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Advice for teachers -

Contemporary science issues

The VCE Psychology Study Design enables students to engage with contemporary science-related issues by building their capacities to explain phenomena scientifically, design and evaluate scientific investigations, and draw evidence-based conclusions. Students see how science works as a process by undertaking their own scientific investigations that involve generating, collecting and analysing data and exploring the nature of evidence.

Teachers are advised to provide students with learning opportunities that allow students to critically evaluate the stories, claims, discoveries and inventions about science they hear and read in the media and to examine the relevance of science in their everyday lives.

The following table shows how students can draw links between scientific concepts studied across Units 1 to 4 and their applications in relation to issues discussed in the media:

Unit Concept Issues
1Importance of attachment.
  • Age at which children should start school
  • Adult relationships
2 Attitudes and stereotypes that may lead to prejudice and discrimination.
  • Application of the Equal Opportunity Act
  • Restricted access to public facilities
  • Gender participation in sport.
3 Memory
  • Effectiveness of memory-enhancing aids
  • Reliability of eyewitness testimonies
4 Importance of sleep
  • Balancing study and part-time work
  • Effectiveness of micro-sleeps, napping and siestas
  • School hours for young children and teenagers
  • Sleep health habits

Sourcing contemporary science issues

Contemporary psychological issues, discussions, reports, research and debates are accessible through the media or the internet. In particular, access to up-to-date information enables selection of topics for the student-directed research investigation in Unit 1 Area of Study 3 and background research into the practical investigations in Unit 2 and across Units 3 and 4. Teachers may also adapt research scenarios and reports to create assessment tasks (see suggested approaches to assessment tasks), for example analysis of data including generalisations and conclusions, evaluation of research, media analysis/response or a reflective blog/learning journal in response to an issue, where students are expected to apply their understanding of psychological concepts in unfamiliar situations. Although original psychological research reports are accessible, many require subscription and most are written for a research audience. For secondary school purposes, teachers and students may access reports, videos and summaries of contemporary psychological research and expert commentary through popular science journals (for example, Cosmos) and online science media outlets where areas of interest can be filtered (for example Australian Science, ScienceAlert and Science Daily).

Study of mental wellbeing

The VCE Psychology Study Design includes an introduction to mental disorder in Unit 1 through consideration of the nature and incidence of mental disorder across the lifespan; in Unit 2 through an examination of attitudes, stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination; and in Unit 4 through a discrete area of study related to mental health, including the study of specific phobia. The study design explores what it means to be mentally healthy and examines the psychological basis for developing and maintaining mental wellbeing. This involves considering a 4P factor model (predisposing, precipitating, perpetuating and protective factors) as a subset of a biopsychosocial approach in analysing mental health and the development and progression of mental health disorders.

The table below illustrates how use of the 4P factor model within a biopsychosocial approach can be applied to mental health disorders in general.

4P factor modelBiopsychosocial approach
Biological factorsPsychological factorsSocial factors
Predisposing risk factorsGenetic vulnerability Personality traits
(e.g. poor self-efficacy)
Disorganised attachment
Precipitating risk factorsPoor sleep
Substance use/misuse
Stress Loss of a significant relationship
Perpetuating risk factors Poor response to medication due to genetic factors Rumination
Impaired reasoning and memory
Role of stigma as a barrier to accessing treatment
Protective factorsAdequate diet and sleepCognitive behaviour strategies Support from family, friends and community

Although a biopsychosocial approach and the 4P factor model is specified in Unit 4, teachers may introduce these when looking at mental health as a product of internal and external factors in Units 1 and/or 2. 

Examples of combined approach to analysing a range of mental disorders, including specific phobia.

Management of mental disorder

Teachers are advised that analysis of any mental disorder should be considered in conjunction with management options. The psychological basis for the treatment of mental disorders is considered from a biopsychosocial approach. Students should recognise that treatments are not always easily categorised as being solely ‘biological’, ‘psychological’ or ‘social’ since these are not mutually exclusive. The diagram below summarises the evidence-based interventions for specific phobia, applicable to Unit 4, using a biopsychosocial approach. 

See above for further examples of other mental disorders that may be used in Units 1 and 2.