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1 Adam Clarke How to write an essay for

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How to write an essay for Psychology A2 exams
The AQA A syllabus states the following allocation of marks for an exam essay (it should be noted
however that some aspects of AO3 overlap with AO2)
AO1 – 9 marks – knowledge and understanding:
outlining theories
AO2/AO3 – 16 marks – Evaluation and how science works:
Supporting studies
Opposing studies
Methodological issues (internal validity, ecological validity, population validity, reliability)
Bias (cultural bias, gender bias)
Debates (nature/nurture, free will/determinism, reductionism/holism)
Approaches (psychodynamic, cognitive, evolutionary, biological, behavioural)
Important note: evaluation of methodology is not essential, where examiners aren’t specifically
looking for AO3 points. This means that 16 points of AO2 can be written. Within such 16 points of
AO2 however, issues debates & approaches needs to be included. If issues debates & approaches
are not included, the AO2 mark is limited to 8 out of 16.
The example question used here will be:
Discuss Kohlberg’s gender consistency theory
(purple indicating AO1, green for supporting AO2/AO3, red for opposing AO2/AO3)
In figuring out their gender roles in society and relationship to others Kohlberg (1996) proposes that
children are active agents in control of their socialisation as a means of proliferating ideas of who
they should be. In the development of their gender there are three stages, starting with gender
identity (2-3 years) where they recognise themselves as either boy or girl, then gender stability (3-7
years) where they understand that they were and will always be the same gender. Finally with
gender consistency (7-12 years) they realise that even through superficial changes in appearance a
person’s gender remains the same.
Such developmental stages parallel Piaget’s cognitive development theory whereby a child’s mental
processes become increasingly sophisticated as they age. This is particularly so where conservation
is obtained during the concrete operational stage, allowing them to realise that objects stay the
same even if they are made to appear different. This pervades their views of gender where they see
that changes in appearance leave gender unaffected. Another significant concept from Piaget would
be decentration involving the child’s ability to take perspectives of other people, losing their
egocentricity and understanding how other children’s’ genders develop in the same way as their
own. This happens later during the concrete operational stage so it may take longer for a child to
realise that others have gender consistency than it would for them realise they remain the same
gender even through changes. Such theorising is holistic as cognitive development and gender
development influence one another in affecting an individual’s views of society and themselves. It is
because of this that Piaget’s theories support those of Kohlberg as they interact in a consistent
manner where the stages can coincide effectively.
Adam Clarke
Comment [A1]: Firstly, as seen here, an
outline of the key theoretical points should
be offered to gain AO1 marks. (around 7
marks here)
Comment [A2]: The AO2/AO3
points should be integrated with the AO1
points that have been described, allowing
more coherency. This differs from the
tendency at AS Level to write out all AO1
and then AO2. Here a statement regarding
the reductionism/holism debates is
made and extended upon for AO2/AO3
As they age the child develops their ability to classify objects and concepts to help identify what
typical male or female behaviour is for others and themselves. Specifically they pay more attention
and focus increasingly on same sex behaviour. They eventually recognise the type of behaviour they
should be following, making them more likely to internalise it allowing a realisation of how a child of
their sex should interact with other people. All of such gender development and eventually
internalisation involves self-socialisation where the child is in control of their development. Such
theorised control allows a high level of free will where their gender development is not
predetermined, allowing them to have a lot of influence in affecting their masculinity / femininity
and personality, where change is possible.
The developmental stages have been recognised as having a level of universality where they apply to
individuals of other cultures, with cognitive development being mainly due to the influence of
nature rather than nurture. It is because of this that there is a lot of reliability in applying Kohlberg’s
constancy theory to individuals of different populations with the effect of nature in brain
development and as a consequence the development of mental processes developing in mostly the
same sequence of stages worldwide.
Weinraub et al. (1984) corroborate Kohlberg through their observational study of 2-3 year olds.
The study demonstrated that children who developed gender identity made more sex-stereotyped
preferences for toys than those without gender identity. This shows that once children recognised
themselves as boys or girls they would behave in ways they thought appropriate for their gender.
This supports gender constancy theory regarding the idea that children should have a preference for
gender-typed behaviour and activities after acquiring gender identity. There may be a lack of
external validity here though, as the use of toys may not be generalised to a preference for all
behaviour or activities that are consistent with the individual’s gender.
Research validation is offered by Slaby and Frey (1975) where children were tested to determine if
they had achieved gender identity by being asked if they are a boy or a girl, where they were shown
a picture or a boy/girl and told to choose which they were. Gender stability involved questioning
them on if they have and will always be boy/girl and finally gender consistency involved observing
children as they watched a video of men and women. Those with greatest gender consistency
watched more same-gender models, evidence that at this stage of development children focus more
on same-gender models to provide them with information about what behaviour is suitable. This
study supports Kohlberg by showing that children have different understandings of gender at
different ages in the same order that Kohlberg had proposed. The methods used in such study were
appropriate for the ages, where asking children to point at photographs or watch a video was within
their cognitive capabilities. Furthermore this is important as the children may not have been able to
verbalise their answers to pointing to images was suitable. A weakness of such study would be
demand characteristics where children may have been choosing images based on what they
assumed the experimenter wanted, leading to less internal validity, though this should not be too
much of an issue as children of such a young age are unlikely to be heavily affected by demand
Adam Clarke
Comment [A3]: The final 2 AO1
points can be achieved here, allowing time
to be allocated for the AO2/AO3 marks.
Comment [A4]: More AO2/AO3
here pertaining to the free will debate
Comment [A5]: Cultural bias is
considered as well as nature/nurture
debate AO3
Comment [A6]: The reliability of
the theory is recognised here. AO2/AO3
Comment [A7]: A supporting
study is offered here and explained for
AO2 marks
Comment [A8]: A comment on
the methodologically related to validity –
Comment [A9]: A supporting AO2
study is outlined here, though the answer
is perhaps too exhaustive for the time limit
in the exam.
Comment [A10]: AO3 – advantages of
the methodology explained here
Comment [A11]: AO2/AO3 –
disadvantage of the methodology
A study opposing Kohlberg was provided by Martin and Little (1990) who stated that gender role
behaviour can be obtained prior to acquisition of gender consistency by showing that children with
only basic gender understanding still had strong stereotypes. The order of stages may have been
incorrect where Kohlberg may also be criticised for being too reductionist in determining the stages,
as he attempts to divide a complex interaction of mental processes into simplified time-allocated
phases. There may also have been some methodological issues for Kohlberg as shown by Bem
where real-life images of children yield different results for gender consistency than only using
drawn pictures.
Adam Clarke
Comment [A12]: AO2 – Opposing
Comment [A13]: AO3 –
Reductionism debate
Comment [A14]: AO2/AO3 –
methodology of study
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