Post Of The Week – Friday 27th December

1) Ben And James Versus The Arabian Desert

James Cracknell had a serious brain injury three years ago which almost killed him. In this programme, he and Ben Fogle try to cross the Arabian desert by camel. I thought this was a slightly pointless programme in that it is supposed to be them alone against the desert except that they have a film crew with them. The interest however is in the extent to which James has been changed by his brain injury. The programme explains that in his accident, his frontal lobes were pushed against the front of his skull. The frontal lobes are connected to advanced brain functioning: planning, empathy, controlling negative emotions. The journey across the desert is therefore about whether James is still the same person as he was before the accident and whether in a hard and fast environment he is able to control his emotions and think his way through problems. On this basis, I will be bothering to watch the second episode.

2) Autism 1 – Can Social Skills Be Learnt?

In our lessons on autism in A2, we looked at the idea that children with autism can learn social skills through, for example, videos which teach them to recognise facial expressions linked to emotions.

In this video, Daniel Wendler explains how he learnt to socialise despite living with Asperger’s Syndrome. You can find out more about him at his website here.

3) Autism 2 – Over Connectivity

In last week’s post, I posted a link to an article about intense world theory. This suggests that people with autism experience sensory overload. The symptoms we associate with autism are the consequence of too much information.

This article looks at what might be a related idea. New evidence suggests that people with autism may have brains which are over-connected. This means that two different parts of their brain increase and decrease activity at the same time. The evidence is still emerging and some studies contradict each other. Nevertheless, understanding how different parts of the brain synchronise activity may give us an insight into the sensory experience of people with autism and may in turn lead us to an understanding of what causes the condition.

4) Ethics

A fundamental assumption of Psychology is that exists for the good of humankind. We have a code of ethics to make sure that the good outweighs the bad and to remind psychologists what the limits of acceptable conduct are.

Psychology has always had its dark side. This article explains the controversy surrounding the role of psychologists in devising and overseeing interrogation techniques used by the military.

5) Wiping Unpleasant Memories Using Electric Shocks

Here are two apparently unrelated mysteries which we deal with. The first concerns ECT, electro-convulsive therapy. In this treatment, an epileptic fit is induced in patients by passing a small electric shock through one or both sides of the brain. It’s been shown repeatedly effective but nobody really understands how or why it works. The second concerns how memories are encoded. We tend to think of our memories as stable, like information stored on a hard drive. Psychologists however stress the reconstructive nature of memory. Every time we remember something, we construct that memory from traces of  activity in our brains based on previous experience. We might wonder exactly how this works.

This article explains the link between these two ideas. In the study to which the article refers, participants already receiving ECT found it hard to remember a slide they were asked to recall just before receiving ECT. The suggestion is that the ECT effectively prevented them from reconstructing their memory of the slide. This in turn suggests that ECT works because it wipes bad memories. This is important because it shows us something about how the process of memory reconstruction works and also because it may lead to ways of making ECT more effective.


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