Post Of The Week – Thursday 14th November

1) Bedlam Again

The third episode of the series is on Channel 4 tonight. I’ve blogged below a link and some thoughts about the first two shows. Here’s an interesting piece reviewing the first couple of episodes.

I’ve got some sympathy for the main point of the article, that the programme focuses on telling the stories of individuals often in intrusive detail at the expense of understanding the underlying issues. Thinking about it over the last week, I’m not sure that is quite right. The best Psychology we do often focuses on the stories: HM, Genie, Freud’s case studies, separated twins, Early Bird study, Matthew Johnstone (you’ll come across all of these as you make your way through the course). It is through understanding these stories that we come to an understanding of the psychology which underpins their experiences. I’d argue now having thought about it a bit more that Bedlam works in this tradition. By telling the stories of individuals, it offers us powerful insights into some complex issues. I’ll keep watching.

2) Focus On The Brain

This edition of Nature focuses on some developments in neuroscience.

There’s an interesting article on exposure therapy. For a long time, it has been believed that exposing someone to a stimulus for which they have a phobia is an effective way to cure them. This is the principle on which systematic desensitisation is based.  It works for some but not for all. This article explains why. The idea is that for many conditions, a fear or obsession towards a physical object or action hides the fact that this is fundamentally a mental problem. Treating the thought processes which underlie these behaviours rather than simply exposing the person to the object of their fear or obsession becomes the better option.

3) The Obesity Epidemic

We use the word “epidemic” to describe rising levels of obesity because we want to get across the idea of it affecting large numbers of people. That’s not really what “epidemic” means though: the word should refer to the spread of a virus or bacterium through a population.

This article considers the possibility that obesity really is an epidemic by looking at the idea that it is caused by changes in gut bacteria which are passed between individuals through social contact or through shared exposure to environmental stimuli. There’s recently published research which hints that this may be so. We’ve been struggling a bit in the A2 Eating Behaviour topic to get a grip on comparing and contrasting biological and psychological explanations of obesity. This article has an elegant way of understanding this contrast:

“Perhaps most interestingly, changing biology may even be changing cravings. Some biologists have hypothesized that our gut bacteria actually drive cravings for certain unhealthy foods. A focus on biology doesn’t mean a reduced emphasis on behavior, just a richer understanding of it.”

4) Young People And Smoking

I happen to be working on smoking with my Year 8 tutor group this week. Here’s an article which suggests that initiatives which aim to prevent smoking in young people might actually work. That’s got to be good news.

On the same theme, here’s a story from the BMJ about tobacco packaging.

5) Institutionalisation

We study institutional care as part of the AS Early Social Development unit. I’d tended to think that this was a hang over from past Psychology research as children’s homes in the UK had largely disappeared. Then I read this.

Institutional care is a problem now across the world and is worthy of our attention.

6) Can You Train Your Brain?

We’ve had a bit of discussion about this in AS about brain training when looking at working memory. We’ve investigated in particular the claims of Susan Gathercole and Tracy Alloway that it is possible to train your brain to increase your working memory. This BBC article mentions working memory in the context of explaining whether it is possible to become a quiz genius.

7) Optimism And Pessimism

This programme feature Michael Mosley discussing some therapy he tried to make himself more optimistic. This was part of a TV programme from earlier in the year.

We get interested in this idea when we study depression. Psychologists still find it hard to describe what a depressed brain looks like. This may be because depression is not simply one thing but an umbrella term for many different disorders. There’s better news though about attempts to understand what makes us resilient to depression. What Michael Mosley discusses here is part of the process of understanding resilience.

8) All In The Mind – Attitudes To Mental Health

All In The Mind celebrated its 25th birthday by looking back at how attitudes to mental health have changed over 25 years.

It’s clear both that huge advances have been made and that attitudes in some respects remain negative. Graham Thornicroft, the researcher on whose work we have based some of our research into attitudes, explains the central importance of social contact in reducing stigma. Well worth listening to.

9) Tips To Manage Stress

Here’s a video from Australia which might cheer you up.


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