UPSC Psychology Optional Syllabus- Syllabus PAPER – I and PAPER – II

Psychology is a subject that looks into the human mind’s inner workings and this is an aspect that fascinates most people.  So, if you pick psychology as an optional subject, most likely your interest will remain sustained all through the preparation period. You will learn new things and remain interested. Also, there is abundant good study material available for psychology for UPSC.  Since real-life examples can be used in this subject, it can prove to be extremely scoring. It is not essential to be a graduate in Psychology to opt for this subject.   Everyone can opt for it.  Finally, it is important to note that the Psychology optional can also help in certain portions in GS I (social issues) and the essay paper also.  There are 2 papers for the psychology optional syllabus and both the papers are given below.

Psychology Optional Syllabus PAPER – I 

Foundations of Psychology 

1. Introduction

  • Psychology definition
  • Psychology’s historical antecedents of Psychology & its 21st-century trends
  • Psychology & scientific methods
  • Psychology in relation to other social sciences & natural sciences
  • Applying Psychology to societal problems

2. Methods of Psychology

  • Research types
    • Descriptive
    • Diagnostic
    • Evaluative
    • Prognostic
  • Research Methods
    • Case-Study
    • Experiment
    • Observation
    • Survey
  • Characteristics of non-experimental design & experimental design
  • Quasi-experimental designs
  • Focused group discussions
  • Brainstorming
  • Grounded theory approach

3. Research Methods

  • Major steps associated with Psychological research
    • Stating the problem
    • Formulating the hypothesis
    • Creating the research designs
    • Sampling
    • Data collection tools
    • Analysis
    • Interpretation 
    • Report writing
  • Applied versus Fundamental Research
  • Methods of data collection
    • Interview
    • Observation
    • Questionnaire
  • Research designs
    • Experimental
    • Ex-Post-Facto
  • Application of the statistical technique
    • Factor Analysis
    • Regression
    • T-Test
    • Two Way ANOVA Correlation
  • Theory of item response

4. Human Behaviour Development

  • Development & Growth
  • Development Principles
  • Role of environmental & genetic factors to determine human behaviour
  • Influence of cultural factors in socialization
  • Development of life span
    • Promoting Psychological Well-Being Across Major Stages Of The Lifespan
    • Development Tasks
    • Characteristics

5. Sensation, Attention & Perception

  • Sensation
    • Threshold Concepts
    • Difference And Absolute Thresholds
    • Vigilance And Signal-Detection
  • Attention
    • Factors influencing attention including the set and characteristics of the stimulus
  • Perception
    • Concept and definition of perception
    • Biological factors of perception
    • Perceptual organization-influence of past experiences
    • Perceptual defence-factors influencing depth & space perception
    • size estimation & perceptual readiness
    • Extrasensory perception
    • Plasticity of perception
    • Subliminal perception 
    • Culture and perception

6. Learning

  • Theories & concept of learning
    • Information processing model
    • Gestaltalist model
    • Behaviourists model
  • Generalization, discrimination & extinction processes
  • Concepts of self-instructional learning, probability learning, Programmed learning
  • Types & the schedules of reinforcement, escape, avoidance & punishment, modelling & social learning

7. Memory

  • Encoding & remembering
  • Types of Memory
    • Echoic memory
    • Iconic memory
    • Long term memory
    • Sensory memory
    • Short term memory
  • Multistore model, processing levels
  • Mnemonic techniques & organization for memory improvement
  • Theories of forgetting
    • Decay
    • Interference
    • Retrieval Failure
  • Metamemory
  • Amnesia – Retrograde & Anterograde

8. Thinking and Problem Solving

  • Cognitive development theory by Piaget
  • Concept formation processes:
    • Information processing
    • Problem-solving facilitating & hindering factors to problem-solving
    • Reasoning 
  • Problem-solving methods, creative thinking & fostering creativity
  • Factors that influence decision making & judgment
  • Recent trends.

