Post Of The Week – Saturday 12th September 2015

1) Screen Time And GCSEs

This news story refers to a research report which tracks children’s activity over a few years and relates it to exam outcomes. Children who spend longer in front of a screen tend to do worse.

This is a great example of how correlational evidence works and, perhaps more importantly, how it is reported. The headline talks about extra screen time hitting GCSE grades but the first sentence uses the phrase “is linked to”. The word “correlated” appears in the second paragraph. It is only at the end when the science becomes clearer. The search is on for a link to explain this correlation.

2) The Lancet On Ketamine For Depression

The use of ketamine for depression remains controversial. This article from the Lancet explores some of the controversies.

Ketamine works on different systems in the brain from standard anti-depressants. This means that it may work for people who are not helped by these anti-depressants. There are however concerns about safety. Ketamine can produce hallucinations. What’s striking here is how poor the science is. Doctors prescribe “off-label”: that means giving the drug for  a condition for which it was not designed or tested. We don’t understand why some people do not respond to treatment nor why some people respond badly to ketamine. For some people, it may be a good idea to prescribe ketamine alongside other anti-depressants. It feels almost medieval.

3) OCD

This is in the course for the first time this year. This article explains the way in which OCD is manifested in extreme decluttering.

This article gives a brief overview of OCD.

4) So Much Talk About The Brain In Education Is Meaningless

Some years ago now, I had to go to a training session for teachers at the school where I worked where the speaker brought in at great expense told us that what we taught people in lessons was important because it changed the brain. That struck me then as a very peculiar thing to say. Everything we do in some small way changes our brains. The problem in education as well as elsewhere is that people add legitimacy to good ideas by adding a layer of neuroscience to them.

This article deals with this phenomenon, detailing what to look out for in order to avoid “neurosophisms”. This has some impact for applications for theories of cognitive development to education. With so much sophistry about relating to neuroscience, we might be better off with the older ideas of Piaget and Vygotsky.

5) Lying For Science

Milgram’s study of obedience is famous for the deception at its heart. What is less well known is how deception was at the heart of much Psychology in the 1950s and 1960s. This article fills in some of the detail.

Half of all laboratory based in the 1950s and early 1960s involved the active deception of participants. It is sometimes said that Milgram’s research led to the development of ethical guidelines in Psychology. The American Psychological Association had ethical guidelines in the 1950s which essentially allowed psychologists to practise deception provided that participants were “dehoaxed” afterwards. CIA funding for research into “behaviour modification” casts a shadow over the Psychology of that period in the same way as involvement in interrogation casts a shadow over Psychology now.

6) Initiation Of Addiction To Nicotine

It has been a mystery for some time as to why when the initial effects of smoking are often unpleasant that people become addicted to nicotine. This study used very low doses of nicotine and placebos in participants who had never smoked. Some preferred the nicotine pills to the placebos.

This is important because it suggests that there are genetic or metabolic reasons why some people like smoking as soon as they try it. Once the genetics and biochemistry of this process are understood, something can be done about treatment.


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