Post Of The Week – Thursday 27th August 2020

The blog has been away for a while. The growth of the pandemic and in particular the reliance on non-pharmaceutical interventions both seemed like impossible obstacles to writing a blog. Commenting on obedience, conformity and social change risked people taking research the wrong way and doing things which put them at risk. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing in a blog which anyone on the internet can read.

The threat of the pandemic at least for now seems more manageable. Now is perhaps a good time to revisit some of the Psychology research which has been in the public domain in the past few months.

1) Conformity And Obedience.

One of the issues which has emerged during the pandemic has been the distinction between conformity and obedience. When we study these concepts in Social Influence, we distinguish between conformity as a response to real or imagined group pressure and obedience as a response to an authority figure. Throughout the pandemic, we have heard discussion about conforming to regulations about social distancing. That is confusing. If the regulations come from the government, they are obeyed. To understand this better, it is worth listening to Stephen Reicher in this podcast. He explains the connection between obedience and conformity and links that to the studies of Milgram and Asch and links that to wider ideas of identity. Reicher has been particularly vociferous on behavioural fatigue. He explains some of his views in this video.

You can also hear more of him speak in this podcast.

2) Obesity

One of the issues which has emerged during the pandemic has been obesity. Here, Giles Yeo explores some of the complexity of the obesity problem. Here is a similar piece from Susie Orbach, touching on several of the themes which we cover when looking at this topic.

3) The Cognitive Approach To Explaining And Treating Depression

Right at the start of school closure, I had been working on the cognitive approach to explaining and treating depression. Talking about negative views of the world and the future and how best to restructure them seemed foolish in the face of the threat of the pandemic. This piece from Jim Lucie explains three Rs of anxiety management: reframing, recovery, resilience.

4) Freud

This TED-Ed video is aimed at people a bit younger than those of you doing A Level but still says some important things about Freud. We think about some of these issues as part of our course.

5) The New Anatomy Of Melancholy

This podcast from the BBC starts with an explanation of the benefits of open water swimming for raising mood. It goes on to explain ideas about the physical basis of depression and includes an interview with Ed Belmore about inflammation. It’s fascinating as an example of how modern scientific thinking knits together different strands of explanation. This video from the Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre covers some of the same ground as the podcast, explaining ancient ideas about depression before looking at modern innovations.

There’s a bit moe about the effects of open water swimming on mental health here.

6) Studying The Brain

Here’s Hank Green on how techniques from other sciences are being used to study the brain. This moves the story on from the ways of studying the brain we look at in our course.

7) Defining Abnormality

One of the harder parts of our course to deal with comes at the start of the Psychopathology topic where we look at definitions of abnormality and at characteristics of disorders. We criticise each definition but not the whole idea of defining disorder. We learn the characteristics of disorder but the exam does not require us to question the validity of the classification systems. This article suggests that we should do both of these.

8) Some Neuroscience ….

We look at the structure and function of neurons in Year 1, focusing on how synapses work. In Year 2, we look at plasticity of the brain. We tend to think of them as two different domains. This article explains a bit about what is now known about how synapses work and makes a link to plasticity. The ideas we learn about from textbooks for the exam are necessarily out of date.

Here’s a video about how our brains process language.

This article explains some of the limitations of fMRI as a means of studying the brain.

Here’s a video about how early maps of the brain were based on injuries of soldiers wounded in war.

This also from SciShow Psych explains hemispatial neglect. It’s an interesting insight into hemispheric lateralisation. Each side of the brain does different things but somehow we make sense of the world.

I’ve been thinking and writing about the multistore model and theoretical models of memory. The key idea there is that model does not describe where and how in the brain memories are stored. We need cognitive neuroscience to do that. Here’s a bit from Hank Green about where that research has got to.

Heres a video about aphasia, with reference to Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area and which deals with some contemporary questions about them.

9) Sleep

William Dement was a pioneer of sleep research. We use his study of REM sleep when we study ultradian rhythms. He died in June. Here is a tribute to him. You can see him talk about his research here.

This video from TED explains the benefits of sleep.

This article explains recent research which suggests that slow wave sleep may enable the brain to be cleared of toxic waste.

10) Autism

In this BBC World Service programme, Uta Frith tells the story of her research into autism. This article looks at one aspect of autism, the ability to read facial expressions. The research suggests that the problems which people with autism experience in social interaction may be the result of them having different facial expressions. The inability to read expressions may lie within the normally functioning person rather than the person with autism. This video explains the research.

11) Romanian Orphans

I’ve been thinking about the research into institutionalisation and Romanian orphans recently while putting together a model answer. This article tells the story of one family.

12) Addiction

In this article, Ian Hamilton challenges the idea of an addictive personality. He stresses the importance of the interaction of many risk factors. Some of these programmes explain how tobacco companies were able to continue to market cigarettes even when evidence about the harm of smoking was coming to light. Understanding how these products have been marketed enables us to understand why people find them hard to resist.

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