What is Psychology?

“..It’s all about thoughts and feelings, isn’t it?”

This is a phrase that is regularly heard when the topic of psychology arises. Psychology is a relatively new subject, and there exist a number of misconceptions about what it is. Therefore, before talking about what psychology is, it might be better to talk about what psychology isn’t.

It’s an easy subject

Psychology is a rigorous, academic subject, requiring good skills in English, Maths and Science. For every theory in psychology, there are about 10 opposing theories! Therefore it is a subject which requires good critical thinking and evaluative skills.

It’s just common sense

While psychological research often confirms what we think we know about human behaviour, often the results of scientific investigation go against what we think is true. For example, did you know that 65% of people are willing to give a fatal electric shock to a stranger if a man in a lab coat tells them to? (Milgram, 1963)

Psychologists are always trying to analyse you. It’s all about thoughts and feelings and/or crazy people!

A common mistake is to confuse Psychiatry (or counselling) with Psychology. Psychology is the study of brain and behaviour, whereas psychiatry is the practice of helping people with mental health issues. While psychologists are often interested in psychological disorders, often they are much more interested in explaining normal behaviour! 

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) Early psychologist  

Psychology Is:

The study of people: how they think, act, react, and interact. Psychologists scientifically study all kinds of behaviour and the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of that behaviour.

Psychology examines questions like:

  • How do people act on a first date?
  • Why do people forget things?
  • How can we help people to overcome depression or phobias?
  • Why are some people more aggressive than others? 

By collecting information about what people do, think, and feel, Psychologists try to answer questions about human behaviour.

If you are thinking of studying Psychology, you are probably already curious about why people think and act in the way they do.

Psychology is an interdisciplinary subject that draws on the Sciences and the Humanities by applying scientific methods and theories to understand human behaviour.

It relates to everyday life by addressing topics such as learning, memory and group behaviour but in order to understand psychology, you also need to look at aspects of Biology, Ethics and Philosophy. All this combined makes Psychology a most fascinating subject to study, but also our students develop a wide range of skills.

Career opportunities:

Psychology can lead to specific careers in Industrial, Clinical or Forensic Psychology, counselling and therapy, but it is also a useful qualification to have if you are thinking of any career that involves dealing with people (almost everything!) An understanding of psychological procedures and principles would also be useful in careers such as teaching, health service related occupations, law (including police) and social work.

Exam Board AQA Psychology:

AQA Specification

Psychology is an exam based subject with all exams culminating at the end of two years of study.  

A Level Psychology 2015 Course Content

Unit 1

Social influence

Why do people conform to group pressures and obey authority?

Conformity; Obedience; Independent behaviour and Implications for social change.


Unit 2


How do we remember and why do we forget?

The multi-store model; The working memory model; Eye-witness testimony and the use of the Cognitive Interview          


Unit 3


How and why do we form attachments to others?

Explanations of attachment; Types of attachment and the Disruption of attachment


Unit 4

Approaches in Psychology

What are the origins of Psychology and is Psychology a science?

Unit 5


What is ‘abnormality’? And how do people develop Phobias, Depression and OCD?

Psychopathology (abnormality); Definitions of abnormality; Approaches to abnormality and Treating abnormality.

Unit 6

Research Methods

How is psychological research carried out and interpreted?

Methods and techniques; Investigation design and Data analysis and presentation.


Unit 7


How does the brain work?

Unit 8

Issues and debates in Psychology

Are Psychological studies biased in any way?

We will then be learning the first topic from each of these option blocks:

Option block 1

Relationships, Gender, or Cognitive Development


The Formation maintenance and breakdown of romantic relationships; Effects of early experience and culture on adult relationships and Evolutionary explanations of reproductive behaviour

Option block 2

Schizophrenia, Eating Behaviour, or Stress


Clinical characteristics and issues surrounding classification and diagnosis of schizophrenia. Biological and psychological explanations of schizophrenia.  Biological and psychological therapies for schizophrenia.


Option block 3

Aggression, Forensic Psychology, or Addiction


Describing addiction; Risk factors in the development of addiction. Explanations for nicotine and gambling addiction and reducing addiction.


Course structure:

We will be undertaking the A level Psychology course over 2 years. Covering topics 1-7 in the first year and topics 8 and 3 more (1 each from option blocks 1-3)


Exams: You will sit 3 summer exams at the end of your second year.


Paper 1: 2 hour exam, topics 1-4.                                  96 marks in total worth 33% of the A level Grade


Paper 2: 2 hour exam, topics 5-7.                                   96 marks in total worth 33% of the A level Grade


Paper 3: 2 hour exam, topic 8 plus one topic from each of the 3 option blocks.

                                                                                    96 marks in total worth 33% of the A level Grade


Entry Requirements:     

Students must at least have grades CCC from Mathematics, English Language/Literature and a Science (including Psychology). (Though a B and above are preferred in these subjects).