced pout). Those with the forced smile reported more happiness when watching a funny cartoon than those with a forced pout.

Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion

According to the Cannon-Bard theory of emotion, the information from an emotion-producing stimulus is processed in subcortical structures that result in both an emotion and a physical reaction at roughly the same time.

The Amygdala

The limbic system, as described previously, includes the brain structures that border the cerebral cortex. The most important brain regions for emotion are the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. The amygdala is responsible for processing the emotional significance of stimuli. It is important for emotional learning (such as is needed for classical conditioning). Emotional events are more likely to be stored in memory, in part due to the behaviour of the amygdala. It modifies how the hippocampus consolidates memory. Finally, the amygdala is involved in the perception of social stimuli, like the emotional meaning of facial expressions. This is especially true for fear expressions.

Prefrontal Cortex

There is evidence that the left and right frontal lobes are affected by different emotions. The right prefrontal cortex is associated with negative affect and the left with positive affect. This is called cerebral asymmetry.

Schachter-Singer Two-Factor Theory

The Schachter-Singer two-factor theory of emotion suggests that a situation evokes a physiological response (arousal), which is then cognitively labeled, then translated into an emotion. If it is an ambiguous situation, the emotion felt will be based on whatever the person attributes the situation to.

Misattribution of Emotional States

When people make mistakes in identifying the source of their emotional arousal, this is called misattribution of arousal. For instance, doing something thrilling can cause an arousal reaction that can easily be misinterpreted as sexual arousal, meaning that it’s a good idea to bring a first date to an exciting activity. Excitation transfer is a form of misattribution in which the residual effects of one emotional event transfer on the next event – for instance, after seeing a scary movie, your elevated heart rate and arousal may linger, and you may attribute that to your date.

Emotional Regulation

It is adaptive to be able to regulate our emotions, as they can interfere with our ability to concentrate on a task and to behave appropriately in social encounters. People regulate their emotions in many ways. We try to put ourselves in situations that we can handle and avoid those that are more difficult. We try to focus on aspects of situations that distract us from aspects we do not want to confront. We can change our emotional reactions by actually reframing an event, reappraising it. Three common ways of dealing with negative emotions and situations include the following: humour, thought suppression, and distraction.


Humour increases positive affect, improves the immune system, stimulates hormones, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. Pain perception decreases, and among its many positive effects, humour is beneficial to short-term and long-term health. Laughing in situations that are not funny, like funerals, can be a way to distance oneself from negative emotions while strengthening connections with others, helping in the grieving process.

Suppressing Thoughts

Thought suppression involves trying not to feel or respond to an emotion. Suppressing negative thoughts is very difficult and often causes a rebound effect where after attempting to suppress something, you actually think about it more. This may come in the form of rumination, which involves thinking about, elaborating, and focusing on the negative thought or feeling.


Distraction involves doing and thinking about something else, purposefully avoiding the topic by replacing it with something else. This is a temporary fix. Sometimes it backfires because people will distract themselves from one problem by thinking about other problems, or by engaging in maladaptive behaviours.

10.2 Adaptiveness of Emotion

Communicating Emotion

Darwin suggested that emotions are adaptive because they are one of the fundamental ways we communicate our situation to others, and interpret how others are feeling. Knowing that another person is angry is more likely to help you expect their smack. Knowing that another person is embarrassed will help you strengthen your bond with them if you act sensitively. The eyes and mouth are main emotional communicators. The mouth does this best, especially with positive affect. If shown just a part of the face, however, the eyes are easiest to interpret. Context also changes how people interpret emotion.


It has been found that the primary emotions can be identified in facial expressions cross-culturally, from China to America to New Guinea. Cross-cultural congruence is strongest for positive affect and weakest for fear and disgust. Body language can also be a factor- pride is universally expressed with a lifted chin and stuck-out chest.

Display Rules

Display rules are cultural rules learned through socialization about what situations are acceptable to express emotions. For instance, it is more acceptable for Americans to exhibit pride than for Dutch people to do so. Display rules also tend to be different between the sexes. Boys are often taught not to cry or express sadness, while girls are often taught to express more emotions related to caregiving and relationship-building.

Cognitive Functions of Emotion

Immediate affective responses tend to accompany our perceptions. They change how we evaluate any given object or situation. Cognition is also influenced by emotion – when we’re in a good mood, we’re more creative and likely more productive.

Decision Making

Emotions influence our decision making by allowing us to predict how we will feel if we take a particular path. They serve as heuristics, decision-making guides. However, vivid events may have a strong emotional influence on behaviour. Fear of rejection may stop you from asking someone on a date, for instance, even if chances are high that you wouldn’t be rejected, or that the rejection wouldn’t be so bad. According to the affect-as-information theory, our current moods influence how we make judgments and appraisals. If we’re grumpy, we probably won’t find that comedy show as funny. Moods are often influenced by the weather, sleep, or health. When aware of the mood source, these feelings have less influence on judgments.

Somatic Markers

According to the somatic marker theory, most self-regulatory actions and decisions are effected by bodily reactions called somatic markers. We might actually have a gut feeling when we literally feel queasy. This comes from having associated certain bodily sensations with past outcomes, allowing us to predict how future outcomes might make us feel.

Interpersonal Relationships

Emotional expressions are powerful communicators and make proper interpersonal relationships possible. Infants learn to communicate first with facial expressions, before they grasp language. Nonverbal expressions of emotions signal inner states and needs. Expressing emotions allows us to survive in social groups- social emotions are important for maintaining bonds.

Guilt and Social Bonds

Guilt, for instance, is a bond-strengthener. Guilt occurs when someone feels responsible for another person’s negative emotions. It can also arise when we don’t feel responsible for their situation, but feel it unfair that the other person should suffer while we don’t (survivor’s guilt, for example). Guilt can be good for relationships when it discourages acts of betrayal and disloyalty and encourages good behaviour and loyalty. Guilt can be used to manipulate others who have power over us to do what they want. Feelings of guilt are essential in happy and healthy relationships because they are related to empathy.


When someone violates a cultural norm, is teased, or experiences a threat to their self-image, they tend to feel embarrassed. This embarrassment restores social bonds in an awkward situation – an embarrassed person goes red-faced and acts submissive, clearly recognizing that they’ve accidentally committed a social error. Blushing is something of a nonverbal apology. It elicits sympathy, forgiveness, and amusement in onlookers, rather than anger.

10.3 Motivation

Factors of Motivation

Motivation includes factors that energize, direct, and sustain behaviour. A need is a state of deficiency – we need what we don’t have and what is essential to our well-being. We need biological things like water, food, and sleep. We need social things like acceptance and love. In the 1940’s, Abraham Maslow came up with a hierarchy of needs, in which he suggested that the basic needs would have to be satisfied before a person could strive to fulfill the higher needs. Basic needs began at the physiological (food, water, warmth). Once those were met, safety and protection needed to be met. After that, belonging needs like friendship, then esteem/reputation, then finally self-actualization. While Maslow’s theory has been long taught in schools, there is no empirical support behind it. Tellingly, people who live in insecure, poverty-stricken situations where their basic needs are not fulfilled often have both acceptance and esteem, and may reach self-actualization.


A drive is a psychological state that motivates us to satisfy a need. If you need food, you get hungry. If you need to reproduce, you become aroused. Basic drives help animals maintain a sense of equilibrium, also known as homeostasis. The human body strives for this state – we regulate our temperature for ideal warmth, our food intake for ideal satiation, etc. A drive increases in proportion to the amount of deprivation we experience. A behaviour that we learn is useful for reducing a drive becomes a habit. We are pushed and pulled – drive states push us to act, incentives pull us to fulfill external goals. Subliminal cues can influence behaviour – being exposed to more food advertising can cause us to snack more.

Performance and Arousal

The Yerkes-Dodson law is a psychological principle that dictates that performance increases with arousal to an optimal point, after which it begins to decrease. We need a certain amount of stress to get started on work, to make it less boring, but if we are too anxious, we may be overwhelmed.


People are also generally motivated by incentives, which are external objects or goals. According to this theory, people do no have to wait until they sense a deficiency in their needs; but are driven by their own goals. For example, a study in France found that study participants worked harder for a higher compensation.

Intrinsic Motivation

What was just described were things that are extrinsically motivated, directed towards fulfilling an external goal like drive reduction or pleasurable reward. Other behaviours are intrinsically motivated – they don’t have value because they reach external goals, but because they are enjoyable in themselves. If you like to draw, you don’t necessarily do it for money or approval. You do it because it’s fun and challenging. Some intrinsic motivation comes from curiosity and creativity. Playful exploration allows us to learn about a new object in an environment. Creative pursuits allow us to express our creative problem-solving abilities, our communication, and our ability to entertain.


While we know that external rewards tend to motivate behaviour, rewarding an intrinsically rewarding behaviour can actually undermine motivation. If you’re painting a picture and someone tells you that they’ll give you candy if you paint another picture, your pleasure in painting will shift. When that reward goes away, so will the intrinsic pleasure. The self-determination theory suggests that this occurs because the task may have been fulfilling a need to feel competent and autonomous. Extrinsic rewards take away this sense of control. The self-perception theory suggests that people don’t usually know their specific motives, but draw inferences based on what makes sense. If you can’t come up with an external reason for your motivation, you’ll probably conclude that you just like what you’re doing. So an external reward will explain your motivation away.


Freud explained drives according to the pleasure principle, the ideal that people seek pleasure and avoid pain. That pleasure motivates behaviour is a fundamental concept in motivational psychology. This is acts as a criticism to biological drive theories which suggest you just act to fulfill needs. We don’t just have sex to make babies, and we may be completely food when we eat that chocolate cake. Positive and negative emotions have been, on an evolutionary scale, adaptive. Doing what we like and avoiding what we don’t have helped us maintain relationships and avoid danger. We tend to like things we need (sweet fruits are healthy) and dislike things that are bad for us (poisons are bitter).

Setting Goals

People are motivated towards long-term goals as well as short-term behaviours. We seek long-term goals through self-regulation of our behaviour. A good goal will motivate us to work hard. A good goal should be challenging but not too hard. A specific goal is best. A series of sub-goals towards a large end goal can be easier to work with.


Self-efficacy is the degree to which you feel you are capable of succeeding in a certain task or behaviour. Low self-efficacy is discouraging and tends to lessen the chance of success. People differ both in self-efficacy and in achievement motive. Achievement motive is the desire to do well according to standards of excellence that are either internal or external. People high in achievement motivation set challenging but attainable personal goals, while those low in this motivation set either extremely easy or impossibly high goals.

Delayed Gratification and Goal Setting

People differ in their abilities to delay gratification. The ability to delay gratification has been correlated with long-term academic and career success. It allows a person to be more socially competent and better able to handle frustration. The most successful strategy in delaying gratification is to turn hot emotions into cold cognitions. That is, the desire to eat that yummy cake is a hot emotion, so you might think about that cake as a mud-cake, to activate a cold cognition. Cold cognitions focus on concepts and symbolic meanings.

Belonging Needs

According to the need to belong theory, the need for interpersonal attachments is intrinsic to being a human, and has evolved for adaptive reasons. People more capable of forming social bonds were better able to survive through their group affiliations, and more likely to reproduce and have successful offspring by bonding with their mate and children.

Making Friends

All societies have some form of group membership and friend groups. Belonging decreases our risk of poor health. This need to belong also allows us to sense when this need isn’t fulfilled. We know when we are being left out or ostracized. People feel anxious when facing exclusion. People who are shy or lonely are more cued to social evaluation and related information. A lack of social contact causes despair.

Anxiety and Affiliation

Studies show that in anxious situations, people tend to seek affiliation with others, especially if those others are also anxious. According to the social comparison theory, we are motivated to have accurate information about ourselves in comparison to others. This allows us to test and validate our own beliefs and behaviours. In an ambiguous or threatening situation, we want to be around others to whom we can relate.

10.4 Motivation to Eat

Time and Taste

We learn to eat at specific times in the day, even though we may personally have different metabolic rates and food needs. We get hungry at certain times in the day because we are conditioned to eat at those times. We are motivated to eat good-tasting foods, and to consume variety. If given just one type of food to eat, we’ll stop eating faster than if we’re given a number of different types. We grow tired of singular flavours through sensory-specific satiety. This may be advantageous because animals that eat different types of food have a greater chance of finding food.


We eat what we think is food and what is nutritious – this varies culturally. People will sometimes rather starve to death than eat unfamiliar food. We learn what we prefer. While we have a preference for sweets as infants, we can learn to eat and like many types of food. This often involves brief exposure, to accustom a child to a certain taste. We also learn by observation. People tend to regularly eat foods of their own culture. Local norms of cuisine also reinforce food preferences, as do religious and cultural values.

Brain Structures: Neural Processes

The hypothalamus is the brain structure most associated with food. It integrates inhibitory and excitatory messages and behaviours involved with eating, and damage to this area is associated with weight change. This is because the hypothalamus monitors hormones and nutrients to maintain homeostasis. Other brain structures are involved in eating. The prefrontal cortex processes taste cues, which emphasize the reward value of different foods. Damage to this system can produce gourmand syndrome, in which people become obsessed with the quality and variety of their food.

Internal Sensations

Eating has long been seen as a homeostatic system. The stomach can contract or distend, causing those familiar growling sounds. The glucostactic theory of hunger suggests that the glucose levels in our blood cause us to be hungry. The lipostatic theory of hunger suggests that we have a set-point of body fat and hunger motivates us to return to the set-point.

Hormonal Activity

The hormone leptin regulates fat. It is released from fat cells as more fat is stored, travels to the hypothalamus, and inhibits further eating. This is most important in long-term weight regulation. The hormone ghrelin originates in the stomach, surging before meals and dropping after eating, suggesting it may be an eating trigger.

10.5 Sexual Behaviour

For a long period of history, sexual behaviour has been a taboo topic in research. It was once believed that women were incapable of enjoying sex, and only in the 1940s was it found that women’s sexual attitudes and behaviours are often similar to those of men. Men and women alike admitted to premarital sex, masturbation, enjoyment of orgasms, and homosexuality.


In the 1960’s, William Masters and Virginia Johnson began to study sexual behaviour in earnest, though biased in that their studies included only people willing to be filmed having intercourse and masturbating. They did identify the sexual response cycle, however. This is a four-stage pattern of physiological and psychological responses during sexual activity.

  1. Excitement phase: people begin to contemplate sexual activity, and begin kissing our touching sensually. Blood flows to the genitals. In women, the clitoris swells and vagina becomes wet. For men, the penis becomes erect.

  2. Plateau phase: pulse, breathing, and blood pressure increase. This stage includes frenzied sexual activity with lowered inhibition.

  3. Orgasm phase: involuntary muscle contractions throughout the body, dramatic increases in breathing and heart rate, rhythmic vaginal contractions and ejaculation in men. Male orgasm almost always occurs while female orgasm is more variable. However, both report nearly identical sensations.

  4. Resolution phase: the male enters a refractory period in which he is unable to maintain an erection or orgasm. Female has no refractory period and can experience multiple orgasms.


Hormones greatly influence sexual activity. Estrogen plays a small role in female sexuality. Hormones activate the body and brain during puberty to develop children into adults. They also influence sexual motivation, activating reproductive behaviour. Sex hormones are released from the gonads. Males have more androgens than females, who have more estrogens and progesterone. Androgens are more important for reproductive behaviour. The availability of a minimum level of testosterone allows for sexual arousal in both genders. Females with higher than average testosterone are more likely to have sexual intercourse.

Oxytocin is also released during sexual arousal and orgasm, promoting feelings of love and attachment. The hypothalamus is crucial to sexual behaviour.


