Post Of The Week – Saturday, July 19th 2014

A couple of days late due to the end of term …..

1) Varenicline, Nicotine Replacement Therapy And Smoking

Elsewhere on this blog, we have seen research suggesting that Varenicline is an effective biological intervention to help people stop smoking. Varenicline seems to work well in combination with Bupropion.

This article looks at what happens when Varenicline is used in combination with NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy). The results are encouraging on short term trials. The article points out that the longer term effectiveness and safety implications are not known.

2) Bariatric Surgery

When we look at neural mechanisms and eating behaviour, we look at evidence about bariatric surgery. This involves reducing the size of the stomach so that very little food can be digested at any one time. Part of why this works is that it changes the balance of chemicals in the gut which communicate with mechanisms in the brain which control hunger and satiety.

The problem with something like this working is that there is then a sudden demand for treatment. This article explains and debates some of the implications of this. Operations are expensive and invasive. Other methods such as dieting often do not work. It’s a tough call.

3) Working Memory And School Performance

This blogpost reports on a finding from Brazil from a large scale study of working memory.

An efficient working memory is associated with positive academic outcomes across a range of subjects. A particular feature of this study is that it focuses on the issue of poverty, suggesting that children living in poverty with poor working memories can be identified early and given support in order to help them make faster progress and move out of poverty. This of course assumes that interventions can be effective in producing working memory improvements and transfers into academic contexts. That remains more controversial. This study suggests that successful interventions are possible.

4) Does Chocolate Make You Happy?

We look at the effect on mood of food in our Eating Behaviour topic. This article covers some recent research ideas.

As with a lot of things in Psychology, it depends on what you mean, in this case by “chocolate” and by “happy”. It’s also difficult to separate biological and psychological factors.

5) Human Brain Project Again

I blogged about this in the last couple of weeks. Here is a question and answer with one of the signatories of an open letter criticising this project.

It got me thinking about a conversation I had today with someone who works in a completely different field of medical science. He was explaining that research in universities is now driven by funding streams: the stuff that gets researched is the stuff someone will pay for rather than the things the scientists want to do. This is about more than just one project. It is about how science gets done.

There’s also the problem that so little is yet known about the brain. It is easy to dispute the validity of a big study when so little is known as a starting point, as this piece from the New York Times explains.

6) Cultural Differences In Parenting

When we look at cultural variations in attachment and at day care, we tend to deal in cliches. Children in the Far East have close bonds with their parents, day care in Scandanavian countries is very good.

This article explains some of the detail beyond the cliches. In Japan, very young children may not leave their mother’s side but by the time they are 4, they are expected to run errands with older siblings. In Norway, strong day care relates to much bigger ideas about the importance of community. Once we get rid of the cliches, the topic becomes a lot more interesting.

7) How Depression Feels

One insight into this comes from an article on the BPS Research blog.

Depression is both serious and common. This article explains what it is about depression which makes it so debilitating.

This post takes a different route to explaining depression. It has some dark corners but also a happy ending.

8) The Facebook Study Again

I blogged about this last week. Essentially , the argument is whether there was any risk of harm beyond what Facebook users experience when their feeds are manipulated and whether the procedure of the study is covered by the Facebook terms and conditions.

Here’s a piece defending the study. It’s a complex argument.

9) Autism And The Extreme Male Brain

This piece of research from the ARC and Simon Baron-Cohen focuses on gender differences in the brain. It reports that both males and females with autism have extreme male brains which are strong on systematising and weak on empathy. You can read the details here.

Perhaps the most important thing about this article is Baron-Cohen’s reference to implications for education and employment at the end. If it is good enough for the big hitters in this field to refer to this when publishing their research, it is good enough for us to write about it in an essay.

It is great that people are thinking about managing and treating autism but problematic when the solutions are less effective. This article explains some of the bizarre treatments on offer for autism with no scientific basis.

This link from Uta Firth takes you to an article about stem cell research and autism.

The article expresses some scepticism about the value of this research. It sounds like another example of research being driven by funding streams at the expense of appropriate scientific formulation.

10) Mental Health Science

One of the frustrating things about working with the A Level course is that we have to divide things up for the purpose of the exam. We divide treatments from explanations, we divide biological from psychological. Bad enough when you are teaching a course, this tendency to chop up the subject becomes serious when trying to work out the best way to understand and treat people.

This article makes a cogent case for finding ways of pulling different parts of Psychology together in order to treat people more effectively.

11) Richard Layard and David Clark On Happiness

When we look at CBT, the work of David Clark on demonstrating the evidence base for the effectiveness of CBT is central. He is responsible along with Richard Layard for a new book about happiness. You can read about some of the background to this here.

12) Peer Tutoring

One of the key elements of evaluation of Vygotsky’s theory is how the idea of a more knowledgeable other has led to the development peer tutoring. We use evidence from Tzuriel and Shamir both to support Vygotsky’s theory itself and applications of it.

This research is a bit more up to date and quotes a variety of studies. What is perhaps most interesting here is that randomised controlled trials are being increasingly used to demonstrate the efficacy of peer tutoring. That represents a real shift in culture.

13) 9 Fascinating Psychology Experiments From TED

I’ve only watched some of these but they look good.

14) How Great Leaders Inspire Action

Over the past year, I’ve been working quite a bit with Mr. J. in Business Studies. We have realised that we have many educational concerns in common but also that our subjects share much common ground. Increasingly, Psychology qualifications are seen as valuable in Business settings. This video is a good example of this common ground. I find it fascinating.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: