Post Of The Week – Sunday 24th May, 2015

1) Age As A Risk Factor In Alcohol Addiction

You need to wind 32 minutes into this programme.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05wdfhk/horizon-20142015-12-is-binge-drinking-really-that-bad

It features Valerie Voon from Cambridge talking about the neurobiology of addiction. She explains that there are two reasons why people in late adolescence and early adulthood are vulnerable to addiction to alcohol. There are basically two reasons. First of all, in people in this age group, systems which inhibit behaviour are not fully developed. Secondly, pleasure systems still work acutely as we work towards sorting out what sort of behaviour to engage in and what to avoid. There’s some interesting brain scan footage and some speculation about why some people are more vulnerable than others. What’s a little odd is that I tried Googling this research to see if I could find some text sources to go with the video here. I couldn’t find anything on Vanessa Voon’s page about alcohol, although she has done some work on addiction to sexual images which has received some publicity.

2) The Side Effects Of Psychological Therapy

We commonly criticise biological therapies with reference to their side effects, particularly suicide. We criticise psychological therapies with reference to their appropriateness for different people and to their adaptability to different environments. Side effects are, however, an issue in psychological therapy in that they bring to the surface thoughts which had been long dormant. There are particular issues with mindfulness based CBT which are explored here.

http://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2015/may/21/mindfulness-drug-free-side-effects

The article offers a balanced and nuanced approach to the problem. No solution is perfect, some solutions are better than others.

3) A Couple On Randomised Controlled Trials

What RCTs are and what their limitations might be is increasingly a part of the Psychology we have been doing. For a summary of what RCTs are, this is pretty good.

http://mentalhealth.mvm.ed.ac.uk/2015/05/clinical-trials-for-mental-illness-to-see-if-treatments-work/

There is a particular issue with RCTs and drug trials which this article explains. People often have to switch between medications for depression until they find a drug which suits them. This gets difficult because different drugs require different doses in order to be effective.

http://mentalhealth.mvm.ed.ac.uk/2015/05/clinical-trials-for-mental-illness-to-see-if-treatments-work/

This article explains what is and isn’t known about this problem, known as “dose equivalence”. It reminds us that we need to go beyond the question about whether or not a drug works or not which is the stuff of the standard drug trial to consider more complex questions about how much and for whom. As Chris and Xand van Tulleken observe in the video above, the difference between medicine and poison is dose.

4) Mobile Phone Bans And Student Scores

This story appeared in several media outlets this week. Here’s how the BBC reported it.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-32771253

The problem, of course, is with correlation and cause. This put me in mind of Tyler Vigen’s spurious correlations which you can see here.

5) Smoking In Psychiatric Hospitals

Addiction to tobacco is often co-morbid with other mental health disorders. Traditionally, for people who are experiencing significant psychosis, it has been assumed that they are too ill to consider giving up smoking and that smoking may enable them to some extent to self-medicate.

http://www.nationalelfservice.net/publication-types/systematic-review/the-effect-of-smoke-free-psychiatric-hospitals-on-smoking-behaviour-more-evidence-needed/

This article looks at research into the effectiveness of smoking bans in psychiatric hospitals. The results are not exactly a surprise. People who experience psychosis and who smoke want to give up smoking. Bans work, particularly where people are assisted by biological interventions and where brief psychological interventions are available. Just like everyone else, then.

6) You can’t outrun a bad diet

http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/05/15/take-off-that-fitbit-exercise-alone-wont-make-you-lose-weight/?tid=pm_opinions_pop_b

This article looks at the popularity of apps which count the calories you expend as you move through a day. There is increasing evidence that what you eat matters much more in the development of excess weight and obesity than how much exercise you do. That is something which the Early Bird study established a few years ago. This article explains that both how many calories you eat and the type of food through which those calories are delivered matters. My son, in a conversation about something else today, told me that his Food Tech teacher had told his class that there is no such thing as an unhealthy food. What matters is how much you eat. Science is increasingly going against this idea. Here are a couple of links which suggests that government is getting interested.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11622500/Sugar-tax-to-pay-for-treating-obesity.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-32835245

7) Two Current Orthodoxies In Psychology

It is common now to suggest that questions about nature versus nature are irrelevant. We do not need to separate them out to understand who we are but we need to understand how they work together. This article reviews evidence from twin studies over the last fifty years which have tried to work out what is nature and what is nurture. It’s a draw and, in all but the most extreme cases, a bit of both.

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/may/19/are-we-products-of-nature-or-nuture-science-answers-age-old-question

The second orthodoxy is about evolution and culture. The clever thing to say now that DNA analysis can unpick the development of traits such as lactase persistence is that, rather than seeing them as opposites, we should try to understand how they work together. That may not be quite right.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22630210.900-mixed-messages-are-our-genes-and-culture-at-cross-purposes.html?full=true#.VWIiAutGhg8

Read this book review to find out more.

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