Psychology glossary

A glossary of psychology terms and definitions

Psychology dictionary ideal for A Level and undergraduate psychology students

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Agentic state
An explanation for obedience. A person may obey an order, even an order to carry out an immoral action such as harming another person, because they move from being responsible for their own actions to passing responsibility to the person giving the order. They are no longer autonomous decision makers, but instead become agents of the authority figure.
The amygdala is a primitive area of the brain (part of the limbic system, and located within the left and right temporal lobes) that is involved in emotional processing, and emotions linked to survival in particular (such as the fight or flight response, fear, anger and pleasure). Dysfunction of the amygdala in humans has been linked to extreme behaviours such as mass killing (an extreme form of aggression) as in the case of Charles Whitman in 1966 who shot at staff and students in the University of Texas, killing 16 and injuring 32.
Anterograde amnesia
A form of memory dysfunction in which the sufferer is unable to make new memories after whatever caused the amnesia. This can happen for a short time (e.g. with concussion) or permanently (e.g. with damage to both the left and right hippocampi). Case studies, such as HM and Clive Wearing who both suffered bilateral hippocampi damage, have shown that all memories before the incident are retained, new memories can be stored for 20-30 seconds only, but no new declarative (autobiographical) memories after the incident can be made. They can, however, learn new skills but they are unaware they have done so. Anterograde amnesia supports the multi-store model of memory as the model allows for a normal STM, but a dysfunctional LTM; however the finding that skills and procedural memories can be stored is a problem for the unitary concept of LTM.
Benjamin franklin Effect
Get someone to do a favour for you—also known as the Benjamin Franklin effect. Legend has it that Benjamin Franklin once wanted to win over a man who didn’t like him. He asked the man to lend him a rare book and when the book was received he thanked him graciously. As a result, the man who had never wanted to speak to him before, became good friends with Franklin. To quote Franklin: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.” Scientists decided to test this theory and found that those who were asked by the researcher for a personal favour rated the researcher much more favourably than the other groups did. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the theory is pretty sound. If someone does a favour for you, they are likely to rationalise that you must have been worth doing the favour for, and decide that therefore they must like you.

Circadian rhythm
A body cycle that lasts 24 hours (or, literally translated, about a day). The sleep-wake cycle is an example of a circadian rhythm, although it only lasts 24 hours because it is reset by external zeitgebers (such as day light, meal times, and the clock). Research by Siffre (1975), in which he isolated himself in a cave away from natural light, found the human sleep-wake cycle to actually be around 24-25 hours.

Demand characteristic
This occurs when a research design causes participants to behave in a certain way. An example would be the participant guessing the aim of the study and either trying to respond as they think they are expected to, or alternatively to mess the results up. Another example would be a participant's desire to appear in a favourable light, and therefore not acting as they naturally would.
Dependent variable
In research, the dependent variable is measured as a result of the dependent variable.