The neurotransmitters involved in pleasure – dopamine and serotonin, are obviously involved in sexual pleasure, as well. Nitric oxide in the brain is also critical for sexual behaviour, increasing with sexual stimulation and promoting blood flow to the genitals.

Menstrual Cycle Variations

Women have hormonal cycles in which certain hormones occur at different times. Women process social information differently at different phases of their menstrual cycle. For instance, while ovulating, women prefer more masculine faces.

Visual Erotic Stimulation

Brain imaging studies have shown that viewing erotica activates reward structures in the men, though more for men who have high testosterone. Men show more activation of the amygdala than women when shown arousing images. Women, however, are more aroused when viewing erotica directed towards them, and their arousal level tends to vary with their menstrual cycle.

Cultural Scripts

Sexual scripts are cognitive beliefs about how a sexual encounter should go – who should make the first move, how people should act, whether both partners should enjoy it. Scripts differ according to culture. For instance, in cultures where marriages are arranged, this would not occur in the same pattern as in Westernized cultures.

Sexual Behaviour Regulation

Most changes in sexual behaviours are cultural pressures and changes in cultural expectations. One pattern of regulating sexual behaviour is the double standard, the idea that premarital and casual sex are more acceptable for men than women. Cultures may try to control sex for different reasons like paternity, birthrate, and conflict-reduction.

Sex Differences

Men, on average, are more sexually motivated than women are. The relative influence of nature and nurture on sexual motivation may vary with gender. Erotic plasticity is a term that refers to the extent to which sex drive is shaped by social, cultural, and situational factors. Women have been shown to have higher erotic plasticity than men, experiencing different sexual behaviours throughout their lifetime, dependent on their cultural and situation. The sexual strategies theory suggests that, having faced different reproductive challenges in evolution, the two sexes have evolved to have different sexual practices and tendencies.

The female strategy evolved to the intense care of relatively few infants, encouraging spacing pregnancies and discouraging sexual reproduction shortly after pregnancy. Men had no such sexual breaks and all matings could have desirable reproductive outcomes, encouraging them to get more women pregnant. Women are more likely to be cautious about having sex because of the commitment of offspring, so they are less willing to have sex with a stranger.

Mate Preference

Both sexes avoid insensitive, bad-mannered, loud/shrill, sexual braggarts. Women tend to value men who are honest, considerate, dependable, well-liked, ambitious, career oriented and tall. Men value good looks, cooking ability, and sexual faithfulness. Women tend to most of all value financial stability. Status is more important for women than good looks, though if the relationship is to be short term, looks are higher on the list.

Sexual Orientation

From an evolutionary standpoint, the fact that some people are homosexual has been hard to explain. Some theories suggest that they act as caring extra parents for the offspring of their siblings, giving them a better chance. For a long time, in Western cultures, homosexuality was considered deviant and even disordered. It was believed to be the result of unconventional gender roles in parenting. Overwhelmingly, however, studies disprove that environment has much to do with sexual orientation at all.

The Biology of Sexual Orientation

Every behaviour results from biological processes like gene expression that are influenced by environmental cues. Homosexual and heterosexual individuals show the same amounts of hormones circulating in their body, though it may be that androgens in the womb play some role in sexual orientation. Interestingly, homosexual men are more likely to have many older brothers, which may suggest gradual hormonal changes influencing sexual orientation. Gene expression may also be linked to sexual orientation. Twin studies show some support for a genetic component to homosexuality. Some research points to an area of the hypothalamus that might be implicated – it is smaller in gay men and straight women than in straight men and gay women. Again, however, the only evidence is correlational, so causation cannot be assumed.

Environmental Factors

There may also be some environmental factors related. For instance, children who feel like they don’t fit in with their peers may later come out as homosexual. Homosexual people tend to prefer the hobbies of their opposite sex peers, maybe because of biological differences in temperament.

Stability of Sexual Orientation

There is little empirical evidence that sexual orientation can be changed through therapy or other treatment. There is also no evidence that someone else’s sexual orientation can influence your own. Sexual orientation is not a choice; it is part of who people are. For those reasons, many countries allow homosexual people the same rights to express their sexuality as heterosexual people.

Which factors can influence the health of people? - Chapter 11 (5)


11.1 Psychosocial Factors and Health

Health psychology is a field of psychology dedicated to integrating research on health and psychology. In this field, knowledge of psychological principles is applied to promoting health and well-being. Well-being is a state that includes striving for optimal health and life satisfaction.

Biopsychosocial Model

The biopsychosocial model of health integrates the effects of biological, behavioural, and social factors on health and illness. Our thoughts and actions affect the environments we choose to interact with, and our environments influence how our biological foundations are expressed.

Behaviour and Death

Obesity, lack of exercise, smoking, high-fat diets, and certain personality traits all contribute to the leading causes of death. Many of the leading causes of premature death are the result of poor health choices and behaviour. Accidents are one of the leading causes of preventable deaths, due to carelessness. Behaviours like eating habits that are learned in childhood can cause detrimental effects like heart disease later in life. We are living in an age where disease, childbirth, and malnutrition are rarely the cause of death in Western cultures. As such, eyes have to turn to ways we can prevent the preventable deaths, which are on the rise.


The placebo effect describes how a person’s health will improve when given a fake treatment if they believe the treatment is real. A portion of the placebo effect is due to the reduction of anxiety, which causes our perceptions of how we feel to change. But the placebo effect is more than that. It has to do with the mind-body connection. The “pain wall” that allows us to feel pain is something that can be psychologically manipulated. When a placebo works, it is actually working to change how we feel pain, or if we feel pain.


Looking at recent statistics, it is not uncommon to find disparities in health worldwide. For example, even though the life expectancy for Americans has gone up in general, African Americans are still more likely to have a shorter life than Caucasian Americans. One factor that contributes to such disparities is genetic variation. Certain ethnicities are more susceptible to certain diseases. Furthermore, in a country like the United States, where racial biases are still present to prominent, people of some ethnicities may receive better care than others. In developing countries, the standard of healthcare is naturally different than in developed countries. Poorer countries, and thus, their citizens, often do not have access or the resources for adequate healthcare, leading to further disparities. Furthermore, differences in lifestyle also contribute to differences in health.


In the recent decades, it has become clear that obesity is a major problem when health is concerned. The Body Mass Index (BMI) scale measures the ration between one's weight and height. These scores are used to classify people into categories based on how overweight or underweight they are. Through many studies, it has been discovered that being slightly overweight according to the BMI scale is not as bad as it once was believed; people who are slightly overweight according to their BMI's live longer and are at lower risk for some diseases.

A large element of obesity is genetic. Heritability studies have found that the heritability of body weight is between 60 and 80 percent. Genetics may determine that a person can become obese in the right circumstances, and our environment has begun to present those right circumstances as the variety and portion sizes of food have increased.

The terms "overweight" and "obese" may be misleading with regard to health outcomes. Recent research has found that it is not someone's weight, but perhaps specific maladaptive eating habits that have a negative consequence on health. For example, eating large amounts of junk food or sugar increase one's risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a long list of risk factors for more serious diseases, such as high (unhealthy) cholesterol levels and insulin resistance. In light of the increase in obesity since the 1980's researchers have begun to investigate what makes people overeat or eat unhealthily.

One of the main reasons for overeating is an increase in the availability and variety of food. In a study using rats, it was found that rats that ate one type of food maintained a healthy and normal body weight, while those that were offered multiple types of food showed an increase in body weight. A steady increase in portion size, brought on by the idea that "more is better" in industrialised countries, is also a large contributing factor in the increase on obesity. Furthermore, one study found that obese individuals showed an increased in reward response when looking at tasty food than those of normal body weight. Additionally, it was found that close friends of the same sex tend to have similar body weights. This may be caused by changing one's perception on what "normal" is. These subtle cues, along withe the previously mentioned causes all lead to a worldwide increase in obesity.

While some cultures view obesity as a characteristic of wealth and pride, obesity is a condition that has been stigmatised in many Western cultures. People who are obese or overweight are often viewed as lazy, unattractive, less productive, and less intelligent than their peers of normal weight. In addition, people who perceive themselves as overweight or obese are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. In the industrialised world, where food is abundant, it is common for healthy, fresh foods to be much more expensive than cheaper, unhealthy foods. Therefore, it only makes sense that obesity in these cultures is associated with a lower socioeconomic standing. Furthermore, the media in certain cultures have depicted the "ideal woman" as thin, often thinner than what healthcare professionals would consider "healthy."

Restrictive Dieting

The body defends itself against weight loss. Body weight is regulated around a set point determined, in part, by genetic influence. Thus, when people try to gain weight, they often revert to their original set point. The same occurs when people try to lose weight. Rapid weight loss is associated with anxiety, depression, listlessness, and food obsession. The body responds to weight loss by slowing the metabolism and conserving energy. Weight regain occurs much faster than would make sense looking at calories alone.

People who frequently attempt to lose weight and bounce back are called yo-yo dieters. Over time, these people tend to actually gain more weight than when they started, as if their body has learned it needs to fend off starvation by conserving fat. Friends tend to have similar body weight, likely because of an unspoken agreement on what is considered an acceptable or normal weight.

Restrained Eating

Chronic dieters are sometimes characterized as restrained eaters. Restrained eaters are prone to excessive eating in some situations. If they believe that they have cheated on their diets, they abandon them. This is about perception – if the restricted dieter believes their food is low calorie (even if it isn’t), they won’t end up binge eating. Restrained eaters attempt to follow cognitive cues for eating instead of physical ones, which means that their diets will often be ruined if they lose their inhibitions.

Disordered Eating

Failing to lose weight is often blamed on lack of will-power. Repeated failures can have harmful physical and psychological effects, causing feelings of helplessness and dissatisfaction with body image. This can lead to extreme behaviours like excessive exercise, drugs, fasting, and purging, becoming an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by an excessive fear of becoming fat leading to a refusal to eat. People with anorexia will view themselves as fat even if they are grossly underweight. Medical intervention is often needed to prevent these people from starvation. One of the biggest medical problems is a loss of bone density and extreme risk of death by starvation. People with bulimia nervosa alternate between dieting and binge eating. Binge-eating tends to occur secretly, followed by “purging”, in the form of self-induced vomiting or laxatives. Bulimia is seldom fatal, but associated with heart and teeth problems. Binge-eating disorder involves regular binge-eating that doesn’t lead to purging. People with this disorder tend to be obese. Eating disorders tend to run in families, either due to genetics or environmental learning.


Most smokers begin in childhood or early adolescence, often between 11 and 17. About half of people who start at this age will continue smoking as adults and 1/3 will die because of it. There has, in the last decades, been a decrease in smoking initiation. Smoking causes health problems from heart disease to respiratory ailments and cancer. It costs money for smokers and for public health services. Social influences tend to be the leading cause of smoking initiation, as people see their parents or friends smoke and associate it with being “cool”, “adult”, or “normal”. Smokers tend to overestimate the amount of people who smoke. This incorrect estimation may lead adolescents to feel it is how they can fit in. People who see smoking as related to positive qualities like being tough or sociable will be more likely to start. People who begin smoking casually tend to become addicted to nicotine. Once this dependency occurs, smokers will go through unpleasant withdrawal symptoms without cigarettes.


People who exercise regularly have been shown to have better health outcomes. Aside from the obvious physical benefits, psychological research has shown that exercise may be related to enhanced memory and cognition. One study found that exercise physically enlarges the brain, with a large amount of growth occurring in the hippocampi, a region of the brain involved with learning and memory. Additionally, studies with memory and cognition tasks done in seniors shows that regular exercise may slow cognitive decline.

11.2 Coping with Stress

There are different types of stress. Stress involves a stressor (an external environment or force that puts pressure on the individual) and one’s response to that stressor (stress or distress). Distress is stress that is harmful, while eustress is positive and beneficial. Acute stress is short-term and intense, while chronic stress is enduring and detrimental. Stress is determined partly by one’s appraisal of an event, and their appraisal of their personal resources with which they can cope with the event. A good person-environment fit means that the individual will experience little stress. Major life stressors are changes that strain central areas of a person’s life.

The life events theory examines stress and stress-related changes in response to life experiences. The schedule of recent experiences (SRE) provides a long list of possible life events and asks the subject to choose which have occurred to them recently. Links were shown between SREs and health status, and more sophisticated measurements were later developed. On the other hand, daily hassles, minor day-to-day stressors, can pose a threat to coping by slowly wearing down personal resources.

The Physiology of Stress

Stress causes activation of the sympathetic nervous system, possibly resulting in blood clot formation, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, irregular heartbeats, fat deposits, the formation of plaque, and immunosuppression. It activates a chain of events known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. HPA activation results in the prolonged production of cortisol, decreasing immune function and damaging neurons in the hippocampus. This can increase the likelihood of infection. Stress can influence health and illness physically and behaviourally. Stress behaviours like smoking can have further negative effects on illness. Chronic stress can also impact long-term memory, as cortisol can damage neurons in areas of the brain important for memory storage.

Sex Differences in Coping

The fight or flight model of stress was developed by Cannon. It suggests that external threats elicit a natural reaction that occurs in other animals – we ready ourselves to either fight or run away. Cannon considered this to be potentially adaptive, though detrimental if chronic. This has been criticized on the grounds that most stress research on the fight or flight model was done using male participants. Taylor and colleagues argued that females tend towards a tend and befriend response. This makes evolutionary sense because of the fact that the female often took care of the infant. In times of stress, quieting and hiding their infant would be safer than trying to run away with them. Befriending would allow them to get help against the threat, or turn the threatening situation into a neutral one. Research has found that oxytocin, the bonding hormone, is high in distressed women, but not in distressed men. This is a biological explanation for the gender difference in stress response.

General Adaptation Syndrome

Selye’s general adaptation syndrome (GAS) described three stages of stress upon encountering a stressor:

  1. Alarm: I must prepare, and resist this stressor!
  2. Resistance: Coping and resisting the stressor.
  3. Exhaustion: Coping didn’t work, I’m exhausted, I give up!

11.3 Effects of Stress on Health

People with stressful jobs, like air traffic controllers, soldiers, and tax collectors, tend to have health problems associated with chronic stress. Chronic stress is associated with diseases from cancer to AIDS to cardiac disease. People often cope with stress by smoking, overeating, drinking, drugs, or other habits that further damage health.

Immune System

Selye emphasizes the impact of stress on the immune system, the body’s mechanism for dealing with invading microorganisms like allergens, bacteria, and viruses. The field of psychoneuroimmunology studies how the body’s immune system responds to psychological variables. Short-term stress boosts the immune system while chronic stress weakens it. The effects of long-term stress are partially due to decreased lymphocyte production which makes it harder to ward off foreign substances.

Heart Disease

Coronary heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the Western world. This is likely because of the three main risk factors for coronary heart disease: lack of exercise, obesity, and smoking. Arteries leading to the heart become blocked up with fatty deposits as people age, making them narrower and making it harder for blood to flow. This is the direct cause of coronary heart disease. Stress and negative emotions increase the risk by encouraging poor health choices like overeating, smoking, and drinking. Over time, stress causes wear and tear of the heart, increasing its chance of failure. Personality may also impact the heart. Studies have shown that a certain set of personality traits (which make up the type A behaviour pattern) negatively impact heart health. People with this pattern are competitive, achievement-oriented, aggressive, hostile, impatient, and time-pressed. In the past 50 years, research has suggested that only certain components of Type A are related to heart disease. The most toxic factor is hostility- the tendency to be angry, cynical, and combative. Learning to manage stress and anger can help people cope with heart disease and improve.

