Post Of The Week – Thursday 19th June 2014

1) Evolutionary Explanations Of Fighting Behaviour

In our A2 course, we look at two lots of evolutionary explanation in some detail. In Eating Behaviour, we consider evolutionary explanations of food preference. We consider specifically the idea that we have evolved to be an intelligent species which eats cooked meat. The discovery of how to cook meat enabled us to digest food much more efficiently, meaning we had energy left over to power larger brains. With larger brains, we could hunt for food more efficiently. The genes which survived belonged to people who ate meat and developed intelligence. Another evolutionary explanation we look at is sexual selection. Natural selection concerns the preservation of genes which enable us to survive, sexual selection concerns the preservation of genes which enable us to reproduce.

Both of these ideas get an airing in some research which has been published this week concerning the evolution of the human face. Traditionally, this has been assumed to be about diet. We evolved skulls and facial features which enabled us to bite, chew and swallow. However, a team from the University Of Utah have explained this evolution with reference to sexual selection. Just as male deer have evolved antlers which enable them to fight off rivals, so human males evolved faces which could take a punch from a rival and fists that could dish them out. You can read the details here.

There’s a really good critique of this research on Naked Scientists here.

It might remind us how Evolutionary Psychology often seems like a speculative discipline where complex theories are derived from slender evidence. The troubling thing is that these theories are then used to build a picture of “human nature”. We need to be cautious.


2) Graham Thornicroft On The Emerald Project

We’ve been spending the last couple of weeks in Year 12 looking at research into attitudes to mental health. focusing on a paper part authored by Graham Thornicroft.

Here he is talking about something different. Across the world, mental illness represents a greater proportion of the disease burden as we get better at curing other conditions. In low and middle income countries, provision for mental illness is very limited. The Emerald Project is trying to do something about it. If you have any inkling of wanting to work in Clinical Psychology, watch this video and be inspired.


3) Is There A Crisis Of False Negatives In Psychology?

Today in 12C’s lesson, we looked at the idea that Psychology studies are often constructed to be simple and to generate significant results. The Evans-Lacko et al (2012) study is a good example of a study which uses fairly simple procedures to generate significant outcomes. Some groups were starting to realise that measuring attitudes is a complex business. Have a look at the scoring system Tash and Jasmin came up with if you don’t believe me. The problem in Psychology is that such elegant and simple studies often do not replicate well. This has made some researchers think that research is more about manipulating data to produce significant results than about finding something valid. This is what people mean by the “replication crisis” in Psychology.

This article takes a different approach to this problem. It suggests that the challenges to replication are often as flawed as the original studies. They both suffer from observer bias, investigator effects and small samples.

Towards the end of the article, Tim Wilson suggests a different way of approaching Psychology which gets round this problem of researchers competing with each other and emphasises collaboration and small changes to research methods in order to understand the subtle effects of different variables.


4) Why Quitting Smoking Is Harder For Some

Some people seem to find giving up smoking very difficult despite the obvious advantages of doing so. The easy assumption to make here is that this is because of some differences in the way in which their brains respond to the presence of nicotine. This article suggests something different.

The problem isn’t an excessive response to the presence of nicotine but an under response to the presence of a reward. Once that is understood, interventions can be made to make anti-smoking programmes more effective.


5) Attachment Narrative Therapy

When we look at the research into Bowlby and Ainsworth, we use family therapy as a focus for some mastery learning in order to understand how their ideas are put into practice today. It’s complicated stuff but the idea is that people repeat through their lives the patterns of attachment they established as children. If these do not work well, it is the job of therapy to change them.

Here is Rudi Dallos, then of Surrey University but now based in Plymouth, explaining how some of this works.


6) In Defence Of Brain Imaging

We’ve seen before how the importance of findings in neuroscience which have a slender evidence base is often exaggerated in media reports. Part of this is due to how journalists tell a story, part of it is down to statistics: see above 3. This article by Virginia Hughes seeks to set the record straight.


7) Stress Management – Conceptualisation

When we look at stress inoculation, I find it hard to explain what is meant by conceptualising stress or teaching someone to think in a different way about their stress. There is a whole industry of people who can explain this and put it into practice, one of whom is Professor Stephen Palmer. In this short video animation, which appears to have a voice synthesised sound track, he gives one example of learning to think in a different way.

If you click on the next or previous buttons on this page, you can see more such animations, all of which relate to the idea of conceptualisation.


8) State Of Mind

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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