Many people are worried about the amount of “content” in the IB Psychology course, but if you identify core concepts within the guide you can easily find overlaps, reduce content and enhance conceptual understanding in your students.

Remember that all assessments will ask students about a core concept (i.e. a relationship between behaviour, variables, research or ethics).

Let’s look at the Cognitive Approaches Higher Level Extension as an example of how we can identify core concepts that can be assessed (and thus drive our teaching) and we can reduce content.

There are three bullet points in the HL extension that students need to be understand in relation to the three “topics” in the cognitive core. Without much thought, this seems like nine learning outcomes (3 x 3). But if we do some analysis and use common sense, we’ll see that’s not the case. The three HL extension concepts are:

  1. The influence of digital technology on cognitive processes and human interaction.
  2. The positive and negative effects of modern technology on cognitive processes.
  3. Methods used to study the interaction between digital technology and cognitive processes.

But #1 and #2 above are the same; technology can’t have an effect that’s not positive or negative, so cross that one out and we’re down to two already. Essentially the core concept is: digital/modern technology (same thing) can have positive and negative effects/influences on cognition.

The three “topics” for the cognitive approach are:

  1. cognitive processes
  2. reliability of cognitive processes
  3. emotion and cognition

Now, cognitive processes is a very broad term and if it was used in an exam, one could talk about reliability of cognitive processes or emotion and cognition, so you can cross that one out as well, if you want.

So now we’re down to three core concepts from the original nine, shaving 66% of our content already, but we’re not done:

  • “digital technology can have positive/negative effects on the reliability of cognitive processes”
  • “digital technology can have positive/negative effects on emotion and cognition.
  • “particular research methods are used to investigate the effects of technology on cognition.”

Now what if we went one step further and found an overlap between reliability of cognition and emotion? What if technology had an effect on emotion, which influences the reliability of cognitive processing?

For example, what if virtual reality therapy was used to decrease emotional arousal in response to emotional stimuli (for people with PTSD) and to train cognitive reappraisal strategies, and these cognitive strategies over an extended period of time had neuroplastic effects on areas of the brain like the hippocampus (measured by MRI/fMRI), thus treating the cognitive symptoms of memory reliability that are prevalent in so many people with PTSD?

That covers all three possible topics (cognitive processes, emotion and cognition and reliability of cognitive process) and the three topics in the extension (effects, positives, and methods).

So what’s the magic study that does all this? …. Well….I’m yet to find it. But to be fair, I haven’t really looked for it yet and when I introduced this idea in our workshop this past weekend, I had a few keen beans start trying to help me find the evidence that VT effects neuroplastic change in the hippocampus (it’s got to exist, right?)


All I’d have to do is find a similar pattern of relationships for a negative effect of technology and cognition interacting with emotion and cognition and I’d be covered with two core topics. (Video games, maybe?)

While the PTSD connections seem complex, all these are covered in my abnormal psych’ unit on etiologies and treatments of PTSD anyway, so it’s not new learning: its’ consolidation. Plus there are concepts from the bio approach as well (techniques to study the brain and neuroplasticity), as well as the effects of emotion on cognition in the cognitive approach.

But hopefully you can see the point. What I love about this new guide is that it’s removed the trees so we can find the forest, if we look carefully enough. What I mean by this is that we can now just teach psychology without being boxed in by the LOs, that are simply just statements of significant relationships anyway (with meaningless command terms thrown in there to confuse assessment: but that’s another few blog posts of rants…)

My best advice for enhancing conceptual understanding in the limited time we have is to not treat the approaches and the options separately. Naturally, I’m a fan of this method. But also, scrutinize the guide and identify the core concepts that are required and plan accordingly. It will save you hours of teaching time.

We’re in this together. Let’s try to help each other make sense of this new course, instead of getting too bogged down in the negatives. I’m all about ironing out the MANY wrinkles the IB has, but there’s also the kids’ learning to consider (and our own sanity 🙂

I hope this was helpful,

Feel free to leave comments…