Answering the approaches question Using the biological approach to explain a behaviour “Lottery addict children Britain is producing a generation of child gamblers hooked on the Lottery and fruit machines. Disturbing new research by two eminent academics shows that hundreds of thousands of children-some as young as 11- are now addicted despite the supposed legal restrictions. The findings will fuel warnings from lottery critics that the country is storing up social problems and is likely to trigger pressure for a uniform age limit of 18 on all gambling.” (Reproduced from AQA A specimen material.) In the A level examination you will be required to explain a target behaviour using any approach. The aim of this activity is to offer you, the candidate, the opportunity to express your true understanding of the approach by your ability to use it in a novel situation.
How would you explain lottery addiction in terms of the biological approach? The currency of the biological explanation is brain activity or brain anatomy, nervous impulses and neurotransmitters, hormones, and various organs in the body. A possible explanation could be as follows: (a) Why are young people hooked on the lottery and fruit machines? A psychologist might use the biological approach to explain this behaviour. Such a psychologist would explain the behaviour in terms of brain activity and the action of the central and autonomic nervous systems. The psychologist might also mention hormones.
An answer like this would attract relatively few marks as it does little more than sketch out the possible elements of a biological explanation and has not demonstrated a true understanding of the approach. In order to do this you really need to try to put together an explanation of the target behaviour.
(a) An explanation of lottery addiction using the biological approach would focus on how biological systems can be used to explain and understand this behaviour. When an individual stands in front of a fruit machine the flashing lights are physiologically arousing, creating a sense of excitement and probably pleasure. Physiological arousal causes the body to produce certain hormones that prepare the person for fight or flight. We can also understand the individual’s behaviour in terms of nervous impulses. The eyes watch the pictures on the fruit machine go round and send impulses to the brain where they are interpreted and further messages sent to the hands to press a button at an appropriate moment to stop the machine.
In the A level examination you will be given an opportunity to evaluate one of your explanations so you can take the opportunity, as below, to indicate in what way the explanation offered in the first part of the question is lacking. This highlights the fact that your explanations may not be satisfactory! They simply need to demonstrate your understanding of the named approach.
(b) The problem with the biological approach is that for many aspects of behaviour it ignores some of the key elements of behaviour. In this case it is largely a description of what is happening at the level of nerves and hormones and doesn’t actually explain anything, for example why the individual is playing the fruit machine or why the individual wants to repeat the behaviour. The behaviourist approach would offer a better account because we can use the idea of reinforcement and partial rewards.
A suitable methodology for the biological approach In the examination you will be further asked to analyse how one approach might investigate this phenomenon, and evaluate the use of this method of investigating this phenomenon. As already mentioned the biological approach lends itself to laboratory experiments. Therefore a further response would be to analyse the use of this method. The process of analysis involves identifying the constituent parts of a problem and discussing them. A good student answer might be: (c) The biological approach is particularly suitable for experiments because it reduces behaviours to simple components. If we were to conduct an experiment into gambling behaviour we might assess the stress experienced by individuals when playing the fruit machine by using a galvanic skin response. This registers the amount of sweat being produced during an activity and thus is indicative of autonomic arousal because when one is in a state of physiological arousal sweating increases. There are other signs of ANS arousal as well, such as pupil dilation. We might also consider reaction time and see whether this was enhanced during high ANS arousal.
(d) The investigation described above could be conducted in a laboratory where conditions are more highly controlled. Or it might be conducted in the field where behaviour might be more naturalistic but, on the negative side, participants’ behaviour might be affected by other things in the environment rather than just the fruit machine activity (for example a noisy atmosphere in the pub).
Field experiments increase ecological validity at a loss of internal.
Bibliography – AQA Words / Pages : 730 / 24