The Coping Process

Coping is a process with which we deal with life’s stressors. We use cognitive appraisals of these stressors in coping. Lazarus suggested a two-part appraisal process – primary appraisals involve deciding whether something is stressful, benign, or irrelevant. Secondary appraisals involve evaluating our options on how we can respond.

Types of Coping

Anticipatory coping is when we steel ourselves for an event we know will be stressful, often through rehearsal. One model is problem-focused versus emotion-focused coping. Problem-focused coping involves attempting to take action to reduce the demands of the stressor and increase management ability. Emotion-focused coping involves managing the emotions evoked by the event. These two forms of coping can manifest in both adaptive and maladaptive ways. Factors that influence which form is used include the type of problem (work vs. relationship problems). Age has an impact – adolescents and older people tend to use emotion-focused coping while middle-aged people tend to use problem-focused coping. There is debate whether gender is a factor. How we choose to cope with stress depends on our own personal resources and on the situation itself. The belief that a problem is controllable tends to lead to problem-focused coping, of course. Finally, resources like money, family, and education have an impact. Emotion-based coping is usually only useful in the short run. In addition to problem-focused coping, people can use positive reappraisal. This involves focusing on the good things in one’s situation. There is also downward comparison, in which the individual looks at others who are worse off so that their own situation doesn’t seem so bad.

Individual Differences in Coping

People differ in their perceptions. Some people are more stress resistant because they view events more constructively. This trait is called hardiness. Hardiness consists of commitment, challenge, and control. People who are committed to their life tasks tend to see problems as challenges, and feel that they have the power to control their situation. People high in hardiness use more coping strategies, more effectively. In the face of stress, they increase their positive thoughts. People high in emotional resilience will not only be slower to stress, they will also bounce back quicker when presented with a stressful situation.

Family-Focused Interventions

In dealing with illness and pain, it is sometimes the case that family members are brought into the treatment plan. This is often not effective, as the patient feels controlled by the family members, rather than assisted. A sense of control over your own life is important for well-being. Family intervention only works when the family promotes autonomy by motivating the patient to make his/her own health decisions, modeling healthy behaviours, providing rewards, and pointing out positive consequences of self-care.

11.4 Positive Thinking and Health

Positive Psychology and Well-Being

The positive psychology movement encourages the scientific study of faith, values, creativity, courage, and hope. The goal was originally to find out what causes happiness. They found it has three components: positive emotion, engagement in life, and meaningfulness. New directions in positive psychology seek to understand feelings of general wellbeing, rather than just happiness. Well-being varies across cultures, often higher in wealthier countries. According to the broaden-and-build model, positive emotions allow people to consider new approaches to their problems. This helps resilient people not experience stress. Positive emotions have a positive effect on health, with beneficial effects on the immune system and greater longevity.

Social Support and Good Health

Social interaction has a great deal of influence on health. A strong social network is key to well-being, and even to longevity, independently of other factors. Support helps people cope with life stressors and maintain health, by lowering overall stress, providing actual physical assistance, and increasing positive emotions of acceptance. The buffering hypothesis suggests that emotional support acts as a buffer against troubles.


Marriage, one of the most long-lasting and intimate relationships, is positively correlated with longevity and overall well-being. Married people encourage each other’s health and support each other in times of stress. This fact exists cross-culturally and cross-gender. The benefits of being married rather than divorced are slightly higher in collectivist countries. Troubled marriages, however, can cause added stress with increased hostility.


Trust is essential to most healthy relationships. People who believe others can be trusted tend to score higher in scales of well-being. Oxytocin increases trust, and strengthens social bonds.


Many religions encourage personal health, trust, and well-being. Faith can provide some people with a sense of meaning and positive emotions.

What is the psychology on the social life? - Chapter 12 (5)


12.1 Group Membership and Social Identity Theory

Belonging to a group is important to us in a social context. According to social identity theory, we tend to be closely connected to our own in-group, fiercely loyal and even willing to die for what we consider to be our group. Groups to which we don’t belong are called out-groups. Our group memberships are important to our sense of identity and self. We tend to take part of our self-esteem from our group’s esteem. We are predisposed to be wary of people we consider to be outside our group. This in-group/out-group behaviour begins early in development. We tend to see people belonging to out-groups as more homogenous than in-group members. In practice, this leads to discrimination and preferential treatment. We favor in-groups because, evolutionarily speaking, that was an adaptive advantage.

Social Facilitation

When the presence of others enhances our performance, this is called social facilitation. This likely occurs because others are associated with the rewards and punishments we receive. Interestingly, social facilitation only occurs when the task is relatively easy to perform. If it is difficult, our performance will actually diminish when others are around.

Social Loafing

Social loafing occurs when people work less hard in a group than they would if working alone. This happens because responsibility becomes diffused, and people feel they can expend less effort. However, if they believe they are individually monitored for their effort, they do not engage in loafing.


De-individuation occurs when people lose their individuality through their group membership. People can become less self-aware and not pay attention to personal morals and standards. When this self-awareness disappears, self-restraint leaves with it. This occurs when a group diffuses responsibility among many, and the person is aroused and feels anonymous. This explains riot and mob behaviour. Sometimes it’s good – people doing the wave at a football event or dancing silly at a wedding may be experiencing de-individuation.

Group Decisions and Groupthink

Research has shown that groups often make more extremely risky decisions than individuals do, in a phenomenon known as the risky shift effect. On the opposite end, groups can also be more cautious and conservative than individuals. Initial attitudes determine whether the group leans towards risky or cautious – this is called group polarization. If group members are overly concerned with maintaining group cohesiveness, they may end up succumbing to groupthink, an extreme form of polarization that results in poor decisions. This occurs most easily in groups that are under pressure, especially external threats, and groups that are biased in a particular direction. Not all information is taken into consideration, dissention is discouraged, and group members reassure each-other. Groupthink can be challenged by encouraging discord and dissonance, assigning a devil’s advocate to challenge decisions, and carefully examining outside opinions.


Conformity is another powerful social influence. In order to “fit in”, people conform to the standards and opinions of others. Normative influence is when we conform in order not to look foolish, and informational influence is when we assume that the crowd’s behaviour represents the correct way to respond in whatever situation. In an emergency situation, even if we are not aware of the specific danger, we are likely to follow the people running for the exit. People will conform to the opinion of the group when assessing a subjective stimulus. However, they will also conform when assessing an objective stimulus, assuming that they themselves must be wrong, or that they would look foolish if they spoke out against the group.

Social Norming

Social norms are the expected standards of behavioural conduct. For instance, that being late for a meeting is frowned upon is because the social norm of punctuality has been violated. Being late for a party, however, is not frowned upon, because in such a case, lateness is considered cool. Social norms are rules that explain how we should act in any given situation. People tend to conform to social norms. Lack of unanimity diminishes conformity. Dissenters, however, tend to be poorly treated in groups, often to the point that they are rejected.

Marketing Norms

Taking advantage of people’s desire to conform, marketing can target social norms and reinforce ideas of what is normal. A campaign that says “most teenagers drink fewer than 6 drinks at a party” may decrease the drinking of binge-drinking teenagers, but increase the drinking of light drinkers.


When we do what someone requests of us, we are being compliant. A good mood can contribute to compliance. We may also comply because, in avoiding conflict, we respond before fully considering our options. The foot-in-the-door effect occurs when, after fulfilling a small request, we feel compelled to comply with a larger, less desirable request. This, in a way, reduces cognitive dissonance, because they follow the course of action they committed to. Another technique is the door-in-the-face technique, in which people are more likely to fulfill a small request after refusing a large one. The low-balling technique is when a salesmen and a customer agree on a very low price, then the salesman later ups the price significantly. Having already agreed and made the decision to buy, the customer will feel obligated to stick with that decision.


Obedience is continuous compliance to the requests or orders of an authority figure. Obedience was studied in the famous Milgram experiment. In the Milgram experiment, the subject is brought in and given what they think is the arbitrary role of “teacher”, while a second person (pretending to be a subject) is given the role of “learner”. The learner is strapped into a chair and electrodes are taped to his wrists. The subject is told that the learner will receive a shock at every wrong answer, and the learner mentions he or she has a heart condition. The subject is then moved to an adjacent room in which they can communicate with the learner through an intercom. The subject is instructed to perform quick tests of verbal memory, and administrate shocks after every wrong answer, gradually increasing the degree. As you administer the shocks, the learner shouts into the intercom, more and more frantic. At the highest level of shocks, the learner screams with pain and exclaims that he cannot handle more, but the experimenter prompts the subject to continue onwards. While the subject tends to believe the learner is suffering, most subjects go on when prompted up to the maximum voltage, even while pleading with the experimenter to let them stop.

Social psychologists have come up with a number of explanations to why people obey authority:

  • Society trains people to obey legitimate authorities and play by the rules. This is the norm of obedience.
  • Obedience is often based on an assumption that the person giving the orders is in control and responsible for the outcome. The more self-assured and confident the authority seems to be, the more obedient the subject would be
  • The physical proximity of the experimenter and the distance of the learner are important factors in the obedience of the subject in Milgram’s experiment
  • Without an alternative model as to how to behave, people follow the only one provided when a situation is stressful and unfamiliar
  • Because the shocks were given incrementally, to stop later on would be to admit that all previous shocks were also wrong.

12.2 Helping and Hurting


Aggression includes any behaviour expressed with the intent to hurt someone else. In most mammals, especially primates, males are more violent than females. Female aggression is directed at protecting the young and securing resources, while male aggression are more easily aggressive and more prone to killing. Male fighting is often over sexual matters, or to gain power and status in a group. Men in every culture are more likely to maim or kill than women. Sexual jealousy is among the main motives for murder. Male violence is also directed towards the gaining of power, and the control of women. Children are more likely to be violent than adults, who instead have learned to use words and symbols as threatening or intimidating weapons.

Biology of Aggression

Damaging certain brain areas and altering brain chemistry can both alter the level of aggression displayed. The septum, amygdala, and hypothalamus regions are most important. Damage to the amygdala, for instance, causes Klüver-Bucy syndrome, in which aggressiveness pretty much disappears, as does fear. Serotonin is especially important in the control of aggressive behaviours – low serotonin is associated with higher rates of violence towards the self and others. Decreased serotonin may decrease decision-making in the face of social threat and danger. Drugs that enhance serotonin tend to lead to more cooperativeness and less hostility.

Situational Factors

According to the frustration-aggression hypothesis, the more frustrated a person feels, the more aggressive they tend to be. If, for instance, we are impeded from getting where we want to go, we may feel angry and aggressive. According to the cognitive-neoassociationistic model, frustration leads to aggression by eliciting negative emotions. Other situations that elicit negative emotions, like fear or pain, can also lead to aggression.

Social-Cultural Factors

Violence varies dramatically across cultures and across time. For instance, Sweden was very violent 300 years ago, but is now one of the most peaceful countries. This has nothing to do with genetics – aggression is expressed differently based on the social norms and culture around it. Some cultures might be more violent because they have a culture of honour, a belief system in which men are primed to protect their reputations through physical aggression. The Southern states of America have a stronger culture of honour than the North, leading to a marked difference in aggression levels.


Steroids have the tendency to increase random and strong expressions of aggression (roid rage). One steroid is testosterone, which enhances muscle growth, and is illegally used by many athletes. Adolescent males are especially violent and rough when they experience a sudden spike in testosterone. There is some evidence that testosterone increases violence by reducing activity in impulse control regions of the brain. Testosterone, however, may be the result rather than the case of aggression. Situations may change testosterone levels. For example, testosterone levels increase in both the players and the fans of an athletic competition. This suggests that testosterone might instead be associated with social dominance, which in turn affects aggression. Since correlation does not equal causation, the direction of the relationship remains unclear.

Helping Behaviour

Helping (pro-social behaviour) is any behaviour that increases the survival chance or reproductive capacity of another individual. This includes cooperation and altruism. Cooperation is when one helps another while they help themselves. It occurs often in the animal world, as there are many advantages to cooperation in social living, and a greater chance of survival in a cooperative group. Altruism is when and individual helps another while decreasing their own survival chance. While less common, altruism occurs in many species. It has been suggested by some that pro-social behaviours are actually have selfish motives – we are nice to others because it manipulates others into being nice to us. However, there is evidence that pro-social behaviour is inborn – we don’t just learn to be pro-social because the behaviour is rewarded.

Why is there Altruism?

The kin selection theory of altruism states that altruism preferentially helps close relatives that are genetically similar, thus allowing the genes, if not the individual, a greater chance of survival. In cases in which there is a great enough chance that strangers are in some way related, altruism may happen as often outside of the family. The reciprocity theory accounts for even non-kin altruism. In this theory, altruism is a way of encouraging long-term cooperation and return benefits. Humans have a very strong drive to return help that is given to them – gratitude towards others, pride when returning a favour, guilt when failing to return help, and anger when another fails to return our help.

Bystander Apathy

The more witnesses there are to a crime or an accident, the less likely each witness is to help. This is partly due to the diffusion of responsibility – each person feels like someone else might help out and they are less responsible to do so. It also has to do with conformity – if someone trips and twists their ankle, you will look to the people around you to see whether they move to help. If not, you might question whether it is really the emergency you thought it might be, and thus remain inactive to avoid looking foolish.

If bystanders know each other well or if they show signs of distress, helping is more likely.

12.3 Attitudes

Attitude Formation

Attitudes are the evaluations people form about objects, events, people, and ideas. We have attitudes about trivial things like the best brand of chips to big things like politics and morality. The more we are exposed to something, the more we tend to like it. For instance, people tend to like their mirror image better than a photograph of themselves because it is more familiar to them. This is the mere exposure effect. Classical conditioning helps build attitudes by associating objects with other things we like or dislike. Operant conditioning builds attitudes by associating objects with reward or punishment. Attitudes are also shaped through social learning – we learn many of our values and preferences from our caregivers, peers, and media figures. Culture plays a large role.

Behavioural Consistency

Attitudes are more likely to predict behaviour if they are stronger and more personally relevant. People are more defensive of their strong and personal attitudes. Attitudes that are specific and directly informed by personal experience tend to be most predictive. Attitude accessibility is the ease or difficulty with which a person can retrieve their attitude from memory – those that can be easily retrieved are more stable and predictive of behaviour.

Implicit and Explicit Attitudes

Attitudes are explicit if you are consciously aware of and can articulate them. Implicit attitudes are more subtle, and can sometimes contradict what our explicit attitudes are. For instance, many people believe they have a positive attitude towards minorities but still show fear responses when surprised with images of minorities versus of their own racial profile. Implicit attitudes influence feelings and behaviour almost as much as explicit attitudes do. The Implicit Association Test (IAT) was designed to measure implicit attitudes by looking at reaction times to opposing stimuli.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable state of mind that occurs when a person behaves in a way that is counter to their own attitudes, or holds two contradictory attitudes at once. For instance, someone who knows smoking will kill them and dislikes the idea of smoking will experience cognitive dissonance while smoking. Cognitive dissonance theory assumes that dissonance causes anxiety and tension, motivating people to reduce dissonance. People can reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, changing their behaviour, or rationalizing/trivializing the discrepancy.

Post-Decisional Dissonance

Post-decisional dissonance comes after a decision is made. The individual will, having made the decision, reduce dissonance by focusing on the positive elements of their choice and the negative elements of the alternatives. This is automatic and even occurs when the choice was the wrong one.

Insufficient Justification

Research has found that one way to change people’s attitudes is to first change their behaviours using minimal incentives.

