Post Of The Week – Saturday 9th April 2016

1) Romanian Orphanages

The English And Romanian Adoptees study is central for our understanding of the effects of institutionalisation and more generally understanding the importance of attachment. The oldest child in this study was 3 and a half years old. Some children however were left in the orphanages for much longer before they were adopted. This video, disturbing in some of the images it includes, explains the story of one adoptee who lived with his parents until the age of 6 months before being placed in an orphanage.

It serves to remind is how poor conditions were and how complex the stories of the people involved actually are.


2) Psychiatry And Psychology

The debate identified in last week’s blog post rumbles on. Here are two useful contributions to the debate. Here, Lucy Johnstone and Richard Bentall exchange ideas about some of the key issues.

Genetic research into ‘schizophrenia’ – how much can it actually tell us?

This piece from Vaughan Bell also raises some important issues.

Critical mental health has a brain problem

It looks at how a distinction is drawn by some between brain disorders such as those caused by head injury and psychological disorders which have a social and psychological cause. The article argues powerfully that we miss much by drawing such a false distinction.


3) The Brain Is Not A Computer

In the cognitive approach, we have seen that computer based models of how the brain works have been influential. Recent research however focuses on brain plasticity and moves us away from the idea that a particular process belongs in a particular part of the brain. This article surveys what we know.


4) Evaluating Risks

In the addictive behaviour topic, we have been looking at how it isn’t right to see dopamine simply as a pleasure chemical but as a neurotransmitter which serves to mark the things we need to remember. This is part of a broader view of addiction which sees risky behaviour not as the result of an imbalance of chemicals but as an inappropriate response to the presence of risk.

This article from Ed Yong explains in some detail work done on rats to work out what their brains are doing when faced with risk. The account is complicated but central to it is a mechanism triggered by the release of dopamine. Dopamine here is not giving a buzz of pleasure but marking a behaviour which was previously rewarded.


5) 7+/-2

This is a link to the original article by George Miller on digit span.

It’s a complicated piece of work, not a research report in format but a summary and discussion of other people’s evidence. It should remind us of the difference between primary and secondary data.


6) Omega 3

In the explanations for the success of dieting section of Eating Behaviour, we look at the effects of omega 3 on body sugar and weight loss.

This article explains some recent criticisms about the effectiveness of omega 3 in addressing a range of health problems. These do not specifically concern the effects nobody sugar and weight loss but instead relate to clinical trials looking at protection against heart disease and loss of muscle mass. The article is useful for showing both the difficulties of establishing successful trials and how rapidly research in this area moves.


7) Brain Training And Working Memory

We’ve seen before how research has cast doubt on claims made about the effectiveness of brain training for enhancing working memory. This paper explains how neuroscientists have got at the problem, using brain training alongside methods to stimulate the brain.

It’s early days yet for this research but the signs are promising. In younger participants, brain training is bringing about changes in observable brain function. In other participants, using tDCS (transcranial direct-current stimulation) seems to boost performance and lead to transfer from trained tasks to other working memory tasks.


8) A Couple On Relationships

Parental Investment Theory suggests that one reason why males invest less in their offspring than females is parental uncertainty. A female knows that the offspring carries her genes so has an interest in nurturing it. A male cannot be certain so may have a better chance of passing on his genes if he acts more promiscuously.

Is your child really your child? Study finds cuckolded fathers are rare in human populations

This research suggests that cuckoldry, looking after someone else’s children in the belief that they are biologically yours is rare in human populations. This therefore becomes part of the argument that for both females and males, co-operative pair bonding brings decisive evolutionary advantages over promiscuity.

The Female Body Shape Men Find Most Attractive

This also is useful. It points to research which shows which body shapes are attractive across cultures, focusing specifically on BMI. The claim that there are shapes which are attractive across cultures is an important claim in sexual selection theory.


9) Mindfulness Based CBT

This form of CBT continues to receive a lot of attention. Some studies have reported that MBCBT is as effective as maintenance therapy with drugs in preventing relapse in depression.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy cannot substitute maintenance antidepressants for preventing depression relapse

This study casts doubt on that claim. People who used MBCBT without the support of medication were at a greater risk of relapse. There are two points to consider. Firstly, this may be about the quality of MBCBT intervention and in particular how focused it was on helping the patients discontinue their use of drugs. Secondly, it is further evidence of the idea that biological and psychological therapies are at their best when they work in combination.



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