Post Of The Week – Friday 15th August 2014

1) Robin Williams

Robin Williams, the film actor and comedian, died this week. Much has been said about his experience of depression. Some of the reporting has been sensationalist and irresponsible. Of all the things I have seen, I think Alastair Campbell does the best job.


2) Asylum History

I have had the good fortune over the past year to be part of a project looking at the history of attitudes to mental illness, focusing on the life of King George III. The idea that we focused on is that George’s illness came at the point when people were starting to realise, however imperfectly, that mental illness could be treated using the principles of science. In the light of this understanding, the idea of an asylum where people could live an ordered life and had the chance to get better was born.

This article, featuring Edward Shorter, looks at the idea that treatment for mental illness is getting worse. The asylums were far from perfect but for some people, they provided both safety and recovery. For too many people today, neither of these is available.


3) Marinus van IJzendoorn

Marinus van IJzendoorn crops up on our course as one half of the pair of researchers looking at cross-cultural variations in attachment. In this article, he explains his current research interests.

He explains his interest in gene-environment interaction going back to the Caspi and Moffit study which we use on our course when looking at Depression. He also explains how research has been carried out into the effects of oxytocin in response to a crying child. What’s interesting here is that we tend to think of research as being about one thing: the brain, hormones, the effect of upbringing on later behaviour. van IJzendoorn here shows how it is possible to pose research questions which pull these different elements together.


4) Alcohol Health Warnings

When we look at public health interventions in the Addictive Behaviour topic, we look at evidence for the success of bans on tobacco advertising and of public health campaigns. This article looks at the idea of doing something similar for alcohol, specifically putting a health warning and other information about nutrition on the label for each bottle or can.

Predictably, the representative from the drinks industry has something t say about this.


5) 7 Ways Stress Does Your Mind And Body Good

In connection with Kelly McGonigal’s TED Talk about stress becoming a friend, this article explains what it says in the title.


6) Training Your Working Memory

In AS Memory, we look at the idea that working memory is important for success in the classroom. An important implication of this idea is that if you can train people to develop their working memory, they will do better in school. Claims are made of transfer: people not only being angle to do better at working memory tasks after training but also doing better at other tasks.

This article expresses some scepticism. It explains that studies need to use proper control groups and establish transfer clearly. It quotes a recently completed study which suggests that the effects are very limited. Part of the problem is defining improvement in working memory. There’s a distinction between the power of working memory and learning strategies. The former suggests that people can remember more stuff and manipulate it more efficiently because there has been some sort of change in structure and volume in working memory. The latter suggests that people can get better because they use what they have got a bit more cleverly. The question is whether this distinction has any validity.


7) Peer Review

There’s been controversy surrounding the death of the Japanese scientist Yoshiki Sasai. He wasn’t a psychologist but the ramifications of his death have implications for Psychology. He was involved in the publication of a research report claiming a new discovery about stem cells which later had to be retracted because the data did not add up. This article was published despite going through the process of peer review. This begs the question of whether peer review is an effective means of sorting out good science from bad. It also throws into question the whole process by which research papers are published by journals which are titles owned by publishing companies run for profit. Open source publishing where research is published for free on the internet and open access data where researchers publish raw data as well as summary tables are on the horizon. We tried this with the work we did this year on attitudes to mental health.


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