Note: This is for the “old” syllabus (Exams in May 2018, and Nov 2018)

What do you need to know?

  • Two “principles” of the cognitive level of analysis
  • How these  can be demonstrated in studies (or theories)

What are the principles?

The two principles my class came up with last year were:

  1. Biological factors can influence cognition.
  2. Social and cultural factors can influence cognition.

Hot Tip: You could master an understanding of how one biological factor can influence cognition with one study (e.g. HM’s case study) and this could be used for Principle #1 above and Principle #1 in the BLOA principles in this post (not to mention heaps of other LOs).


Why only two?

You don’t need three principles, and it’s unlikely that you’ll even be asked about two because this question can only be a short answer question (Paper 1, Part A) in the exam – it won’t be an essay question. To ask about two for a SAQ would be a tall order and a bit unfair (I think) of exam writers. But that’s not to say it can’t happen!

Hot Tip: Choose one principle and become a master at it with one study that demonstrates it really well; have a second principle as a back-up just in case you’re asked about two.


Revision Tip: Keep it simple!

Just like with BLOA principles, I’ve seen textbooks recommend some pretty abstract principles, such as:

  • Mental representations can guide behaviour. 

This is referring to the influence of schema on behaviour and how we use our existing schema to guide how we behave in every day situations. However, both concepts are abstract and a bit tricky. I think this principle is better to skip, or I’d be tempted to phrase it as: schema can influence behaviour. This would then allow you to write about how schema could influence memory, for instance.

Another tricky principle I used to teach straight from the textbook years ago is:

  • The mind can and should be studied scientifically. 

To fully comprehend this principle you really need to have an understanding of the context of where it’s come from, which isn’t really covered in the IB LOs. The context I’m referring to is the fact that before the “cognitive revolution” in the 1950s and 60s, behaviorism was the dominant idea in psychology because it would be studied by experimentation. If you swap the word “scientifically” with “through experimentation” this principle becomes a little easier to comprehend.

But…I’d personally recommend to sticking to the first two principles mentioned as there is a heap of evidence throughout the IB Psychology course to demonstrate these two points.


If you were able to master these basic principles, you might want to “play it safe” and memorize the textbook versions, but I don’t see a need to.


What is a “principle?”

A principle in this context is like a theme; it’s an idea that is common throughout research that involves the study of cognitive processes in psychology.

From a teacher’s perspective, a principle is the enduring understanding that we’re hoping will last a long time in students. It’s an idea that underlies the unit.

Just as with BLOA, my students devise their own cognitive principles during our revision lessons when they recall all the studies that involve cognition in some way. I then ask them to identify “themes” by looking for patterns and similarities across studies. By doing this themselves they are gain a deeper understanding and are more likely to remember these principles come exam day.


What is the “cognitive level of analysis?”

The levels of analysis are terms invented by the IB to describe the different approaches psychologists take to study behaviour. While the biological level of analysis is primarily focused on understanding how biological variables influence behaviour, the cognitive level of analysis is a little bit lost.

One the one hand it’s treating cognition as the behaviour and focusing on variables that influence cognition. But then it also has cognition as the variable and looks at how this can influence behaviour. So simply put I’d say the cognitive level of analysis is the study of cognition in psychology.


The principles have been removed from the “new” syllabus, so these tips only apply for the “old” syllabus.