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Encountering psychology in context

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This module offers an accessible and engaging introduction to classic and contemporary psychological theory and research applied to a broad range of contexts. You'll encounter core areas of psychology as set out by the British Psychological Society (e.g. social, cognitive, developmental, biological) and applied aspects of professional practice (e.g. forensic, counselling). You will learn how psychologists have studied topics that directly affect people's lives in areas such as criminal justice, family life, ageing, and brain injury. You'll also explore how psychology can inform our understanding of magic and misdirection, performance, and how people develop across the lifespan.

What you will study

This module introduces core areas of psychology, including biological, cognitive, developmental and social psychology and considers how these can be applied to understand real-world issues. The relationship between psychological theory and application is also explored in topics linked to forensic psychology and counselling. The module introduces a range of research methods that are used to answer questions in psychology and provides students with practical experience analysing data using qualitative and quantitative methods, and taking part in psychological research studies.

The first block introduces the psychology of relating in different contexts. This includes a focus on intimate relationships, family lives, work and relating positively (altruism and cooperation) in the social world.  

Block 2 picks up the key ideas from Block 1 that tap into notions of emotional states (e.g. love, positive feeling) and ground them in the psychology of emotion and feelings. You'll explore a range of emotional states, including those associated with negative affect (stress, fear). Across this block, links will be made between emotion and mental health, including how psychology informs mental health interventions.

Block 3 explores a number of different settings in which psychological research has been applied to the criminal justice system. This includes examining how psychological research has informed our understanding of why people commit crimes, how police gain information from suspects, how people make decisions about criminal actions, and how mental states influence legal outcomes.

Block 4 explores the relationship between the brain and behaviour and considers how biological evidence can inform psychological theories. You'll be introduced to the relationship between biological and psychological processes and examine how studies of brain damage, neurodiversity and ageing can be used to advance theoretical knowledge and challenge taken-for-granted concepts of biological universality.

In Block 5, you'll re-encounter topics and concepts from earlier in the module in exciting new contexts. This will help you build on the knowledge gained throughout the module, combining this with new topics, insights and perspectives that show how psychology can contribute to an understanding of performance, development across the lifespan, and magic.

The module materials include a two-volume textbook and an extensive module website built around an online study guide. The website contains further teaching to support the chapters in the textbook. The teaching on the website includes video and audio interviews with key psychologists featured in the material and a variety of interactive activities to help develop and consolidate your knowledge. You'll also spend some of your study time using online resources from The Open University library.

Professional recognition

This is one of the core modules in our British Psychological Society (BPS) accredited degrees in psychology.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 1 module. OU level 1 modules provide core subject knowledge and study skills needed for both higher education and distance learning to help you progress to OU level 2 study.

Although this module builds on concepts first introduced in Exploring psychological worlds: thinking, feeling, doing (D110), if you have taken other OU level 1 introductory modules or are taking it on a standalone basis, you will be able to/be supported to engage with the materials equally well.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

What's included

You'll be provided with two textbooks, statistical analysis software (SPSS) and have access to a module website which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials
  • audio-visual content
  • assessment guide
  • online tutorials and forums
  • links for further study.

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Mobile devices and computing devices that do not meet the specs listed below​, including Chromebook laptops or tablets running the Linux-based Chrome OS as its operating system,​ will not be able to install or run the SPSS statistics software required and thus are not suitable​ for parts of this module. Inability to use SPSS will prevent you from passing the module.

Additional software will be provided, including the SPSS statistics program. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run this software on a desktop or laptop computer with either:

  • Windows 64-bit (10 or 11)
  • macOS (Ventura or higher)
  • 3GB hard drive free space and 4GB of RAM

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms, we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone.

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile App will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It's not available on Kindle.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • facilitating online discussions between your fellow students in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying D120 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Encountering psychology in context starts twice a year – in February and October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024 and February 2025. We expect it to start for the last time in February 2034.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment