Post Of The Week – Sunday 16th August 2015

1) Making Choices

We throw concepts like “individualistic” and “collectivistic” when talking about cultural differences. In individualistic cultures, people make choices for themselves; in collectivistic cultures, choices are made by someone else.

In this TED Talk, Sheena Iyengar deconstructs this dichotomy and says a lot more about how we understand choices. Understanding cultural differences becomes an important way of challenging the assumptions we make about choice.

2) Psychology And The Intelligence Services

I have been planning how we will cover social change in AS next year. I thought a bit about how governments use the psychology of social change to influence behaviour. Tackling obesity and extremism came to mind as examples. This article looks at the second of these and tells a sinister story.

3) Susan Greenfield And The Effects Of The Internet

This is fascinating. Susan Greenfield had published a book on her concerns about internet use on the development of the brain. The claims in this book have been challenged by several psychologists who say that there is no objective, peer-reviewed evidence for her claims.

On Channel 4 news, she debated her claims with one of her opponents, Vaughn Bell. There’s a summary of his objections here.

4) Amygdala

We used to look at emotion as part of the previous A2 course, focusing on the work of Joseph LeDoux. Here he is addressing some common misconceptions about the role of the amygdala.

5) Mental Health And Smoking

Co-morbidity between smoking and other mental health problems remains high. There’s some debate now about cause and effect.

This article doesn’t touch on that but reminds us that we cannot think about interventions for addiction without considering how those interventions relate to the other conditions people might have alongside their addiction.

6) Vaccination – An Example Of Social Change

Vaccination represents a significant challenge for people in charge of public health. Its effectiveness depends on getting everyone to vaccinate their children but not everyone wants to. Sometimes, parents with anti-vaccine beliefs respond to evidence about why they should vaccinate by becoming more entrenched in their anti-vaccine position: the backfire effect.

This article presents two studies which explain how this problem might be solved. For us, the important point is that just providing information which is consistent and non-dogmatic is not by itself enough to change attitudes. What form that information takes and what the people on the receiving end already think are both central.

7) Diets

We consider big brain theory as an evolutionary explanation of human behaviour. Being able to cook food, particularly meat, enabled us to digest it more easily, enabling us to evolve smaller guts and bigger brains. Those brains need to be powered though. This article suggests that being able to cook tubers to produce enough carbohydrates was an important part of the evolutionary process. It looks specifically at the development of enzymes which enable us to break down starch.

The researcher, Mark Thomas, is the same person as we quote in relation to lactase persistence. The theory here depends on making a similar link between genetic and archaeological evidence.

This article looks at a recent study comparing low fat and low carbohydrate diets. Low fat seems to work better. There are however two important points for us which arise from this article. Firstly, scientists are involved in a debate about types of food rather than arguing about calories. Secondly, an effective diet is a diet you can stick to.

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