Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior Section: Content Category 6B

Making sense of the environment

The way we think about the world depends on our awareness, thoughts, knowledge, and memories. It is also influenced by our ability to solve problems, make decisions, form judgments, and communicate. Psychological, sociocultural, and biological influences determine the development and use of these different yet convergent processes.


Biological factors underlie the mental processes that create our reality, shape our perception of the world, and influence the way we perceive and react to every aspect of our lives.

The content in this category covers critical aspects of cognition―including consciousness, cognitive development, problem solving and decision making, intelligence, memory, and language.

Topic Level Key:

The abbreviations found in parentheses indicate the course(s) in which undergraduate students at many colleges and universities learn about the topics and associated subtopics. The course abbreviations are:

PSY: one semester of introductory psychology
BIO: two-semester sequence of introductory biology

Please note topics that appear on multiple content lists will be treated differently. Questions will focus on the topics as they are described in the narrative for the content category.

Attention (PSY)

  • Selective attention
  • Divided attention

Cognition (PSY)

  • Information-processing model
  • Cognitive development
    • Piaget’s stages of cognitive development
    • Cognitive changes in late adulthood
    • Role of culture in cognitive development
    • Influence of heredity and environment on cognitive development
  • Biological factors that affect cognition (PSY, BIO)
  • Problem solving and decision making
    • Types of problem solving
    • Barriers to effective problem solving
    • Approaches to problem solving
    • Heuristics and biases (e.g., overconfidence, belief perseverance)
  • Intellectual functioning
    • Theories of intelligence
    • Influence of heredity and environment on intelligence
    • Variations in intellectual ability

Consciousness (PSY)

  • States of consciousness
    • Alertness (PSY, BIO)
    • Sleep
      • Stages of sleep
      • Sleep cycles and changes to sleep cycles
      • Sleep and circadian rhythms (PSY, BIO)
      • Dreaming
      • Sleep‐wake disorders
    • Hypnosis and meditation
  • Consciousness-altering drugs
    • Types of consciousness-altering drugs and their effects on the nervous system and behavior
    • Drug addiction and the reward pathway in the brain

Memory (PSY)

  • Encoding
    • Process of encoding information
    • Processes that aid in encoding memories
  • Storage
    • Types of memory storage (e.g., sensory, working, long-term)
    • Semantic networks and spreading activation
  • Retrieval
    • Recall, recognition, and relearning
    • Retrieval cues
    • The role of emotion in retrieving memories (PSY, BIO)
    • Processes that aid retrieval
  • Forgetting
    • Aging and memory
    • Memory dysfunctions (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, Korsakoff’s syndrome)
    • Decay
    • Interference
    • Memory construction and source monitoring
  • Changes in synaptic connections underlie memory and learning (PSY, BIO)
    • Neural plasticity
    • Memory and learning
    • Long-term potentiation

Language (PSY)

  • Theories of language development (e.g., learning, Nativist, Interactionist)
  • Influence of language on cognition
  • Brain areas that control language and speech (PSY, BIO)

To support your studies, see the following video tutorials below from the Khan Academy MCAT Collection. The videos and associated questions were created by the Khan Academy in collaboration with the AAMC and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.