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Answering Approaches Questions

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:
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.

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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.

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

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.

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:
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.

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
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