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Comprehensive IB Psychology SL & HL Syllabus

Comprehensive IB Psychology SL & HL Syllabus


The IB Psychology syllabus is structured to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of various approaches to understanding behavior and essential research methods in psychology, in line with the IB Board syllabus.

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

Biological Approach to Understanding Behaviour

In the core section of the IB Psychology Paper 1 syllabus, students explore the biological factors that influence behavior. Topics include neurobiology, genetics, and the physiological basis of psychological phenomena.

1. The Brain and Behaviour

Techniques used to study the brain in relation to behaviour

  • Factors affecting choice of technique (CAT, MRI, PET, EEG, fRMI) to study the connection between brain and behaviour including opportunity, available technology and costs
  • 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

2. 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

3. 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

4. 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

➔ Ethical considerations in animal research


B. Cognitive Approach to Understanding Behaviour 

Cognitive Approach to Understanding Behaviour

This core component of the IB Psych Paper 1 curriculum delves into the cognitive processes underlying human behavior, including memory, thinking, and problem-solving.

1.     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

theory of planned behaviour

  • Micro-level decision-making model 

the adaptive decision maker framework

  • Heuristics involve using simpler decision making processes

2.     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

3.     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
  • The theory of flashbulb memory
  • The Influence of emotions on perceptions, memory, goals and decision making

4.     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 

Sociocultural Approach to Understanding Behaviour

The sociocultural approach, as outlined in the IB Board syllabus, investigates the impact of cultural and social factors on behavior, including cultural norms, societal influences, and group dynamics.

1. 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 discrimination

2. 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:


Uncertainty avoidance



Long term/short term

Time orientation


3. 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

4. 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 

Approaches to Researching Behaviour

This section equips students with the research methods and ethical considerations needed to study behavior scientifically. It covers experimental design, data collection, and analysis.

1. 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


2. 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

3.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

4. Qualitative Research


Credibility in qualitative research

  • Triangulation: method, data,

researcher, theory o

  • Rapport
  • Iterative questioning
  • Reflexivity: personal,


  • Credibility checks
  • Thick descriptions


Sampling in qualitative research

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

5. Qualitative Research Methods

Observational techniques






Case study


6. Data Analysis

Forms of data analysis



Measures of central tendency



Presentation of quantitative data



Statistical Testing


7. 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

Abnormal Psychology

One of the optional components in the IB Psychology Paper 1 syllabus, students explore psychological disorders, their diagnosis, treatment, and societal perceptions.

1. 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:


->Other classification systems:

->ICD-10, CCMD-3

  • The role of clinical biases in diagnosis
  • Validity and reliability of diagnosis
2. Etiology of Abnormal Psychology 
  • Explanations for disorder(s)
  • Prevalence rates and disorder(s)
3. Treatment of Disorders

Biological treatment

Psychological treatment

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

B. Developmental Psychology

Developmental Psychology

In the developmental psychology option, students examine human growth and development across the lifespan, including cognitive, emotional, and social changes.

1.     Influences on Cognitive and Social Development

Role of peers and play

Childhood trauma and resilience

Poverty/socio-economic status

2.     Developing an Identity


Gender identity and social roles

Development of empathy and theory of mind

3.     Developing As A Learner

Cognitive development

Brain development

C. Health Psychology

Health Psychology

This option focuses on the psychological factors that influence health, illness, and well-being, aligning with the IB Board syllabus guidelines.

1. 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

2. Health Problems

Explanations of health problem(s)

Prevalence rates of health problem(s)

3. 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 (IB Board Syllabus):

Psychology of Human Relationships

The psychology of human relationships option explores interpersonal relationships, attachment, and the impact of relationships on mental and emotional health.

1.     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



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


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

2.     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)

3.     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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