Post Of The Week – Saturday 6th June 2015

1) The Dopamine Theory Of Addiction

This article reviews what is known about dopamine and the process of addiction. For some time, it has been thought that addiction is a consequence of the release of dopamine. Dopamine on this account is a “pleasure chemical”.

The article explains that it is much more complex than that. Dopamine, it appears, may be involved in some addictive behaviours but not others. Addiction, like depression, is not in one part of the brain nor is it just about one chemical.

2) Missing Link Between The Brain And The Immune System

The science here is complicated. The story is that there is a direct connection between the brain and the immune system via the lymphatic system.

The article focuses on the implications of this for our understanding of Alzheimer’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis but it also has implications for the things we study. We tend to assume the interaction goes one way. People get anxious or stressed about the circumstances in which they find themselves and this has an impact of their immune systems. This finding suggests that the relationship can go the other way. Changes in the immune system affect how the brain works. This might make us rethink studies like the Kiecolt-Glaser study of medical students and might help us understand why some people are apparently immune to the negative effects of stress.

3) Bar Lab

We’ve been thinking a bit about how addictive behaviour is studied. We’ve been contrasting a laboratory study of addiction such as Engels et al (2009) with questionnaire and observation data. The idea of studying addictive behaviour in an artificial laboratory environment has at times seemed absurd to us. Demand characteristics seem to play too big a part.

This article however suggests something different. It explains what is being found about drinking behaviour in a lab and how these findings are being transferred to real world settings.

4) Eating Disorder Hospital Admissions Nearly Double

The near doubling has taken place in the last five years. The details are here.

The reason for this rise which is addressed in the article is the rise of social media. That seems odd. I happened to see a news item this about hay fever and food allergies which explained how these allergies have increased greatly in prevalence without anyone understanding why.

5) Social Gaming And Gambling

This article explains the increasingly blurred distinction between social gaming and gambling.

This is useful for us as part of the cognitive approach to explaining addictive behaviour. People pick up patterns of distorted thinking through gaming which they then apply to gambling. That is too easy when the distinction is so blurred. The article explains how this poses problems for the regulation of gambling sites. What would be interesting to know is in how many cases of problem gambling social gaming has played a part.

6) The Effectiveness Of CBT

This is odd. This study suggests that the effectiveness of CBT is diminishing over time. The best explanation of this seems to be that people have read negative stories about CBT and no longer believe that it will work for them.

This is part of a broader concern that CBT has been pushed by clinicians at the expense of other therapies. It is interesting to see IPT being pushed in a range of contexts. That wasn’t the case six years ago when the current version of A2 started.

7) Genome – Map And Graph

This article looks at how our understanding of the genome is developing. The problem essentially is that the map of the human genome represents an average. As more people’s DNA is decoded, it becomes easier to predict health outcomes for each individual.

This will change the way in which people understand and use genetic information.

8) Chimps Like Cooked Food

Cooking, and in particular cooked meat, played a big part in human evolution according to big brain theory. Cooking food means that its nutrients can be released more easily, giving us enough energy to develop smaller guts and bigger brains.

This article explains how chimps prefer cooked food. It suggests therefore that the advent of cooking and the evolutionary advantages it brings may have come earlier in human evolution than has been traditionally thought.

9) Graham Thornicroft

Here he is, in prime form discussing the latest research into stigma in a lecture at Cambridge.

We’ll be using this in lessons next week.


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