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Exam technique advice

Example Answers for Psychopathology: A Level Psychology, Paper 1, June 2018 (AQA)

  • Levels: A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA

Section D – Psychopathology: Q13 [1 Mark]

A = Cognitive


Section D – Psychopathology: Q14 [4 Marks]


Section D – Psychopathology: Q15 [2 Marks]

A Spearman’s rho statistical test is appropriate for this data as a test of association/relationship (not difference) is required, and the data is ordinal level.


Section D – Psychopathology: Q16 [1 Mark]

The correlation coefficient would be approximately +.07


Section D – Psychopathology: Q17 [16 Marks]

Cognitive theories for explaining depression include Beck’s Cognitive Triad and Ellis’s A-B-C Model. Beck claimed depression is caused by negative self-schemas and cognitive biases that maintain a cognitive (negative) triad: a negative view of ourselves, the future and the world around us. According to Beck, depressed people possess negative self-schemas, caused by negative experiences in childhood, for example, criticism from parents. Furthermore, Beck found that depressed people are more likely to focus on the negative aspects of a situation, while ignoring the positives. This distorts information, a process known as cognitive bias, and includes overgeneralising. For example, ‘I’ve failed one test so I will fail ALL of my exams!’

Ellis proposed the A-B-C three-stage model, to explain how irrational thoughts can lead to depression. An activating event (A) occurs, for example, you pass a friend in the corridor at school and they ignore you, when you say ‘hello’. Your belief (B) is your interpretation, which could either be rational or irrational. According to Ellis, an irrational belief (e.g. ‘my friend must hate me’) can lead to unhealthy emotional consequences (C), including depression.

One strength of the cognitive explanation for depression is its application to therapy. Cognitive explanations have been used to develop effective treatments for depression, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), which was developed from Ellis’s ABC model. These therapies attempt to identify and challenge negative, irrational thoughts and have been successfully used to treat people with depression, providing further support to the cognitive explanation of depression.

However, one weakness of the cognitive approach is that it does not explain the origins of irrational thoughts. Since most of the research in this area is correlational psychologists are therefore unable to determine if negative, irrational thoughts cause depression, or whether a person’s depression leads to a negative mindset. Consequently, it is possible that other factors, for example, genes and neurotransmitters, are the cause of depression and the negative, irrational thoughts are the symptom of depression.

In addition, there are alternative explanations which suggest that depression is a biological condition, caused by genes and neurotransmitters. Research focused on the role of serotonin has found lower levels in patients with depression. In addition, drug therapies, including SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibiters), which increase the level of serotonin, are found to be effective in the treatment of depression, which provide further support for the role of neurotransmitters, in the development of depression. This therefore casts doubt on the cognitive explanation as a sole cause of the disorder.

There is research evidence which supports the cognitive explanation of depression. Boury et al. (2001) found that patients with depression were more likely to misinterpret information negatively (cognitive bias) and feel hopeless about their future (cognitive triad). Further to this, Bates et al. (1999) gave depressed patients negative automatic thought statements to read and found that their symptoms became worse. These findings support different components of Beck’s theory and the idea that negative thinking is involved in depression.

Revision Resources for AQA A Level Psychology

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