Extraneous variable
In research, extraneous variables are variables other then the independent variable that also affect the dependent variable. Extraneous variables need to be eliminated or controlled for as far as is practicably possible.
Frustration Aggression hypothesis
Proposed by Dollard & Miller et al (1939) as an explanation for violent behaviour towards others. The hypothesis argues that being frustrated by a situation leads to aggression, and that when the frustration cannot be relieved by other means then it leads to violence being directed at an innocent target. An example of this could be a man who is unable to complete his job properly, and so takes his frustration out on his family when he gets home.
Gradual Commitment
Gradual commitment is an explanation for obedience. It accounts for people following an order to do a terrible deed by initially following an instruction to do something minor, then something a bit worse, then worse again, and finally the jump to the terrible deed does not seem so huge. An example of gradual commitment is found in Milgram's 1963 electric shock study. Participants were initially instructed to deliver a 15 volt shock, then a 30 volt one and so on in 15 volt increments al the way up to 450 volts. It is very unlikely of them would have just given a 450 volt shock if they had not gradually built up to it.
Hazing is a form of aggression within institutions. It is often used as a form of initiation ritual for new or prospective members of a group (e.g. peer group) or society (e.g. Greek letter fraternities in American Universities). Hazing generally consists of activities involve harassment or abuse, for example physical beatings, confinement, drinking alcohol, public nudity, etc. The general idea seems to be that if a person is committed enough to a group then they will endure the initiation rituals required for membership, and be doing so will make the group stronger.
Importation theory
Importation theory (Irwin & Cressey, 1962) tries to explain why people become aggressive within institutions, such as prisons. The theory states that people take their pre-institutionalised personality into the institution - i.e. if they have an already aggressive personality, then they will continue to behave aggressively within the institution. Support for the theory comes from research that links pre-conviction behaviours with behaviours carried out in prison, for example Harer & Steffensmeier (1996) found that within US prisons, black inmates were more likely to be aggressive, and white inmates were more likely to engage in drug and alcohol taking, thus reflecting cultural norms within the communities the inmates came from. The theory ignores any situational factors within the prison, which is in many ways its downfall because the theory is unable to accurate predict which prison inmates will actually be violent, regardless of their pre-conviction personalities.
Imposed etic
An imposed etic occurs when a member of one culture judges another culture through his/her own culture's expectations/norms etc. An example is the Strange Situation (Ainsworth) in which Japanese and German cultures were judged as having abnormal attachment styles. However, this was by an American understanding of normal attachment; both German and Japanese children have normal attachment styles for their cultures.
Independent variable
In research, the independent variable is set or manipulated by the researcher.

Negative reinforcement
In operant conditioning, reinforcement of a behaviour that is provided by the removal or alleviation of an unpleasant condition. E.g. feeding a hungry child or putting a coat on when it is cold.
Positive reinforcement
In operant conditioning, reinforcement of a behaviour that is provided by the introduction of a pleasant reinforcer. E.g. praising a child for behaving in an appropriate way.
Privation of attachment
Privation of attachment occurs when a child has never had the opportunity to form an attachment to another person. Usually this occurs as a form of child abuse in which the child is kept isolated (e.g. locked in a room with no contact other than perhaps the provision of food) from birth. Famous cases include Genie who was discovered at the age of 13. Genie had been kept locked in her bedroom from birth, sometimes tied to a commode, and fed by her brother. Her privation resulted in cognitive deficits, such as poor language skills, and the inability to walk properly.
Random Sampling
A random sample is selected without any bias from the available population. Participants can be selected by simply drawing names out of a hat, or preferably by using a random number generator. Advantages of random sampling are that the sample is not biased in any way by the experimenter's preferences and every potential participant has an equal chance of taking part. The weakness of random sampling is that it may not represent the target population (e.g. if randomly selecting participants from a target population with 55% females and 45% males, the random sample may end up with 40% females and 60% males).
Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS)
The Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) was developed by Holmes & Rahe (1967) after they observed that life changes often preceded physical or mental illness. The scale gives life events (e.g. starting a new job, going on holiday etc) a score between 1 and 100, and the cumulative total experienced in the preceding 6 months indicates the level of social readjustment that has been undergone, and in turn predicts the likelihood of illness. Holmes & Rahe (1970) tested the validity of their SRRS on a sample of 2500 American Navy personnel, with the finding that SRRS score positively correlated significantly, albeit weakly, with illness (r=0.118)
Spearman's Rho
Spearman's Rho is an inferential statistical test of correlation. To use the test, data needs to be related and at least ordinal. The result will be a correlation coefficient (-1.0 to 1.0) and significance can be established by checking the coefficient against critical values in a significance table.
Theory of Mind
At around the age of 3 most children will have developed the concept that other people think differently and have a different perspective on the world to them. Until this stage, children believe that everyone else knows and sees the same as they do. Failing to develop a theory of mind has been proposed as an explanation for autism by Simon Baron-Cohen.
The word zeitgeber literally translates to time giver. A zeitgeber is therefore something in the environment that synchronises an organism with the time of day. An example of a zeitgeber that influences humans is day light, which directly influences the suprachiasmatic nucleus to synchronise the circadian rhythm. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is thought to be the result of weaker light levels in winter that do not sufficiently resynchronise the circadian rhythm, which in turn may result in depression. There is some evidence that SAD can be treated with artificial light boxes that simulate strong day light.

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