AQA A A2 students are encouraged to include evaluation points relating to issues, debates and/or approaches. Common debates include determinism/free will and reductionism a. Popular issues include gender bias and cultural bias. The following comments from the AQA Report on the Examination provide some very useful advice for students on these debates/issues;

January 2013 report: Determinism

All explanations/theories in psychology are determinist, as they are trying to explain the reason people do things. 2008-11-05-determinism.jpg.pagespeed.ce.18t5oDdlxISo referring to any particular theory as ‘determinist’ is trivial. It is only in specific areas that it becomes an important issue e.g. evolutionary and genetic theories of aggression suggest that individuals do not have free will and choice over their aggressive behaviour. This has implications for individual responsibility, morality and the justice system. If elaborated in this way, then references to determinism/free will can earn credit. However, it is depressing to read that genetic explanations of narcolepsy are determinist, and ‘deny the free will to choose not to be narcoleptic…..’ It would usually be better to steer students away from this particular issue.

June 2010 report: Reductionism

The term ‘reductionism’ was regularly misused to refer to approaches that focused on a single model or explanation, e.g. cognitive, psychoanalytic, evolutionary or behavioural. Such approaches may be criticised as narrow or limited, but they are not necessarily reductionist. The term ‘reductionism’ came from biology, and refers to explanations at the lowest and most detailed level; e.g. studying the functions of the liver by studying individual liver cells, or the functions of the brain by examining individual neurons. In psychology, the term is most appropriately applied to biological explanations (e.g. genetics, neurotransmitters, hormones) of complex human behaviours such as schizophrenia, eating disorders and aggression. Such reductionist explanations can be legitimately criticised as ignoring psychological, social and cultural factors. However, the social learning theory of aggression or anorexia nervosa is not reductionist because it ignores genetic factors; it is narrow or limited.

June 2011 report:

‘Gender bias’ is an issue often used in the wrong place. Studies on testosterone and aggression are not biased. It is simply a matter of fact that males have more testosterone than women and research indicates that it has an important role in male aggression. Better candidates were able to point out that women can be aggressive too but explanations might be different to those for male aggression.

‘Cultural bias’ is also commonly misused. Most studies are done in one place and are therefore limited. It is only when findings are generalised to other cultures that bias might come in; this can be important in areas such as relationships, but not so much in biological explanations of behaviour or in models of face perception.

4 thoughts on “IDA

  1. C Walsh says:

    Hi Cara,

    For an A grade essay at A2, would a student be required to discuss an issue, debate and an approach in the essay? A friend of mine attended an AQA course last year where they were told that examiners do look for all three in an essay. I have always assumed that quality over quantity would be better, but now I am concerned that I may be stopping students achieving their A grades!

    Any help would be appreciated!


    • Hello

      I have never heard that to be the case and, in fact, the Report on the Examination for January 2013 PSYA3 says ‘Use of one or two relevant IDA demonstrating clear understanding can earn good AO2/3 marks and lift an answer into the top band.’

      It might be best to put your question to AQA if it was said at one of their meetings.


  2. karlmarx says:

    Dear Cara
    Is there any sense in which the biosocial theory of gender can be viewed as reductionist?

    • Rob Bircher says:

      Dear Mary,

      I’ve asked Cara about your query (she is currently out of the country), and she says her answer would basically be ‘no’: it would only apply if something was being reduced to a biological level, and since a biosocial explanation isn’t solely biological it isn’t reductionist. I hope that helps and many thanks for your query.



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