Post Of The Week – Saturday 13th June 2015

1) Zimbardo’s Prison Study Reassessed

I was pleased to see Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment disappear from the A Level specification and a bit disappointed when I heard it was coming back. This article does a superb job at highlighting some of the issues with it.

I read somewhere once that the study had never been published in a peer reviewed Psychology journal. That isn’t quite right. There is a link here to the International Journal Of Criminology And Penology: not Psychology but certainly peer reviewed. Part of the problem here, as with Milgram’s study, is that the version which emerges in text books is not the same as what was originally reported. The article explains how Zimbardo himself was responsible for some of those distortions.

2) Workings Of Working Memory Revealed

In the resources we use on working memory, it is sometimes described as a post it note. We hold information on a post it note as we go about completing a task. Imagine looking for a coffee cup. You hold the image of the cup in your mind’s eye, talk to yourself about where you last had it and decide where to look next. That, it turns out, is not how it works.

This article from Oxford University suggests that our brains are able to shut down one process while we concentrate on another. So we forget about the image of the cup while we find our way around the house. There are good evolutionary reasons for this. It makes no sense for the brain to spend energy on things it doesn’t need to think about. This is clever research. This is clever research based on being able to analyse seriously large amounts of data.

3) Placebo

We are familiar with the idea of a randomised controlled drug trial which aims to see whether people do better on the drug being tested than on a placebo. If they do better on the drug being tested, that is good news. However, in any such trial, some people get better with the placebo. The question is why.

This article explains that we don’t really know the answer, although knowing how and why placebos work would be useful for treating people. Along the way, the article answers an important question. One of the Year 13 students asked me last week why RCTs are permissible in medical contexts where participants are at risk because they are being denied treatments which could help them but are not permissible in education where the risk is that participants in a control group just learn a bit less. The answer is in a reference to the Declaration of Helsinki which “permits placebo-controlled trials only when just inadequate routine treatment options are available”. That means that placebo trials are justified for many psychological conditions where current treatments are effective just over half of the time and where doing a placebo trial might enable a major advance in people’s health. They are also justified where the placebo isn’t a sugar pill which does nothing but where people continue to receive treatment as usual. This is explained here and here. The question which people are grappling with in education at the moment is when conditions apply which might make a randomised, controlled design acceptable.

4) Mindfulness

There is a lot of hype about mindfulness. This BPS article offers a balanced and measured view.

Here is Mark Griffiths explaining how mindfulness based interventions, including the mindfulness based CBT which Ruby Wax promotes, can be used effectively to treat addiction.

5) Childhood Hallucinations

The research reported here related to 9 to 12 year olds. Hallucinations, it turns out, are quite common.

This goes some way to explain the synaptic pruning which goes on skin after puberty. As children, we can afford to let our minds wander. When we hit puberty, we have to focus on the serious business of surviving as adults.

6) Health And Work

Marmot’s Whitehall Studies famously show that low status jobs are linked to poorer health outcomes. We criticise him by suggesting that poor health leads people to have lower status jobs. We also suggest that poverty causes people both to have low status jobs and experience poor health.

This article explains the complexity of the relationship between health and work. Marmot’s work is hugely important in how we think about these issues.

7) Depression May Be Caused By Inflammation

Your brain is connected to the rest of your body. So perhaps when it experiences a slowing down, something we would recognise as depression, the origins lie inside how the body works. This is explained in this brief article here.

The interesting question is whether the inflammation itself has a psychological cause. That takes us into the work in Janice Kiecolt-Glaser.

8) Peter Attia And NuSI

<p><a href=”″>NuSI: Challenging Conventional Science</a> from <a href=”″>Nutrition Science Initiative</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Here is an overview of their work.

9) Attitudes To Mental Illness

We have been making some great progress this week in research into attitudes to mental illness. Oddly, one of the places where you might still encounter stigma is in the NHS. This article explains.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: