Comprehensive IB Psychology SL & HL Syllabus

Comprehensive IB Psychology SL & HL Syllabus

Table of Contents

Syllabus Component 

Teaching hours




Biological approach to understanding behaviour 

Cognitive approach to understanding behaviour

Sociocultural approach to understanding behaviour

Approaches to researching behaviour






Abnormal psychology 

Developmental psychology 

Health psychology 

Psychology of human relationships 



Internal assessment 

Experimental study



Total teaching hours




A. Biological Approach to Understanding Behaviour

The Brain and Behaviour 

Techniques used to study the brain in relation to behaviour 

    1. Factors affecting choice of technique (CAT, MRI, PET, EEG, fRMI) to study the connection between brain and behaviour including opportunity, available technology and costs
    2. Analysis of contribution of these techniques to understanding behaviour based on its advantages and constraints


  • The idea that every behaviour is associated with a specific brain region 
  • Determination of role of different parts of the brain


  • Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change throughout the course of life
  • Different scales of neuroplasticity—from synaptic plasticity to cortical remapping 
  • Remapping of the sensory cortex
  • Neuroplasticity as a mechanism of learning

Neurotransmitters and their effect on behaviour

  • The structure of a neuron 
  • Electrical processes: threshold of excitation, action potential 
  • Chemical processes: neurotransmitters and how they function 
  • Excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters 
  • Agonists and antagonists
  • Examples to encapsulate the effect of neurotransmitters

Hormones and Pheromones and Behaviour 

Hormones and behaviour

  • Hormones are chemicals released by specific glands in the body to regulate medium and long-term changes in the body.
  • Difference between hormones and neurotransmitters 
  • The function of hormones 
  • Examples of effect of hormones on behaviour

Pheromones and behaviour

  • Pheromones are chemical substances that are emitted by humans and non-human animals into their environment
  • Discussion on effects of pheromones on behaviour using exemplification

Genetics and Behaviour 

Genes and behaviour

  • Genes are made up of DNA which provides the blueprint for the structure and function of the human body, including behaviour. 
  • Genome refers to all the genes that an individual possesses. 
  • Genotype is the set of traits as coded in an individual’s DNA 
  • Phenotype is the set of traits that actually manifest in an individual’s body, appearance or behaviour 
  • The link between genes and behaviour using examples

Genetic similarities

  • Genetic similarity is referred to as relatedness
  • Evaluation of twin or kinship studies keeping in mind the genetic similarities between MZ and DZ twins, siblings, parents and children, and parents and adopted children.

Evolutionary explanations for behaviour

  • Alteration of gene codes for behaviour due to evolutionary pressures
  • Survival of the fittest and natural selection

The role of animal research in understanding human behaviour (HL only)

The role of animal research in understanding behaviour 

The value of animal models in psychology research,

  • An animal model is a concept that refers to using animal research to test a certain cause–effect hypothesis about a certain human behaviour

Ethical considerations in animal research

B. Cognitive Approach to Understanding Behaviour

Cognitive Processing

Models of memory

  • The multi-store memory model 
  • Sensory memory, short-term memory (STM), long-term memory (LTM) 
  • Duration, capacity and transfer conditions 
  • The working memory model 

The dual task technique, the central executive, the visuospatial sketchpad and the phonological loop

Schema theory

  • A schema is a cognitive framework for structuring information about the physical world and the events and behaviour occurring within it.
  • Types of schemas: Social Schemas, Script schemas, Self Schemas
  • Gregory’s top-down theory
  • Gibson’s bottom-up theory

Thinking and decision-making

  • Relationship between thinking and decision making
  • Normative models describe the way that thinking should be
  • Descriptive models describe thinking as it actually occurs in real life 
  • Macro-level decision-making models 
  • the theory of reasoned action and theory of planned behaviour
  • Micro-level decision-making model  
  • the adaptive decision maker framework 
  • Heuristics involve using simpler decision making processes

Reliability of Cognitive Processes

Reconstructive Memory

  • Unreliability of memory 
  • Schema influences what is encoded and what is retrieved 
  • Memories can be distorted 
  • The theory of reconstructive memory: postevent information may alter the memory of an event 

Biases in thinking and decision making

  • confirmation bias— the tendency to seek out information to confirm what you already believe 
  • cognitive dissonance—a so-called motivational bias that focuses on personal motivation for selection and interpretation of information so that your cognitions are consistent with your decisions and/or behaviour
  • optimism bias—the tendency to think that nothing bad will ever happen to you 
  • selective attention—the process of focusing on a particular object in the environment for a certain period of time
  • illusory correlation — perceiving a relationship between variables even when no such relationship exists

