A-Level Specification for AQA (7181, 7182)


What is Psychology? Is a frequently asked question with many responses claiming it to enable people to read the mind and predict behaviour with a near enough 100% accuracy. Unfortunately, you will not learn to be like Derren Brown on this course, although we will analyse some of his experiments. Psychology is about understanding human behaviour and its motivations. Why do people behave the way they do? What drives their behaviour? Is it down to our genetic make-up? Or maybe it’s to do with our environment? Why do people commit mass genocide? Are there gender differences in obedience levels? In psychology we attempt to answer these questions as best we can by exploring a variety of different approaches to do so.

Content & Breakdown

Unit 1; Introductory Topics in Psychology

  • Social Influence – how does social influence process change? Why do people conform to social roles? Are we born evil?
  • Memory – why do we forget? Could our memory lead us to give false eyewitness testimonies?
  • Attachment – does our childhood have an impact and influence our relationships when we get older? Does maternal deprivation lead to psychopathy?
  • Psychopathology – what is abnormal behaviour? Is biology a major component of depression? Is drug therapy the best form or therapy?

Unit 2; Psychology in Context

  • Approaches in Psychology – the different ways of studying behaviour. Are we conditioned to behave in certain ways? Do our mental processes have a major role to play in our behaviour?
  • Biopsychology – the fight or flight response, when does it kick in? Does brain structure influence behaviour? Do neurotransmitters govern behaviour?
  • Research Methods – how do psychologists conduct research? What techniques and methods do they use? Can they be relied upon?

Unit 3; Issues and Options in Psychology

  • Issues and Debates – gender and culture in society, idiographic and nomothetic approaches to psychological investigation, scientific emphasis on causal explanations and free will vs determinism
  • Option 1
    • Cognition and development – The development of social cognition: Selman’s levels of perspective-taking; theory of mind, including theory of mind as an explanation for autism; the Sally-Anne study. The role of the mirror neuron system in social cognition.
    • Gender – Sex and gender. Sex-role stereotypes. Androgyny and measuring androgyny including the Bem Sex Role Inventory. The role of chromosomes and hormones (testosterone, oestrogen and oxytocin) in sex and gender. Atypical sex chromosome patterns.
    • Relationships – The evolutionary explanations for partner preferences, including the relationship between sexual selection and human reproductive behaviour and factors affecting attraction in romantic relationships
  • Option 2
    • Schizophrenia – Classification of schizophrenia. Positive symptoms of schizophrenia, including hallucinations and delusions. Negative symptoms of schizophrenia, including speech poverty and avolition. Reliability and validity in diagnosis and classification of schizophrenia, including reference to co-morbidity, culture and gender bias and symptom overlap. Biological explanations for schizophrenia: genetics, the dopamine hypothesis and neural correlates. Psychological explanations for schizophrenia: family dysfunction and cognitive explanations, including dysfunctional thought processing.
    • Eating behaviour – Explanations for food preferences: the evolutionary explanation, including reference to neophobia and taste aversion; the role of learning in food preference, including social and cultural influences. Neural and hormonal mechanisms involved in the control of eating behaviour, including the role of the hypothalamus, ghrelin and leptin. Biological explanations for anorexia nervosa, including genetic and neural explanations.
    • Stress – The physiology of stress, including general adaptation syndrome, the hypothalamic pituitary-adrenal system, the sympathomedullary pathway and the role of cortisol. The role of stress in illness, including reference to immunosuppression and cardiovascular disorders. Sources of stress: life changes and daily hassles. Workplace stress, including the effects of workload and control.
  • Option 3
    • Aggression – Neural and hormonal mechanisms in aggression, including the roles of the limbic system, serotonin and testosterone. Genetic factors in aggression, including the MAOA gene. The ethological explanation of aggression, including reference to innate releasing mechanisms and fixed action patterns. Evolutionary explanations of human aggression. Social psychological explanations of human aggression, including the frustration-aggression hypothesis, social learning theory as applied to human aggression, and de-individuation.
    • Forensic psychology – Psychological explanations of offending behaviour: Eysenck’s theory of the criminal personality; cognitive explanations; level of moral reasoning and cognitive distortions, including hostile attribution bias and minimalisation; differential association theory; psychodynamic explanations. Dealing with offending behaviour: the aims of custodial sentencing and the psychological effects of custodial sentencing. Recidivism. Behaviour modification in custody. Anger management and restorative justice programmes
    • Addiction – Describing addiction: physical and psychological dependence, tolerance and withdrawal syndrome. Risk factors in the development of addiction, including genetic vulnerability, stress, personality, family influences and peers. Explanations for nicotine addiction: brain neurochemistry, including the role of dopamine, and learning theory as applied to smoking behaviour, including reference to cue reactivity.


At the end of Year 13 students will sit 3 papers:

Paper 1 (Unit 1):

  • 2 hours
  • 96 marks
  • 3% of the A-level
  • Sections A-D

Paper 2 (Unit 2):

  • 2 hours
  • 96 marks
  • 3% of the A-level
  • Sections A-C

Paper 3 (Unit 3):

  • 2 hours
  • 96 marks
  • 3% of the A-level
  • Sections A-D

Careers/Further Education

People take Psychology because they find it different to anything they have studied before. Regardless of what your future plans are, employers and universities view it as a valuable subject to have. Many students end up applying for Psychology degrees as they wish to concentrate on more specialised areas, such as clinical or criminal psychology. It is also useful for teaching, police work and sports therapy/physiotherapy.

For more information contact:

Miss Naomi Sadler