• IB Psychology, SL (2 year program)
    Syllabus & Overview
    Your Tour Guide: Mr. Titus


    Psychology is defined as the scientific study of behavior and mental processes. It is a relatively new science, and its subject matter is more complex than the physical and biological sciences, yet they overlap with each other. 


    Chemicals don’t think.  They don’t have moods.  They are predictable.  In the same situation, chemicals will always react the same way.  People, on the other hand, contain a complex variety of experiences, moods, emotions, though pattern, biology, perception, motivations, genetics, situations, and fears (among other variables) that can alter the way they behave or think in a given situation.  The study of these interlocking factors is the science of psychology.


    Like the other sciences, psychology had to move from its non-scientific roots to more precise, evidence-based methods of analysis.  From the time of  Aristotle around 330 BCE until the Renaissance of the 1400s, and really until the enlightenment of the late 1700s - FOR MORE THAN 2000 YEARS- science was based on argument.  Smart people made arguments to explain natural phenomena.  The best argument won, but NO ONE tested it to verify the truth.


    For the other sciences, that split between philosophy and evidence-based science began with people like Galileo and Robert Boyle.  In psychology, it took much longer.  Psychology began with people like Wilhelm Wundt and William James attempting to study behavior and thinking the same way other scientists studied chemicals and energy.  But, how do you study someone’s thoughts?  This led to people like Sigmund Freud, who became quite famous for his psychodynamic theory, which claimed that our actions are heavily influenced by unconscious conflicts.  But again - how do you study that scientifically?  How do you study things you can’t see?



    In the 20th century the main focus was on empirical and scientific research methods. Over the last 100 years or so, psychologists have developed methods for studying the various levels of variables that influence human and animal behavior.  Utilizing the scientific method and valuing evidence over guesswork, psychologist have developed rich understandings of the different levels on which humans can be analyzed.  These include:


    ●       The Biological Level

    ●       The Cognitive Level

    ●       The Social-Cultural Level

    ●       “Abnormal” Behavior

    ●        Development over time

    ●       The Behavioral Level


    These levels are the focus of IB psychology.


    Syllabus components SL  

    Part 1: Core (SL)  90 hours

    • The biological level of analysis

    • The cognitive level of analysis

    • The sociocultural level of analysis


    ADDITIONALLY: Approaches to Researching Behavior 20 hours


    External Assessment Paper 1 is based on this


    Part 2: Options (SL) CHOOSE ONE  20 hours

    • Abnormal psychology We will be doing this one.

    • Developmental psychology

    • Health psychology

    • Psychology of human relationships


    External Assessment Paper 2 is based on this


    Part 4: IA: Simple experimental study 20 hours

    • Replicate a psychological study and effectively analyze and report


    Requirements Standard level

    The course of study must include:

    • all three compulsory levels of analysis

    • one option from a choice of five

    • one simple experimental study.


    Updated Course Grading Policy as of January 9, 2023: 

    Missing assignments will receive a 0% grade.

    Parents notified of change via ParentSquare December 15, 2022


    Assessment:  Students will be assessed with quizzes, chapter tests, finals, class/home work, experiment reconstruction, projects as assigned. Some tests will mimic IB tests, which will be free response questions.  The Internal Assessment involves you running a simple psychological experiment on your own and reporting it back.  Assessment will culminate in the IB Psychology external assessments.


    EXPERIMENT TRACKER: Everything in IB Psychology is grounded in psychological research.  Both the external and internal assessments require students to demonstrate a clear understanding of specific research from the field - the aims, the methods, the sampling, the results, and the methods of analysis.  Therefore, it is vital for students to keep track of specific experiments and other research studied we discuss throughout the year.  Do this in a journal or on paper in a three-ring binder.  Include this:


    A.    Researchers’ names

    B.     Area of specialty (Biological, Cognitive, Social-Cultural, etc.)

    C.     Aim of Research

    D.    Sampling Technique

    E.     Research Design

    F.      Results

    G.    Applications (Generalizability)

    H.    Weaknesses and Criticism


    The External Assessments:


    PAPER 1:  (3 Hours) 49 MARKS

    A.    Three short answer questions.

    a.      The Biological Level of Analysis

    b.      The Cognitive Level of Analysis

    c.       The Social-Cultural Level of Analysis

        27 MARKS


          B.  Essay Question: One essay from a choice of three on the biological, cognitive, and social-cultural levels of analyzing behavior.

