Post Of The Week – Thursday 21st August 2014

1) Uta Frith On The History Of Autism

In this article, Uta Frith explains some of the background to the development of autism as a diagnosis. Three important ideas emerge from this. Firstly, it is worth reminding ourselves how recent the classification and diagnosis of autism is. Uta Frith started a PhD in 1964 at a time when such diagnosis was in its infancy. Secondly, there is now some debate about whether it is possible to establish a biological basis for psychological disorders and whether indeed there is really one thing called autism or several related conditions which for convenience get put under the same umbrella term. It is worth reminding ourselves how much of a battle it was to establish such an idea in the first place. Thirdly, Uta Frith stresses that from the outset, the emphasis was on what these children could do rather than on what they couldn’t. In an era where we worry about stigma and labelling, it is worth remembering the intentions with which the pioneers in this field set out.

2) Depression And Parkinson’s Disease

Co-morbidity is a major issue in the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders. When we study and write about research into disorders, we tend to assume that the disorder exists by itself in each individual. This isn’t the case. Doctors are often treating more than one thing at once.

This article focuses on Depression and Parkinson’s Disease. There are two key points. People with Parkinson’s often have symptoms of Depression as well but doctors tend to miss them because they are focusing on the Parkinson’s. Secondly, treatments which are effective for the general population may not be effective for people also suffering from Parkinson’s. Nobody knows.

3) Maths And Reading – Nature And Nurture

Robert Plomin’s work has sometimes been controversial because he suggests that there is a genetic basis to academic performance. People are uncomfortable with the idea that some people are born smarter than others, in part because this idea has an ugly history in Psychology through the idea of eugenics. However, it seems reasonable to suppose that people are born with the propensity to be good at different things. It is the genetic underpinning to this idea which Plomin studies. He explains what the latest research tells us about the relationship between Maths and reading here.

There isn’t one gene which makes us good at both which, if we have it in the wrong form, then makes us terrible at both. It’s more complicated than that.

4) Global Parenting

I recently posted a link to a TED article about how parenting differs across the world. Here are some more examples.

The interesting question is whether, despite all this diversity, the Strange Situation where a child gets left for a short time is a valid measure of something important and relevant across cultures. We’ll be looking at this in AS later this term.

5) Demi Lovato ….

When we’ve been studying stigma and attitudes to mental health, people have sometimes told me about Demi Lovato. I’ve sometimes been skeptical about celebrities using mental health issues to promote their public profile. It is difficult however to watch her speak here and not be impressed by what she is saying. With the support of a pharmaceutical company, she is embarking on a campaign to promote awareness of mental health issues.

6) ….. And Male Mental Health

On the other hand, while females have role models like Demi Lovato, the situation for males is less clear cut. This article paints a bleak picture of one particular case. The comments at the bottom are illuminating.

7) Childhood Stress

When we study stress in AS, we look at the effects of stress on the immune system and on the cardiovascular system. When we study Depression, we look at stress as a trigger for people becoming ill. It turns out that the effects of stress may be even worse than that. People are now starting to research the effects of stress on children. These are long term and profound. Here are some details.

8) Elizabeth Loftus And Recovered Memories

Here’s Mo Costandi with a profile of Elizabeth Loftus. It explains some of the controversy surrounding her involvement in cases of repressed memory. We’ll look at Loftus as part of the AS course, focusing on just how good a scientist she is. The question in my mind right now is whether the controversy over repressed memory requires us to think again about her work on eye witness testimony.

9) Doubts About Milgram

In AS, we look at recent research by Gina Perry which casts doubt on claims made both about the ethics and the method of Milgram’s research. There are two core claims, firstly that Milgram did not debrief his participants properly and secondly that they were really just playing along. In fact, these claims have been in the public domain for a little while. Follow the link on Jamie Davies’ blog here to an article from 2004.

10) Stigma In China

In our research work over the last couple of years, we have used the work by Graham Thornicroft and colleagues as a starting point for our own research into stigma. Here, he describes how two of the scales which we sample were used to study the attitudes of health care workers in China.

11) Eating Behaviour

Three things about eating behaviour. Firstly, here’s an extended article about Gary Taubes and Peter Attia whose NUSI foundation has raised $40 million to investigate the biological basis of obesity. Taubes and Attia’s hypothesis is that we have for the past fifty years or so got the science of obesity wrong. The $40 million is about trying to put that right.

Secondly, here’s a piece about the relationship between urban design and obesity. Basically, cities you have to drive around have more obese people in them.

It’s correlational but intriguing. It fits with the TED Talk by Mick Cornett from Oklahoma City about changes made there to the urban environment.

Thirdly, here is a link to a programme on the BBC this week about eating meat.

There wasn’t much here specifically relevant to Psychology but it was a good example of how science works. The programme moved beyond looking at correlational data from large scale epidemiological surveys to trying to explain cause and effect. That is what we do in Psychology quite a lot of the time.

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