Post Of The Week – Thursday 19th December

1) Autism – Intense World Theory

As part of our study of the development of a sense of self, we look at the idea that people with autism lack a theory of mind. The assumption is that there is something in the developmental process which prevents people with autism from developing the ability to see the link between the thoughts and the actions of other people. There are three problems with this. Firstly, the theory of mind only develops in normally developing people at about the age of four and a half years. Diagnosis of autism often happens earlier than this, suggesting that there is something earlier in the child’s development which is going wrong. Secondly, saying that autism is linked to a lack of theory of mind doesn’t really explain anything. There has to be an account of why theory of mind is missing in people with autism. Thirdly, autism is heterogenous. It has different manifestations in different people.

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This article tells the story of Henry Markram and of his intense world theory of autism. It seeks to explain the symptoms of autism by suggesting not that people with autism are unaware of the world around them but are too sensitive to it. The symptoms we see in autism are really about shutting out too much information. It’s a speculative theory and not everyone agrees. See what you think.

2) How Antidepressants Work

As with 1) above, there is a mystery here which needs explaining. Antidepressants which work on levels of serotonin in the brain are known to work. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors maintain levels of serotonin in the brain and are commonly prescribed anti-depressants: you’ll have probably heard of Prozac. Their effectiveness has been used as evidence for the idea that depression is caused by low levels of serotonin. There’s a problem though because the effects of SSRIs on the levels of serotonin are immediate but people have to take antidepressants for two or three weeks before their symptoms start to disappear.

This article offers a solution to this problem. Low levels of serotonin are a symptom of a deeper disorder which leads to depression: the inability of cells in the brain to make new connections. Furthermore, antidepressants work because they boost the production of connections and brain cells. It’s early days still for this research but it looks promising in solving a longstanding issue.

3) Brains On Trial – Neuroscience In The Court Room

Not so long ago, I posted a link to a PBS TV programme on how neuroscience was starting to ask questions about how legal cases were conducted.

This article explains how brain scans were used to prevent a convicted murderer being sentenced to death. This is useful reading for anyone thinking of pursuing a criminology degree.

4) Requests To Commit Bad Deeds

It is quite hard to find good social psychology online. This article explains a piece of research which examines how likely people are to agree to commit bad deeds. We tend to underestimate people’s willingness to do something bad. This has relevance for us because the obedience research we study is based on asking people to carry out unethical actions. We tend to be shocked by this but this research suggests that we ought not to be and explains why. The findings here have some connections with the research about Milgram I blogged a couple of weeks ago.

5) Mirror Neurons Again

I posted a link a couple of weeks ago to an article which asks what we really know about mirror neurons.

This article summarises the first article and explains some of the controversies which surround mirror neurons. Please note that there is a link to the Mukamel study which we look at as part of our course.

6) Repressed Memories

When we looked at the research of Elizabeth Loftus, we saw how her theories of reconstructive memory landed her in trouble when she applied it to the problem of people apparently recovering memories of abuse which they had repressed.

This short article shows that this is still a live debate involving therapists and researchers. See also

7) Mental Health In The Workplace

We’re going to be looking at the workplace as a source of stress next term. We look at the research of Michael Marmot which suggests that workplaces with high demand and low control run the risk of making you stressed and ill. That’s bad news for a lot of workers and workplaces.

Better news is this article which suggests that real progress is being made in some workplaces in helping people deal with stress and other mental health issues. I hope that the workplaces in which you pursue your careers will be tolerant and open to change.

8) Great TED Talk Number 1

Here’s Ben Goldacre talking about what we think we know about disease and how to cure it. Several references to psychology issues.

9) Great TED Talk Number 2

Here’s Andrew Solomon talking about depression.

Wide ranging, intelligent and, despite its darker moments, optimistic.

10) BPS Research Digest

This blog is based on the idea of showing you some contemporary research and making a link back to what you study in the classroom. This is not an original idea: the BPS Research Digest has been doing this for quite a while. Here’s their review of the year part one.

You can subscribe by email or follow on Twitter. Make it your new year’s resolution to immerse yourself further in Psychology research.


  1. […] a previous post, I posted a link to an article about intense world theory. The idea is that the symptoms of autism […]

  2. […] Post Of The Week… on Post Of The Week – Thurs… […]

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