Cambridge Psychology & Behavioural Sciences Interview Questions & Answers

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There are a range of different Psychology and Behavioural Sciences questions available from previous students online, which show the difference in question types one might encounter – from a question readily answered using the A Level Syllabus through to ethical questions that blur the lines between Psychology, Medicine, Sociology and Philosophy. Here, we’ll take a look at a small range.

Question 1: What do you think of assisted suicide?

Your answer here should cover the fact that assisted suicide is not euthanasia, so rather than a physician administering medication to a patient, the patient has to take the medications by themselves. However, the debate at the centre of the issue is the same – whether or not someone who is unwell should be allowed to take their own life. In psychology, we might consider whether someone with severe and untreatable depression ought to have access to assisted suicide. The immediate argument against this is the ‘slippery slope’ in which we see ill patients increasingly expected to take their own lives rather than burden others, or in which patients feel that this is an expectation. We must question where one draws a line in the sand, and where normal human morality should be relied upon – which would seem to dictate that helping another person to die, rather than helping them in a more typical sense, is the ‘human’ act. Compared to this, we might highlight that a patient whose suffering is too terrible to comprehend ought to be provided with a way out that they can take with some dignity remaining, and without having to face trying to take their life alone using methods that could go terribly wrong. Remember to provide a balanced viewpoint with this question and interact with the tutor’s points – there is no right or wrong answer.

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Question 2: What is a clinical trial? Why is a clinical trial important?

A clinical trial is a research study performed in order to evaluate an intervention – be it medical or surgical. They allow researchers and clinicians to understand whether new treatments are safe and effective, and thus to balance the potential benefits of the treatment against its potential drawbacks. Clinical trials are broken down into four phases. The first phase is testing on a small group of often healthy people (e.g around 50) to judge safety and side effects. The second phase uses more people (from 100 to around 300). This phase aims to assess efficacy rather than safety, and therefore relies on using patients who have the condition. Phase III gathers more information on both safety and effectiveness. The number of trial subjects can therefore be up to 3000 people, to allow a wider selection of the population to be assessed. Phase IV, the final phase, takes place after the drug is approved for use. It involves monitoring the drug across diverse populations over time. 

Question 3: Are there too many people in the world?

This is an interesting question that has been the subject of much debate in recent decades. There’s a famous bet that provides the basis for a good answer. Paul Ehrlich, and a biologist, and economist Julian Simon, made a bet in 1980, in which Ehrlich predicted imminent mass starvation, compared to Simon predicting that the world could sustain more people. They bet on whether the price of a set of metals would decrease or not, as a yardstick for resource scarcity. Simon won. However, a more recent iteration of this bet idea – based on the price of food – was won by a pessimist, who believed that food prices would increase as the population increased. As such, we might deduce that we are nearing a crucial point with the price of food increasing in line with population. We must also consider that people aren’t fairly populated across the world, sharing their resources equally – instead, they are populated inefficiently. The rich are more able to access resources more readily than the poor. Adding billions more people to the planet will at some point result in a breaking point. This will lead to a decrease in quality of life for the vast majority of people, as they have less space, less access to good food, and suffer an increasing burden from climate change – which itself of course will be worsened by the ever-rising population. Whilst we may not have too many people on the planet right now, an ever-increasing population in the coming decades could take us beyond the point of ‘too many’ people.

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Question 4: How would you justify the legalisation of ecstasy?

First, begin by outlining what ecstasy is – it’s a recreational drug commonly used by young people. It is very rare that people become addicted to it, as it’s typically taken in nightclubs and associated with the music scene, and its consumption leads to severe ‘comedowns’ which mean taking it continuously in the manner that someone might take cocaine or methamphetamines, for example, is rare. Throughout its decades of use, we must consider both the fact that many people have continued to take it, despite it being illegal the entire time, and the fact that many people have died of overdoses due to taking ecstasy tablets (‘pills’) that were either impure or far stronger than they expected – as there is no quality control or standard to adhere to when making something illegal. Think about what your goal is when legalising something or making a policy – it should be that you are protecting the public. As it stands, maintaining the criminalization of ecstasy is not preventing people taking it and suffering adverse outcomes. If teenagers or young people want ecstasy, they can easily access it. If it were legalised, we could tax it, and invest that money into the health service. We could ensure that pills were of a certain quality and that this quality and purity was made clear to the purchaser. We can also consider it from a simple moral standpoint – is ecstasy worse than alcohol? It certainly doesn’t seem to lead to worse health outcomes over time. Why then is alcohol legal and ecstasy not? These are all fair points to be made arguing in favour of decriminalising it. On the other hand, you might argue that ecstasy could act as a gateway drug to other, harder drugs which have more addictive effects, and that an ideal policy would lead to these drugs being harder to source, not just their being illegal but still easy to gain access to.

Question 5: If a psychologically ill person commits a crime, are they a criminal?

Begin by considering what a ‘psychologically ill’ person is. That could be anything from someone with antisocial personality disorder, to someone with severe schizophrenia, to someone who is depressed. Clearly, we would therefore need to consider cases individually – some people’s mental illness may allow them to avoid a guilty verdict. It should be apparent that someone who has a severe exacerbation of their schizophrenia, such that they murder someone due to a false belief and a mixture of delusions and hallucinations telling them to do so, ought not to be treated like a common criminal. On the other hand, someone with mild depression who murders another person is clearly a criminal. This is already part of our legal system. The more interesting question therefore is – if someone is deemed to have a psychological illness that leads them to want to commit crimes, is it their fault that they are a criminal? Can we blame someone for the way that they are ‘wired’ to use the common parlance?

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