Post Of The Week – Saturday 18th October, 2014

1) Memory, The Hippocampus And HM

We’ve had an interesting week in AS looking at the multistore model of memory. In particular, it has been interesting to look at the link between the model and current research into memory. There is a story at the heart of this research which, on the face of it, makes sense. HM had his hippocampus removed, as a result of which he was unable to lay down new memories. This suggests that the hippocampus was essential for turning short term into long term memories. There are some problems with this story. Firstly, it has been known for a long time that HM learnt some new skills, for example drawing a star shape in a mirror. This suggests that there are routes to laying down a long term memory which circumvent the hippocampus. STM therefore cannot be unitary. Secondly, it is not entirely clear exactly what was removed from HM’s brain. The surgeon’s notes, as well as the post mortem examinations suggest that some of the hippocampus got left behind while other structures were affected. The details on this are here. Finally, the hippocampus must be connecting with other structures for a memory to be laid down.

This latter point is dealt with in a recent lecture by John Aggleton of Cardiff University. You can watch him here.

This is complicated, high level stuff. Some striking points emerge. Firstly, it still makes sense to talk about STM and LTM, as the multistore model did 45 years ago. Secondly, the range of techniques now used is highly impressive. Aggleton moves through post-mortem slides of animal brains through lesions to work with patients recovering from brain surgery and complex brain imaging. The picture which emerges is complex. The more we find out, the less we know. The potential pay-offs, for example helping people suffering from demential or PTSD, are immense.

2) Reconstructive Memory

With eyewitness testimony on the horizon in the AS course, it is worth watching this TED talk.

The big hitter in this area is Elizabeth Loftus, whose work we will study in some detail. This video tells a powerful story which supports her contention that memory is a reconstructive, and therefore fallible, process.

3) Evolution Misrepresented

The experience of working on evolutionary psychology last year was not happy because students got marked down quite considerably on a question about the evolutionary basis of romantic relationships. The problem seems to have been that AQA’s interpretation of parental investment theory did not fit in with the material I found for this sub-topic.

This blog suggests that this is an example of a wider problem in Psychology where evolutionary explanations are systematically misrepresented.  I can believe it.

4) Depression And Obesity

We spend quite a bit of the A2 course looking at Depression and quite a bit looking at obesity. We don’t however link them.

This article suggests we should. There is a strong correlational link between them but nobody yet understands the causal relationship. This is yet another example of how co-morbidity cuts across so much of what we do in abnormality and psychopathology.

5) Depression And Pregnancy

This time, we are not looking so much as co-morbidity but rather the experience of depression alongside an apparently desirable condition, being pregnant. Surprisingly little is known about antenatal depression but its implications for the health and well being of mother and child once the child is born are significant. This article suggests that a radical rethink of an underfunded service needs to be undertaken.

6) Autism Explained Again

It won’t be long in the A2 course before we start looking at autism as part of the cognition and development topic. Autism, we suggest, is the result of a lack of theory of mind, the ability to see the connection between the thoughts and actions of others. By itself though, this explains little.

This article suggests that we should see this inability to see the link between the thoughts and actions of others in the context of a broader inability to make predictions. The challenge then becomes to understand why this ability is missing.

7) Neuroscience In The Classroom

We’ve been looking at applications of Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s theories to education and, frankly, getting a bit annoyed about them. The offerings of neuroscience seem to offer a good alternative to these rather old theories.

These two links relate to the same study by Paul Howard-Jones at Bristol University. It shows that teachers believe things about the brain which are demonstrably false. So it looks as if neuroscience may have something useful to say about how to educate people but hasn’t said it yet. It might be better to stick with Piaget and Vygotsky, then.


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