Key Studies and Maths in Psychology

While students who decide to take Psychology at A-level or in High School may be generally aware it involves “some sort of mathematical component”, as the British Psychological Society perceptively notes:

Students beginning A-Level psychology are often disheartened to learn that mathematics is an inescapable part of the subject. Many students are drawn to psychology by the promise of gaining a deeper understanding of human behaviour, or possibly even a deeper understanding of themselves. There are few students who choose to study A-Level psychology because of the opportunities that it provides for data analysis and statistics!”

So while many students may need to be quickly brought up-to-speed with the mathematical requirements of the subject, the problem for teachers is when and how to do this. For many this involves “relegating mathematical skills to a standalone unit of learning; a week-long slog of lessons where all mathematical skills are taught at once. It is tempting to quarantine mathematics to its own walled-off corner of the curriculum lest we risk contaminating the rest of the course with its dullness”.

An alternative – possibly more-interesting, not to say life-affirming – way to introduce the mathematical dimensions of psychology is, the BPS suggests, “to integrate mathematics into lessons, in particular lessons where students are learning about a key piece of research. By bringing in a little bit of mathematics here and there, students should start to gain a more cohesive understanding of the links between data analysis, statistics, and psychology. Additionally, this “little but often” form of teaching may feel less overwhelming for students than the “all at once” method often used, a gentle flurry of snowflakes rather than an avalanche!

To this end the BPS have put together a helpful little document called “Teaching mathematical skills through key studies in psychology” designed to help teachers introduce various mathematical components through four Key Psychological Studies (Loftus and Palmer, Milgram, Rosenhan and Bandura). The document provides teachers with a range of mathematical exercises (plus answers) students can carry-out within the context of each key study.

Your students will, of course, need to have some prior knowledge and understanding of the studies and an easy and painless way you might like to introduce them to your students is through the medium of film:

Loftus and Palmer




In addition, if your students need help with statistical tests, Maths in Psychology features Psychology examiner Deb Gajic providing detailed step-by-step walkthroughs that show students how to calculate and apply a range of classic psychological tests: Spearman’s Rho, the Sign Test, Chi Square, the Mann Whitney U Test, the Wilcoxen Signed Rank Test and Probability testing.

Deb Gajic’s Introduction to Maths in Psychology:

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