Justifying Effort

When people put themselves through embarrassing, painful, or uncomfortable ordeals in order to join a group, they experience a great deal of dissonance as they attempt to justify their behaviour. With all that effort, it must be worth it, right? The group’s importance is inflated as a result. This, in some ways, helps explain why some people join and stay in cults.


Persuasion is an active effort to change a person’s attitude. This is usually done by expressing a new message that is listened to, understood, memorable, and convincing. A message is more persuasive when it comes from a trusted source (who is attractive and credible), when the content of the message is strongly argued and rhetorically persuasive. A one-sided argument will work on an already-won audience (preaching to the choir), or a gullible audience. If the crowd is skeptical, a persuasive argument will be one that acknowledges both sides. According to the elaboration likelihood model, persuasive communication takes two possible routes to changing attitude. The first is the central route, in which the audience is consciously paying attention to the arguments, considering the information, and following a rational cognitive process. The second route is the peripheral route, in which people only minimally process the message. This can lead to impulsive choices. For instance, the attractiveness of the person making the argument can lead to a temporary adoption of the desired attitude.

12.4 Forming Impressions of Others

Non-Verbal Cues

People make quick judgments of others based on a number of factors. This is adaptive – it allows us to swiftly establish the intentions of others and possible threats or advantages presented by them. The first hint is nonverbal behaviour, the facial expressions, gestures, mannerisms, and movements of the other person. People can make accurate judgments based on a few seconds of observation of nonverbal cues. Juries can tell what judges believe, people can tell whether someone is a good teacher by watching them lecture for a few seconds, without sound. How we walk, our gait, shows whether we are cheerful sad, angry, gay or straight.

Facial Expressions

It is ingrained in us to seek out facial expressions as the most essential non-verbal communication clue. Eye contact is important, though its use varies culturally – in some cultures, it’s viewed as a sign of honesty. In others, it’s viewed as a sign of disrespect.


We try to explain the behaviour of other people by making attributions about their intent. We want the world to be predictable and orderly. According to the just world hypothesis, people try to explain violence by attributing blame to the victim. Attributions of “deserving it” make mistreatment seem more justified.

Attributional Dimensions

There are two distinct types of attributions. The first are personal attributions, which are explanations based on internal elements like disposition (He cut me off because he’s mean!). Situational attributions, on the contrary, are explanations based on the situation or environmental factors (He cut me off because he had a bad day at work). Attributions can also be stable over time or unstable (temporary). They can be controllable or uncontrollable.

Attributional Biases

We tend to have a self-serving bias when making attributions about our own behaviour. If we fail a test, we blame the teacher. If we pass a test, we credit our own intelligence. People suffering from depression tend to lose this self-serving bias, attributing all bad things in their lives to internal causes. On the other hand, we tend to overemphasize internal traits when making attributions about the behaviour of others. This is called the fundamental attribution error. We tend not to take social and environmental factors into account when explaining other people’s behaviour. Correspondence bias is our tendency to expect other people to have the same values and beliefs as we do.

Actor/observer discrepancy refers to the fundamental attribution error.


Stereotypes are mental shortcuts with which we categorize people, saving time when we meet new people or interact with others. They are a heuristic. Some stereotypes are based in truth. In and of themselves they are neutral. However, once we make stereotyped categories, they affect our impressions of people from other groups than our own. Stereotypes guide our attention towards information that confirms them and away from information that would prove them wrong. Our biases towards maintaining stereotypes lead us to believe that they are truer than they are. They colour our attributions – we may attribute a white man’s success to his hard work and a black man’s success to his luck. When we meet someone who doesn’t fit into a stereotype, we don’t change that stereotype. We just give that person a subtype.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

A self-fulfilling prophecy occurs because people tend to behave in ways that confirm their own or other’s expectations about them. Teachers who expect a certain child may be especially talented will tend to spend more time with the child, resulting in better results from that child. Negative self-fulfilling prophecies also exist. If everyone expects you to fail, you may not try as hard and you might just fail. Stereotype threat is the influence of stereotypes on performance and behaviour. It involves three interrelated mechanisms- the stress of the stereotype affects prefrontal functioning. People tend to think about their performance when aware of a stereotype, which interrupts flow. Finally, in an attempt to suppress negative emotions, mental effort is allocated to the wrong places.


Prejudice is the negative feelings, opinions, and beliefs associated with a stereotype. Acting upon prejudice is discrimination- the inappropriate and unjustified treatment of people as a result of prejudice. Stereotypes often lead to prejudice and discrimination because people can be used as scapegoats to relieve tension and blame in one’s personal life. By blaming others or putting them down, we make ourselves feel better.

Stereotypes Affect Perception

Stereotypes can influence basic perceptual processes. For instance, studies have shown that police officers are more likely to misidentify a suspect as holding a gun when that suspect is black than white. Training can help reduce racial bias in deciding when to shoot, overriding the stereotypes.

Inhibiting Stereotypes and their Effects

Many people don’t think they succumb to stereotyping and don’t want to, either. However, it often occurs without our intent. It tends to be subtle and pervasive. People can override their stereotypes and act in nondiscriminatory ways. We consciously alter our stereotypes based on new information when we are aware of our tendency to stereotype.

Cooperation as a Solution

Strategies that promote the cooperation of in-group and out-group members have been shown to reduce prejudice and in-group biases. Essentially, these strategies expand the definition of the group. Only certain goal-directed behaviours work with this strategy – they must be towards superordinate goals that positively impact everyone.

12.5 Relationships

Situational and Personal Factors

How to we develop relationships? Well, there is some research that shows that proximity is very important. The more people come into contact with one another, the more likely they are to be attracted to one another as friends. This might have to do with our desire for familiarity and fear of the different. Familiarity can also breed contempt – if we find, through experience, that the person we are frequently in contact with is very different from ourselves.


We like people who have similar attitudes, backgrounds, interests, personalities, looks, age, sex, and race as our own. The matching principle describes the tendency for people to be attracted to others who look like themselves.


In choosing friends and lovers alike, people prefer those who are physically attractive and have admirable personality characteristics. The least likable characteristics include dishonesty, insincerity and coldness. The most likeable are kindness, dependability, and trustworthiness. People like others who are competent yet make humanizing mistakes.


Studies have found that people find faces that are averages of other people’s facial features as more attractive. This might be, again, a matter of liking what is familiar. People find symmetry more attractive (possibly due to adaptiveness), and people who are bi-racial are more likely to have facial symmetry. Being attractive can be advantageous – you are more easily trusted, rated as happier, more intelligent, more sociable, capable, and successful than people who are unattractive. Attractive people are paid more for doing the same work and get better opportunities. From infancy onwards, people prefer attractive faces. Attractive people are similar to unattractive people in terms of self-esteem and life-satisfaction, possibly because they learn not to trust how people treat them, as it is often based on looks alone.


There has been a distinction made between passionate love and compassionate love. Passionate love involves intense longing and sexual desire, often thought of as the “infatuation” period early in relationships. As relationships endure, love develops into compassionate love, based on intimacy, trust, respect, and friendship. One theory suggests that the attachment style learned in infancy will determine how romantic relationships are developed later in life.

For instance, secure attachment styles lead to healthy relationships. Insecure attachment styles lead to distrust and discomfort in relationships. People with ambivalent attachment styles are described as clingy and worry that their lovers are bound to leave them.

Idealization and Love

People tend to be biased towards having positive views of their romantic partner, allowing them to reconcile the conflicting thoughts of “I love this person” and “he/she can be so annoying!” Paying too much attention to a lover’s flaws or bad behaviour can make it hard to stay in love, but positive illusions help protect against that. We try to paint our lover’s behaviour in a more positive light.

Staying in Love

Passion in relationships tends to rise in the beginning, then decline over time. This can lead to eventual dissolution of the relationship if other forms of trust and intimacy are not nurtured. Many marriages fail, and many that don’t fail continue as unhappy marriages. Some partners take each other for granted and criticize each other openly. Staying in love can be difficult.

Conflict Resolution

Some conflict will occur even with the best relationships, because it allows people to confront and deal with important issues. Four interpersonal styles that lead to discord and dissolution include being overly critical, holding the partner in contempt, being defensive, and mentally withdrawing from the relationship. Better ways to resolve conflict involve expressing concern when disagreeing, remaining calm, trying to see the others’ point of view, and being playful.

Attributional Style

Happy couples also tend to either overlook bad behaviour or respond constructively, in a process called accommodation. Happy couples tend to attribute bad behaviour to situational factors and good to the personal attributes of the other. Unhappy couples do the opposite.

How does psychology view personality? - Chapter 13 (5)


13.1 Personality

Personality is a person’s general style of interacting with the world and other people. It is what makes one person unique from another. A personality trait is a stable predisposition to behave in a certain way. Traits are personal and consistent, based on the person and not on the situation. States of motivation and emotion, on the other hand, are temporary. Traits exist as dimensions on which people differ by degree. Personality is a dynamic system – it is goal-seeking, sensitive to context, and adaptive to one’s environment. While psychological, it also rises from physiological systems like genes and neurochemistry. Yet it is also characteristic, and relatively stable.

Genetic Roots

Genes, brain structure, and neurochemistry all play a role in determining personality. Like all things, the expression of these biological aspects of personality is influenced by the environmental influences a person comes into contact with. There is evidence of a genetic root for nearly all personality traits, shown especially in twin studies. Genetic influence accounts for roughly half the variance of personality traits in individuals.

Adoption Studies and Personality

Adoption studies have been used to test the genetic basis of personality by looking at what traits two children of different genetics express when raised in the same household. Results have shown that home environment may not be as important as genetics in personality. That being said, some differences may be attributed to differing environmental influences outside the home.

The Genes Responsible

While research has found a genetic component to a number of personality traits, It hasn’t located many specific genes. Furthermore, genetic expression is influenced by environmental factors. It may be the chance combination of genes that produce an individual with a unique personality.

Temperaments in Infancy

Biological differences in personality are also called temperaments – general tendencies to feel or act in certain ways in certain situations. These are all-encompassing, beyond traits. They are the biological basis of personality. Temperament has been split into three personality characteristics:

  • Activity level: how much energy a person exhibits.
  • Emotionality: how intense a person’s emotional reactions are.
  • Sociability: how much people need to affiliate with others. People high in sociability are more likely to move to a big city or move far from home. People high in activity levels are more likely to move to new locations. People high in emotionality are more likely to move closer to their hometowns. There are also strong sex differences in average temperament – girls tend to have stronger control over their impulses, while boys are more physically active.

Long-Term Tendencies of Infant Temperaments

Research has found that early temperaments have a large effect on behaviour and personality in a person’s long-term development. If a child is found to be inhibited/shy in temperament, they are more likely to be anxious or depressed in early adulthood. About ¼ of inhibited children learn, through environmental and parental influence, to be less inhibited and shy later in childhood, when their parents support them and create calm environments. Shyness varies across cultures.

Animal Personalities

Animals might display personal differences within their species that might be analogous for what has evolved into human personality. Intensive studies of hyenas, and later other animals, have been able to identify simplified versions of the Big Five traits among individual animals. This was especially true in traits like extraversion, neuroticism, and agreeableness. Of all types of animals studied, only chimpanzees showed conscientiousness.

13.2 Theories of Personality

Psychodynamic Theories

Freud coined the term psychoanalysis to refer to his method of talking therapy and to his theory of personality. His was the first of what are now known as psychodynamic theories, which suggest that people are often unaware of their motives and that defense mechanisms work to keep unacceptable thoughts out of the consciousness.

Unconscious Conflicts

According to this model, the preconscious level involves content that is not currently in our awareness but could be called up. The unconscious level contains material not in our awareness that cannot easily be retrieved. In order to understand people’s actions, problems and personalities, Freud argued that you must first understand their unconscious. This is done through careful analysis of hidden cues in behaviour and speech. The least logical responses would provide the best clues.

Structural Model

Freud’s basic model of the human mind was a structural one, containing three main structures, the id, superego, and ego. The id is the most basic, driving us to seek pleasure and avoid pain. The force of pleasure seeking he called the libido. The second structure is the superego. The superego is sort of like the conscience, keeping the id in check. The id develops in childhood and is the internalized version of the parental role. The third structure is the ego, our conscious mind that operates on the reality principle. With the ego, we are able to think rationally and solve problems.

Defense Mechanisms

Freud thought that the ego copes with anxiety using various defense mechanisms. Anna Freud developed the concept of defense mechanisms more thoroughly than her father. They are as follows:

  • Repression: Anxiety producing thoughts are pushed out of the conscious mind, “bottled up” until they might spill out and reveal themselves through distortions.
  • Displacement: An unconscious drive that cannot be fulfilled is redirected towards a more acceptable alternative. A desire for the intimacy of breastfeeding might manifest in the tendency to take up smoking or overeating.
  • Sublimation: A type of displacement in which the drive is redirected to creative or socially useful purposes. An aggressive person might become a lawyer or a competitive runner.
  • Reaction formation: The conversion of a frightening desire into its safer opposite. Someone who is highly homophobic might actually have frightening sexual desires towards the same sex and overcompensate by becoming homophobic.
  • Projection: A person consciously experiences a desire or drive as if it is someone else’s.
  • Rationalization: The use of reasoning to explain away undesired thoughts and feelings.

Psychosexual Development

Freud believed that personality develops through the conflicts of the id, ego, and superego, in the five maturational stages of psychosexual development. The first three stages were considered crucial to development. Failure to receive the correct amount of gratification at any stage would lead to a fixation that would influence adult behaviour. These stages are as follows:

  1. Oral: Mouth-oriented gratification such as sucking or biting. Lack of gratification can lead to adult issues such as nail-biting, smoking, etc.
  2. Anal: Gratification comes from expelling and withholding feces. A fixation at this stage can result in either extreme orderliness or messiness in adult behaviour.
  3. Phallic: The child becomes attracted to their parent of the opposite sex and aggressive to their parent of the same sex. For females, this is the Electra complex, for males, this is the Oedipus complex.
  4. Latency: A period of emotional and intellectual calm in middle childhood.
  5. Genital: Repressed sexual urges come to the forefront as the child reaches adulthood, and are realized in ‘healthy’ relationships.

Psychodynamics after Freud

A number of other psychologists have since modified Freud’s ideas towards their own psychodynamic theories, including Carl Jung, Alfred Alder, and Karen Horney. Each rejects certain aspects of Freud’s work while focusing more on other areas. Contemporary neo-Freudians look more at social interactions and at object relations theory. Freud’s core theories have mostly been rejected and he is considered a reflection of the era in which he lived. His work, however, serves as the basis for many psychological approaches.

Humanistic Approaches

Humanistic approaches emphasize personal experience, belief systems, and the inherent goodness and uniqueness of the person. They seek to help us reach a state of personal growth and self-understanding called self-actualization. The most well-known humanist is Carl Rogers, who had what he called a person-centered approach. He emphasized how people subjectively understand their lives and believed in the importance of parental unconditional positive regard.

Learning & Cognition

Behaviourists, contrary to humanists and psycho-dynamists, viewed personality as resulting from learning alone. Later, cognitive psychologists argued that this was too simple a view, suggesting that cognition has a great deal to do with it. People build their own views and understandings about their circumstances. These personal constructs develop our personalities. Julian Rotter expanded this, suggesting that behaviour is a function of our expectancies for reinforcement and the values we ascribe to reinforcers. He also suggested that people differ in how much they believe their actions can impact events. People with an internal locus of control feel that they have significant control, while people with an external locus of control feel that things just happen, or are fated to happen. Cognition and learning theories came together to form cognitive-social theories of personality. Albert Bandura, for example, saw our cognitions as interacting with our environment to influence behaviour. Walter Mischel developed a cognitive-affective personality system (CAPS), which suggested that our personalities do not necessarily predict all of our behaviour. Our responses are influenced by our perceptions and emotions. For instance, defensive pessimists expect to fail and dread being tested, but will be positively surprised when they do well. The CAPS model emphasizes self-regulatory capacities, our ability to set goals and evaluate progress.

