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Psychology optional for UPSC is one of the optional subjects offered by the UPSC for the civil services mains examination. The tricky thing about psychology is that it is considered to be a natural science, a social science and also a life science subject. There have been many successful candidates with psychology as their optional subject.

However, there are both positives and negatives associated with the subject as in any other optional for IAS exam. If you are considering psychology as your optional subject for UPSC mains and are unable to decide, then you can assess your own strengths and weaknesses and then come to a conclusion. Do remember there are ups and downs in any optional. It is your own approach to studying it and your interest in the subject that will decide your fate.

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  • It is highly interesting and engaging. It is not a dry subject.
  • There is a lot of scope for using real-life examples in the exam.
  • As you study, you will be able to relate to your own life.
  • There is an easy and good availability of study material.
  • It is considered easy, safe and scoring.
  • It is a good optional for MBBS graduates who do not wish to take up medical science as their optional subject.

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  • If you are really not interested in studying this subject, you better keep off it as it can come across as vague.
  • For people with a different academic background, psychology may be a tad hard to follow, especially if you stick to only foreign-authored textbooks.
  • There is very little overlap with the general studies papers.
  • The syllabus for psychology optional is considered relatively vast.

Paper I Strategy

Paper I in psychology is more theoretical in nature. The portions can be divided into:

Foundations of Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Personality and Contemporary Psychology.

  • You must develop a strong foundation in Paper I because this is going to be your base on which to build answers in Paper II (which is basically applying the concepts in Paper I into practice).
  • The chapter ‘Research Methods’ is increasingly becoming popular with the UPSC and many questions are being asked from it.
  • A few topics are repeatedly asked and you should be absolutely thorough with them so that these marks are assured. They are working memory, intrinsic motivation, personality, attitude, values and interests, and issues in modern psychology.
  • The book to follow for the paper-I is Psychology by Robert Baron. Alternatively, you can use Psychology by Saundra Ciccarelli.

Paper-II Strategy

Paper-II deals with applied psychology. This paper is more application-oriented and requires extra effort and answer writing practice.

  • Develop your answers rooted in the concepts of psychology that you learnt in Paper I.
  • Give a lot of examples to support your answers and make sure you quote a majority of Indian examples.
  • Sometimes, the UPSC asks unconventional questions in paper II.
  • For this, you have to be armed with a ready-made framework of answer writing because time is a scarce commodity in your mains exam.
  • This framework can go like this – take the basic issue asked in the question (for instance, behavioral change needed for Swatch Bharat, or the problem of teenage drug abuse).
  • Then, divide your answer into sections such as society, institutions, education/awareness, role-models, reinforcement, and finally recent developments if applicable.
  • In this framework of answers, incorporate principles like operant conditioning, social psychology, modeling, persuasive communication, etc.
  • For paper II, you should use Applied Psychology by Smarak Swain.

Books For Psychology Optional For UPSC

  1. Psychology by Robert A Baron
  2. Psychology by Saundra Ciccarelli
  3. Understanding Psychology by Robert S. Feldman
  4. Tests, Measurements and Research Methods in Behavioral Sciences by A K Singh
  5. Psychology – Classes XI & XII NCERT textbooks
  6. Applied Psychology by Smarak Swai



Foundations of Psychology:

  • Introduction
  • Methods Of Psychology
  • Research Methods
  • Development of Human Behavior
  • Sensation, Attention and Perception
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Thinking and Problem Solving
  •  Motivation and Emotion
  • Intelligence and Aptitude
  • Personality
  • Attitudes, Values and Interests
  • Language and Communication
  • Issues and Perspectives in Modern Contemporary Psychology


Psychology: Issues and Applications

  •  Psychological Measurement of Individual Differences:
  • Psychological well being and Mental Disorders:
  • Therapeutic Approaches:
  •  Work Psychology and Organizational Behavior:
  • Application of Psychology to Educational Field:
  •  Community Psychology:
  • Rehabilitation Psychology:
  • Application of Psychology to disadvantaged groups:
  • Psychological problems of social integration:
  •  Application of Psychology in Information Technology and Mass Media:
  • Psychology and Economic development:
  •  Application of psychology to environment and related fields
  •  Application of psychology in other fields:
  • Psychology of Gender:
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