Topic overview 

You must show an understanding that learning theories are about learning from the environment and the effects of conditioning, reinforcement, punishment, the role of reward and social learning. You must also show an understanding of learning theories as theories of development and psychodynamic ideas and concepts as different explanations for development, as well as focusing on individual differences. What you need to learn: 


Classical conditioning 
  • The main features of classical conditioning (Pavlovian), including unconditioned stimulus (UCS); unconditioned response (UCR); conditioned stimulus (CS); neutral stimulus (NS); conditioned response (CR); extinction, spontaneous recovery and stimulus generalisation and distribution. 
Operant conditioning
  • The main features of operant conditioning, including types of reinforcement (positive and negative) and punishment (positive and negative) and properties of reinforcement (primary, secondary and schedules) including researching Skinner (1948) Superstition in the pigeon. 
Social learning theory 
  • The main features of social learning theory, including observation, imitation, modelling and vicarious reinforcement, attention, retention, motivation and reproduction. 
Freud’s psychosexual stages of development 
  • Freud’s psychosexual stages (oral, anal, phallic, latent and genital) and the role of the unconscious in the development of personality. 
  • Systematic desensitisation. 
  • Psychoanalysis, including free association and dream analysis, transference and counter transference, and the object relations school of thought.


  • The use of the observational research method in psychology, including the gathering of both qualitative and quantitative data (including tallying, event and time sampling). 
  • Types of observation: participant, non-participant, structured, naturalistic, overt and covert. 
Content analysis 
  • Use of content analysis as a research method. 
Case studies 
  • Freud’s use of the case study as a research method. 
Quantitative data and qualitative data 
  • List A from Topic A (Social). 
  • Analysis of qualitative data using thematic analysis. 
  • List B from Topic B (Cognitive), focusing on the chi-squared test. 
  • Animal research and ethics 
  • The use of animals in laboratory experiments where results can be related to humans. 
  • Ethical issues regarding the use of animals in laboratory experiments, including the Scientific Procedures Act (1986) and Home Office Regulations. 


Classic study 
  • Watson and Rayner (1920) Little Albert: Conditioned emotional reactions. 
Contemporary Studies
  • Capafóns et al. (1998) Systematic desensitisation in the treatment of the fear of flying.
  • Bastian et al. (2011) Cyber-dehumanization: Violent video game play diminishes our humanity.

Practical investigation 

Two observations (one observation can be carried out if both qualitative and quantitative data are gathered in the same observation). In conducting the practical research exercise, you must: 

  • design and conduct two observations (or one that gathers both qualitative and quantitative data) and include descriptive statistics as analysis, qualitative analysis using themes and a chi-square statistical test on an aspect of learned behaviour 
  • make design decisions when planning and conducting the observation(s), including the use of behavioural categories, coding sheets and tallying, control, hypothesis construction, ethics and observer bias/effects 
  • collect and present and comment on data gathered, including descriptive statistics; percentages, frequencies (as appropriate), graphical representation (bar chart, histogram as appropriate) 
  • use a chi-square statistical test and explain the significance of the result 
  • conduct a thematic analysis on the qualitative data gathered and describe the findings 
  • consider the strengths and weaknesses of the observation(s) and possible design improvements 
  • write up the procedure, results and discussion section of a report. 

Suitable examples 

  • How age and sex affect driving speed. 
  • Investigating the differences in helpful or polite behaviour in men and women.