Post Of The Week – Thursday 15th May, 2014

1) Randomised Controlled Trials In Education

If you are in the A2 groups, you will have done this week a research methods test based on fictitious study of a teaching strategy. As I made it up, I wondered what would happen if such a study was conducted in real life.

The answer to some of the questions which came to mind are here. This article concerns two studies into a programme called Phonomena which is designed to help children to read by teaching them the difference between sounds. The first study found a positive effect for Phonomena but a recent replication by Lorna Halliday at UCL did not replicate this effect. This article is important to us for three reasons. Firstly, it exposes the importance of external validity and replication. Too much Psychology gets into text books and on to courses like ours without being properly replicated. For example, I was told during my degree that while the conservation tasks devised by Piaget can be easily replicated, the studies which challenge them by embedding the conservation task in a story cannot be. Secondly, it shows the importance of a properly established control group. Often in studies related to education, the group doing the favoured intervention is compared with a group doing nothing. Halliday’s study gets round this problem. Thirdly, the Halliday study used proper blinding procedures so that the significant background information was hidden from the people collecting the data.

Your experience as students and mine as a teacher are both affected by educational initiatives for which there is often the flimsiest of evidence. This article makes the case for the need for change.


2) Obesity

I’ve just been revising eating behaviour with the A2 groups. Obesity is a theme which runs through much of this. Here are some links on that theme. Firstly, here is an article from the BPS Research Digest about the labelling of obesity as a disease.

Essentially, the dilemma is this. If you label obesity as a disease, the stigma which surrounds it is reduced and people coping with it feel better about themselves. The problem however is that people then feel less motivated to do something about it. This has some interesting echoes in the research we cover from Peter Attia and Gary Taubes. The trick in all of this may be to accept that obesity is a disease and find a cure for it.

Secondly, we spend some time looking at social cultural explanations of obesity, using ideas about how changes in built environment and lifestyle affect bodyweight. Clearly, these changes will affect some social groups more than others. This article looks at the problem of obesity among the long term unemployed.

It points out that risk factors which affect much of the rest of the population are particularly acute for people without a job.

Thirdly, this article suggests that, despite public health campaigns, people’s diets aren’t really getting any better.

It’s particularly interesting here to note that much of our knowledge of changes in diet comes from questionnaire surveys. An obvious problem is that people do not record properly what they have eaten.


3) The Cost Of Not Caring

A while ago, I included a link in a post of the week to a Panorama programme about how in the UK people with mental health problems are dealt with by the police and the courts. Here’s the American take on this issue.

This isn’t a problem which affects one country or culture. It’s everywhere.


4) Loftus And Memory

Here’s an article by Mo Costandi on the strengths and the controversies of Elizabeth Loftus’ research.


5) Nature-Nurture

This latest podcast from Naked Genetics starts with a couple of things relevant for us.

Firstly, there is an interview with David Sweatt which looks at the genetics of memory. The idea is to understand which genes are switched on or off when information arrives in the brain. Sweatt makes a telling remark at the end about how much we really know about this process. Secondly, there is an interview with Marcus Munafo looks at what we know currently about genes and environment. Munafo makes it clear that our understanding of the gene environment interaction becomes better as we get better at measuring and defining behaviour and mapping the genome. What’s interesting for us as people who deal with a course which focuses on separating biological from psychological is that nobody is now disputing that you cannot have one without the other.


6) 40 Years Of Fighting Homophobia

Famously, homosexuality was defined as a psychological disorder by the American Psychiatric Association as late as 1973. To put this right, psychologists have been involved in both devising programmes to combat prejudice and in analysing their effectiveness. This has some echoes in the examples of minority influence and social change which we look at as part of our course. It also has an interesting story to tell of some of the flaws in this type of research.


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