Trait Approaches

Trait approaches seek ways to describe behavioural dispositions. The goal of trait theories is to establish clear personality dimensions which can be used to summarize the fundamental psychological differences between people. Implied are personality types, categorized on the assumption that certain traits go hand-in-hand. Traits are more often the focus of personality research. These aspects of personality types exist on dimensions. People fall at different places on these dimensions, falling somewhere between introvert and extrovert, or between emotionally stable and neurotic. Gordon Allport did research using a factor analysis model, looking at the dictionary to find which human traits have the most words describing them. In this way, he could narrow it down to 16 basic dimensions of personality.

The Big Five Personality Dimensions

The most well-known and supported taxonomy of personality is the five-factor model. It was originally based on a combination of the lexical and statistical approaches. Allport and Odbert organized trait terms into four lists – stable traits, temporary states/moods, social evaluations, and metaphorical/physical terms. The deeper study of the stable traits using factor analysis allowed psychologists to come up with a five-factor solution, and finally identify the Big Five.

The Big Five:

1. Surgency/extraversion:

Adventurous vs. cautious

Talkative vs. silent

Open vs. secretive

Sociable vs. reclusive

2. Agreeableness:

Cooperative vs. negativistic

Mild vs. headstrong

Good-natured vs. irritable

Not-jealous vs. jealous

3. Conscientiousness:

Scrupulous vs. unscrupulous

Persevering vs. quitting

Responsible vs. undependable

Fussy vs. careless

4. Emotional stability:

Composed vs. excitable

Poised vs. nervous

Calm vs. anxious

5. Openness-intellect:

Intellectual vs. unreflective

Imaginative vs. direct

Polished vs. crude

Artistic vs. non-artistic

Biological Trait Theory

Hans Eysenck reduced the basic traits to a hierarchical model of personality, beginning at the specific response level and moving on to the habitual response level. How someone responds in a specific situation falls in the former. If that response is across situations and occasions, the response is habitual. He proposed that personalities could be described on two axes - introversion/extraversion and emotional stability.

Introversion is the extent to which someone is shy, quiet, or reserved, while extraversion is the extent to which someone is bold, outgoing and sociable. Emotional stability refers to how consistent or stable someone's mood is. Someone who is neurotic experiences frequent mood swings. Later, Eysenck added a third trait to his model, psychoticism. Psychoticism includes traits such as poor impulse control, aggression, lack of empathy, and self-centeredness.

Neurophysiological Mechanisms

Differences in personalities may reflect differences in neurology, in the relative activation of biological systems.

Cortical arousal is regulated by the ascending reticular activation system (ARAS), a network of neurons that projects up the cerebral cortex from the brain stem. Extraverts continuously seek new arousal while introverts seem to avoid it, suggesting the resting levels of arousal in the ARAS are higher for introverts, meaning they need less stimulation to feel as aroused, and are typically above their optimal level of arousal. Introverts are also more sensitive to pain and other forms of arousal.

Activation and Inhibition

Jeffrey Gray developed an approach/inhibition model of the relation between learning and personality. He proposed that personality is rooted in two motivation systems. The behavioural approach system (BAS) is the brain system responsible for the pursuit of reward, and the behavioural inhibition system (BIS) is responsible for the avoidance of punishment. Extraverts have a stronger BAS, while introverts have a stronger BIS. The Big Five all relate to different brain regions. Brain activity itself might be dependent on genes.

13.3 The Stability of Personality

Personality Inconsistency

Situationism is the theory that behaviour is determined by situations rather than personality traits. How much a trait predicts behaviour depends on the centrality of the trait, the aggregation of behaviours over time, and the type of trait. Personality is more predictive of the average behaviour over time than any single situation. For instance, people high in self-monitoring alter their behaviour to accommodate the situation they are in, making them less consistent.

Personality-Situation Interaction

Situations with strong external influences can inspire behaviours counter to a person’s regular personality. For instance, you might know your spouse is more tolerant of your bad moods, so you will feel freer to express them around him/her than around strangers. There is a difference between strong situations (elevators, job interviews, etc.) that greatly influence how personalities are expressed, and weak situations (bars, parties, parks) that let personality be expressed normally. Trait theorists tend to be interactionists, seeing personality and situation as working hand in hand to influence behaviour. It is worth noting that whether someone chooses to be in a certain situation (like a party) can depend on their personality (extroversion).

Stability of Traits

Continuity over time is an inherent quality of traits. Personality traits in the Big Five remain remarkably stable throughout the life span, though stability is slightly lower in young children and slightly higher in people over 50. Most people have a very stable personality around age 30.

Age-Related Personality Changes

In general, people tend to become less neurotic, less extraverted, and less open to new experiences with age, but more agreeable and more conscientious. Age-related personality changes occur independently of environmental influence, so it may be an aspect of human physiology.

Characteristic Adaptations

McCrae and Costra emphasize a distinction between basic tendencies, dispositional traits determined by biology, and characteristic adaptations, adjustments to situational demands. These are behaviours that may change according to new situations, yet still reflect the same dispositional basic tendencies.

Adaptiveness of Personality

Evolutionary analysis of individual personality difference is largely speculative as it is difficult to prove empirically. One suggestion is that individual differences are the result of environmental peculiarities that activate psychological mechanisms to differing degrees. Another is that individual differences emerge from contingencies among traits – that the expression of traits may be contingent on environmental or physical cues. Frequency-dependent selection is another possible explanation. It suggests that the fitness of a trait depends on how frequent it occurs relative to the general population. Finally, the fact that the optimum level of a personality trait varies over evolutionary time and space in response to environmental adaptive problems can create heritable differences.

Cultural and Sex Differences

Sampling and language make cross-cultural research about personally difficult to manage. Some studies, however, have found that the Big Five personality traits seem to be valid across all the countries researched. There were moderate differences found, as people in East Asia tended to rate themselves lower in extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness and higher on neuroticism. Africans tended to rate themselves ads more agreeable and conscientious, but less neurotic. This may reflect cultural norms about saying good and bad things about one-self, rather than actual differences. Men and women are largely similar in personality, except that women report being more empathic, agreeable, and neurotic than men, while men report being more assertive. Interestingly, in countries with more gender equality, the differences between men and women are stronger. This may be because individualists countries value highlighting the differences between one’s own group and other groups.

13.4 Assessing Personality and Predicting Behaviour

Unique and Common Characteristics

Gordon Allport distinguished between two approaches to assessing personality. Idiographic approaches are person-centred, focusing on individual lives and the integration of characteristics. These approaches see all people as unique. Researchers using idiographic approaches tend to look at interviews and biographical information. They look at a person’s life story or personal narrative, seeking out the personal myths that bind a person’s life together. Nomothetic approaches focus on common characteristics and how they vary among people. Nomothetic researchers use questionnaires, seeing individuals as unique only insofar as they have different combinations of standard characteristics.

Projective Measures

Projective techniques of measuring personality involve giving an individual a standard, ambiguous stimulus and asking what they see. The Rorschach inkblot test is an example of this. The content of the person’s responses is thought to reveal aspects of their personality. Another is the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) in which a person is shown an ambiguous image and asked to tell a story about what’s happening in the image. The story is scored based on motivational themes that emerge, especially related to achievement, power, and affiliation.

Objective Measures

Objective personality measures are relatively direct, based on information gathered through self-report questionnaires or observer ratings. For instance, the Big Five can be measured using self-ratings of single-word trait adjectives, or using self-rated sentence items. The NEO-PI-R (neuroticism-extroversion-openness personality inventory, revised) is one of the most commonly used measures of the Big Five. Each of the five traits includes facets that allow for more nuance and complexity.

Observer Accuracy

Under certain circumstances, observers have been found to have a high level in accuracy about assessing personality. Close friends may be able to judge personality traits and predict behaviour even better than the individual themselves. This is because they tend to see us in more situations, while we are often distracted and not paying attention to our own habits and behaviour. In order to protect themselves, people develop blind spots about negative aspects of their personalities. An easy to observe trait with a great deal of meaning, like creativity, is more accurately judged by others than by the individual his/herself.

13.5 Self-Awareness of Personality


Self-concept includes everything we know about ourselves, from biological statistics (age, gender, etc.) to interpersonal style, personal characteristics, and body image. Self-concept is a cognitive structure that changes what we deem relevant to attend to.


The self can be divided into the knower, “I”, and the object that is known, “me”. The knower thinks, feels and acts. The object is the knowledge someone holds about their own qualities – when the self is the object of attention, this is self-awareness. Self-awareness causes us to act according to our beliefs. According to Higgins’ self-discrepancy theory, our awareness of differences between our personal standards and our goals cause emotions like anxiety and guilt. Self-awareness is based in the frontal lobes.


The self-schema is the cognitive element of self-concept, a set of interconnected bits of knowledge about one’s personal identity and experiences. It helps us perceive, organize, interpret, and use information about ourselves, and notice more information that is self-relevant (like our name). What is most important to our identity is also most important to our self-schema. Thinking about things in relation to ourselves can help us remember them better.

Working Self-Concept

Working self-concept is the immediate experience of the self, limited to the amount of cognitive information that can be processed at any given time. Self-descriptions vary based on context and the sort of people we are currently identifying ourselves against. We tend to distinguish ourselves, so that wherever we are, we define ourselves by how we are different.

Perceived Social Regard

Self-esteem is how we evaluate our self-concept, our emotional response to thinking about our own worthiness. Some theories assume that self-esteem is based on how people believe that others see them, a view known as reflected appraisal. People begin to adopt others’ opinions of them as their own.

Sociometer Theory

Mark Leary proposed that self-esteem is the way that we determine our risk of being socially excluded. This is the sociometer theory. If the probability of rejection is low, our self-esteem is high. Evidence supports this theory.

Self-Esteem and the Fear of Death

One theory suggests that self-esteem comes from anxiety over mortality. Terror management theory suggests that self-esteem lends meaning to life, allowing us to counter the reality of mortality by upholding cultural values. There is evidence for this theory as well.

Self-Esteem and Life Outcomes

While people with high self-esteem report being happier, it seems to be unrelated to overall life outcomes. Low self-esteem does not prevent success, though success does promote high self-esteem. Downsides to high self-esteem include a tendency for criminality and a need to prove worth that leads to boastfulness and antagonism. Narcissism is a personality trait associated with a high love for the self, feelings of grandiosity, and self-focus. Narcissists tend to be angry when challenge and abuse people who do not share the same image of themselves.

Maintaining Self-Views

People tend to prefer things that relate to themselves, like their own belongings over those of others. Positive self-views are often inflated, with people believing they are more capable and better than they actually are. Most people have positive illusions in three domains:

The better-than-average-effect:

  • While statistically impossible, most people think themselves better-than-average at most things.
  • Unrealistic sense of control: people may think they have control over chance circumstances, through luck.
  • People are unrealistically optimistic about their futures.

Self-Evaluative Maintenance

People maintain their positive illusions in many ways. One way is self-evaluative maintenance. People feel threatened when someone around them out-performs them. They deal with this by either distancing themselves from that person or changing aspirations. If someone close to you performs well in something that you don’t personally aspire to, it actually can raise self-esteem by being connected to a winner. People also feel better about themselves when seeing someone outperform them who is a superstar and acts as an inspiration.

Social Comparisons

Social comparison is the tendency to evaluate your own abilities, skills, and traits in comparison to those around you. People with high self-esteem tend to make downward comparisons, comparing themselves to other people who are worse off than themselves. People with low self-esteem make upward comparisons, comparing themselves to people who are better than themselves.

Self-Serving Biases

There are four means in which we typically skew our self-evaluations in positive directions:

  • We attribute our successes to our own personalities and traits, and attribute our failures to the situation or sometimes other people. This is called the self-serving attribution bias.
  • We accept praise at face value in a culture where politeness is a norm. When the same flattering praise is directed towards others, we discount it as insincere.
  • We have a better long-term memory for success than for failure.
  • When criteria for success are vague, we invent criteria that are most favourable to ourselves.

Cultural Differences in Self-Concept

Harry Triandis made a rough distinction between Western and Eastern cultures: individualist vs. collectivist. In individualist countries (Western Europe, North America, Australia), traditions emphasize personal freedom, self-determination, and individual competition. In collectivist countries (Africa, Latin America, East Asia), interdependence, community responsibility, and social roles are emphasized. In collectivist cultures, people more often describe themselves in terms of their group affiliations and roles, with interdependent self-construals; in individualist cultures, people describe themselves according to internal, individual traits, with independent self-construals.

Cultural Differences in Self-Serving Bias

The ideal person in many Eastern cultures is one who is modest and works hard to overcome their flaws. Self-enhancing biases are small and sometimes nonexistent in these cultures. In fact, people in collectivist cultures are more likely to show a self-effacing bias.

What is psychopathologie? - Chapter 14 (5)


14.1 Psychopathology

Psychopathology is the study of psychological disorders. Throughout history, people have come up with many explanations and treatments for psychopathology (ex. madness caused by demons, cured by exorcism or burning). Between the late middle ages and the Victorian era, people with mental disorders would be removed from society and placed in dirty asylums or prisons, chained up like animals. As far back as Hippocrates, psychological disorders were believed to be influenced by biological processes. In the 19th and 20th centuries, psychological disorders were recognized as medical illnesses.

Psychological Disorders vs. Everyday Problems

Psychological disorders will occur at some point in the lives of roughly 50% of the American population. They range in severity, with only 70% of the American population being severely affected. This 7% may experience more than one illness at once, like substance abuse and depression. Some disorders are more common in women (mood and anxiety disorders) while others are more common in men (antisocial personality disorder and autism). When a problem is large enough that it causes significant distress and impacts a person’s quality of life over a long period, it can be described as a psychological disorder.


Behaviour must always be looked at in the context of the situation, in order to determine whether it is disordered or not. What is deviant in some cultures and situations is normal or revered in others. The main criteria to consider are:

  1. Does the behaviour deviate from cultural and social norms?
  2. Is the behaviour maladaptive?
  3. Does the behaviour disrupt work and/or social life?
  4. Does the behaviour cause discomfort and concern in others?

Categorizing Disorders

The American Psychiatric Association developed a manual to distinguish mental disorders, called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM. The manual is currently in its fifth edition, the DSM-5. In this version of the DSM, disorders are described in terms of observable symptoms. The fifth edition groups disorders in categories so that disorders that share similar traits appear closer to each other in the book. Additionally, the DSM contains an introduction and instructions on how to use the book, the diagnostic criteria for each disorder, and a guide for future research in psychopathology.

The Nature of Psychopathology

One main problem with the DSM approach to doiagnosis is that it classifies people as either having a disorder or not. This is called the categorical approach, and while it's useful in some respects, it does not allow for a description for the severity of the disorder. By contrast, the dimensional approach uses a sliding scale, allowing clients and patients to be diagnosed according to the severity of their diseases. Another problem occurs when people do not fit neatly into the categories printed in the DSM. often times, psychological disorders are related or show up together, making particular cases difficult to diagnose. This is called comorbidity.

Research Domain Criteria (RDoC)

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has proposed an alternative method in classifying psychological disorders to the DSM. The Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) defines psychological disorders based on domains, such as attention, anxiety, and social communication. Many factors, such as genetics, brain systems, and behaviour are then considered within each of these domains. The intention of the RDoC is to guide research, taking the newest scientific findings, such as genetic mutations, into account.

