You may write psychology essay to understand individuals and groups by establishing general principles and researching specific cases. Another reason to write psychology essay is to understand specific terms or concepts. Experiments and papers in this field essentially have four main objectives:
- To describe what has occurred, to explain why it has occurred
- To predict if it’s going to occur again
- To prevent or change possible outcomes or behaviors.
Table Of Contents
Whether you’re writing an essay on psychology for school or university, the steps are essentially the same. The process goes as follows:
- Understand The Purpose
- Decide On A Topic
- Gather Information
- Craft An Outline
- Understand The Format
- Create A Rough Draft + Edit
- Write Your Final Copy
A Psychology essay might be written to explain or describe a certain concept
Here are some examples:
- What causes anxiety and phobias?
- Autonomic Nervous System
- Behavior Analysis
Another reason students may write a psychology essay is to give a diagnosis. It might be necessary to give a detailed explanation of why they think that person has especially this disease or disorder.
Psychology Essay Topics
If the topic was not assigned by your teacher or professor, you can write about one of these themes.
Write About A Topic Within A Particular Branch Of Psychology
The secret to selecting a good topic for your psychology paper is very simple. Choose a topic that is narrow enough so you can focus all your attention on the subject, but not so narrow that you can barely find any sources or reliable information to write about. For example, you might start thinking that you want to write a paper about a cognitive disorder, but as this topic is too broad, you may narrow it down to something like the Cognitive impairment in Parkinson's disease. This particular topic fits the happy medium.
Write About a Disorder
Mental disorders are patterns of behavioral or psychological symptoms that have a strong impact on multiple areas of life. You can write about one of these:
- Bipolar disorders ( a brain disorder that causes rapid mood and energy swings)
- Mania (characterized by feeling over excited)
- Depressive episodes (characterized by feeling of deep sadness, guilt, fatigue, and irritability)
- Anxiety disorders (these type of disorders involve continuous and excessive worry that interferes with daily activities)
- Agoraphobia (fear of public places)
- Social Anxiety Disorder (people with such disorder have powerful anxiety and discomfort about being embarrassed, rejected or humiliated)
- Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders (commonly caused by a stressful or traumatic event)
- Adjustment disorders (causes as a response to a sudden change such as divorce, job loss, end of a relationship with someone close, or other disappointment or loss)
- Post-Traumatic stress disorder (can develop after a person has experienced a stressful life event)
- Dissociative Disorders
- Dissociative amnesia (temporary loss of memory. Memory loss may last for just a period or even for many years)
- Dissociative identity disorder (just imagine somebody except you in your body)
- Derealization disorder (may be characterized by experiencing a feeling of being outside of your own body (depersonalization) and being disconnected from reality (derealization)
- Eating Disorders
- Anorexia (characterized by restricted food consumption that leads to serious weight loss and very low body weight)
- Pica (craving and consuming non-food substances such as soap, glass, dirt, etc.)
- Sleep-Wake Disorders
- Narcolepsy (irrepressible need to sleep)
- Parasomnias (abnormal behaviors that take place during sleep)
- Insomnia (unable to get enough sleep)
- Disruptive, Impulse-Control
- Kleptomania (inability to control the will to steal)
- Pyromania (when a human being feel fascination with fire and with things that burning)
Choose A Topic Related To Human Cognition
It is a study of mental function, including learning, memory, attention, perception, reasoning, language, conceptual development, and decision-making.
- Moral judgement
Think About Topics Related to Human Development
In this field of study, you might decide on a topic connected to early childhood such as language learning, social learning, etc.
Some other topics you might find interesting:
- Child abuse
- Gender roles
Write About a Book or Academic Journal
You can write a psychology critique paper on a book or an academic journal. For example, you might write a critical analysis of a Karen Horney, The Neurotic Personality of Our Time book.
Analyze One Of Famous Experiment or Study
Famous studies: Some revolutionary experiments have given a lot of insight into the field. When you write a paper on one of these experiments, you can pick an aspect of the experiment or describe it and explain how it works and how it contributed to the field.
