How do we know what we know in Psychology? Research!
Throughout this course and in almost every lesson you’re going to be asked to answer questions, such as*:
- How do levels of serotonin influence behaviour?
- What causes depression?
- Can we trust our memory?
In answering all of these questions you need to use research to support your answer. Research means studies (e.g. experiments, correlational studies, meta-analyses) and theories.
Structuring an Answer
- It’s first important when writing an answer that you give your reader some idea of where you’re going. Provide them some guidance on what they’re about to read.
- You need to use the research in your answer. So this means summarising the key details of the research that you want to explain. Again, this will give your reader some much needed context so they can understand your later analyses and explanations.
- After you’ve summarised the research you need to apply it to the question. That is to say, you need to show how the research helps you to answer the question (because if it doesn’t you wouldn’t have chosen to write about it!)
So to summarise, remember these steps:
- Summarise your argument
- Summarise the research
- Explain how the research answers the question
Here’s an excellent example (thanks, Mame!) to the question: “How can serotonin levels influence behaviour?”
In the Crocket et al research, they deliberately decreased the levels of serotonin by taking away tryptophan, an important amino acid that builds serotonin. When the participants scanned their brains in the fMRI, they were presented with pictures of different faces. The scans showed that the functions of the frontal lobe decreased, as the levels of serotonin were reduced.
Also, they found out that the communication between the frontal lobe and amygdala weakened. When people are in dangerous situations, the amygdala is activated, and it sends signals to other parts of the brain to get ready for a response.
Therefore, when levels of serotonin is reduced, the frontal lobe functions poorly, and that weakens its communication with the amygdala. Since the frontal lobe functions for people to make good decisions, when the communication between the amygdala and frontal lobe weakens, it makes people act violently before thinking twice.
Notice how Mame’s answer introduces the research and shows a clear connection to serotonin, which is what the question is asking. Her second paragraph goes further into summarising the studies and what they did while only keeping the relevant parts. The final part of the question explains clearly what this study shows about how serotonin can influence behaviour and how it might do so.
*The questions won't be worded quite like this - these are oversimplified and don't use the appropriate terminology, because if I used the right terminology at this stage you may not be able to understand the questions.
Travis Dixon is an IB Psychology teacher, author, workshop leader, examiner and IA moderator.