Assessing Disorders

Assessment is a process of gathering information about a person’s symptoms and their possible causes. This information helps make a diagnosis, a label that defines symptoms that tend to occur together and indicate a specific disorder. The first step in assessment is to ask the patient about their current symptoms, their severity, and their frequency. The patient’s ability to function in work, relationships, and parenting situations must be ascertained. In order for a major psychological disorder to be successfully diagnosed, it must be severe enough to encroach on a patient’s daily functioning. Coping strategies should be looked at, as they could influence symptoms. Personal history and recent life events should be known to see if they might have acted as triggers for the symptoms. A triggering event might change how symptoms are diagnosed, as is often the case in depression diagnoses. The patient’s individual psychological history should also be considered, as well as their family history, which might predispose them to particular types of disorders.


Evidence-based assessment is an approach in which research guides the evaluation of mental disorders, the use of psychological tests and neuropsychological methods, and the use of critical thinking in making diagnoses. For instance, since research has found that mental disorders tend not to occur in isolation, but alongside other disorders (comorbidity), patients should be tested for possible comorbid disorders.

Causes of Disorders

The diathesis-stress model suggests that genetic predisposition and childhood trauma interact to create a vulnerability to mental disorders that may not itself trigger a disorder until sufficient stress is experienced.

Biological Factors

There is evidence that many psychological disorders include a genetic component. Some mental disorders may arise from prenatal environmental exposure to toxins or illness. Toxins, illness, and malnutrition in childhood can also add an additional risk of mental disorders. Neurological dysfunction contributes to the expression of many mental disorders. Structural imaging has shown differences in brain anatomy between people with mental disorders and people without. fMRI is at the forefront of neurological research into mental disorders. Medications have also been developed, based on research about the roles of neurotransmitters in mental disorders, and in many cases have been found effective.

Environmental Factors

Family systems theories focus on the family as a complex system that works at all times to maintain a status quo (homeostasis). This involves a hierarchy and a rule system by which all members agree to live. If well-functioning, the family system is supportive and promotes the development of its individual members. If dysfunctional, it might require psychopathology to maintain the status quo. If one family member has a psychological disorder, family systems theorists see this as an indicator of a dysfunctional family system. Social structural theories call attention to the problematic societal features that might influence psychopathology in individuals. For example, stressors from massive reorganizations in society, like what occurred during the industrialization of America, impact people in different ways and can predispose people to certain kinds of mental illness. Smaller differences can also have an impact – when some people live in chronically stressful circumstances (in poverty-stricken neighbourhoods) they may be at greater psychopathological risk. Societies also influence the types of mental disorders members exhibit by the rules they employ as to what behaviour is considered “normal”.

Cognitive-Behavioural Factors

Cognitive theories argue that cognitions (thoughts and beliefs) shape behaviour and emotion. Theories of abnormal behaviour that focus on cognition tend to address causal attributions, control beliefs, and dysfunctional assumptions. These cognitions are learned through social learning, classical, and operant conditioning.

Sex Differences

Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder occur equally in both sexes, but other disorders vary between the sexes. Alcohol dependence is higher in males, anorexia is higher in females. Internalizing disorders, characterized by inhibition, are categorized into stress and fear (including depression, phobias, and panic). Externalizing factors are characterized by disinhibition, including alcohol disorder, conduct disorder, and antisocial disorder. Internalizing disorders are more common in women while externalizing disorders are more common in men.

Cultural Factors

Psychologists are becoming increasingly aware of the effect culture has on psychopathology. While disorders may present similarly around the world, they still very often reflect cultural differences. Building on the cultural factors included in the DSM-IV, the DSM-5 includes symptoms such as "the fear of offending someone" as potential diagnostic tools. The intent of this is to make clinicians more aware of cultural differences and to remind them that a person's cultural background may have a strong effect on how a psychological disorder may present.

14.2 Emotion and Mood Disorders

Structured and Unstructured Interviews

Information for assessments is largely gathered in an initial interview (an intake interview or mental status exam) during which the client meets the psychologist. This might be an unstructured interview, in which the client is asked a few open-ended questions. The clinician observes how the client responds, paying special attention to non-verbal indicators like body language and to topic choices. The clinician may also talk to family members for information about family history, client history, and the client’s current symptoms.

Unstructured interviews play an important role but of course differ between psychologists. Clinicians have begun using structured interviews to gather information about clients, which include more standardized and structured open-ended questions. Many structured interviews have been developed, including the Diagnostic Interview Schedule (DIS). Structured and unstructured interviews both have the limitation that a client might be resistant to treatment, either because they are not receiving treatment willingly or because they have a strong interest in the outcome of the assessment that causes them to control their answers.


Clinicians can use behavioural observation to assess their client’s skills in handling situations. A clinician may see how a client handles conflict with their spouse, or observe a child among other children to see how they handle groups. Direct behavioural observation allows the clinician to rely not only on the client’s self-reporting. However, observing is also subjective and so might have low inter-rater reliability. Since it can be time-consuming and often impossible, the clinician may ask the client to engage in self-monitoring, keeping track of how often they engage in certain behaviours. There also many types of tests that can be applied to assessing psychological disorders. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) can help determine personality, as well as clinical scales that assess paranoia, depression, mania, and hysteria. Being a self-report measure, however, can be problematic. Test takers may be evasive or defensive, or prone to misrepresenting themselves on the test. The MMPI includes built-in validity scales that measure the probability that patients are not being as truthful as they could be. This could take the form of faking bad results, or faking good results.

Anxiety Disorders

One quarter of Americans will have an anxiety disorder of some sort during their lifetime. Anxiety is characterized by depression, irritability, tension, apprehension, and constant worry. Sleep can be impaired, and the autonomic nervous system may cause bodily symptoms like sweating. Nervous behaviours like jumpiness and fidgeting can result from this activation.

Phobias and Social Anxiety Disorder

Phobias are fears of specific objects or situations that are exaggerated and maladaptive. Specific phobias involve particular objects or situations (snakes, heights). Formerly called social phobia, social anxiety disorder is a deep fear of being judged by others.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by incessant worrying about minor matters, a hyper-vigilance that results in restlessness, headaches, fatigue, irritability, and sleep problems.

Panic Disorder

Panic attacks are short, intense periods of extreme anxiety. They involve physical symptoms like heart palpitations, hyperventilation, dizziness and trembling. They also involve psychological symptoms like acute dread and a feeling of choking. While they might be triggered by life events like the death of a family, or by specific situations like public speaking, they are often random and illogical. 40% of young adults have occasional panic attacks. When attacks become frequent, occur without provocation, and intrude on life choices and behaviours, a person may be diagnosed with panic disorder. Many sufferers of panic disorder think they might fall ill and die, or feel they are going crazy or losing control. 3-4% of people develop a panic disorder in their lives, usually between late adolescence and their mid-thirties. Panic disorders are often comorbid with generalized anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse, and phobias. Panic disorder is related to agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is an irrational fear of crowded places, enclosed spaces, or wide open spaces in which getting help or escaping in an emergency would be difficult. People often develop agoraphobia along with panic disorder, fearing that they might have an embarrassing panic attack in public and not be able to escape. Many people with agoraphobia become house-bound. Some might force themselves to leave the house but be miserable and afraid why they do so.

Causes of Anxiety Disorders

In ambiguous situations, people with an anxiety disorder are more likely to see the situation as threatening. They also focus more attention on perceived threats and recall them more easily, thus exaggerating their perceived frequency. People can also learn anxiety and phobias through classical conditioning. An inhibited temperament can increase the risk of anxiety disorders.


Obsessions are thoughts, images, ideas, and impulses that are persistent, involuntary, and intrusive. Compulsions are repetitive behaviours or mental acts that a person feels like they must perform. A combination of these two creates obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD is an anxiety disorder because of its tendency to rely on anxious feelings. The strange, irrational behaviours of people with OCD are not psychotic because people with OCD are aware of how strange their behaviours are, but cannot control them. It often begins in childhood for men or young adulthood for women. It tends to be a chronic disorder. Symptoms of OCD can include obsessions about dirt and contamination, aggressive impulses, sexual impulses, impulses against one’s own morality, and doubts. While they might not carry out their impulses, people with OCD feel anxious because of them, and cope by engaging in compulsions to banish the thoughts or impulses. Doubt causes people with OCD often engage in compulsive checking, and double checking, and triple checking, even though they have all the needed evidence to prove something has or hasn’t happened.

Causes of OCD

Biological theories of OCD are most popular. There is a circuit in the brain that controls primitive behavioural patterns linked to sex, aggression, and bodily excretion. From the orbital region of the frontal cortex, impulses travel the caudate nucleus in the basal ganglia. The caudate nucleus normally allows only the strongest impulses to pass to the thalamus, which motivates people to think further and act on the impulses. Acting on the impulse diminishes it. In people with OCD, however, this circuit is dysfunctional. The primitive impulses are not turned off. PET scans of OCD patients’ brains show more activity in these areas of the brain. Drugs that enhance serotonin have been shown to reduce symptoms. It might be that depletion in serotonin in these brain areas causes the disruption. Family history studies also show that OCD runs in families.

The cognitive-behavioural theory on OCD points out that even people who don’t have the disorder sometimes have intrusive and distressing thoughts. Normal people, however, are able to dismiss them as the result of stress and let them go. People with OCD have trouble dismissing the thoughts for the following reasons:

  1. Heightened general anxiety inspires intrusive, negative thoughts more often, and these thoughts are judged more unacceptable.

  2. People with OCD might have a more rigid, moralistic tendency causing them to see these negative thoughts as more unacceptable than most people, causing more anxiety.

  3. People with OCD believe they should be able to control these thoughts and consider thinking negative things as morally terrible as doing them.

Compulsions may develop when people with anxiety-inducing obsessions are relieved when the person engages in certain behaviours.


Post-traumatic stress disorder occurs after the experience of severe stress or emotional trauma. People with PTSD have frequent and recurring unwanted thoughts like intrusive nightmares and flashbacks. PTSD is associated with attentional bias and hypervigilance to stimuli associated with the traumatic events.

Depressive Disorders

Sadness is, obviously, the trademark emotion of depression. It can be a deep emotional pain that makes joy and enthusiasm seem impossible. It is coupled with a lack of interest in anything, also known as ahedonia. Bodily functions are disrupted with depression – people lose sleep (or sleep all the time), experience changes in appetite (eating a lot or barely at all), and activity levels. People slow down in a condition known as psychomotor retardation. They lack energy, and feel chronically fatigued. Some people have the opposite, psychomotor agitation where they can´t sit still.

People with depression think about worthlessness, guilt, hopelessness, and sometimes suicide. They might not concentrate well and stop making decisions. In severe cases, they can lose touch with reality, experiencing delusions and hallucinations.

There are two categories of unipolar depression:

  • Major depression: a person experiences a depressed mood or loses interest in activities and has at least four other depression symptoms for at least two weeks. It has to be so severe that it interferes with daily function.
  • Dysthymic disorder: less severe than major depression, but more chronic. A person must experience a depressed mood and two other symptoms for at least two years, during which the person must not have been without the symptoms for more than two months at a time.

The Role of Culture and Gender on Depression

Depression is most common in people between 15-24 years of age, but can occur in any demographic and age category. Older adults experience are less often diagnosed, either because they are less willing to report symptoms, are more likely to occur alongside a medical illness making diagnosis difficult, or because they are more likely to have cognitive impairment. Explanations defending the data say it might be because depression causes people to die younger, or that as people age, they develop more adaptive coping skills.

Women are twice as likely as men to suffer depressive symptoms, across cultural, ethnic, and age groups. Depression reduces work hours and can be bad for the economy. However, when people undergo treatment for depression, they tend to recover quickly.

Biological Aspects of Mood Disorders

Mood disorders have been found to be largely heritable. Bipolar disorder is related to a certain genetic defect that involves a combination of several genes. There are also other biological aspects of depression. Major depression is related to a deficiency in one or more monoamines and can be treated by drugs like SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Situational Aspects of Mood Disorders

Life stressors act as situational triggers for depression, like interpersonal loss or unemployment. How someone reacts to stress can be influenced by relationships, which play a strong role in depression, changing both behaviour and interaction. The loss of social support that sometimes accompanies depression, as people pull away, can cause the depressed person to spiral further.

Cognitive Aspects of Mood Disorders

Cognitive processes are powerful influences in depression, as negative thoughts, self-image, and predictions form a cognitive triad that allows depression to take hold. People who have an external locus of control (who believe they cannot change things in life) and people who blame themselves for failures and credit situational factors or other people for successes, tend to have a depressive way of thinking. Learned helplessness is a cognitive model of depression in which people feel like they have no control. This develops when people find themselves in adverse situations from which they feel they cannot escape – so they stop trying.

Bipolar Disorder

People with bipolar disorder (previously known as manic-depressive disorder) experience episodes of extreme mania that can quickly collapse into episodes of extreme depression. Mania is experienced as elation, which includes a grandiose self-esteem in which the person feels themselves unrealistically positive and wonderful. Thoughts and impulses occur rapidly, and a manic person might speak rapidly and forcefully. They might become agitated or irritable and engage in impulsive behaviours like spending sprees.

To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a person must experience an elevated, expansive, or irritable mood for at least a week, including at least three other manic symptoms. If they also fall into periods of depression, and if these symptoms impair one’s ability to function, a diagnosis of bipolar I disorder is given. If depression is more severe and manic episodes are milder (in the form of hypomania), bipolar II disorder is diagnosed. The less severe but more chronic form of bipolar disorder is cyclothymic disorder. People most commonly experience weeks to months of mania before falling into a depressed state. In rare cases, this can occur over days. If a person has four or more cycles within a year, this is known as rapid cycling bipolar disorder.

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

Above all, genetic causes for bipolar disorder are the most consistent. In twin studies, it has been found that the concordance rate in identical twins is more than 70%, in comparison to a mere 20% in fraternal twins. However, it is still too early to draw solid conclusions about the genetic causes of bipolar disorder.

Researchers have determined, for example, that bipolar disorder is related to more than one gene, and tends to appear more severely and with an earlier age of onset in later generations of families who carry these genes.

14.3 Dissociative Disorders

Dissociative disorders involve disruptions of identity, memory, or conscious awareness. They are believed to result from extreme stress or trauma, as a person shuts off their trauma so they do not have to deal with it.

Dissociative Amnesia

Dissociative amnesia occurs when a person forgets that an event or a substantial block of time has occurred. For instance, they may forget who they are and other personal facts. A rare and extreme form of dissociative amnesia is called dissociative fugue in which a person experiences a temporary loss of identity and often will go somewhere, travel in some way. They wake up with no memory of how they got to that place.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) was once called multiple personality disorder because it involves the occurrence of two or more distinct identities within the same individual. DID is most prevalent in women who experienced abuse as children. Theory suggests that to cope with abuse, these children pretend it is happening to someone else. Identities form to deal with different traumas, some of which experience amnesias, while sometimes only one or two are aware of the others.