- Milgram Obedience Experiment
- Robbers Cave Experiment
- Stanford Prison Study
- Pavlov’s Conditioning Experiment
- The Asch Conformity Experiment
Common Questions & Prompts And How To Answer Them
The nature vs. nurture question is one of the most fundamental questions of the social science. Are we the way we are because of our biology and heredity (nature) or because of our environment (nurture). Many psychologists agree that it is a mixture of both that makes us who we are.
Is psychology a science?
There is no simple answer to this question either, as many debates that psychology should not be seen as a science because of the often-disproved theories and abstract concepts. The counter-argument is that much of the field is based on hard sciences like chemistry and biology. All it comes down to is that the subject can explain Depression and Anxiety with brain scans and blood tests, but it can not explain why teenagers slam doors when they’re angry.
Why I chose psychology?
Often, this question can be asked when you pick Psychology as your major for university study or when you choose to take that class in high school. In your response, show your enthusiasm toward the subject by listing what you genuinely hope to learn and take away from the class.
This topic has to do with developmental psychology. It is a specialized branch used to understand the development of the mind from infancy to adolescence. For this kind of essays, you might want to research Erik Erikson, Vygotsky, and Piaget. You can explore an extremely wide range of topics such as language acquisition, attachment theories, or critical periods of development.
This essay prompt deals with what makes people different as individuals. Common exploration topics are type theories, psychoanalytic theories, and humanistic theories.
Psychology in everyday life
Psychology in everyday life uses practices from a field of study called applied psychology. This field is an umbrella term for these types of psychology: counseling, education, clinical, and medical. There is a lot to choose from here, so if this topic was assigned to you, pick an area that you are most interested in.
Forensic psychology is an intersection between psychology and the justice system. People who work in this field deal with law and trials. Possible broad subjects could include testimony validity, antisocial behavior, and sexual harassment.
Where To Gather Information For Psychology Essay
Read Reliable Literature
Read literature that focuses on the criteria or assignment from your professor to fulfill the reader’s expectations about the quality and the trustworthiness of your paper. There are a lot of literature available online, or in public or university libraries.
Articles published in academic journals deserve special attention they are the primary sources to collect information from for your psychology essay. These articles report on original research which may be at the cutting edge of knowledge production in their field of study. Such materials are usually the best to collect information from.
Depending on a topic you are writing about, there might be a wide range of sources which might be relevant: interviews with experts, films, documentaries, museum exhibitions, newspapers, etc. These are examples of sources which might be relevant.
APA Format in the AP Psychology Essay
When writing an essay about psychology, the American Psychological Association or APA citation style is probably the right referencing format to use for your essay. You can find an extremely detailed overview of the APA format.
Some general guidelines of the APA format essay (psychology) are:
- A clear font (Times New Roman 12pt);
- Double spaced;
- 1” margins;
- An APA style heading on the top of every page (shortened title of your essay: >50 characters);
- Insert a page number on the right.
Keep in mind that for longer essays (+5 pages) the APA essay format suggests you divide your essay into four parts: Title Page, Abstract, Main Body, and References.
AP Psychology Essay Requirements
AP psychology essay questions, otherwise called the “free response” questions constitute 33% of your AP Psych exam grade. These prompts are designed for people who took the AP Psych course and know the material, so do not expect them to be easy. Below are some examples prompts and some tips on how to write an essay during your exam.
AP Psychology exam questions usually include the same kind of structure. You will be given a topic with several subcategories. In the exam, each subcategory must be addressed to score maximum points. Here is an example of a question:
Example: Annie babysat a 5-year-old child one day. She and the child had some pecan pie. Annie was unaware that the child was allergic to most types of nuts and the child’s parents didn’t warn her prior. Annie drove the child to the hospital, but on the way she panics and gets lost. Annie takes a couple of wrong turns. Gladly, the child survives, but months following the accident Annie can’t get behind the wheel, and she no longer likes pecan pie.
