Post Of The Week – Monday 10th August 2015

1) Chemical Soup

This TED talk from David Anderson comes from the same event as the one by Thomas Insel which we use in lessons.

Anderson’s idea in this talk is that we tend to treat the brain as a chemical soup where things go wrong when the balance of ingredients is not quite right: too much dopamine, too little serotonin. Anderson’s point is that we need to do better by identifying which part of the brain is affected by which chemical. He explains some research using flies which starts to unlock these processes.

2) Varenicline As A Biological Intervention To Prevent Smoking

Varenicline has been shown to be successful in helping people to give up smoking. The problem has been with reported side effects.

This Mental Elf blog reports a study from Sweden which tested the side effects of Varenicline on a large scale. It found that Varenicline may increase risk of anxiety disorder in those suffering from it already but that the other reported side effects were not found in the sample studied. If that can be generalised from Sweden, where smoking rates are relatively low, to other places, it represents a significant step forward.

3) A Couple On Attachment

I have spent quite a bit of last week finishing off preparing the AS Attachment topic. One substantial question which keeps cropping up is the extent to which people can overcome negative early experience and develop stable relationships in later life. I was trying to find good research for Rutter’s  idea of earned security. This research looks interesting.

It suggests that friendships help people overcome adversity in a way which reflects Rutter’s idea of earned security. There is often a negative representation of male friendships, focusing on gangs and macho behaviour. This research contradicts this notion.

The other thing I have been interested in is adoption. It’s an area which isn’t talked about much but is one where psychological research has had a big influence. Here is a news story about how the organisation of adoption is changing.

4) Vulnerabilities

In our course, we are interested in two specific ages when the brain is particularly vulnerable. There are the early years when an attachment and a sense of self are being formed and there are the adolescent years when substantial brain changes take place. This article reminds us a bit about both.

On the adolescent brain, here is a useful discussion on the adolescent brain. It considers in particular the evolutionary factors behind the teenage brain, how that might explain some of the shocking things adolescents have done and what we might do about it.

5) Mind As A Machine

I am currently working on the AS Memory topic. The big idea there is that the mind is a machine for processing information. We have systems for perceiving and making sense of the world, storing information as we go. We then use those perceptions as the basis for an emotional response. Current memory research challenges this idea of the mind as a machine for processing and storing information in a number of ways.

This article is part of that. It suggests that the way we process information depends on our emotional response. This is the opposite way round from the way we conventionally think about this. It’s only research on rats but it is still interesting.

6) Joseph LeDoux

Here is the first in a new series of blogs by Joseph LeDoux.

He talks some sense here about what neuroscience can tell us and also about some common misconceptions.

7) Post Mortem Brain Analysis

Much of what we know about the brain comes from the scans of living brains. Techniques for doing this get better all the time.

This article reminds us that there is still scope for post mortem brain studies.

8) Psychoanalysis Revisited

Psychoanalysis has dropped out of the new AS, although we still look at the psychodynamic approach in the second paper. This article looks at the effectiveness of psychodynamic therapies, which would include psychoanalysis.

The main conclusion here is that psychodynamic therapies work. The problem as the article points out is that “psychodyamic therapies” covers a wide range of therapy. It is not clear, for example, whether IPT, which borrows heavily from a psychodynamic framework but which uses the format and processes of CBT. Perhaps psychoanalysis should come back into our course.


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