In psychosis, a person is unable to tell the difference between what is real and imagined. One of the most common psychotic disorders is schizophrenia, which most often develops in the late teenage and early adult years. Schizophrenia often develops into a lifelong disorder. According to the DSM-5, patients must have shown symptoms for at least six months before being able to be diagnosed as having schizophrenia. The two categories of schizophrenic symptoms are positive symptoms, which are characterized by the presence of unusual perceptions, thoughts and behaviours. Negative symptoms are characterized by the absence of normal behaviours and skills. The patient must show at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Delusions: ideas that an individual believes are true but that are unlikely or impossible. Unlike self-deceptions, delusions are beliefs that are impossible, preoccupying, and tend to be held as certainties by schizophrenia patients. There are cross-cultural variations in how delusions manifest, based on culturally held belief-systems. (Delusions of grandeur, persecution, reference, and thought-insertion)
  • Hallucinations: unreal perceptual experiences not due to sleep deprivation, stress, or drugs. Hallucinations also sometimes manifest differently according to culture. (Auditory, visual, tactile, and somatic hallucinations)
  • Loosening Associations: also known as formal thought disorder, is a symptom that involves switching topics without coherent transitions (loosening of associations/ derailment). That men with schizophrenia experience more language deficits than women with schizophrenia might be due to the fact that men have more localized centres of language usage in their brains, while women use more of areas of their brains while communicating.
  • Disorganized Behaviour: people with schizophrenia have disorganized behaviour patterns that can manifest in sudden, un-triggered agitation, poor hygiene habits, an inappropriate behaviour in social situations. (Catatonia behaviours and Catatonic excitement)
  • Negative Symptoms, including:
    • Affective Flattening: a reduction in emotional (affective) responses to the environment, manifesting in neutral facial expressions, unresponsive body language, and monotone speech. It does not necessarily mean the person does not actually feel these emotions.

    • Alogia: a reduction in speech, possibly reflecting a lack of thinking or lack of motivation.

    • Avolition: the inability to persist at common, goal-oriented activities. Tasks are incomplete and careless.

Additionally, since the onset of these symptoms, the level of functioning in at least one major area, such as work, school, interpersonal relationships, or self-care must be significantly lower than before the onset of the disorder.

Schizophrenia as a Brain Disorder

There is increased evidence that major structural and functional deficits in the developing brain can lead to schizophrenia, and most theorists think of it as a neurodevelopmental disorder. The most consistently found brain abnormality in schizophrenic people is enlarged ventricles. Ventricles are the fluid-filled spaces in the brain, and when in large they indicate deterioration in other brain tissue. People with schizophrenia also have deficits in their prefrontal cortex, as well as an abnormal connection between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala and hippocampus. Gender differences might relate to ventricle size differences in men and women and different aging effects on the brain.

Studies have found different areas in the brain where people with schizophrenia show less neural density, volume, and metabolic rate. The most well-established is the prefrontal cortex, which in people with schizophrenia is smaller and less active. The prefrontal cortex connects to the limbic system and the basal ganglia, involved in emotion, cognition, and motor control. This may account for the flatness of affect and disorganization of behaviour and social interactions. The hippocampus also plays a role. Normally in control of the development of long-term memories, in schizophrenia patients abnormalities in the hippocampus cause issues in the proper storage, recollection, and use of information in understanding current situations.

There may be a number of causes of brain abnormalities, ranging from birth injury, viral infections, genetic abnormalities, nutrition, and deficiencies in cognitive stimulation.


Dopamine has long been believed to play a role in schizophrenia. Phenothiazine drugs that reduce the level of dopamine in the brain also reduce schizophrenia symptoms, though these drugs can cause motor problems like those in Parkinson’s patients. Drugs that increase dopamine levels increase schizophrenia’s psychotic symptoms.

Environmental Factors

Schizophrenia tends to be more benign in developing countries, possibly because of different attitudes to mental illness and less stigma towards schizophrenia. Closer community networks also stimulate recovery. People with schizophrenia are more likely to live in circumstances that are chronically stressful, in impoverished neighbourhoods or low-status jobs. The social selection explanation suggests that the symptoms of schizophrenia make it difficult to maintain a job and exacerbate a downward drift in social class. People with psychosis tend to come from cities, suggesting that overcrowding might increase the risk of pregnant women coming into contact with infectious agents.

14.6 Personality Disorders

Personality is the combination of behavioural patterns, thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that are unique to each of us. A personality trait is stable over time and across a variety of situations. A personality disorder is a pattern of maladaptive behaviours, thoughts, and feelings that is long-lasting (at least since adolescence and early adulthood). In the DSM-IV-TR, personality disorders are distinguished from other disorders and placed on a different axis (Axis II). There are three clusters of personality disorders listed. The first, Cluster A, includes disorders characterized by odd or eccentric behaviours and thinking. People with these diagnosis might be comparable to schizophrenics, but without psychosis. Cluster B is characterized by dramatic, erratic, or emotional behaviour and interpersonal relationships. Cluster C is characterized by anxious and fearful emotions, and chronic self-doubt.

Problems with the DSM’s description of personality disorders abound. They are treated as categories, as if they are entirely separate from normal personality traits, when in fact they represent extreme manifestations. There is also a large amount of overlap in the diagnostic criteria for personality disorders, suggesting that there are fewer than listed. Identifying and diagnosing a personality disorder often requires information that a psychologist is not privy to, such as behaviour across situations. Furthermore, while personality disorders are considered stable over time and situations, people actually vary over time in their symptoms and the severity of those symptoms. For all of these reasons, the diagnostic reliability of personality disorders is only fair.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Some of the main characteristics of borderline personality disorder include uncontrollable emotions, hyper-sensitivity to abandonment, clinginess, and self-abuse. Self-concept is highly changeable, flipping between self-hatred and grandiose self-importance. This flip happens as well in interpersonal relationships, where someone with borderline personality disorder will switch between love and hate in an instant. They often feel empty or bored, and are prone to dissociative states. It is noted that there are 126 ways that a person can meet the criteria for the disorder, since the way symptoms manifest can be so different from person to person. Most people with borderline also meet the diagnostic criteria for other disorders, like substance abuse, depression, PTSD, agoraphobia, panic disorder and/or somatization disorder. 10% of people with this disorder die by suicide.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Historically, antisocial personality disorder was called moral insanity, and later psychopathy. The label psychopath has since been unofficially applied to people with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). People with ASPD are unable to form positive relationships and often break social norms and values, acting deceitful and manipulative for their own gain. They remorselessly commit violent acts more frequently than people without the disorder and seem to be indifferent toward the feelings of others. They have low impulse control, are easily frustrated and bored, and so tend to fall into a life of crime. ASPD differs from psychopathy, because psychopaths are superficially charming, have a grandiose sense of self-worth, and are cold and maliciously sadistic on top of the typical ASPD symptoms.


Since almost all people with ASPD don’t believe they need treatment, and blame others for their problems, not much is possible in treating the disorder. When psychotherapy is attempted, clinicians attempt to teach patients alternative coping strategies for anger and impulsiveness. Atypical antipsychotics and lithium can be used to control impulsive and aggressive behaviours in some people with ASPD. Mostly, however, people with ASPD tend to end up in prison.


There is evidence for genetic tendencies towards ASPD, with twins showing a 50% concordance rate. Contributors to ASPD include high levels of testosterone in utero that affect the developing brain in ways that encourage aggressiveness. People with ASPD tend to have low levels of serotonin that could be related to impulse-control issues. Children with ADHD / ADD might develop antisocial behaviour in response to social rejection. People with ASPD show deficits in verbal skills and executive functions of the brain, which include the ability to sustain concentration, abstract reasoning, goal formation, planning, and the ability to engage in adaptive behaviours. These deficits might be due to toxin exposure in the womb and during infancy. People with ASPD show low levels of arousability. This leads to fearlessness and a tendency towards thrill-seeking, which could lead to antisocial behaviour. Intelligence may also be a factor, as intelligent children receive more rewards and stimulation from school and might then make healthier choices. Social and cognitive factors show that children who grow up in harsh and inconsistent environments, whose parents alternate between neglect and abuse, might learn antisocial ways of viewing the world. Most factors of ASPD lead to situations that further exacerbate the problem.

14.7 Childhood Disorders

Autism and Social Deficit

Autistic disorder, also known as autism, is characterized by social deficits including impaired communication and limited interests. Autism varies in severity, leading many psychologists to use the term autism spectrum disorders, which covers a number of symptoms. High-functioning autism is called Asperger’s syndrome, which manifests with normal intelligence but deficit social interaction, caused by an underdeveloped theory of mind.

Core Symptoms

Severe autism involves a lack of interest and lack of awareness of other people. Children with autism may reject contact with others, and avoid eye contact. Communication deficits are visible by around 14 months of age – even if autistic children vocalize, it tends not to be for communicative purposes. Those who do develop language tend to have odd speech patterns, like repeating what someone else says (echolalia), or reversing pronouns. Children who manage to further develop functional language may be literal with their interpretation of words, inappropriate with their language use, and lack spontaneity. Children with autism have restricted interest, often oblivious to others but hyper-focused on their surroundings. Change in setting or routine can be especially hard for these children. Play tends to be repetitive and obsessive, focused on sensory aspects of objects.


It is well-known that autism is the result of biological factors, though some environmental factors are important. They are heritable. Gene mutations may also play a role, in which cells have an abnormal number of copies of DNA segments. These mutations can impact how neural networks are formed during development. Prenatal/neonatal events might cause brain dysfunction, such as exposure to antibodies. People with autism experience a slow-down in brain development at around age 5 and no development in adolescence. There is evidence that autistic brains have faulty wiring in areas devoted to social thinking and social environmental attention. There may also be impairments in mirror neurons.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by restlessness, inattentiveness, and impulsivity. Children with ADHD need to have information repeated to them over and over, and can have trouble making and keeping friends because they miss social cues. 11% of boys and 4% of girls have the disorder.


The causes of ADHD are unknown but may be related to family disturbance, poor parenting, or lack of social advantage. Adults diagnosed as having ADHD in childhood have reduced metabolism in areas of the brain involved in motor function self-regulation and attentional systems. Symptoms are actually similar to people with frontal lobe damage. The basal ganglia is also implicated.

ADHD as an Adult

Studies have found that children do not outgrow ADHD, and in adulthood, some still exhibit symptoms and have academic and vocational issues. They generally change jobs more frequently and maintain a lower socioeconomic level.

Which treatments do psychologists use? - Chapter 15 (5)


15.1 Treating Disorders

Psychologists use psychotherapeutic approaches to treatment as well as biological approaches. Psychotherapy includes a number of techniques and is often given along with biological and pharmacological treatments. Other biological treatments are based on medical approaches to illness and disease.


Psychotherapy aims at changing thought and behaviour patterns. The relationship between the therapist and the client is supremely important in this, as the client must both want and expect to receive help.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is based on the work of Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer, developed with the goal of reducing the client’s inhibitions and uncovering unconscious thoughts and feelings. Some techniques included dream analysis and free association. The goal was insight – the ability to uncover unconscious mental conflicts that might be underlying the psychological issue. Psychotherapists later reformed the work of Freud, creating psychodynamic therapy. This maintains the talking aspect of the therapy and often involves exploring distressing thoughts, discussing early traumatic experiences, and focusing on interpersonal relationships. Psychodynamic therapy is controversial.

The Benefits of Talking

Research has found that just expressing emotion about traumatic or stressful events can help reduce their negative effects. As people express personal, emotional information, they talk quickly and lowly and lose track of time and place. Writing or talking about events helps people interpret them in less threatening ways, a central component of many cognitive therapies.

Humanistic Therapies

Humanistic therapies focus on the whole of a person, their experiences and belief systems, and seek to help a person achieve their best self. Client-centred therapy is an approach that encourages fulfilling one’s potential by creating a safe environment in which to express feelings. The therapist will use reflective listening, repeating what the client says and letting the client correct or agree. Motivational interviewing is a client-centred approach that lasts only a few sessions and is good for treating substance abuse problems.

Behavioural Therapies

Behaviour therapy is based on the idea that all behaviour is learned and can be unlearned with the use of classical and operant conditioning. Desired behaviours are rewarded while unwanted behaviours are ignored or punished. A therapist may use social skills training to elicit the behaviour that is to be punished or rewarded. Sometimes the therapist uses modeling, acting out a behaviour appropriately as a role to be imitated.

Cognitive Therapies

Cognitive therapy is based on the idea that psychological disorders are caused by distorted thoughts which produce maladaptive behaviours and emotions. Treatments are directed towards eliminating the maladaptive thoughts. Beck’s method is cognitive restructuring, helping the client recognize maladaptive thoughts and replace them with more realistic ways of thinking. Ellis’ approach is rational-emotive therapy, in which the therapist explains the errors in thinking and demonstrates better ways to think and behave. Interpersonal therapy focuses on the relationships that the client attempts to avoid. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is meant to help people recovering from depression stay on track and not fall back into their negative, ruminative thinking habits.

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) incorporates techniques from cognitive and behavioural therapies to correct faulty thinking and change maladaptive behaviours. A therapist may help alter cognitions while teaching social skills. This is one of the most effective and most widely used forms of psychotherapy. Many CBT treatments have a component of exposure in which a client is exposed to an anxiety-producing stimulus or situation frequently, while being coached against anxiety, which helps remove the fear element. Exposure and systematic desensitization are key for the treatment of phobias.

Group Therapy

Group therapy tends to be less expensive than individual treatment, and provides an opportunity to develop social skills. They vary in the types of clients, duration of treatment, theoretical perspective, and group size. Many groups are organized around a specific type of problem or type of client. CBT and behavioural groups are highly structured.

Family Therapy

Family therapy is run on the premise of a systems approach, which treats the individual as a part of a larger family and social system. Family therapy focuses on changing the maladaptive ways a family interacts so as to provide sufficient support for the distressed individual. Expressed emotion is a pattern of negative actions by a client’s family members that includes critical comments, hostility, and emotional over-involvement. This can harm recovery and coping in illnesses like schizophrenia. It predicts relapse rates in many cultures.


Culture influences treatment in many ways. Psychological disorders manifest differently in people of different cultures. There are differences in social norms about whether, and when, and how to seek help. Some cultures have a stigma against certain mental illnesses that make them both harder to admit to, and harder to live with. In some cultures, there is a stigma against the notion of psychological health problems, causing practitioners to use less direct words (tension, strain) when dealing with illness. Culture also impacts the availability of psychological treatment.


Drugs that affect mental processes are called psychotropic medications. They influence neurochemistry, either by inhibiting action potentials or altering synaptic transition, or decreasing the activation of certain neurotransmitters. These can be split into three categories:

  • Anti-anxiety drugs: Also known as tranquilizers, these are used for the short-term treatment of anxiety and include benzodiazepines that increase the activity of GABA. These are highly addictive.
  • Antidepressants: These drugs are mainly used to treat depression but often help with other disorders. The first to be discovered were monoamine oxidase inhibitors which stop the break-down of serotonin while raising dopamine and norepinephrine. Tricyclic antidepressants inhibit the reuptake of certain neurotransmitters. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) inhibit the reuptake of serotonin but affect other neurotransmitters less.
  • Antipsychotic drugs: Also known as neuroleptics, these are used to treat schizophrenia and psychosis. They reduce delusions and hallucinatons by binding to dopamine receptors. They are not always effective and can have irreversible side effects like tardive dyskinesia, an involuntary muscle twitch. They also do not help negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Clozapine is a newer antipsychotic which acts on dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, and histamine receptors. These can help people who don’t respond to other drugs, but can also cause serious blood problems.
  • Lithium and anticonvulsants fall outside of these three categories.

