Post Of The Week – Thursday 28th August 2014

1) Synaptic Pruning And Autism
When we study biological explanations of social cognition, we look at the process of synaptic pruning which happens during adolescence. The brain seems to go through a process of reorganisation where connections between synapses are reduced and the amount of grey matter declines. The idea is that this happens in some parts of the brain quicker than others with the result that the parts related to logic are established before those related to perspective taking and other aspects of social behaviour. The mystery of people with autism is why these abilities do not develop.
This paper gives us a clue. Post-mortem analysis of brains of people with autism who died in adolescence suggest that this process has not fully taken place, In short, their brains are over connected. This then has some interesting links to intense world theory which I have blogged about on here before. It also gives an insight into what might be done to prevent autism developing.

2) Brain Stimulation
I’ve spent quite a bit of the last week working on the Depression pages for my Google site. We have to look at antidepressant medication and ECT. There’s a sense in which interest in these is waning although they are still widely used. The new psychological approaches look really interesting, particularly those that use online resources as do those based on stimulating the brain without using the full force of ECT. This article expresses some caution.
Just as people can get hold of unlicensed and unprescribed pills online, they can also get hold of equipment to shock their brains. That’s a worry.

3) Body And Soul
I’ve included this on the Depression pages.
We tend to treat the debate between biological and psychological explanations and treatments just as an academic debate. That is fair enough because we are doing a Psychology course in school. However, the divide between these two approaches becomes critical for people seeking therapy. They get one or the other: services are rarely integrated. This article explains the negative consequences of this.

4) CBT: Therapeutic Alliance
I have been looking at the idea that it is hard to judge the effectiveness of psychological therapies because so much depends on the relationship between therapist and client. There’s some debate about what counts more, the therapeutic relationship or the processes which are gone through in therapy. This article focuses on the idea of therapeutic alliance: the extent to which the client and therapist feel that they are working together to achieve therapeutic goals.
It is perhaps not a surprise that what matters more than therapist competence is the extent to which client and therapist engage in this alliance. So really you can’t have successful processes without a successful relationship: they are interdependent.

5) Good Childhood
For the past three years, at the end of the Early Social Development topic, I have asked students to do a self-report study into aspects of childhood. We take things that are supposed to have improved as a result of psychological research and try to work out whether they have or not. The Children’s Society do this as well.
It’s more about older children and adolescents but we’ll use it this year.

6) Thomas Szaz and Epicurus
I’m doing some Classics again this year as well as Psychology. I used to teach people about ancient philosophy. Here, Michael Fontaine explains the link between Epicurean thought and the life and death of Thomas Szaz.

7) Rewiring Memory
As part of the memory topic, I used to teach people about the work of Karim Nader. He’s interested in the way in which memory can be manipulated. When we remember an event, we reconstruct it. For people recalling traumatic events, changing the way the brain reconstructs a memory can remove the fear and emotion from that memory.
This article explains variations of this idea which have been tried on non-human animals. If it works in humans, it has clinical applications.
Here’s a bit more on the same theme.

8) Cancer Patients With Depression
This time around, in preparing for the depression topic, I have found myself coming back to the idea of co-morbidity. The fact that depression often exists alongside something else in people affects how it is diagnosed, where we might think it comes from and how it is treated. I’ve used Parkinson’s Disease and diabetes as examples which have cropped up in recent research. Here is something about cancer.

9) Stigma
Inevitably, there has been a backlash to the campaigns to reduce stigma. It’s overstated, it’s now less of a problem than it was.
Pete Etchells makes a good case for this not being the case. If you think people will look down on you because you have a mental health problem, you won’t seek treatment. If you have something else wrong with you and also seem to have a mental health problem, you don’t get treatment for the something else. It’s real enough.

10) Uta And Chris Frith
We tend to study Psychology in two dimensions. We have a course which we have to work through without thinking about where those topics have come from or where they might go in the future. Biological explanations of social cognition is just there: we have to study it as a topic. In reality, topics emerge because people think they are worth studying and work out how to do it.
This article explains how some of this works in the case of two remarkable psychologists.

11) DSM 5
Having spent a week thinking about classification and diagnosis of depression, this made me laugh.


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