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Example Answers for Issues & Debates: A Level Psychology, Paper 3, June 2019 (AQA)


Last updated 16 Dec 2019

Here are some example answers to the written Paper 3 questions on Issues & Debates in the 2019 AQA exams.

Question 1

This is research which has implications for certain groups in society and can affect the way they are treated or perceived. For example, Bowlby’s attachment research may have led mothers to feel that they could not return to work.

Question 2

A paradigm is a shared set of assumptions about how behaviour is explained or studied. For example, the focus on causal explanations of behaviour. A shift or change occurs when researchers change from one established explanation or way of studying behaviour to another. For example, the change in focus from causal explanations for behaviour to free will. This normally occurs because of new evidence which leads to a scientific revolution. For example, the cognitive revolution in the 1970s and the more recent emphasis on cognitive neuroscience.

Question 4

The nature-nurture debate in psychology is based on the relative importance of heredity (nature) or the environment (nurture) in determining behaviour. Nativists believe that ‘anatomy is destiny’ and that heredity is more influential, whereas empiricists believe that all knowledge is learned and the mind is a ‘tabula rasa’ or blank slate on which experiences are written.

The heritability coefficient is used to determine how much of a behaviour (e.g. intelligence) is the results of inheritance and how much is due to environmental influences. It ranges from 0 to 1, where 1 would suggest a behaviour was purely determined by genes and 0 would suggest is was purely determined by environmental factors. Research has shown intelligence to have a heritability coefficient of approximately 0.5, which suggests that it is influenced by both nature and nurture.

Therefore, it has been suggested that rather than nature and nurture contradicting each other, they actually interact to produce behaviour and it makes very little sense to try and separate them. This is demonstrated in twin studies where it is very difficult to know whether the increased similarity between MZ twins is due to genes (nature) or the fact that they have been raised in the same environment (nurture).

One example of an interactionist approach is the diathesis-stress model that is used to explain mental health problems like schizophrenia or OCD. The diathesis is the genetic component which makes a person vulnerable, and the stressor is an environmental factor that ‘triggers’ it. Evidence to support this comes from the adoption study by Tienari et al. which found that those more likely to develop schizophrenia had a biological parent with schizophrenia (nature) and were raised in a family rated as being dysfunctional (nurture).

Further evidence to support the idea that nature and nurture interact comes from the study of epigenetics. This refers to the way that things that happen to us can leave marks on our DNA, which tell our bodies which genes to switch on or which to ignore. These marks can also go on to influence the genetic code of our children. Evidence to support this comes from a study where mice were given electric shocks every time they were exposed to the smell of a particular chemical. Afterwards the mice showed a fear reaction every time they were presented with the scent as would be expected. However, their children and even their grandchildren also showed a fear reaction even though they had never been exposed to it or received any shocks. This demonstrates how nurture can influence nature and why it is illogical to separate them.

Constructivism also focuses on the way that nature and nurture interact, as it has been suggested that people are able to create their own ‘nurture’ based on their ‘nature’. Plomin refers to this as ‘niche picking’ and an example would be that children who have aggressive tendencies (due to nature) are more likely to seek out others who are also aggressive or activities where being aggressive is an advantage. Scarr and McCarthy proposed different gene-environment correlations and this would be an example of an active interaction as the child has created their own environment through the people and experiences they have selected based on their genetic make-up. This is very different from nativism or behaviourism that see children as being passive in their development and again illustrates how it does not make sense to separate nature and nurture.

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