9. Motivation and Emotion

  • Physiological p Psychological basis for emotion & motivation
  • Measuring emotion & motivation
  • How behaviour is affected by emotion & motivation
  • Intrinsic & extrinsic motivation
  • Factors that affect intrinsic motivation
  • Emotional competence & related issues

10. Intelligence and Aptitude

  • Intelligence & aptitude concepts
  • Nature & theories of intelligence – J.P Das, Spearman, Thurstone, Guilford Vernon, & Sternberg
  • Emotional Intelligence & Social intelligence
  • Measuring aptitudes and intelligence
  • IQ
    • IQ concept
    • Deviation IQ
    • IQ constancy
  • Measuring multiple intelligence, crystallized intelligence & fluid intelligence


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11. Personality

  • Definition and concept of personality
  • Theories of personality (psychoanalytical, sociocultural, interpersonal, developmental, humanistic, behaviouristic, trait and type approaches)
  • Measurement of personality (projective tests, pencil-paper test)
  • The Indian approach to personality
  • Training for personality development
  • Latest approaches like the big 5-factor theory
  • The notion of self in different traditions

12. Attitudes, Values, and Interests

  • Definition of interests, values & attitudes
  • Components of attitudes
  • Forming & maintaining attitudes
  • Measuring interests, values, & attitudes
  • Attitude change theories
  • Value fostering strategies
  • Formation of prejudices & stereotypes
  • Changing the behaviour of others
  • Attribution theories
  • Recent trends

13. Communication & Language 

  • Human language – Structure, properties, & linguistic hierarchy
  • Language acquisition – Predisposition, critical period hypothesis
  • Language development theories – Skinner & Chomsky
  • Process of communication & types of communication
  • Training for effective communication

14. Perspectives & Issues in modern contemporary psychology

  • Computer application in the psychological laboratory and psychological testing
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Psycho cybernetics
  • Studying consciousness 
    • Dreams
    • Hypnotic/Drug-Induced States
    • Meditation
    • Sleep-Wake Schedules
    • Stimulus Deprivation
  • Extrasensory perception
  • Intersensory perception
  • Simulation studies

Psychology Optional Syllabus for UPSC PAPER – II 

Psychology: Issues & Applications 

1. Psychological Measurement of Individual Differences

  • Individual differences’ Nature
  • Construction & characteristics standardized tests of psychology
  • Types of psychological tests
  • Limitation, misuse & use of psychological tests
  • Ethical issues with using psychological tests

2. Psychological well being and Mental Disorders

  • Concept of ill health & health
  • Positive health
  • Well being
  • Causal factors in mental disorders
    • Anxiety disorders
    • Delusional disorders
    • Mood disorders
    • Personality disorders
    • Schizophrenia
    • Substance abuse disorders
  • Factors that influence positive health, lifestyle, well being & quality of life
  • Happiness disposition

3. Therapeutic Approaches

  • Behaviour therapies
  • Bio-feedback therapy
  • Client-centred therapy
  • Cognitive therapies
  • Indigenous therapies (Meditation, Yoga)
  • Psychodynamic therapies
  • Prevention of mental illness 
  • Rehabilitation of the mentally ill
  • Fostering mental health

4. Organisational Behaviour & Work Psychology

  • Selection of personnel & training
  • Using psychological tests in the industry
  • Human resource development & training
  • Work motivation theories – Vroom, Porter and Lawler, Adam Equity theory, Maslow & Herzberg
  • Participatory management & leadership
  • Marketing & advertising
  • Stress & stress management
  • Ergonomics
  • Psychology of consumers
  • Managerial effectiveness
  • Transformational leadership
  • Training for sensitivity training
  • Politics & power within organizations

5. Psychology’s application to the field of educational

  • The underlying principles of the psychology behind a teaching-learning process being effective
  • Styles of learning
  • Learning disabled, retarded, gifted & their different training
  • Training for memory improvement
  • Training for higher achievement in academics
  • Value education & personality development
  • Career counselling, vocational guidance & educational guidance
  • Using psychological tests in educational institutions
  • Effective strategies used for guidance programmes

6. Community Psychology

  • Concept & definition of community psychology
  • Using small groups for social action
  • Arousing community consciousness & action to manage social problems
  • Group decision making & leadership to bring about social change
  • Strategies that are effective in bringing about social change. 

