Post Of The Week – Sunday 30th October 2016

1) A Bit More On Sleep

Following on from last week’s post, here is a TED Talk from Jeff Iliff explaining why we need to sleep in order for the brain to cleanse itself.

Here’s another article which explains some of the psychological as well as biological consequences of not getting enough sleep.


2) Genetic Mutations Linked To Autism

There’s a fairly straightforward message in this article. People without autism share genetic mutations with people who have a diagnosis of autism. This idea has been around for a while, emerging from studies of families of people with autism who share some autistic traits. What’s interesting here is how the research is done: analysis of thousands of genes in thousands of participants. It is through studies with big numbers that we are starting to get at the genetic basis of this and other conditions.


3) Women’s Alcohol Consumption

This article explains how women, particularly young women, are drinking more alcohol. This has been known for a while. What’s interesting here are the implications. Education about alcohol tends to assume that drinking too much alcohol is a male problem. Health education needs to change in order to accommodate this. Women with a problem with alcohol addiction tend to be less willing than men with the same addiction to seek treatment. The way in which treatment is advertised and made available also needs to change. This is part of a broader debate about gender and mental health, something we have tackled in Year 2 this term when looking at gender bias.


4) Hypernormalisation

When we look at social change, we think about the influence of minorities which show consistency, personal commitment and flexibility. We also think about the role of conformity and obedience. This article looks at the opposite: how politicians and society resist change when it is needed. It’s political, obviously, but written by a psychologist. It also shows how some of the same processes as in social change are at work. In connection with this area of social psychology, this programme from BBC Radio 4 draws on Steve Reicher’s research on crowds.


5) Too Much Neuroscience

This article looks at the way research is being funded in the US. The NIMH under the direction of Thomas Insel initiated the Research Domain Criteria project. We look at this when we study clinical characteristics. The article explains how research funding from NIMH now depends on establishing that the research is “translational”. Researchers have to demonstrate that they are addressing a problem at the neuroanatomical level as well as at other levels in order to get funding. The article quotes the example of research into the effectiveness of interpersonal psychotherapy for depressed mothers which does not get funding because it does not address depression at the level of neuroanatomy. The argument against reductionism is that by addressing all levels of explanation, we can better understand and treat mental illness. The problem is that the science does not let us do that yet. In the meantime, people’s needs have to be met. The NIMH view is that the focus has to be to move the science on more quickly. This article explains more.


6) Potential Breakthrough In The Care Of Children With Autism

This research was covered in several news outlets this week. The coverage here features some respected names in the field and seems balanced in its approach. The main point seems to be that training parents to understand and interact better with their children can address some of the more difficult symptoms and behaviours of children with autism. It does not however represent a cure. When we have discussed this in lessons, similar ideas have emerged.


7) Where Memories Are Made

In studying the multistore model of memory, we think about how modern neuroscience has retained the idea of short term and long term memory but challenges the idea of memory as a store. We cannot think of a memory as something which is held in a particular part of the brain where we can access it but need to think more about how memory is an act of reconstruction involving many different areas of the brain. This article explains how accuracy, vividness and success of memory depend on different parts of the brain.


8) Neurosexism

This article looks at what we know about brain differences between males and females. It is useful for us because it addresses the issue of alpha bias. Research, or at least the way in which research has been interpreted and presented, has tended to exaggerate the differences. There’s also the issue of determinism here. Differences are seen as fixed. There’s also an issue of imaging the brain. Claims are made beyond what the current science and technology really allow.



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