Post Of The Week – Sunday 23rd October, 2016

1) Circadian Rhythms

This is a fine TED talk from Russell Foster from Oxford.

Russell Foster also appears in this Royal Institution event.

There’s a story here about how Psychology moves on. The studies we look at for this topic, going back to the Siffre studies of more than 50 years ago, are essentially studies of behaviour. More recent research has gone inside the brain in order to understand these rhythms. In his RI lecture, Russell Foster explains how cells in the eye which are sensitive to the amount of light in the environment drive the sleep wake cycle. This supports the claim from previous behavioural studies that circadian rhythms depend both on exogenous zeitgebers and endogenous pacemakers. That discovery has huge implications for the way in which blind people are treated.

The growth area here is to understand how sleep and well-being are connected. People used to think that people with mental illness had problems with their sleep because they were ill. It is now starting to look as if people can become ill because of problems with their sleep. Sleep systems are intimately connected to systems in the brain which control mood. This is through the cortisol system This is further explored in this article. Therapy for mental disorders may involve therapy for sleep.


2) Genes For Fussy Eaters

Jane Ogden has done some the research into learning theory as an explanation of food preference. Here, she explains how even if there is a genetic basis for fussy eaters, there are still things parents can do to ensure healthy eating in their children.


3) Weight Loss Surgery

It’s been known for a while that bariatric surgery not only reduces the size of the stomach but also affects the neural mechanisms which control eating. This article looks at one such mechanism in the mid-brain. It is too small to be imaged in the human brain with current technology but can be measured directly using implants in a mouse brain. It looks as if brain areas respond differently to undigested food as it enters the intestine and that reward systems are also affected.


4) Precision Medicine

The goal of precision medicine is to understand exactly what drives the development of a disease at a molecular level. Treatment of cancer has advanced because doctors better understand the development of particular types of cancer. The same principles are now being applied to psychiatry. This article describes a study into a gene which controls the growth of synapses. Variations of this gene are associated with a range of psychological disorders. It is the use of very large samples – 9,000 in this study – which makes this type of analysis possible.


5) Learning From Reward

Here is Sarah-Jayne Blakemore talking specifically about reward based learning for adolescents and more generally about the adolescent brain. We managed to include some of this research in the last course. I’m hoping it will be possible to do so for the new one too: planning for that will happen this week.


6) Temporoparietal junction (TPJ)

This article explains how the TPJ is involved both in adopting the perspective of someone else and in enabling us to plan our future behaviour. It’s interesting both for the method it uses – TMS to disrupt brain activity – and for its explanation of the neuroscience of perspective taking, something we are looking at soon in Year 2.


7) Epigenetics

We’ve mentioned epigenetics in passing when looking at nature-nurture and the interactionist position in Year 2. A controversial area is the effect of genes being passed from one generation to another. The controversies in relation to epigenetics are dealt with in this article. There are some important points. “Environment” in this debate is anything which is not genetic, a definition we use in the nature-nurture topic but which is not necessarily reflected in the discourse of social psychology. Confounding variables are a big problem in this area when so much of what we know about the influence of genes is based on association, not experiment. What we know about epigenetics should not disguise the fact that much of what we do depends on the genes we have.


8) Myth Of Mobs

When we study conformity, we use behaviour of crowds during the London Riots of 2011 as an application of the theory. This programme explores the psychology of crowds in more detail.


9) Healthy Eating As Rebellious Gesture

We’ll see when we get on to explanations of food preference in Year 2 that one point of explaining food preference is to change people’s bad habits. The Government now has a strategy. This piece of research suggests one way in which young people might be persuaded to eat more healthily: cast healthy eating not as obedience to the things you get taught in Health Education but as rebellion against big companies who want to make money out of your preference for junk food.


10) Randomised Controlled Trials And Big Data

We’ve already noted in this post that psychology studies increasingly rely on very large samples in order to generate statistically significant findings. That means you have to find people. This article explains the extent of the problem and some suggestions for solving it.


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