The Perse School


Exploring questions about life through active experimentation

Our aim

Psychology is about everything we do, think and feel. Although students will probably not have studied it before, and perhaps select it as a fourth subject choice, many find that this subject soon becomes their favourite.

Our selection of the Pre-U course over A level reflects our philosophy of teaching psychology.  It is an academically rigorous course in which students will study original academic journal publications rather than a textbook, need to keep up to date with the latest research, and where they complete their own independent research project, formulating an idea, designing a piece of research, conducting it and reporting on it. We find that students rise to this challenge, whatever their background, and find this an enjoyable way to approach the subject. It also gives them a major advantage when applying to university.

Psychology students get to explore questions about life, such as why we sleep or why people behave in the strange ways that they often do, and offers students insight into their own behaviour. Sometimes there are more questions than answers, but this is what makes the subject so interesting.

Psychology is defined by the government as a science and it is scientific in its methodology; for example, the study of structures of the brain using an MRI scanner. Students develop scientific skills and the ability to apply them in ways more akin to the arts. Perse students of psychology are encouraged to conduct, develop, and report on their own experiments, and are encouraged to take part in the experiments of their peers.

Learning journey - Lower Sixth

This includes fifteen ‘key studies’ – classic pieces of research that shaped the subject of psychology.

One is as old as 1909 (the work of Freud) and some are from the 1960s such as the work of Milgram on obedience to authority. Some studies from the 1970s and 1980s relate to developmental psychology and children whilst others focus on what happens when the mind goes wrong and we become mentally ill. Some research from the 1990s and 2000s looks at modern technology and psychology such as the use of virtual reality and MRI (brain) scanners. The course covers various research methodologies such as laboratory experiments and also a range of theories. Seven of the studies address questions such as:

  • Why we sleep and how eye movement is related to dream content
  • Why we obey authority
  • Why some people become compulsive gamblers
  • What influences an eyewitness testimony
  • Why some people develop body dysmorphic disorder
  • Why facial symmetry makes a person attractive
  • How our early childhood influences our adult relationships
Learning journey - Upper Sixth

In the second year students vote for two options from the choice below, which are studied in depth:

  • Psychology and Crime: criminal thinking patterns, forensic techniques, offender profiling, interrogation techniques and detecting lies, jury decision making, punishment and treatment of offenders
  • Psychology and Abnormality: schizophrenia, depression, phobias & obsessive-compulsive disorder, impulse control disorders (eg kleptomania, pyromania), dissociative disorder (e.g. multiple personality, amnesia), perspectives on abnormality
  • Psychology and Sport: motivation to succeed, aggression, sports personality, leadership, coaching and team cohesion, anxiety and sport performance, effects of an audience
  • Psychology and Environment: personal space, behaviour in emergencies, crowd behaviour, noise, environmental cognition & way-finding, crowding and density
  • Psychology and Health: doctor-patient relationship, pain, stress, health promotion, substance abuse (e.g. smoking), adherence to medical requests
Providing stretch

We provide extensive ‘explore more’ options, including extensive reading lists for each topic intended to stimulate deeper thinking and understanding. Suggestions include Baron-Cohen’s Zero Degrees of Empathy, Canter’s Mapping Murder and Perry’s Behind the Shock Machine.

We help students conduct their own practical studies and experiments and to understand psychology in action by questioning their own behaviour. One such activity involves keeping a sleep diary, using an app to record sleep patterns, and sharing and discussing findings with peers to assess whether people really are either a ‘lark’ or an ‘owl’.

Beyond the classroom

We provide suggestions of things students of psychology can do before they arrive in the September of the Lower Sixth, including films to watch, such as The Nightmare (about sleep paralysis), and experiments to conduct, such as one that enables students to discover their brain type and another that asks students to identify shops that display the Grid, Freeform or Maze layouts.

Our ’42’ society programme of lunchtime lectures regularly includes topics of interest to those studying psychology.

The Perse Nudge Unit was set up to enable students to deploy behavioural economics and social psychology to suggest improvements at the School. It is modelled on the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insighs Team.

Psychology at university

The Pre-U course is by its very nature excellent preparation for university. Students who take advantage of the ‘explore more’ options we provide and who carry out independent studies will find they have plenty to include in their personal statement and interviews.

We also provide 1:1 support in putting together applications and preparing for interview.

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