Post Of The Week – Sunday 26th April 2015

1) Risk Taking In Adolescence

In Biological Explanations Of Social Cognition, we get interested in the idea the way in which social cognition develops during adolescence. There is a fairly robust finding that during the period in which connections are being established between the pre-frontal cortex and limbic system, adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the influence of peers. This has a serious impact in areas such as driving behaviour and addiction where young people are at risk of hurting themselves. These two studies add a useful commentary on this point.

Firstly, this study from UCL looks at how adolescents’ perception of risk is shaped by how risky other adolescents think it is.

Secondly, this study looks at how brain activity in a driving simulation is influenced by the presence of a parent. If a parent is in the car, you will take fewer risks.

What makes both of these interesting to me at the moment having been revising research methods in AS is the research methods issues these studies throw up. The UCL study uses a self-selecting sample: people who volunteered while visiting the Science Museum. The driving study is a laboratory experiment: people are not driving anywhere wired up to a brain monitor.

2) How Should Society Treat Addiction?

This summary from Mo Costandi from a recent academic conference covers some important ground and raise some important questions. For the purposes of our A Level course, the paper refers to the work on the genetic basis of addiction by Karen Ersche in particular and more generally encourages us to think of addiction as a complex problem with many aspects and causes which defy simple explanation: that’s a neat evaluation point for any approaches question.

3) Screen Time

This week’s All In The Mind is about screen time.

I’ve only managed to listen to about a third of it so far but it’s interesting, mostly because it focuses on evidence, making a connection between what we know and how we know.

4) E-Cigarettes

This continues to be a controversial area. This Mental Elf blog reports a large scale study from the north west of England.

There remain two questions central to the safety of e-cigarettes. Firstly, are people who use e-cigarettes likely to fall into an addictive behaviour of some sort anyway? Secondly, do e-cigarettes act as a gateway into smoking tobacco? This study does not significantly help us answer either question but the commentary from the Mental Elf is interesting on the method issues it raises.

5) Optimism And Pessimism

We use the idea of a glass half empty or glass half full to think about optimism and pessimism. It is interesting for us on our course because of the idea that there may be a genetic basis for the tendency to look on the positive or negative side. People who tend to see the world negatively are more likely to develop the negative cognitive triad which Beck talks about. We talk about the extent to which we see the glass as empty or full, implying that there is a continuous scale running from optimism to pessimism.

This article suggests that this is not so. Optimism and pessimism seem to run on separate brain systems. There is a strong genetic basis for both but environment plays a substantial part. We need to find ways of promoting well-being by working out how to nurture optimism.

6) Exercise Not The Key To Obesity Fight

A central theme to our work in A2 Eating Behaviour is that a calorie is not just a calorie. In other words, the type of food from which we derive our energy shapes our eating behaviour. We also look at the claim from the Early Bird Project that levels of exercise do not determine levels of obesity but type of food does. Obesity precedes inactivity.

This article nails the point. We have already used it this week as part of our revision.

7) Whitehall And Pret A Manger

This article looks at the management practices in Pret A Manger, specifically at how staff are empowered. It refers back to the Whitehall Studies.

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