Post Of The Week – Saturday 2nd August 2014

1) Insel And Others – The BRAIN Project

This is a discussion programme based on President Obama’s BRAIN initiative. The speakers, including Thomas Insel, are big hitters in the field. There are many gems in this wide ranging discussion. I’m struck by how quickly the technology is changing, which enables rapid advances in knowledge. The project facilitates the transfer of data and ideas between centres. That represents a change from the past. The discussion explains how if we can understand how the brain works, we can treat conditions better. Psychological disorders become brain disorders. It’s fascinating listening to clever people discuss new ideas.


2) Non-Linear Memories

I have been spending some of the last week putting together resources on Memory for AS. Inevitably, we focus on declarative memory: the studies we look at are about remembering lists of words or, at best, details from a crime scene.

This video is a subtle way of reminding ourselves that there is more to memory than this.


3) The Brain’s Response To Negative Stimuli

These two links take you to articles published this week into a piece of research about the habenula. This is a part of the brain that becomes active when we anticipate something nasty happening. Part of the problem people with Depression have is that they think something nasty is going to happen much of the time. There are two things to notice here. The first is that this is in part about brain imaging. This part of the brain is tiny and until now has been very difficult to pinpoint using brain imaging. Following on from item 1) above, we learn more about the brain when the technology advances. Secondly, there is the link between explanation and application. Once we have a better understanding of this piece of the brain, we can apply this understanding to the treatment of Depression. The link to Depression is tenuous at the moment but people are working in it.


4) The Influence Of Work Colleagues On Addictive Behaviour

When we look at approaches to explaining addictive behaviour and risk factors, we focus as part of the learning approach on the role of family and peers. If you see a friend or family member doing something which is rewarding, you copy them.

This article focuses on the effect of co-workers as role models. It suggests that there is a small but significant association between who you mix with at work and how you behave, specifically how you eat and if you smoke. The direction of cause and effect is not clear: maybe people with similar lifestyles choose to mix together. Nevertheless, this research suggests that there are opportunities for employers and health campaigners to target workplaces as places where behaviour can be changed.


5) OK Cupid

After the controversy about Facebook’s manipulation of news feeds comes this story about OKCupid.

This dating website deliberately put together people who were mismatched to see what would happen. There’s clearly a question about ethics here. People are being experimented on in an informal way without giving consent. This gets interesting because it goes to the heart of how the internet works. In a sense, anyone who uses the internet is a participant in an experiment where behaviour is shaped by the information which is supplied. We all accept that this is part of the experience of using the internet. This in turn arguably makes the idea of informed consent look rather old fashioned and quaint. It also gets interesting because it makes us think about the limitations of these experimental manipulations using big data. This article suggests that too many extraneous variables get in the way of us drawing conclusions based on large amounts of data.


6) ECT And Side Effects

The text books we use say different things about ECT. Some suggest that ECT has side effects which include memory loss, others say that it is a safe procedure with no significant side effects.

This study is different because it uses a whole battery of tests and because it follows up people who have had ECT over a six month period. It suggests that side effects over that period are not significant. If anything, cognitive functioning as measured by a broad range of tests improves after ECT.


7) Albert Ellis on ABC

I’ve posted on here some links to Aaron Beck talking about the development of CBT. The other giant in this area was Albert Ellis, who developed REBT – Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy.

Here, he talks a bit about where the ABC model comes from, with contributions from other therapists about how this therapy has developed. Because CBT has become so widespread, it is hard sometimes to get hold of how different CBT is from therapies which went before it. I wondered watching this video what the relationship was between them. This link gives you an idea.


8) Mobile Technology And Addicition Recovery

I’ve posted before about how online resources are opening up possibilities for treatment. The Big White Wall is an example of this: see recent posts. This article talks about mobile phone apps to support people recovering from addiction to alcohol.

There’s some doubt about aspects of method here but clearly an idea which is worth pursuing.


9) How Gaming Behaviour Can Spill Over Into Real Life

Mark Griffiths explains the links here.


10) Treatment And Cause

I commonly tell people that in order to treat a condition, you need to understand its origins. That is why the topics in our course are structured in the way they are: definitions, then explanations, then treatments.

David Adam challenges this way of thinking in this article. Using his own experience of OCD, he explains how focusing on treatment is much more important than focusing on cause. We talk about the etiological fallacy in Psychology: assuming that because a treatment based on a particular approach works, that approach must offer a valid explanation of where the condition comes from. David Adam’s argument here relies on this decoupling of treatment from explanation.


11) How Do We Know?

Psychology is fundamentally about how we know. Increasingly, the way in which we know is being questioned. There are problems with replication and with statistical significance. This article focuses at some length on replication. As with so many other things in Psychology, there’s a feeling that some time soon, we will be doing things quite differently.



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