- Part A: Explain how each of the following helped Annie drive to the hospital:
- Motor neurons,
- Retinal disparity,
- Procedural memory.
- Part B: Explain how each of the following has lead Annie to have a negative experience:
- Anxiety and panic,
- Conditioned response,
- Aversion Therapy.
When you begin to address this prompt, you will want to look at each aspect of the question. Define the vocabulary words (in this case, Heuristic, Motor neurons, Anxiety, etc.) and then explain how they relate to the example. On the exam itself, you would want to write something like this: “Annie experiences anxiety around driving because she had a stressful experience while driving the child to the hospital” instead of something like “Anxiety is a worry, nervousness, or unease about something” without an explanation or a connection to the prompt. To get full points, strive to address every single bullet point. Again, don’t forget to write in an essay format. Do not answer in bullet points.
Create An Outline
- Theme 1
- Theme 2
- Theme 3
Polishing It Up & Submitting
Congratulations, you are almost there. The last step you need to take is to write a rough draft, edit it, and then turn it into a well-written psychology paper. To ease your life and save you time here are some tips you may use while checking.
Give Yourself a 2 Hours Rest.
It’s hard to be actively involved in writing for a long time, and even harder to spot mistakes after hours of unstoppable writing. That is why it is recommended to leave your paper for an hour or two.
Read It Aloud For At Least 2 Times
This is a very good practice that will allow you to catch all your mistakes such as, mispronounced words, grammatical errors, punctuation mistakes, etc.
Find a Second Pair of Eyes
Ask your siblings or your friends to help you with this. You can ask them to read your essay and give you a feedback whether it’s positive or not. You can even take someone who is not aware of what you are writing about and ask that person to read your paper and grade it.
Essay Writing Advice From Our Professional Team
Dr. Joshua, online essay writer from EssayPro
AP Psychology, although considered a moderately easy AP class, has a tough examination. My advice for you while you’re taking the exam is to read the question thoroughly and answer it fully. By paying attention to each part of the prompt, you have a better chance at getting a better mark. Psychology classes are full of essential vocabulary, so always define these terms in your essay. This will demonstrate your knowledge on the topic. To improve upon that, add examples of those terms. These can be ones you can find in your textbook, online, or from your personal life. Giving examples will prove that you know the material, are able to recognize concepts, and operate them on your own. To show even deeper understanding, you can compare it to other terms or concepts. Be sure to include all other information that pertains to the prompt. Otherwise, your answer cannot receive full points.
So, Psychological Essays are not your Strong Suit.
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Essay Writing Guide for Psychology Students
Saul McLeod published 2014
Before you write your essay it's important to analyse the task and understand exactly what the essay question is asking. It is possible your lecturer will give you some advice - pay attention to this as it will help you plan your answer.
Next conduct preliminary reading based on your lecture notes. At this stage it's not crucial to have a robust understanding of key theories or studies, but you should at least have a general 'gist' of the literature.
After reading, plan a response to the task. This plan could be in the form of a mind map, a summary table, or by writing a core statement (which encompass the entire argument of your essay in just a few sentences).
After writing your plan conduct supplementary reading and refine your plan and make it more detailed.
It is tempting to skip these preliminary steps and just write the first draft while reading at the same time. However, reading and planning will make the essay writing process easier, quicker, and ensure a higher quality essay is produced.
Now let us look at what constitutes a good essay in psychology. There are a number of important features.
- A Global Structure - structure the material in a way that allows for a logical sequence of ideas. Each paragraph / statement should follow sensibly from its predecessor. The essay should 'flow'. The introduction, main body and conclusion should all be linked.
- Knowledge and Understanding - recognise, recall and show understanding on a range of scientific material that accurately reflects the main theoretical perspectives.
- Critical Evaluation - arguments should be supported by appropriate evidence and/or theory from the literature. Evidence of independent thinking, insight and evaluation of the evidence.
