Post Of The Week – Thursday 20th March, 2014

1) Why Is Addiction So Powerful?

Here is a one minute read from the Neurosphere website on addiction.

View story at

The homepage has access to loads of clearly written and beautifully illustrated short articles.

2) Fast Food And Obesity

When we look at psychological explanations of obesity in A2, we look at the idea that we consume more calories because fast food is freely available but in general we exercise less because of the environments in which we live. Obesity can therefore be explained by socio-cultural factors. Two recent studies have challenged this idea.

This article deals with a study into where people consume fast food. It looked at their exposure to fast food at various points in their day: the journey to or from work, in work, at home. It found that “people with higher takeaway food exposure had a higher body mass index and were more likely to be obese.” Not surprisingly, the more people had access to takeaway food, the more takeaway food they ate. There was some effect however for where they ate it. Put simply, people who ate takeaway food at work were likely to see an increase in body mass index which could be ascribed to the fast food they ate but that wasn’t the case for people who ate it at home or on the way to or from work. This suggests that the relationship between eating more fast food and getting fat is a complex one. The article goes on to look at what might be done to address the problem of obesity arising from fast food without imposing draconian legislation.

The findings of this article are harder to work out.

The key point seems to be that the relationship between food available and obesity is far from clear. In areas of New York where the proportion of food outlets selling fast food or something similar is high, BMI tends to be a bit higher. The more food outlets there are of any type, the lower the average BMI tends to be. Having a variety of food outlets in one area seems to have no effect on BMI.

Finally, this article explains ways in which the food industry teams up with charitable and community organisations to promote health while promoting its own products.;jsessionid=55D12AC235BC6D30230967B02EE47774.f01t04?v=1&t=ht0htpqt&s=0af7d3b4f6ae5da4a45efbaf2ee834e6a9b63b56

If you want to know more about this process, this programme from the BBC is useful. It features Professor Terry Wilkin from Plymouth University.

Watch this excerpt and follow some of the links to other parts of the series.

3) Rational Choice Theory

When we look at gambling, we look at the idea that people gamble because they believe that the benefits of gambling will outweigh the costs. Addictive behaviour, far from being impulsive and irrational, is based on a rational choice. It would be hard to think of this explanation applying to other forms of addiction. However, this is what Carl Hart thinks can be used to explain levels of drug use.

You can read what he has to say here and consider the implications this view has for how the law should deal with illegal drug use.

4) When Aaron Meets Martin

Aaron Beck is a central figure in the development of cognitive theories of depression and of CBT. In our course, we look specifically at the idea that depression is a disorder of thought. This comes from Beck. Martin Seligman’s ideas about learned helplessness also come up in our course. Seligman has spent much of his career developing the idea of positive psychology and resilience. Beck and Seligman are friends. This is a conversation they had when they met for lunch not so long ago.

It’s fascinating to see them playing with some of the ideas we consider as part of our course.

5) Daniel Kahneman

I posted a link a couple of weeks ago to a programme about how we make decisions. Here is an article about Daniel Kahneman whose work featured in that programme.

On decision making and how we judge probability and risk, which is part of Kahneman’s work, here is a new finding reported by Jeremy Dean.

6) Antidepressants And Grieving

In 12A this morning, we mentioned in the context of definitions of abnormality the controversy surrounding bereavement. Essentially, the issue is that DSM5 treats grief as an illness which, if necessary, can be addressed using drugs. Here’s something about the controversy from a couple of years ago.

This recently published article looks at how antidepressants are given to people grieving the loss of a child. It suggests that drugs are given too quickly and too easily.

7) Smart False Memories

When we remember something incorrectly, we assume that it is because we did not pay attention to it or because we did not process it properly. This ignores the fact that memory is reconstructive and elaborative. Memory is about taking fragments of experience and building a story out of them. So sometimes, we get things wrong because we have tried to hard to build on what we can remember. This gets interesting because advertising is based on the idea of getting people to remember a product and then buy it. If you can persuade people to build positive memories even if they are inaccurate, you will sell more products.

This is a good example of how people with psychological expertise end up in many different areas of work.

8) Thomas Insel On Clinical Trials

There are two standard criticisms of clinical trials. The first is that drug trials only have to demonstrate safety, efficacy and quality. In other words, the drug has to do something, it has to do that something safely and the quality of production has to be high enough to ensure that each tablet or capsule contains precisely the right amount of active ingredients. The trouble with this is that drugs get produced which seem to work but for which there is no scientific explanation as to how or why they work. The second standard criticism is that trials are poorly conducted. In particular, we have looked at the work of Ben Goldacre on this blog before. Goldacre documents how dodgy science reaches the public sphere.

This blog from Thomas Insel explains how the National Institute For Mental Health in the US is intending to address these criticisms. Trials will need to be conducted to higher standards and will need to “follow an experimental medicine approach in which interventions serve not only as potential treatments, but as probes to generate information about the mechanisms underlying a disorder.” If he gets it to work, it will mean that many of the studies for the effectiveness of interventions we use from text books will have been conducted in ways which would no longer be viewed as valid.

9) Peter Kinderman

He’s featured on this blog before. Here he is talking about a wide range of things on a piece of American community radio.

I haven’t listened to this yet but Kinderman always has something interesting to say.

10) Naked Neuroscience

I managed to listen to some of this. A very good, accessible discussion by two important people in the field who give a good overview of recent discoveries.

I like the way they explain how the boundaries between the different approaches in Psychology are gradually disappearing.


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