Psychology is a broad discipline that incorporates both the scientific study of human behaviour through biological, psychological and social perspectives and the systematic application of this knowledge to personal and social circumstances in everyday life. In the VCE study of Psychology, students explore complex human behaviours and thought processes. They develop an understanding of mental health issues in modern society and are encouraged to adopt an empathetic and educated approach towards individuals with mental health issues. Students are given the opportunity to apply psychological principles to everyday situations such as school, employment and their everyday social interactions.

Psychology provides students with a sophisticated framework for understanding the complex interactions between the biological, behavioural, cognitive and socio-cultural factors that influence our thoughts, emotions and behaviour. The study assists students to further develop effective language skills for communication, and numeracy skills for research, data analysis and other applications. In addition, students develop a range of broader skills including those of problem solving, critical evaluation and the application of processes of scientific inquiry.

Unit 1: How are behaviour and mental processes shaped?

This unit focuses on Human Development involving changes in thoughts, feelings and behaviours. In this unit students investigate the structure and functioning of the human brain and the role it plays in the overall functioning of the human nervous system. Students explore brain plasticity and the influence that brain damage may have on a person’s psychological functioning. They consider the complex nature of psychological development, including situations where psychological development may not occur as expected. Students examine the contribution that classical and contemporary studies have made to an understanding of the human brain and its functions, and to the development of different psychological models and theories used to predict and explain the development of thoughts, feelings and behaviours. A student-directed research investigation related to brain function and/or development is undertaken in this unit. The research investigation draws on content from Area of Study 1 and/or Area of Study 2.

Unit 2: How do external factors influence behaviour and mental processes?

This unit focuses on how a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours are influenced by a variety of biological, psychological and social factors. In this unit students investigate how perception of stimuli enables a person to interact with the world around them and how their perception of stimuli can be distorted. They evaluate the role social cognition plays in a person’s attitudes, perception of themselves and relationships with others. Students explore a variety of factors and contexts that can influence the behaviour of an individual and groups.

They examine the contribution that classical and contemporary research has made to the understanding of human perception and why individuals and groups behave in specific ways. A student practical investigation related to internal and external influences on behaviour is undertaken in this unit. The investigation draws on content from Area of Study 1 and/or Area of Study 2.

Assessment activities:

  • Class test on key knowledge
  • Research and create a mental disorder fact sheet
  • Report exploring brain function and development
  • Poster explaining consciousness as a continuum
  • Test focussing on mental health and mental illness
  • Formulate and test a research hypothesis and present these findings as an Empirical Research Activity
  • End of unit exams

Unit 3: The conscious self

This unit focuses on the relationship between the brain and the mind through examining the concepts of consciousness, behaviour, cognition and memory. Students study the structure and functioning of the human brain and nervous system, as well as a range of disorders and phenomena that may occur as a result of localised brain damage. They also explore the nature of both normal and altered states of consciousness including sleep, daydreaming and the mind-altering effects of alcohol and illicit substances. Students then consider the function of the nervous system in memory and investigate the ways in which information is processed, stored and utilised. They apply different theories of memory and forgetting to their everyday learning experiences and discover methods for both improving and manipulating human memory. Students conduct their own experimental research on a key theory of memory formation and learn how to present their findings and conclusions in accordance with the Australian Psychological Society’s reporting guidelines.

Unit 4: Brain, behaviour and experience

This unit focuses on the interrelationship between learning, behaviour, the brain and its response to experiences. Students investigate learning as a mental process that leads to the acquisition of knowledge, development of new capacities and changed behaviours. They also discover the brain’s adaptive ‘plastic’ ability to physically change in response to different experiences and understand how the mechanisms of learning may be applied to assist them in everyday functioning. Students then build on their conceptual understanding of learning to consider it as one of several important facets involved in the analysis of mental health and illness. They consider different concepts of normality, and learn to differentiate between normal stress responses and clinical disorders. Students use a biopsychosocial framework to explore the nature of stress and a selected mental disorder. The intent of the study is not that of diagnosis and treatment but to explore causes of mental illness, avenues of assistance and factors that promote mental wellbeing.

Selection advice:

This subject would suit students who enjoy understanding why people behave in different ways and learning how your brain works and how it can be tricked or trained.

Links to further pathways:

The study of Psychology leads to opportunities in a range of careers that involve working with children, adults, families and communities in a variety of settings. These include roles in academic and research institutions, management and human resources, and government, corporate and private enterprises. Fields of applied psychology include educational, environmental, forensic, health, sport and organisational psychology. Specialist fields of psychology include counselling and clinical contexts, as well as neuropsychology, social psychology and developmental psychology.

Related Subjects

Units 1-4


This subject focuses on the procedures of accounting and finance and the way in which these may be used.

Units 3-4

Australian History

This subject would suit students with an interest in history who like to research information to broaden their knowledge and understanding of Australian history.