- Quality of Written Communication - writing clearly and succinctly with appropriate use of paragraphs, spelling and grammar. All sources referenced accurately and in line with APA guidelines.
Each paragraph should comprise a main theme which are illustrated and developed through a number of points (supported by evidence).
In the main body of the essay every paragraph should demonstrate both knowledge and critical evaluation.
There should also be an appropriate balance between these two essay components. Try to aim for about a 60/40 split if possible. Most students make the mistake of writing too much knowledge and not enough evaluation (which is the difficult bit).
It is best to structure your essay according to key themes. Themes are illustrated and developed through a number of points (supported by evidence). Choose relevant points only, ones that most reveal the theme or help to make a convincing and interesting argument.
Knowledge and Understanding
Remember that an essay is simply a discussion / argument on paper. Don't make the mistake of writing all the information you know regarding a particular topic.
You need to be concise, and clearly articulate your argument. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences.
Each paragraph should have a purpose / theme, and make a number of points - which need to be support by high quality evidence. Be clear why each point is is relevant to the argument. It would be useful at the beginning of each paragraph if you explicitly outlined the theme being discussed (.e.g. cognitive development, social development etc.).
Try not to overuse quotations in your essays. It is more appropriate to use original content to demonstrate your understanding.
Psychology is a science so you must support your ideas with evidence (not your own personal opinion). If you are discussing a theory or research study make sure you cite the source of the information.
Note this is not the author of a textbook you have read - but the original source / author(s) of the theory or research study.
Bowlby (1951) claimed that mothering is almost useless if delayed until after two and a half to three years and, for most children, if delayed till after 12 months, i.e. there is a critical period.
Maslow (1943) stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs. When one need is fulfilled a person seeks to fullfil the next one, and so on.
As a general rule make sure there is at least one citation (i.e. name of psychologist and date of publication) in each paragraph.
Remember to answer the essay question. Underline the key words in the essay title. Don't make the mistake of simply writing everything you know of a particular topic, be selective. Each paragraph in your essay should contribute to answering the essay question.
In simple terms this means outlining the strengths and limitations of a theory or research study.
There are many ways you can critically evaluate:
- Methodological evaluation of research -
Is the study valid / reliable? Is the sample biased or can we generalize the findings to other populations? What are the strengths and limitations of the method used and data obtained?
Be careful to ensure that any methodological criticisms are justified and not trite. Rather than hunting for weaknesses in every study; only highlight limitations which make you doubt the conclusions that the authors have drawn – e.g. where an alternative explanation might be equally likely because something hasn’t been adequately controlled.
Compare or contrast different theories -Outline how the theories are similar and how they differ. This could be two (or more) theories of personality / memory / child development etc. Also try to communicate the value of the theory / study.
- Debates or perspectives -
Refer to debates such as nature or nurture, reductionism vs. holism or the perspectives in psychology. For example, would they agree or disagree with a theory or the findings of the study?
What are the ethical issues of the research? -Does a study involve ethical issues such as deception, privacy, psychological and physical harm.
- Gender bias -
If research is biased towards men or women it does not provide a clear view of the behavior that has been studied. A dominantly male perspective is known as an androcentric bias.
Cultural bias -Is the theory / study ethnocentric? Psychology is predominantly a white, Euro-American enterprise. In some texts, over 90% of studies have US participants, who are predominantly white and middle class. Does the theory or study being discussed judge other cultures by Western standards?
- Animal Research -
This raises the issue of whether it’s morally and/or scientifically right to use animals. The main criterion is that benefits must outweigh costs. But benefits are almost always to humans and costs to animals.
Animal research also raises the issue of extrapolation. Can we generalize from studies on animals to humans as their anatomy & physiology is different from humans?
The PEC System
It is very important to elaborate on your evaluation. Don't just write a shopping list of brief (one or two sentence) evaluation points. Instead make sure you expand on your points, remember, quality of evaluation is most important than quantity.
When you are writing an evaluation paragraph use the PEC system.
Make your Point.
