Post Of The Week – Thursday 29th May 2014

1) The Enigma Of The Teenage Brain

In the run up to the exam, I have been finding it quite hard to show people how to write about biological explanations of social cognition. You need to start off by explaining what the pre-frontal cortex does, then look at evidence which suggests that changes in social cognition is linked to changes in the adolescent brain. Finally, you need to apply this link between adolescence and the developing frontal cortex to the issue of how we understand and enhance development during adolescence.

This piece of writing from Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and her team does all of this and gives some fresh insights into current research. Both for what it says and how it says it, it is a great piece of Psychology writing.


2) A Couple Of Ideas On Research Methods

People tend to think that learning Research Methods is dull because you are not learning any real Psychology. The trick is to see the link between the things we find and the way we find them. Firstly, here is an example of an extraneous variable affecting a study. Some research had previously suggested that children who played too many computer games were experiencing some sort of cognitive impairment which affected their homework.

This study suggested that time spent on homework acted as an extraneous variable. The children who played computer games did less well on academic measures because they spent less time on their homework.

Secondly, here is an article about developing ways of measuring the sensitivity of the senses in people with autism.

Part of what is interesting here is the content of the questionnaires. The questionnaire about sensitivity to sensory stimuli is used alongside other measures to build up a picture of functioning in each individual. This should remind us that autism is best thought of as heterogeneous. Once this profile is built up, treatment can be targeted at particular areas of function. The other aspect of this which is interesting is what it tells us about validity. In this example, the new questionnaire, the Sensory Perception Quotient (SPQ) was measured against a pre-existing questionnaire, the Sensory Over-Responsivity Inventory (SensOR) in order to see if the new questionnaire achieved similar results. That is an example of concurrent validity. In establishing concurrent validity, researchers are confirming that they are measuring something identified by previous research as important. They are simply measuring it a little more precisely. At the bottom of the article, it explains how they were able to devise a shorter 35 question questionnaire based on an analysis of participants’ answers. They will be able to use this shortened version in future. This is an example of content validity. They know that they have a questionnaire which contains 35 distinct questions which cover the area they want to measure fully and accurately.


3) The Myth Of Einstein’s Brain

Once or twice on this blog, I have written about how exaggerated claims are made in neuroscience on the basis of slender evidence. People who should know better are mesmerised by insights from new research based on brain scans.

This article deals with some of the myths which have grown up about Einstein’s brain, which was preserved and analysed after his death. You can read the detail for yourselves. The point I take away from this is that there is a big gap between what we want to claim about how the brain works and what the evidence will actually allow us to say.


4) Separated Twins – The Closest Of Strangers

People in Psychology used to find separated twins really interesting. Interest has waned a bit in recent years as the focus has shifted away from measuring variables in twins towards understanding more about how the genes which drive these variables actually work. Sometimes, claims have been made which are exaggerated and unscientific: the human interest element in stories of twins reunited takes over.

This article sets the record straight, looking at one case of twins reunited and speculating about what it is about them which makes their relationships so close. This offers some good insights into the nature-nurture debate.


5) Big Brains Revisited

When we look at evolutionary explanations of food preference, we look at small gut big brain theory. The idea is that the chance discovery of cooking and eating meat provided early humans with a substantial evolutionary advantage. They were able to use the extra energy derived from this diet to power larger brains. They needed less energy to digest their food and therefore developed smaller guts. Humans have therefore evolved as an intelligent species which likes to eat meat.

This article covers some research which looks at this question differently. Here, the evidence is that the energy we used to develop bigger brains came not from smaller guts but from weaker muscles. There is still some way to go to develop this idea.


6) Memory

Here’s a short video which explains concisely some of the latest ideas about how we remember things.


7) The Limits Of CBT

When we study CBT at several different points on our course, we look at the idea that the success of CBT depends on the flexibility and attitude of the client, the quality of the therapist and the interaction between the two.

This article takes those basic premises and explores them. What’s particularly interesting here are the insights offered by readers in their comments at the bottom of the article.


8) How We Read Each Other’s Minds

It is easy to get confused when we look at the development of the sense of self and understanding of others. The two are inextricably linked but exist as two sub-topics on our specification. It is easy to deal with one theory like Piaget’s or Kohlberg’s than to piece together a sequence of development identified by different researchers at different times. It doesn’t help when different researchers define a concept like “theory of mind” in slightly different ways.

This TED talk from Rebecca Saxe is therefore great because it explains what theory of mind is about and identifies some developmental milestones all the way through to later childhood. It also moves beyond suggesting stages of development to suggesting how this development is reflected in patterns of brain activity.


9) State Of Mind

To understand this video, you need to know two things. Firstly, the State Of Origin games are one of the biggest sports events in Australia. Each year, Queensland plays New South Wales at rugby league. Secondly, suicide remains the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44. Campaigners use rugby league as a vehicle for addressing this problem by getting men in particular to talk about their mental health. Just brilliant.

If you want to follow this up, go here.

For the record, NSW won the first of the three games this year 12-8.



  1. […] a clear focus here on male mental health. I’ve posted before here about campaigns in Australia which target male mental health and male attitudes. I keep finding […]

  2. […] Here’s the second part of the video which goes with the State Of Origin rugby league series which we looked at a couple of weeks ago. […]

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