Post Of The Week – Thursday 5th June, 2014

1) Diets – Before And After

I was going to post this last week but ran out of time and room.

It tells the story of people who lost weight through dieting but then to some extent put it back on. I’ve just been looking at the eating behaviour material again with next year’s course in mind. The thing I get from these stories is that eating behaviour is complex and multi-factoral. To understand why diets succeed or fail, we need to look beyond the particular theories of success or failure which you find in a text book – we look at two as part of our course – to think more broadly about the factors which affect eating behaviour.


2) Three Things About Addiction

Firstly, this article appeared on the BBC today and will be in a linked radio programme soon. It looks at health outcomes in Glasgow. It makes pretty bleak reading.

Much of what is here centres on addictive behaviour, often to alcohol or other drugs. The article looks at how a broad range of social and historical factors have led to exceptionally poor health outcomes. It makes me realise that when we look at addictive behaviour, our focus on biological, behavioural and cognitive explanations alongside risk factors such as age, stress, peers and personality is rather narrow. Addiction affects all levels and groups within society, so needs an explanation at a societal level. That is why we look at public health interventions at the end of the topic.

Secondly, to emphasise the point that addiction affects people at all levels of society, this appeared on the NPR blog this week.

The comments at the bottom and the linked stories are both interesting and disturbing.

Thirdly, and on a lighter note, here is Mark Griffiths talking about the addiction of collecting World Cup stickers.

For Griffiths, the link between stickers and addictive behaviour is the idea of gamification. Collecting is one of the ways in which we learn the rules of gaming which are closely linked to the thought processes behind gambling.


3) Study Shows Environmental Influences May Cause Autism in Some Cases

When we look at autism as part of our study of theory of mind, we consider whether autism is a product of nature or nurture. This article looks at environmental influences, not in the sense of where someone lives or how they are treated as babies but in the sense of the chemicals which bind to and affect the function of DNA.

This research suggests that these environmental differences may be down to the ageing process. This is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it moves us on from saying autism is caused by a lack of theory of mind to thinking about what it is that might be causing this theory of mind to be absent. Secondly, it shows us that we have to think about nature and nurture in a different way. It is the idea of epigenetics, the process by which changes in the environment turn genes on or off, which is the bridge between nature and nurture. This is an idea which we keep coming back to.


4) How Long-Term Stress Causes Serious Mental Disorders

There’s an odd imbalance in our course in relation to stress. When we study stress, we look at the research which links stress to physical illness. We look at its effects on the immune system and on the cardiovascular system as well as looking at the relationship between life changes and physical illness. However, when we study depression, it is the psychological effects of stress which interest us when we look at the relationship between stressful life events and depression, focusing on the vulnerability related to the serotonin transporter protein gene.

This article from Jeremy Dean explains what the link between stress and mental illness might be and how it might work. It moves us a step closer to understanding how depression might work inside the brain.


5) E Therapies

When we study psychological therapies for depression, we consider it a strength of CBT that it can be adapted and delivered online. This is a strength because it means that people who might not want to access therapy the conventional way can still find ways of getting better. This applies particularly to young people.

This article summarises a much longer report which looks at evidence about the effectiveness of e therapies. The evidence is necessarily fragmentary because this is a new area but results in some areas are promising.


6) A Bit About p=0.05

We are at the stage in the year where the A2 students are about to do their research methods exam and the AS students are about to turn into A2 students and do a project requiring the use of inferential statistics. Central to both is the idea that if the probability of making a type 1 error is less than or equal to 5%, results are seen as significant. This is an idea which is coming under increasing pressure. This blog explains why.

You can find out more about this by looking at this post from earlier in the year.


7) The Nocebo Effect

Drug trials use placebos to test the effect of drugs. People in a control group are given sugar pills in order to work out how much of any positive effect of a drug is down to the drug itself rather than the belief that the drug will work. There is a flip side to this. When people are told the negative side effects of a drug or other intervention, they are more likely to report that they are experiencing those side effects. Here are the details.

This is important because when we talk about psychological therapies, we suggest that the effectiveness of the therapy depends on the quality of interaction between client and therapist. Drugs, we assume, are just drugs so what the doctor says does not affect how they work. That, it turns out, is not quite right.


8) Michael Rutter – The Life Scientific

This is a great half an hour of radio. Michael Rutter talks about his life’s work.

He’s got something interesting to say about a lot of things. There’s a bit on the English And Romanian Adoption study which we look at quite a bit in AS but also some interesting things about Bowlby. Rutter has some fairly damning things to say about the psychoanalytic theory in which Bowlby dabbled while still having something respectful to say about Bowlby as a person. Rutter’s big idea is that the wilder assertions about the importance of the primary attachment to the mother are not supported by evidence. While we’re on the topic, here is the link to a longer lecture by Patricia Crittenden. She worked with Ainsworth and is more kindly disposed to the ideas of Bowlby and Ainsworth in this area.


9) Time To Change – Make Time For Friends

We’ll be spending time looking at stigma next week. This is the latest video from Time To Change. I had to watch it a couple of times to work out what it’s about but that is because I am old. Actually, it’s great.


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