AP Psychology/Scientific Foundations of Psychology

Introduces the basis of psychological theory as the study of human and animal behavior and mental processes and learn how psychologists design and conduct research.[1]

Objectives and SkillsEdit

Topics may include:[2]

  • Major historical figures in psychology
  • Theoretical approaches to describing behavior
  • Branches of psychology
  • A variety of research methods used by psychologists
  • The application of research design and statistical analysis in psychology
  • Ethical guidelines

Study NotesEdit

Things that hinder critical thinking
  • Hindsight Bias - Finding that something has happened makes it seem that it was supposed to happen all along ("I knew it!").
  • Common Sense - Visualizes what has occurred in the past more easily than predicting what will occur ("Grandma's always right!").
  • Overconfidence - Humans are always overconfident when it comes to their personal beliefs about their future.
  • Order in Random Events - When dealing with random data, we try to find out patterns within ("The dice should roll another 6 as it has rolled 6s for the last 2 throws!").
Scientific Attitude
  • Operational Definitions - Giving specific definitions for concepts that have no defined definition. These definitions must include an action and time.

Types of Psychological ResearchEdit

The Case StudyEdit

In a case study, a psychologist rigorously studies a special case in order to find information that may apply to all humans. An example of a case study is Phineas Gage, who got an iron rod ejected inside of his head (removing a part of his frontal lobe) and was able to survive.

  • In-depth study
  • Special case (could be an outlier)
  • Difficult to find
  • Expensive and time-consuming

Naturalistic ObservationEdit

In a naturalistic observation, a psychologist is able to study behaviour in its natural form.

  • Recording natural behaviour
  • Despite the name, the recipient of the study may act differently when observed.
  • Describes rather than explain the cognition behind it.

The SurveyEdit

A survey is described as a self-reported attitude or behaviour of a person.

  • Easy, fast.
  • Wording effects.
  • False consensus effect.
  • Lack of representative samplings (only for a specific population).

Correlational StudiesEdit

In a correlational study, when one trait is associated with another trait, they correlate. An example of this study is when your sleep goes down, your grades follow (go down). A positive correlation is when two sets of scores rise/fall together while a negative correlation is when the two sets of scores are inversely related.

Correlations are measured on a scatter plot. The correlation coefficient is a statistical measure of a relationship, where 1.0+ and 1.0- is a strong correlation while a number near 0 is a weak correlation.

  • Easy to follow.
  • Not reliable, as correlation does not prove causation.

Illusory CorrelationEdit

Correlation that seems to be true, but it is not an actual correlation. We're sensitive to dramatic events that seem connected. It's kind of the same as correlation does not equal causation.

Other Ways To Gather DataEdit

  • Cross-sectional studies - Study different sections of the population at the same time (different ages, races, class levels). Advantages are that it gathers specific details of people and a lot of data is being gathered as you test. But the disadvantage is that specific data is only on one population.
  • Longitudinal - Retest same cohort of people over the course of their life. Disadvantages are that it takes too long and misses other people.

The DIV of psychology is usually a behaviour/mental process. The y of a graph is the effect while the x of a graph is a cause.

Ways of TestingEdit

  • Placebo Effect - An experiment effect caused by expectations alone. The depressed person in a control condition does not receive real pills without them knowing, in which they get better just because they believed they got the right treatment.
  • Random Sampling - Drawing from a sample of people for your study from a population (drawing out of a hat). This generalizes to a larger population.
  • Random Assignment - How you assign the sample that you draw to either the experimental/control conditions (group). This controls irrelevant influences and minimizes pre-existing differences between the 2 groups.
  • Cofounding Variables - Other factors that could potentially influence the result of an experiment.
  • Single-blind procedure: The patient doesn't know if they are receiving the placebo/treatment.
  • Double-blind procedure: Both patients and experimenters remain unaware of which patients received real treatment (eliminates bias).

Statistical ReasoningEdit

Statistical procedures analyze and interpret data allowing us to see what the unaided eye misses.

  • Is it ethical to test animals? - Must follow guidelines from IACUC.
  • Is it ethical to test people? - Consent, protect from harm, confidentiality, debrief the person. Must follow APA guidelines and federal distribution from local IRB.


The brain has two types of cells:

  • Neurons: "Nerve cells" - specialized cells in the nervous system. The brain has 40 billion neurons and the neurons never touch each other.
  • Gilal Cells: Cells in the neuro system which supports, nourishes, and protects neurons.
    • Oligodendrocytes - Help produce myelin.
    • Schwann Cells


Resting potential
  • Homeostasis
  • Slightly negative charge (polarized: -) - negative potassium inside while positive potassium outside.


Graded potential (slight shift)
Threshold of Excitation
  • Level of stimulation required to trigger a neural impulse (action potential).


Action Potential
  • Neurons are fired
  • Depolarized (+) | Positive sodium comes inside of negative potassium.

NEURONS ARE RELEASED TO NEXT NEURON (IMPULSES PASSED TO NEXT NEURONS); Neurons also need to recharge before it can fire again.

Refractory Period [Absolute --> Relative]
  • Polarized again (-)