7. Rehabilitation Psychology

  • Tertiary, secondary & Primary prevention programmes – psychologists’ role
  • Organising appropriate services to rehabilitate the socially challenged, mentally challenged &  physically challenged, including the old people
  • Rehabilitating persons suffering from substance abuse, juvenile delinquency, criminal behaviour;
  • Rehabilitating violence victims
  • Rehabilitating victims suffering HIV/AIDS, the role of social agencies

8. Application of Psychology to disadvantaged groups

  • Concepts of disadvantaged & deprivation
  • Economic, cultural, physical & social consequences of deprived and disadvantaged
  • Motivating the disadvantaged & educating them towards the development
  • Prolonged & relative deprivation

9. Psychological problems related to social integration

  • Social integration concept
  • The problem of language, religion, class & caste, & prejudice & conflicts
  • Prejudice, its manifestation & nature amongst the out-group & the in-group
  • Causal factors pertaining to prejudices& social conflicts
  • Psychological strategies used to deal with prejudices & conflicts
  • Measures for achieving social integration

10. Applying Psychology to Mass Media & Information Technology

  • The current scenario in mass media boom & information technology & the psychologists’ role
  • Selecting & training professionals of psychology to work in the mass media and IT fields
  • Using mass media and IT for distance learning
  • Using e-commerce for entrepreneurship
  • Multilevel marketing
  • Impact of TV
  • Fostering values by using mass media and IT
  • Psychological consequences arising from recent Information Technology developments 

11. Economic development & psychology

  • Motivation for achievement & economic development
  • Characteristics of entrepreneurial behaviour
  • Training & motivating and persons for economic development & entrepreneurship
  • Consumer awareness & consumer rights
  • Government policies geared to promoting entrepreneurship for the youth as well as women entrepreneurs

12. Applying psychology to the environment & fields that are related

  • Environmental psychology – how it is affected by crowding, pollution & noise
  • Population psychology
  • Psychological consequences caused by a high density of population and population explosion
  • Motivating for the small family norm
  • Impact of the rapid growth of science & technology on environmental degradation

13. Applying psychology to other fields

  • Military Psychology
    • Devising psychological tests for defence personnel for use in selection
    • Training
    • Counselling
    • Training of psychologists who will work with defence personnel to promoting positive health
    • Human engineering in defence
  • Sports Psychology
    • Use of psychological interventions to better performance of athletes & and improve performance in sports
    • Psychological interventions for persons participating in Team and Individual sports.
  • Influences of media upon antisocial & pro-social behaviour
  • Psychology of terrorism

14. Psychology of Gender

  • Issues related to discrimination
  • Managing diversity
  • Self-fulfilling prophesy
  • The glass ceiling effect
  • Women & Indian society


When you prepare for the psychology optional for UPSC, it is a good idea to only study from a few books that cover about 90% of the syllabus, rather than study from 10-15books and spend a lot of time on the subject with not a lot of added marks but a lot of effort. The subject is such that some of the answers can be attempted from your previous knowledge and not what you have studied. In case you have not had psychology as a subject, begin with the NCERT books.  If you can complete the complete syllabus for Psychology prior to the Prelims, it will be beneficial as you will only need to use the same sources to do a revision. Your answers must be like a specialist. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Topics for Psychology Optional Paper I?

The Psychology Optional Syllabus for Paper I, is mentioned below.
Foundations of psychology 
Introduction to psychology
Methods of Psychology
Research Methods
Human behavior development
Sensation, attention, and perception
Thinking and Problem Solving
Motivation and Emotion
Intelligence and aptitude
Aptitude, Values, and Interest
Communication and Language
Perspectives and issues in modern contemporary psychology

What are the different memory types?

Types of Memory are:
Echoic memory
Iconic memory
Long term memory
Sensory memory
Short term memory

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