Emotion and Cognition

The influence of emotion on cognitive processes

  • Emotion is a state of mind that is determined by one’s mood. 
  • Theories of emotion: a gradual shift of emphasis from bodily responses to cognitive factors
  • The theory of flashbulb memory
  • The Influence of emotions on perceptions, memory, goals and decision making

Cognitive Processing in the Real World (HL only)

  • The influence of digital technology on cognitive processes 
  • The positive and negative effects of modern technology on cognitive processes
  • Methods used to study the interaction between DTs and Cognitive processes

C. Sociocultural Approach to Understanding Behaviour

The Individual and The Group  

Social identity theory

  • Concerned with how people see and assess themselves in regard to groups

Social cognitive theory

  • Suggests that behaviour development is patterned based on observation of behaviours of other group members


  • A fixed or generalised belief about a group of people
  • Exemplification of the effect of stereotypes like prejudice and disicrimination

Cultural Origins of Behaviour and Cognition 

Culture and its influence on behaviour and cognition 

  • Culture is a set of beliefs, attitudes and behaviours shared by a large group of people
  • Surface culture refers to the part of a culture that can be easily recognised
  • Deep culture refers to beliefs, thought processes and values that are rooted in the group that are less easily understood by non-members.

Cultural dimensions

  • It is a framework that distinguishes various cultures based on the values followed by the members
  • Includes six key dimensions:
    • Individualism/collectivism 
    • Uncertainty avoidance 
    • Power/distance 
    • Masculinity/femininity 
    • Long term/short term 
    • Time orientation 
    • Indulgence/restraint 

Cultural Influences on Individual Attitudes, Identity and Behaviours 


  • Enculturation is the process through which people learn the essential and suitable skills and customs within their cultural setting
  • Examples of effects of enculturation on behaviour and cognition


  • Acculturation is the process through which a person, community, or people adopt the values and practices or absorb characteristics from another culture.
  • Examples of effects of acculturation on behaviour and cognition

The Influence of Globalization on Individual Attitudes, Identities and Behaviour (HL Only)

  • How globalization may influence behaviour
  • The effect of the interaction of local and global influences on behaviour
  • Methods used to study the influence of globalization on behaviour. 

D. Approaches to Researching Behaviour

Research methodology

  • Quantitative and qualitative methods 
  • Types of quantitative research: experimental, correlational, descriptive 
  • Types of qualitative research 
  • Qualitative versus quantitative comparison  
  • Sampling, credibility, generalizability and bias in research

Quantitative Research: The Experiment

Confounding variables 

Types of experiment 

Sampling in the experiment:

  • Random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Opportunity sampling
  • Self-selected sampling

Experimental designs:

  • Independent measures design
  • Matched pairs design; matching variable
  • Repeated measures design; order effects; counterbalancing 

Credibility and generalizability in the experiment: types of validity:

  • Construct validity 
  • Internal validity 
  • External validity: population and ecological

Quantitative Research: Correlational Studies

 What is a correlation? 

  • Effect size 
  • Statistical significance 

 Limitations of correlational studies 

  • Causation cannot be inferred 
  • The third variable problem 
  • Curvilinear relationships 
  • Spurious correlations

Qualitative Research

Credibility in qualitative research 

  • Triangulation: method, data, researcher, theory o
  • Rapport 
  • Iterative questioning 
  • Reflexivity: personal, epistemological 
  • Credibility checks 
  • Thick descriptions 

 Sampling in qualitative research 

  • Quota sampling 
  • Purposive sampling 
  • Theoretical sampling 
  • Snowball sampling o
  • Convenience sampling

Qualitative Research Methods

  • Observational techniques 
  • Interview 
  • Case study

Data Analysis

  • Forms of data analysis 
  • Measures of central tendency 
  • Presentation of quantitative data 
  • Statistical Testing 

Ethics in Psychological Research

Ethical considerations in conducting the study 

  • Informed consent 
  • Protection from harm 
  • Anonymity and confidentiality 
  • Withdrawal from participation 
  • Deception 
  • Debriefing 
  • Cost-benefit analysis in ambiguous cases 

Ethical considerations in reporting the results 

  • Data fabrication 
  • Plagiarism 
  • Publication credit 
  • Sharing research data for verification 
  • Handling of sensitive personal information 
  • Social implications of reporting scientific results


