Post Of The Week – Thursday 6th March 2014

1) Follow Up From Last Week

I finally got round to watching the programmes linked in last week’s blog. On the obesity programme, here is a link to the study run by Sadaf Farooqi at Cambridge. She appears in a documentary I used to show classes made about 15 years ago explaining how siblings were treated with leptin in order to address chronic and severe obesity. It is obvious that the research has moved on a bit since then.

Secondly, the Horizon featuring Daniel Kahneman showed something about the process of cognitive priming. This idea has turned out to be controversial as some of the studies in this area have made claims which do not stand up to scrutiny. Here’s an article illustrating some the controversy in this area. Kahneman urges caution.

2) Applying Research Findings To The Classroom

When we study applications of theories of cognitive development to education, we are dealing with old theories and old ideas from the 1960s. These days, there is increasing call for insights from neuroscience research to be applied to the classroom so that day to day educational practice is informed by theories about how the brain works. I’ve seen some of this and wondered what all the fuss was about. This article casts a critical eye on these applications and talks some sense.

3) Autism, Vitamin D and Serotonin

The idea that there should be a link between autism and diet is one which until recently seemed improbable. However, there is increasing understanding of how mental health problems may be affected by subtle changes in diet and in the function of the gut. This article, with some good links to other articles on autism, explores the idea that autism may in some way be related to problems with Vitamin D.

4) Dyslexia

Depression, schizophrenia and autism are all labels which have recently been questioned. People argue that lumping what may turn out to be a large number of different disorders under one umbrella title may not be helpful in understanding what is wrong with people and finding a way of helping them. The same may be true of dyslexia. Here, Julian Elliott argues that dyslexia is not a helpful label for the problems which some children have in learning to read. It neither describes an underlying disorder nor offers a way of helping people get better.

Watch this if you are doing some classroom observation or planning to apply for teacher training.

5) Life Scientific – Vikram Patel

Vikram Patel has spent his career looking at mental health across cultures. In this programme, he talks about whether depression can be used as a classification in different cultures. In a previous post about Thomas Insel, the point was made that in twenty years, it is predicted that depression will be the major health burden across the planet.

I’ve only managed to listen to about 10 minutes of this so far. It is fascinating stuff.

6) Some Stories About Mental Health

Between them, these stories paint a picture both of the patchy and inadequate provision of mental health care and of how things might improve. This story explains how people miss out on care and the people doing assessments do not get paid.

This article explains some of the problems affecting PhD students’ mental health and how little is done to support them.

This story suggests that some of the excitement concerning ketamine as a possible antidepressant is misguided. I’ve blogged about ketamine here before.

The fact that people are getting excited about the antidepressant effects of a controlled recreational drug might illustrate how little we really know about treating mental illness. On the other hand, this story about using online tools to treat mental illness shows where practice might go in the future.

7) Anger And The Risk Of Heart Attack And Stroke

When we look at personality as a factor in stress, we define the Type A personality and look at research linking this personality type to increased risk of coronary heart disease. This research is quite old now. Friedman and Rosenman’s original work has not been replicated or confirmed and there is increasing evidence that it is hostility and anger rather than the full range of personality features in Type A which affect health outcomes. This radio report explains where the research is now going.

8) Memory: Fascinating Quirks.

Here are ten of them from Jeremy Dean.

9) Could Future Devices Read Images From Our Brain?

Weird and futuristic but shows us one of the directions in which neuroscience might go.

10) Adapting smoking cessation interventions to meet the needs of black and minority ethnic populations

Smoking affects different social groups to different extents. This article explains how some minority ethnic groups are affected disproportionately by the negative effects of smoking. It explores how changes as apparently trivial as the pictures of people in guidance pamphlets can have an effect on how many people give up smoking. Since smoking is so bad for people, even a slight improvement in success rate is cost-effective. This gives an interesting slant on the work we will be doing on media influence on addictive behaviour.

Note that you can use the tags on the mental elf blog to find out about other research into smoking cessation.

11) Philip Zimbardo

Here’s a TED Talk from Zimbardo about evil. Please be aware that this video contains some disturbing images of prisoner abuse in Iraq. Arguably, Zimbardo stands alongside Asch and Milgram as one of the greats of social psychology. His prison experiment used to be part of our course but isn’t any more.

I’m never sure about Zimbardo but he is certainly a fascinating speaker. Here he does some interesting work in explaining Milgram’s study and what the variations show. He makes the point that social psychology is about the situation. That helps us think about the debate we have been having about the conclusion of Milgram’s study as to the power of situational factors. He would say that because he is a social psychologist. Milgram and Zimbardo, it turns out, were in the same year at the same school in the South Bronx, New York.

12) Remembering Sherwin Nuland

Sherwin Nuland, an American doctor and writer, died this week aged 83. His TED talk from 2001 is about his experience of ECT. When we study ECT as a treatment for depression, we look at outcome studies and research into side effects in a cold, scientific way. This video reminds us that each case of ECT is a human story. Don’t watch this if you are offended by a bit of swearing. That is part of the human story too.

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