Post Of The Week – Thursday January 2nd 2014

1) Depression – Some Bits I Had To Miss Out

I’ve been working in the last week on the A2 Depression topic. There is some great research now being done in this area. I have included some contemporary research in the resources I’ll be sharing but inevitably could not include everything. The most interesting area is about the evidence for the effectiveness of anti-depressant drugs. We’ll have a look in the course at the work of Irving Kirsch as it appears in one of your text books. Here’s an article by Irving Kirsch, who is based at Plymouth University at the moment, with a reply from James Coyne.

You can get an idea from this about how heated the debate is in this area. I posted a link to a TED Talk by Ben Goldacre a little while back. In that talk, he refers to the scandal over the antidepressant reboxetine. Here’s a news article about what happened with that.

The debates in this area revolve around an understanding of the statistics. The best thing I have read which explains this is this article by Hilda Bastian. Statistical significance is dealt with in the Psychological Research And Scientific Methods module of the A2 course.

Outside of this controversy, this article explains how it may be possible to go beyond trial and error in prescribing anti-depressants to looking for biomarkers which might indicate which antidepressant will work best for each patient.

This is a really good page from the Black Dog Institute in Australia which takes contemporary research on mental health issues and puts it into plain English. Scroll down for a list of studies which have been summarised.

Finally, in the midst of all of this scientific controversy, it is important to remember that it is people’s experiences at very vulnerable times in their lives which we are talking about. This website, which comes out of research carried out at the University Of Oxford, gives you their perspective.

2) Social Genomics

When people comment on the fact that I am quite tall, I sometimes tell them that I would have been 6 foot 10 if it wasn’t for the bad diet that we all ate in the 1970s when I was growing up. The point is this. I have genes for tallness but the genes which make me taller than average are only switched on in the right environment, in this case by the food on offer. This in essence is what the science of epigenetics is about. It explains how genes are switched on or off by what we experience in the environment around us. This gets interesting because it breaks down the distinction between nature – a stable self based on the genes we are born with – and nurture – the effect that environment has on the stable self. This article by David Dobbs takes as its starting point the serotonin transporter gene which we look at as part of the A2 depression module. It explains how it is spread unevenly throughout the world and speculates how this unevenness might have evolved.

This article takes the idea further, explaining how our social experiences shape our genes.

It features the work of Steve Cole at UCLA. You can watch a lecture where some of these ideas are explained here.

You have to be patient but it’s worth it.

3) Within You And Without You: Where Does Addiction Reside?

Following on with the theme of nature-nurture, here is Mark Griffiths writing about the idea of addiction as innate. In popular culture, two ideas have taken hold. One is that there are people with addictive personalities. Think of the news coverage of, for example, Paul Gascoigne or Amy Winehouse. The other is that some things are inherently addictive. Think here of the news coverage of ecstasy, heroin, computer games, social media etc.. In this article, Mark Griffiths offers a critique of both of these and suggests that we need to think of the interaction between individual and environment in a much more subtle way.

4) Biomarkers For Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger’s Syndrome has disappeared from DSM5, the new diagnostic manual published by the American Psychiatric Association last year. This article suggests that not only does it make sense to people living with the condition to distinguish between Asperger’s Syndrome and other conditions on the autism spectrum but also that there is some evidence from brain scans that Asperger’s really is different. This is important because it is an example of where the categories imposed by DSM5 are at odds with emerging research on what is happening inside the brain. At the same time, the methodological criticisms which this article explains at the end show how far we have to go in understanding the brain science behind these conditions.

5) HM

Here’s a link to a PBS programme about HM. He’s a famous case of someone who lost part of his memory. You ought to remember him from AS Memory.

It looks as if this site contains some interesting links so hunt around.

6) How An Obese Town Lost A Million Pounds

When we study psychological explanations of obesity, we look at the way in which the built environment of cities makes it harder for people to take exercise and keep their weight down. I always think this is a speculative claim. In this TED Talk, Mick Cornett, mayor of Oklahoma City, explains what he did about it and what the results were. He’s convinced me.

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