Post Of The Week – Thursday 1st May 2014

1) Khan Academy – Psychology Videos

The Khan Academy aims to produce a world class education for everyone. It does this by making videos which cover a range of academic disciplines and which are free online. It has just started producing Psychology related material. Here are two, one about Kohlberg and one about Vygotsky. They cover AO1 content: not much evaluation. However, for giving a picture of the theory and giving you the basis for thinking about broader issues, they are second to none. Have a look.


2) Farming And Hunter-Gathering

When we look at evolutionary explanations of eating behaviour, we consider lactase persistence. The idea is that over just a few generations, as farming developed in northern Europe, lactase persistence developed quickly through the population. This is evidence for the idea that it is hard to separate the influence of evolution and the influence of culture. It is not possible to say which came first, the genetic mutation which allows adults to digest milk or the development of agriculture and dairy farming. Since we cannot say which came first, we need to focus instead on how they work together.  What’s interesting is that advances in gene analysis mean that it is possible to tell a more detailed story about this change from hunter-gathering to agriculture. Rather than communities or individuals making the change over time, it looks as if hunter gatherers and farmers lived alongside each other as two distinct groups.

This means that the straightforward narrative I’ve been offering in this part of the course for two or three years now will have to change a bit.


3) How To Mold [sic] A Brain

This American video – hence the title – explains some core ideas about conditioning. It’s an area people often find it difficult to write precisely about in the exam so worth a look.


4) Day Care, Peer Relations, Aggression

I’ve been revising this with the AS classes this week. I’ve been struggling with it, in part because it’s one area of the course where the evidence is contradictory and confusing. I managed to put a final comment on to the post we started back in December. I’m grateful to the students who contributed to this process for helping to shape my understanding. It’s made me realise that what makes this topic confusing is the very different social agendas which people have. Arguments about whether children should be looked after by a day carer or at home by a parent are really arguments about the people who are doing the looking after. These people are usually female. I think this article clarifies the issues well.


5) What Causes Autism?

Here’s a very recent TED talk from Wendy Chung. Just really good.


6) Mindfulness Meditation

I posted recently a link to an article and video featuring Ruby Wax, a comedian who has recently completed a masters degree in Mindfulness Based CBT. There is now a lot of interest in this field, which is a bringing together western and eastern ideas about the mind. That’s interesting for those of you who do RS and study eastern religion. Here’s an article about how this works.


7) Aaron Beck On Challenging Negative Thinking

When we look at CBT in both AS and A2, I have a set paragraph which I use and adapt. It goes, “In CBT, the focus is on problematic thinking and behaviour patterns. The client is asked to spot problem thoughts and to think about her/his thought processes in order to decide if they are realistic and sensible. The therapist might challenge the client’s thoughts and ask him/her to prove the accuracy of his/her beliefs.” That’s good for passing an exam but it is quite hard to imagine what that sounds like. Aaron Beck is the founder of CBT and in his 90s, he is still working and talking about therapy. Here he talks about cognitive restructuring. Remember, this is the guy who invented this stuff.


8) Rutger Engels

We look at Engels’ research into the effects of media representations of alcohol when we look at addictive behaviour. Here’s a web page about him. He’s part of the trend in Psychology to understand more about the adolescent brain. His research is focused not only on understanding and explaining but also preventing.


9) Online Gambling

The A2 groups have just done a test written by me on Addictive Behaviour. It contains a stem question about online gambling. My assumption when I wrote it was that online gambling was just like gambling in person. This turns out not to be the case. This article by Mark Griffiths explains how. It feels different because it is asocial and attracts a different type of customer compared to traditional gambling.


10) Depression – Challenging Some Assumptions

The same as was said about research into the effects of day care above could also be said about depression. The evidence seems to be confusing and the assumptions on which our understanding is traditionally based now seem ill-conceived.

i) When we look at biological explanations of depression, we repeat the claim that people are born with a disposition to develop depression which is triggered by stressful events. If that’s right, we need to be able to explain how the stress response mechanism works in order to turn stressful event into a trigger for depression. The cortisol system is a prime candidate for understanding this.

This research looks at adolescents with high and low cortisol levels and with and without symptoms of depression. High cortisol is a risk factor in developing depression but not the only route in. If we want to understand depression, we need to know more about how it works.

ii) When we look at therapies for depression, we look at the claim that drug treatments are effective but may not be appropriate because they carry with them the risk of suicide. For CBT, we say that there is evidence that it works, particularly if it is used in conjunction with drug treatment but it is not suitable for everyone and there are costs in terms of time and commitment. What we don’t ever think about is whether CBT carries the same risk of suicide, or at least suicidal thoughts, as drugs.

This article looks at the problem. There is some evidence that CBT can have adverse effects but most trials of CBT don’t bother to report them. Given that we spend a lot of time and effort on comparing different therapies, that looks like an oversight.

iii) We still study the amine hypothesis, the idea that depression is the consequence of a lack of serotonin or noradrenaline in crucial areas of the brain. The evidence we use for this comes from antidepressants. Antidepressants which raise levels of serotonin by blocking their reuptake work, therefore depression is about the lack of serotonin. What we don’t think about is whether evidence of people with depression naturally having less serotonin or noradrenaline or of inducing depression by deliberately blocking serotonin or noradrenaline exists. Joanna Moncrieff tackles this in a post here:

She says that the direct evidence is minimal and that it is time to ditch the amine hypothesis and the disease model which goes with it.

iv) When we look at CBT for depression, we consider that a strength of CBT is that it can be delivered online. We look at the development of SPARX, an online game which helps adolescents identify and deal with negative thinking. We use this as a strength because it suggests that CBT is flexible enough to be delivered in a number of different ways. This report looks at apps for anxiety and sounds a note of caution about the limitations of this online approach.

v) All of this suggests that the debate about how we think about something like depression is moving on rapidly. Here is a sequence of videos from a session in Harvard a couple of weeks ago. I’ve only managed to watch a little bit of this so far but it shows how the debate is moving.


One comment

  1. Fantastic resource Mr Tombs. This must have taken significant amounts of time to produce. Lucky students!

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