Post Of The Week – Sunday 31st July 2016

1) Genes For Obesity

The story about genes for obesity is similar to other stories in Psychology. We know obesity runs in families but can’t yet say which particular genes are involved. That is changing though as more sophisticated genetic analysis comes on stream. We’ve known about the variant of FTO gene for a while but this article describes findings about another variant of a gene called CREBRF is associated with a 1.5 increase in BMI. It is surprising that this genetic variant is not associated with an increased risk of diabetes.


2) Study shows direct manipulation of brain can reverse effects of depression.

The brains involved in this study are those of mice but the research here is still interesting. The study involves creating conditions for mice in which their brains start to look like the brain of someone with depression and then stimulating the brains of these mice using electrodes, with a particular focus on the pre-frontal cortex. This is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it moves us closer to understanding of depression’s “signature” in the brain. By that, the article means that we have a distinct set of brain abnormalities which are linked to depression and which can be addressed in therapy. Secondly, it indicates that brain stimulation techniques represent a promising route for treating depression. The biological approach has something to offer despite concerns about the effectiveness of antidepressant drugs.


3) Brain Activity In Response To Food Cues

One of the mysteries of obesity is why the desire to eat in obese people is not reduced after they have eaten. This study imaged the brains of obese women before and after eating and compared their brain activity to that of a group of women who were not overweight. Patterns of activity in the reward centres in the brain were similar for both groups before eating but the obese women’s activity showed much less of a decline after eating. The question here is why this difference exists. The answer may become apparent from further research on these participants, all of whom are due to undergo bariatric surgery. There are several useful links at the bottom of this article on research into eating behaviour.


4) The Neural Mechanism Of How Memory Works

When we study the cognitive approach, we focus on the idea that inferences are made about the inner workings of the brain on the basis of what people can and cannot remember. This short article explains how identifying a neuron which fired in response to an image of Jennifer Aniston in one participant has led to theories about how memory is based on the establishment of networks of neurons.


5) Changes In The Brain During Adolescence

This study, along with the video below, describes findings about changes in the brain during adolescence. This is particularly important for understanding how mental disorders emerge during adolescence. The brain regions that have the strongest link to the schizophrenia risk genes are developing most rapidly.


6) Irving Gottesman Obituary

This obituary by Peter McGuffin explains more about the historical context of Gottesman’s work. Ideas that seem common now, such as that psychological conditions are polygenic or have a genetic basis at all, had to be fought for. Gottesman as early as 1972 came up with the idea of “endophenotypes”, biological characteristics which can be directly related to variants in DNA. As noted above, this is still something on which psychologists are working.


7) Phobias And Evolution

This article deals with the adaptive fallacy. This states that “everything present in the world today exists because it has a specific purpose”. The implication for phobias is that we are hardwired to learn to become afraid of certain stimuli if we experience them in our environments. There is little evidence for this and much counter-evidence. It is rare for people to have phobias of mosquitos and bears although these are animals which pose a strong threat to us. It is much more common for people to be scared of slugs and snails which pose no real threat.


8) Peer Review

This article explains some of the problems of peer review and how innovations are being developed to deal with those problems.


9) Ten Widely Believed Psychology Myths

Here is a list of them from the BPS Digest, along with explanations of why they are just myths. It is unfortunate that myths 1,5, 7 and 10 are to be found alive and well in school in one form or another.


10) Some New Ideas …

This article brings together several piece of research, each of which in its own way might be seen as ground-breaking. There’s a version of CBT for people with panic disorder which involves locking them in a cupboard.




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