Alternative Biological Treatments

Trepanning was a prehistoric way to cast out demons, involving cutting a hole in the skull, and is still used in some areas to treat epilepsy, headaches, and some mental disorders. Brain surgery only became a mode of treatment in the early 20th century when Antonio de Egas Moniz introduced a procedure now known as the prefrontal lobotomy to treat patients with severe psychosis. Unfortunately these were cruel and ineffective, causing severe and permanent side effects like loss of impulse control, loss of initiative, loss of emotions, seizures, listlessness, and sometimes death. By the 1950’s, psychosurgery decreased dramatically and is only now used in extremely rare circumstances.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Another alternative to drug therapies is useful for some disorders – electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This was developed in the early twentieth century and involves the induction of a seizure in the brain using electrodes that pass an electrical current through the head. The patient is given a muscle relaxant and anesthetized during the procedure to ensure their safety. While originally used for schizophrenia, it was only found to be successful in treating depression. While sometimes used today, it remains a controversial treatment. For some, unfortunately, it might be the only option remaining if others fail.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

A more recent development, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) stimulates targeted areas of the brain using high-intensity magnetic pulses. After a week of daily treatment, depressed patients experience some relief, and some psychotic patients stop hearing auditory hallucinations. So far, only minor, treatable headaches have been found as side effects.

Deep Brain Stimulation

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a new technique that involves surgically implanting electrodes deep within the brain. Mild electricity is used to stimulate the brain at an optimal intensity, and has been used successfully for Parkinson’s disease.

15.2 Effectiveness of Treatments

Danger of Non-Evidence-Based Treatment

Many available therapies are not based on scientific evidence, like scream therapies or body modification. Some are counterproductive, like those that encourage people to describe major trauma experiences, having police officers run drug education programs, and using hypnosis to recover painful memories.

Empirical Evidence

The effectiveness of treatments is measured by conducting randomized control trials, which ensure that the groups under treatment are comparable and confounding variables are controlled for.

Treatment Providers

  • Psychiatry: medical doctors specialized in psychological problems. Psychiatrists are able to prescribe medicine.
  • Clinical psychology: usually with a Ph.D. in psychology, clinical psychologists cannot prescribe medication but can provide a number of psychotherapies.
  • Marriage and family therapy: psychologists that specialize in helping families overcome problems that impact their relationships and general well-being.
  • Clinical social work: with a master’s degree in social work, clinical social workers help people overcome and deal with the social conditions contributing to their problems, like joblessness or homelessness.
  • Psychiatric nursing: a degree in nursing, specializing in the care of people with mental health problems, psychiatric nurses help deliver medical care and some types of psychotherapy, like group therapy.

One of the major problems in treating psychological disorders is a shortage of trained staff to provide one-on-one treatment. In order to solve this problem, the use of technology-based treatment, methods that do not rely on intensive contact with a therapist, have become increasingly popular. This kind of treatment relies on modern technology, such as smart phones, which are used, for example, to help patients keep track of their emotions and behaviours.

15.2 Most Effective Treatments


Biological treatment for anxiety involves the prescription of benzodiazepine drugs like Valium and Xanax. This is useful for short-term relief, but the addictiveness of these drugs prevents long-term use. A new drug named buspirone alleviates the symptoms for some people and is not addictive, but is not yet widely used. Cognitive-behavioural treatment of anxiety disorders involves getting clients to challenge their misperceptions and errors in cognition. It has been found to be more effective than drug therapy, placebos, and humanistic therapies.

Specific Phobias

Behavioural techniques tend to be the treatment of choice. A client makes a fear hierarchy, a list of frightening situations from least scary to horrifying. They are then guided through imagining or enacting situations, until they finally confront the real situation. With each confrontation, they are coached against their fear reaction. This is the process of systematic desensitization. Most phobias can be cured this way. To recap, behavioural treatments involve three methods:

  • Systematic desensitization: repeated and increased exposure (either imaginatively or directly) to the object of fear.
  • Modelling: demonstrating the non-threatening nature of the fear object by the therapist interacting with it as the client watches.
  • Flooding: intense exposure to the object of fear, while practicing guided relaxation exercises (facing fear and coming out the other side).

Panic Disorder

Cognitive behaviour therapy has been found to help as much as medication and also have a lasting effect beyond treatment, making it an attractive option. CBT includes a number of important components in how it deals with panic.

  • Clients are taught relaxation exercises that can give clients control over their symptoms and lets them gain control over other components of the therapy.
  • The therapist helps the client recognize what cognitions they have when experiencing pre-panic symptoms. Panic might be better analyzed when induced in the presence of the therapist. As they panic, the therapist leads them through their cognitions and exposes problematic tendencies.
  • The client practices relaxation exercises while experiencing panic symptoms as the therapist coaches them.
  • The therapist challenges the client’s catastrophizing thoughts and helps replace them with more adaptive thoughts.
  • The therapist uses systematic desensitization to expose the client to situations of fear and panic to help them maintain control over their symptoms.

CBT is considerably better than drugs at preventing relapse.


Biological treatments for OCD include a number of drugs. Serotonin-affecting drugs like clomipramine, fluvoxamine, and others have been shown to decrease obsessions and compulsions. Unfortunately, there are still many who do not respond to SSRIs, and some who do might not see all of their symptoms disappear. Coping mechanisms are needed for people to live a normal life with reduced symptoms.

The cognitive-behavioural theory on OCD points out that even people who don’t have the disorder sometimes have intrusive and distressing thoughts. Normal people, however, are able to dismiss them as the result of stress and let them go. People with OCD have trouble dismissing the thoughts. Compulsions may develop when people with anxiety-inducing obsessions are relieved when they engage in certain behaviours. CBT is effective for many patients. It often involves repeatedly exposing the client to the object of the obsession and preventing compulsive responses – for example, making the client’s hands dirty and preventing them from washing their hands while guiding them through relaxation and cognitive exercises. Clients may be given homework assignments that continue taking steps away from compulsive behaviour. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) may also be an effective treatment.


Scientific research has validated a great number of treatments for depression to the point that there is no “best” way, just different approaches that can often be used at the same time.

Drugs for Depression

Iproniazid, an MAO inhibitor, was the first drug used to treat depression. MAOI's can be toxic, and patients must avoid red wine, cured meats, and aged cheeses, since these can cause severe reactions. Tricyclics like imipramine were also found effective, acting on neurotransmitters and the histamine system. They are effective, but broad, so they come one many unpleasant side effects. In the 1980’s, SSRIs were developed, which manage to target only serotonin reuptake. With fewer side effects, these grew in usage. Buproprion is also used, a drug that effects neurotransmitters but has even fewer side effects and no influence on sexual behaviour.

Antidepressants are prescribed on the belief that depression is caused by neurotransmitter imbalance. However, while they help treat the symptoms, this is not evidence that depression is caused by the imbalance. Treating the symptom and not the underlying cause would then be only partly helpful. Furthermore, placebos have been found to have a powerful effect on depression. CBT is just as effective in treating depression, and if used continually can prevent relapse.

CBT for Depression

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) has three main steps.

  • Help clients discover their automatic negative thoughts and understand how these cause depression. This involves homework that involves self-monitoring
  • Help clients challenge negative thoughts by suggesting alternative ways of interpreting situations.
  • Help clients recognize the role that fundamentally held beliefs and assumptions play in perpetuating depression.

Once cognitions are brought to awareness, behavioural homework assignments are given in which the clients practice new skills and behaviours. CBT is quite effective in treating depression, and up to 70% of clients experience full relief. CBT, IPT, and drug therapies appear to be equally effective in the treatment of most people with depression. Recent studies say that a combination of therapy and drug treatment is more effective than therapy alone, likely because the drugs allow a depressed person the energy required to fully embrace a therapy. Relapse in depression is high, and many suggest people prone to depression stay on a maintenance therapy like a drug therapy for years after their initial episodes. Both psychotherapy and drug therapy have been shown to have similar effects on the brain. In bipolar disorder, taking therapy along with drugs might reduce the rate of people stopping medications.

Alternative Treatments for Depression

Patients with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) experience periods of depression in winter. This can be treated with phototherapy, daily exposure to a high-intensity light source. Regular aerobic exercise can help treat depression because it releases endorphins, regulates body rhythms, and improves self-esteem. ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) is effective for people with depression who do not respond to other treatments. It works quickly, so is preferred for extreme cases where people are being monitored against suicide. ECT may also be preferable for pregnant women. It may, however, have a side-effect of memory loss.

Deep Brain Stimulation for Depression

DBS might also be useful in treating depression when nothing else helps. After its success with Parkinson’s patients, DBS electrodes were inserted into the brains of people with severe depression with remarkable results. At least half of severely depressed clients found some relief with DBS. Stimulation in the caudate relieves OCD symptoms while stimulation in the nucleus accumbens relieves depressive symptoms.

Depression and Gender Issues

Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression than men are, partially accounted for by higher rates of victimization, lower economic resources, and work inequity. There are guidelines meant to help remind practitioners of gender-specific stressors like work-family interactions, female biology, and the stereotypes faced by minority women, lesbians, and women with disabilities. Treating men is difficult because many are reluctant to admit problems and seek therapy. Men often mask depression with alcohol, isolation, and irritability.

Bipolar Disorder

Lithium is a common drug used in treating bipolar disorder. It stabilizes serotonin, dopamine and glutamate, reducing mania more than depression. Most people with bipolar disorder continue to use the drug between episodes to prevent relapses. Unfortunately, doses vary between people and the difference between an effective and ineffective dose of lithium is small enough that patients must be monitored. The mechanisms by which lithium works is not yet known; but research has found that the drug appears to balance inhibitory and excitatory brain activities. Side effects can be life-threatening, or can significantly decrease quality of life. Many people stop taking it or take it infrequently. Therapy is often helpful in combination with lithium because it helps encourage compliance and provide coping mechanisms.

Additionally, antipsychotic drugs have been found to stabilise moods and reduce episodes of mania. One common antipsychotic drug is quetiapine, or "Seroquel" as it is better known. Studies have shown that a combination of a mood stabiliser, such as lithium, and an atypical antipsychotic drug, such as quetiapine, is the most effective method for treating bipolar disorder.

Drugs for Schizophrenia

Original biological treatments for schizophrenia included neurosurgery (calming, but with huge side effects), insulin coma therapy (barely effective and highly dangerous), and Electroconvulsive Therapy (ineffective, and dangerous). People with schizophrenia were most often held in mental institutions, warehoused and not treated. In the 1950s, an effective drug for schizophrenia was finally discovered in the form of chlorpromazine, one of the phenothiazine class of drugs. Others in this class were also introduced, working by blocking dopamine receptors. Other classes of drugs were introduced after phenothiazines, including butyrophenones and thioxanthenes. These drugs are called neuroleptics. Haliperidol and chlorpromazine helped schizophrenia patients live independently, even though they have little impact on the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Both drugs have side effects that resemble Parkinson’s symptoms.

New drugs called atypical antipsychotics might show fewer symptoms and be even more effective than neuroleptics. The most common, clozapine, binds to D4 dopamine receptors but influences other neurotransmitters as well. It can help people who have never responded to phenothiazines. It also reduces negative symptoms. Side effects include dizziness, nausea, sedation, seizures, hyper-salivation, weight gain, and irregular heartbeats. In 1-2 percent of people, a disease called agranulotcytosis might develop, which can be fatal.

Psychosocial Treatments for Schizophrenia

While medication is essential for treating schizophrenia, psychosocial treatments are important for improving quality of life and recovery. Social skills training helps address some deficits in patients, like lack of affect, difficulty recognizing social cues, and predicting the effects of behaviour. Behavioural interventions can help with self-care. Cognitive training has been less effective. Intensive CBT for schizophrenia can also be useful.

Prognosis for Schizophrenia

Between 50 and 80 percent of schizophrenia patients that are hospitalized will be re-hospitalized for future schizophrenic episodes. Between 10 and 15% of people with schizophrenia commit suicide. Most people who suffer from schizophrenia stabilize within 5 to 10 years of their first episode, not deteriorating further, and 20-30% of schizophrenics recover significantly.

15.3 Treating Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are notoriously difficult to treat – people with them rarely seek therapy, and tend to see their environment as the cause of their disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is a form of therapy that combines CBT methods with a mindfulness approach. The therapy involves three stages:

  • Therapist targets the most extreme and self-destructive behaviours like cutting and suicide attempts, helping clients replace these with positive coping methods and problem-solving. The patient is taught to focus on the present.
  • Therapist helps patient explore traumatic experiences that might be the root of the problem.
  • Therapists helps patient develop self-respect and independent problem solving, so that they are not as dependent on others for validation.

Antisocial Personality Disorder - Therapy

Many approaches to treating APD have been attempted, but it has proven to be a difficult disorder to treat. Anti-anxiety drugs may lower hostility, and lithium may help with aggression and impulsive behaviour, but psychotropic medications have been overall minimally effective. Psychotherapeutic approaches are also not useful.

Behavioural approaches show promise, but only within closed institutions. CBT for APD involves correcting mistaken beliefs that any behaviour is justified if it serves a personal purpose.

Antisocial Personality Disorder Prognosis

The prognosis for APD is poor – most people will not change their behaviours. This is especially true when there are psychopathic traits involved. Efforts may be better spent at prevention, with treatment beginning when conduct disorder is diagnosed in children, and helping change the environmental and developmental risk factors involved.

15.4 Treating Childhood and Adolescent Disorders

The Controversial Use of Medication

8% of teenagers between 12 and 17 have experienced a major depressive episode in the last year. If untreated, such depression can lead to drug abuse, dropout, and suicide. Depression used to be considered a part of growing up and went minimally treated. SSRIs, when introduced to treat adolescent depression, were found to be effective to some degree, but also tended to increase thoughts of suicide. This prompted the recommendation that there be therapy alongside SSRI use.


ADHD is usually treated using a central nervous system stimulant called methylphenidate (Ritalin). Another drug is Adderall, which combines two other stimulants. Stimulants work because ADHD involves an underactive brain, and hyperactivity acts as a rudimentary way to raise arousal levels. At good doses, Ritalin and Adderall increase positive behaviours and concentration, reducing impulsivity. Children taking Ritalin tend to be happier and more socially adaptive. Side effects include sleep problems, reduced appetite, and temporary growth suppression. There is also a risk of abuse, because stimulants can also affect other people.

Behavioural treatment of ADHD is time consuming and intensive, though is supported by evidence. It is best done in combination with drug treatments. It helps children learn coping mechanisms and better behaviour long after the drug therapy stops being effective.


Applied behavioural analysis (ABA) is based on principles of operant conditioning and involves the systematic reinforcement of desired behaviours and the ignoring of undesired behaviours. This treatment can successfully treat autism, especially if begun early. When caught early, IQ and behaviour can both improve, allowing children to join normal kindergartens. Children with better language skills tend to do better with treatment than mute children. Instruction in symbolic play (pretend) can increase creativity and language use. ABA has the negative aspects of being intensive and all-encompassing, making other children in the family feel neglected, and the parents feel exhausted.

Since autism is likely caused by brain dysfunction, biological treatments may be helpful. SSRIs are not, and antipsychotics are minimally helpful in reducing repetitive behaviours. Autism may be related to a deficit in oxytocin. Findings on the use of oxytocin have been promising, though research is still in its infancy.

Long-term prognosis is poor, especially if autism is diagnosed late. Higher language ability is associated with better outcome, as is higher IQ.

Adolescent Depressive Disorders

Treating adolescents with depression can be a tricky task. There is much debate about whether the use of drugs to treat adolescent depression because a grave side-effect of taking SSRIs is suicide.

The Treatment for Adolescents with Depression Study (TADS) was a program looking at the results of SSRIs on adolescents vs. placebos. The group receiving SSRIs and CBT did best. There were still, however, more suicidal thoughts among SSRI participants. Suicide attempts, however, were uncommon. Psychotherapy is generally successful, making it the best treatment choice, and it can be effective on its own while also enhancing drug treatment.

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