Post Of The Week – Saturday 8th November 2014

1) Repressed Memories Of Abuse

At the end of last week, we watched Elizabeth Loftus’ TED talk on “The Fiction Of Memory” as an introduction into eye witness testimony and Loftus’ research. Our course focuses on eye witness testimony but Loftus’ work on recovered memories of abuse and the controversy that that research has produced inevitably colours our view of her research overall. For Loftus, the impact on this controversy on her work is now largely passed. This article makes it clear that for some people, sadly this issue is very much alive, with distressing consequences.

2) Antidepressants And Suicide

When we study biological therapies for depression, we include research evidence which suggests that people who take antidepressants are at increased risk of suicide. The evidence in text books is mixed and, for the purposes of the exam we leave it at that.

This link suggests that this is a pretty good decision. There are three ideas which prevent a clear conclusion being drawn. Firstly, it depends on the antidepressant. There is little agreement about whether newer SSRIs are safer than old style tricyclics. Secondly, there is some dispute about what we mean by a suicide attempt. That could include someone who self-harms and someone who seriously attempts to kill themselves. Thirdly, it is not clear whether someone reporting suicidal thoughts when they start to take antidepressants is necessarily a bad thing. The whole idea of the medication is to enable people to achieve a degree of stability in functioning and emotion so that they can start accessing therapy and talking about how they feel.

3) Autism And Kevin Mitchell Revisited

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a link to an article by Kevin Mitchell from Trinity College, Dublin on the genetics of autism. Since then, we have been looking at autism as part of our work on sense of self and theory of mind in Year 13 lessons. Here’s another post from Kevin Mitchell, this time on news reports about the link between autism and c-sections.

This article dwells on misunderstandings of what the epidemiology tells us based on what appears in the papers and on social media. I think there is a further point. As part of our lesson, we compared a video of a normally developing 18 month old opening a door for someone with a much older child with autism struggling with the Sally-Anne task. What struck me when we did this was how profound the problems are which affect people with autism. It is not surprising that people look for something early in life which might explain such profound difficulties.

4) More On Public (Mis)Understanding

There has been some interest in the media recently about the effects of neglect on the developing brain. The idea is that if people don’t look after you when you are little, your brain won’t grow properly. That somehow sounds more dramatic than saying that early neglect has later negative consequences. The problem is that these claims are based on an inadequate understanding of what the research says. This is ably explained here.

Here’s Sarah-Jayne Blakemore on the same issue.

5) Current Research Into Anorexia Nervosa

This used to be part of the AS course and will be a compulsory part of the eating behaviour in this topic in the next A Level. These links give a good idea of some of the directions in which research is going at the moment as researchers try to get inside the brain to work out what is going on in anorexia nervosa.

6) Comfort Eating

People often eat foods like chocolate when they are feeling down and need comfort. People think that there is something inside the food, for example its sugar content, which makes them feel better. When we look at evidence as part of the factors affecting eating behaviour sub-topic, it becomes clear that these effects are mostly psychological. They are to do with what the person thinks will happen rather than any changes in the body. This latest piece of research confirms this.

It’s important because if people can change their beliefs about “comfort food”, they might eat less of it, meaning that they will put on less weight.

7) Depression, Cancer And Co-Morbidity

When we look at classification and diagnosis of depression, co-morbidity is a problem. People have more than one thing wrong with them and it is sometimes not clear what their main problem is. This is particularly true of people with cancer, whose depression can easily ignored as the focus stays on treating their physical symptoms.

This article from the Mental Elf shows that depression is common amongst people with cancer but also that treating the depression can significantly influence the quality of their lives.

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