Explain how and why the point is relevant.
Discuss the Consequences / implications of the theory or study. Are they positive or negative?
(Point) It is argued that psychoanalytic therapy is only of benefit to an articulate, intelligent, affluent minority.
(Explain) Because psychoanalytic therapy involves talking and gaining insight, and is costly and time-consuming, it is argued that it is only of benefit to an articulate, intelligent, affluent minority. Evidence suggests psychoanalytic therapy works best if the client is motivated and has a positive attitude.
(Consequences) A depressed client’s apathy, flat emotional state and lack of motivation limit the appropriateness of psychoanalytic therapy for depression. Furthermore, the levels of dependency of depressed clients mean that transference is more likely to develop.
Using Research Studies in your Essays
Research studies can either be knowledge or evaluation.
- If you refer to the procedures and findings of a study, this shows knowledge and understanding.
- If you comment on what the studies shows, and what it supports and challenges about the theory in question, this shows evaluation.
Writing an Introduction
It is often best to write your introduction when you have finished the main body of the essay, so that you have a good understanding to the topic area.
If there is a word count for your essay try to devote 10% of this to your introduction.
Ideally the introduction should;
Identify the subject of the essay and define the key terms.
Highlight the major issues which “lie behind” the question. Let the reader know how you will focus your essay by identifying the main themes to be discussed.
“Signpost” the essay’s key argument, (and, if possible, how this argument is structured).
Introductions are very important as first impressions count and they can create a halo effect in the mind of the lecturer grading your essay. If you start off well then you are more likely to be forgiven for the odd mistake later one.
Writing a Conclusion
So many students either forget to write a conclusion or fail to give it the attention it deserves. If there is a word count for your essay try to devote 10% of this to your conclusion.
Ideally the conclusion should summarize the key themes / arguments of your essay. State the take home message – don’t sit on the fence, instead weigh up the evidence presented in the essay and make a decision which side of the argument has more support.Also, you might like to suggest what future research may need to be conducted and why (read the discussion section of journal articles for this).
Don't include new information / arguments (only information discussed in the main body of the essay).
If you are unsure of what to write read the essay question and answer it in one paragraph.
Points that unite or embrace several themes can be used to great effect as part of your conclusion.
The Importance of Flow
Obviously, what you write is important, but how you communicate your ideas / arguments has a significant influence on your overall grade. Most students may have similar information / content in their essays, but the better students communicate this information concisely and articulately.
When you have finished the first draft of your essay you must check if it 'flows'. This is an important feature of quality of communication (along with spelling and grammar).
This means that the paragraphs follow a logical order (like the chapters in a novel). Have a global structure with themes arranged in a way that allows for a logical sequence of ideas. You might want to rearrange (cut and paste) paragraphs to a different position in your essay if they don't appear to fit in with the essay structure.
To improve the flow of your essay make sure the last sentence of one paragraph links to first sentence of the next paragraph. This will help the essay flow and make it easier to read.
Finally, only repeat citations when it is unclear which study / theory you are discussing. Repeating citations unnecessarily disrupts the flow of an essay.
The reference section is the list of all the sources cited in the essay (in alphabetical order). It is not a bibliography (a list of the books you used).
In simple terms every time you cite/refer to a name (and date) of a psychologist you need to reference the original source of the information.
If you have been using textbooks this is easy as the references are usually at the back of the book and you can just copy them down. If you have been using websites then you may have a problem as they might not provide a reference section for you to copy.
References need to be set out APA style:
Author, A. A. (year). Title of work. Location: Publisher.
Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (year). Article title. Journal Title, volume number(issue number), page numbers
A simple way to write your reference section is use Google scholar. Just type the name and date of the psychologist in the search box and click on the 'cite' link.
Next, copy and paste the APA reference into the reference section of your essay.
Once again remember that references need to be in alphabetical order according to surname.
Writing Skills for Psychologists
Essay Writing Guide
How to reference this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2014). Essay writing guide for psychology students. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/psychology-essay.html