        22 MARKS


    PAPER 2: (1 Hour) One question from a choice of three on one of the options.

        22 MARKS


    The Internal Assessment:


    ●       Report on a simple experimental study undertaken by the student.

        22 MARKS


    Textbooks & Resources:
    ●       Myers, David G, 2006. Psychology 8th ed. New York, Worth

    ●       Oxford's IB Diploma Programme Pschology 2nd Edition by Alexey Popov, Lee Parker, and Darren Seath. ISBN# 978-0-19-839811-0.

    ●       Teacher created booklets with selected readings in each of the Psychological Level of anaysis these include, Biological Level of analysis articles collected from Scientific America (such as Teicher, 2002, The Neurobiology of Child Abuse and Nestler & Malenka, 2004, The Addicted Brain) and the Annual Review of Psychology; Cognitive Psychology articles collected on Ebbinghaus, Memory, Loftus, from The Psychologist, etc.; Learning Level of analysis articles collected from psychclassics.asu.edu such as Watson’s article on Behavior and the Concept of Mental Disease.

    ●       InThinking IB Psychology www.inthinking.net

    ●       The most recent AP Released Exam in Psychology and other support materials provided by the College Board.

    ●       Students are expected to have a 3 ring binder (2 inch) with dividers to keep all handouts, papers and articles in.


    Questions related to theory of knowledge activities that a psychology student might consider during the course include the following.

    To what extent are the methods of the natural sciences applicable in the human sciences?

    • Are the findings of the natural sciences as reliable as those of the human sciences?

    • To what extent can empathy, intuition and feeling be legitimate ways of knowing in the human sciences?

    • Are there human qualities or behaviours that will remain beyond the scope of the human sciences?

    • To what extent can information in the human sciences be quantified?

    • Do knowledge claims in the human sciences imply ethical responsibilities?

    • To what extent do the knowledge claims of the social sciences apply across different historical periods and cultures?

    • Does psychological research ever prove anything? Why do we say that results only indicate or suggest?

    • How are ethics involved in the study of psychology? When and how do ethical standards change?

    • Noam Chomsky has written, “ … we will always learn more about human life and human personality from novels than from scientific psychology.” Would you agree?


    Psychology aims

    The aims of the psychology course at SL are to:

    1. develop an awareness of how psychological research can be applied for the benefit of human beings

    2. ensure that ethical practices are upheld in psychological inquiry

    3. develop an understanding of the biological, cognitive and sociocultural influences on human behaviour

    14. develop an understanding of alternative explanations of behaviour

    5. understand and use diverse methods of psychological inquiry.


    Having followed the psychology course at SL, students will be expected to demonstrate the


    Knowledge and comprehension of specified content

    –– Demonstrate knowledge and comprehension of key terms and concepts in psychology

    –– Demonstrate knowledge and comprehension of psychological research methods

    –– Demonstrate knowledge and comprehension of a range of appropriately identified psychological theories and research studies

    –– Demonstrate knowledge and comprehension of the biological, cognitive and sociocultural levels of analysis

    –– Demonstrate knowledge and comprehension of one option at SL

    2. Application and analysis

    –– Demonstrate an ability to use examples of psychological research and psychological concepts to formulate an argument in response to a specific question

    3. Synthesis and evaluation

    –– Evaluate psychological theories and empirical studies

    –– Discuss how biological, cognitive and sociocultural levels of analysis can be used to explain behaviour

    –– Evaluate research methods used to investigate behaviour

    4. Selection and use of skills appropriate to psychology

    –– Demonstrate the acquisition of knowledge and skills required for experimental design, data collection and presentation, data analysis and interpretation and write an organized response


    Classification of command terms

    In the learning outcomes (see syllabus content) the command terms are associated with assessment objectives 1, 2 or 3 and indicate the depth of understanding that is required of students in relation to each item of content. The grouping of command terms under assessment objectives reflects the cognitive demand of each term and is related to Bloom’s taxonomy.