A. Abnormal Psychology

Factors Influencing Diagnosis 

Normality versus abnormality 

  • Approaches to defining abnormality:
    • Abnormality as a deviation from social norms
    • Abnormality as inadequate functioning
    • Abnormality as a deviation from ideal mental health
    • The medical model of abnormality
    • Classification systems
  • The history of DSM:  DSM-I, DSM-II, DSM-III, DSM-IV, DSM-5 
  • Other classification systems: ICD-10, CCMD-3 

The role of clinical biases in diagnosis 

Validity and reliability of diagnosis

Etiology of Abnormal Psychology 

The disorders chosen to explain and develop the topics should come from the following categories: anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, trauma and stress related disorders, and eating disorders.

  • Explanations for disorder(s) 
  • Prevalence rates and disorder(s) 

Treatment of Disorders

  • Biological treatment 
  • Psychological treatment 
  • The role of culture in treatment assessing the effectiveness of treatment(s) 

B. Developmental Psychology

Influences on Cognitive and Social Development 

  • Role of peers and play 
  • Childhood trauma and resilience 
  • Poverty/socio-economic status

Developing an Identity 

  • Attachment 
  • Gender identity and social roles
  • Development of empathy and theory of mind 

Developing As A Learner

  • Cognitive development 
  • Brain development

C. Health Psychology

Determinants of Health 

Biopsychosocial model of health and well-being

  • Biopsychosocial model takes into account biological, psychological, and social causes and treatments for illness

Dispositional factors and health beliefs 

  • Dispositional factors are internal factors that affect health and are characteristics of an individual

Risk and protective factors

  • A risk factor is any attribute, characteristic or exposure of an individual that increases the likelihood of developing a condition, disease or injury
  •  Protective factors include regular exercise, a healthy diet and access to clean water

Health Problems 

The topics being studied in this option should come from one or more of the following: stress, addiction, obesity, chronic pain, sexual health

  • Explanations of health problem(s) 
  • Prevalence rates of health problem(s) 

Promoting Health

Health promotion 

  • Approaches to health promotion 
    • Population health approach 
    • Individual health approach 
  • How to make health promotions effective 
    • Education and cognitive dissonance 
    • Fear appeals work best with strong self efficacy messages 
    • Legislation, subsidies, and taxation

Effectiveness of health promotion programme(s) 

D. Psychology of Human Relationships

Personal Relationships 

Formation of personal relationships

  • Factors that play an important role:
    • Evolutionary explanation for partner preference 
    • The relationship between sexual selection and human reproductive behaviour 
    • Attractiveness 
    • Hormones 
    • Major Histocompatibility Complex 
    • The Social Exchange Theory 
    • The Equity Theory 
    • Rusbult’s investment model of commitment 
    • Role of communication 
  • Factors that affect the quality of communication within a relationship include:-
    • Attribution theory 
    • Self-disclosure 
    • Explanations for why relationships change or end
  • Duck’s phase model of relationship breakdown 
  • Rollie and Duck’s five-stage model of relationship breakdown 
  • Knapp and Vangelisti’s stages of relational development

Group Dynamics 

Cooperation and competition

  • Cooperation and competition are separate and opposite social situations, where individuals either unite and work together, or oppose and work against each other towards a goal.
  • The theory of cooperation and competition  Deutsch (1949b)
  • Evolution and cooperation 
  • Game theory  
  • Prejudice and discrimination 

  • Prejudice is predetermined notion that is not founded on logic or actual experience
  • Discrimination is the unfair or prejudiced treatment of various groups of individuals, particularly on the basis of colour, age, gender, or handicap

Origins of conflict and conflict resolution

  • A conflict is a dispute that arises owing to two incompatible viewpoints
  • Kriesberg’s three basic types of behaviour arise from conflicts 
  • Social identity theory 
  • Realistic conflict theory 
  • Methods of conflict resolution 
  • Interactive conflict resolution: Kelman (2008)

Social Responsibility


  • Bystanders are people who witness events, but do not intervene or offer assistance
  • Factors affecting Bystanderism 
  • Reasons for bystanderism 
  • The Arousal : Cost- Reward Model 

Prosocial behaviour 

  • Prosocial behaviour is characterised as voluntary behaviour intended to help others
  • Hamilton’s kin selection theory 
  • Reciprocal altruism model 
  • Batson’s empathy altruism theory 

Promoting prosocial behaviour

Factors associated with development of prosocial behaviour

How these factors can be influenced

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