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[1.1.1] Theories of Obedience

Agency Theory (Milgram)

  • Obedience is learnt through socialisation.
  • Humans are always in one of two states: agency and autonomy
  • Agency = Obeying an authority figure, and therefore seeing themselves as an agent of the authority figure.
  • Autonomy = Being in control of your own actions, having your own free will.
  • By default, we’re in an autonomous stage, but when given an instruction by a (perceived or actual) legitimate authority figure, we switch to an agentic state. This is called agentic shift. The responsibility for our actions moves to the authority figure.
  • When told to do something against your morals, moral strain occurs. This is when a person feels uncomfortable or distressed when being told to do something by an authority figure.
  • You can remove moral strain by either dissenting or obeying as moral strain is felt when the person is contemplating their choices.


(+) Milgram’s experiments.


Social Impact Theory ()

Introduction to Psychology
Psychological Skills

Introduction to Psychology

Note: This course is for Edexcel Psychology A Level (and AS level), specification (9PS0 – taught from 2015). Also, in the A level, there are a total of 4 topics, but only two are compulsory. Everybody must study clinical psychology, but one must be chosen from the other three. This website will only cover criminological psychology – not health psychology or child psychology.

Psychology is the science of the mind, mental states, processes and behaviours.


In Psychology there isn’t a single, universally-accepted way to explain behaviours, instead, there are many approaches which explain various behaviours. No one approach is correct, and most Psychologists would agree that the true explanation for behaviours is a result of multiple approaches.

Approach Explanation Methods of Research
Social Approach Social Psychology is the study of how groups of people interact and why they do so. The key behaviours this specification covers are obedience and prejudice. Self-report (Questionairres and interviews), and to some extent experiments, observations and correlations
Cognitive Approach Cognitive Psychology explains human behaviours using mental processes, especially cognition (Our awareness and understanding). Cognitive Psychology involves memory and learning. Lab expermients and case studies
Biological Approach The explanation of behaviour due to biology, for example hormones and neurotransmission. This specification focuses on how biology affects aggression. Brain scans, correlations, twin studies
Learning Theories (Behaviourism) The explanation of behaviour as a result of how the behaviour is learnt. This specification focuses on learning phobis and aggression. Animal/Human lab experiments
Psychodynamic Approach The explanation of behaviour as a result of different parts of our personality being expressed, along with the unconcious mind. Case studies

Key Definitions

Word Definition
Theory A theory is a set of ideas which tries to explain how a behaviour or aspect of the mind works. As with any science, these theories cannot be considered as facts, but instead can become ‘accepted’ theories with supporting evidence.
Study A study is a piece of supporting evidence for a theory, this could be in the form of a lab experiment, a survey, an observation, etc.