    A command term used in an examination question will be:

    • the same as that specified in the related learning outcome, or

    • another command term associated with the same assessment objective, or

    • a command term of less cognitive demand.

    For example, if a learning outcome begins with the command term “explain”, an examination question based on this learning outcome could contain the command term “explain”, another command term associated with assessment objective 2 (such as “analyze”), or a command term associated with assessment objective 1 (such as “describe”), but not a command term associated with assessment objective 3 (such as “evaluate”).


    Command terms associated with assessment objective 1:

    Knowledge and comprehension

    Define Give the precise meaning of a word, phrase, concept or physical


    Describe Give a detailed account.

    Outline Give a brief account or summary.

    State Give a specific name, value or other brief answer without explanation or calculation.


    Command terms associated with assessment objective 2:

    Application and analysis

    Analyze Break down in order to bring out the essential elements or structure.

    Apply Use an idea, equation, principle, theory or law in relation to a given problem or issue.

    Distinguish Make clear the differences between two or more concepts or items.

    Explain Give a detailed account including reasons or causes.


    Command terms associated with assessment objective 3:

    Synthesis and evaluation

    Compare Give an account of the similarities between two (or more) items or situations, referring to both (all) of them throughout.

    Compare and contrast Give an account of similarities and differences between two (or more) items or situations, referring to both (all) of them throughout.

    Contrast Give an account of the differences between two (or more) items or situations, referring to both (all) of them throughout.

    Discuss Offer a considered and balanced review that includes a range of arguments, factors or hypotheses. Opinions or conclusions should be presented clearly and supported by appropriate evidence.

    Evaluate Make an appraisal by weighing up the strengths and limitations.

    Examine Consider an argument or concept in a way that uncovers the assumptions and interrelationships of the issue.

    To what extent Consider the merits or otherwise of an argument or concept. Opinions and conclusions should be presented clearly and supported with appropriate evidence and sound argument.


    A framework for evaluation/ Critical Thinking


    Marks are given be the evaluators of Papers 1 and 2 based on the level of critical thinking the student is able to demonstrate.    With that in mind, refer to these tips on showing your critical thinkning:


    Ask questions, challenge assertions.

    –– Why are some studies still so influential in spite of their methodological or theoretical flaws?

    –– What was the historical context of the research?

    • Define the problem.

    –– This helps the student to focus his or her argument and keep it on track.

    • Examine the evidence for and against.

    –– Evaluate the research that gives support, fails to give support, or contradicts a theory.

    • Avoid emotional reasoning and be aware of one’s own biases.

    –– Reflexivity can be used to reduce a student’s own bias.

    • Do not oversimplify.

    –– Recognize reductionist arguments.

    • Consider alternative explanations.

    –– Be aware of the findings of other studies or alternative theories.

    • Tolerate uncertainty.

    –– It is acceptable to say that research is inconclusive or contradictory.

    • Employ cultural evaluation.

    –– Make comparisons with studies done in other cultures.

    –– Is there a cultural bias in the theory/study?

    • Employ gender evaluation.

    –– Has gender been considered as a variable in the theory/study?

    –– Is there a gender bias in the theory/study?

    • Employ methodological evaluation.

    –– What strengths and limitations are inherent in the methodology/method/technique used?

    –– Are there aspects of the method used that compromise its validity (for example,

    representativeness of the sample)?

    –– What would happen if the study were repeated today with different subjects?

    –– Consider the use of triangulation to evaluate findings.

    • Employ ethical evaluation.

    –– Would the study be acceptable to modern ethical committees?

    –– Is there any justification for the infringement of ethical standards?

    • Evaluate by comparison.

    –– How effective is the theory in explaining the behaviour compared with another theory?

    –– How do the findings of study x compare with those of study y, and what could account for any differences?





Last Modified on January 25, 2023