What is a ‘key study’?

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Key studies are studies that are the most useful for any Psychology course, because they provide the ‘key’ to understanding a concept or theory.  For example, Maguire’s famous ‘taxi driver’ study, Loftus and Palmer’s ‘car crash’ study or Rosenhan’s research into the validity of diagnosis on admission to mental hospitals.

Teachers and students can benefit by summarising these studies according to Background, Aim, Participants, Procedure, Results, Conclusion, Evaluation.  This can be done on 1-2 sides of paper and kept to be used for essays, revision and even for HL Paper 3 practice if you are an IB Diploma teacher or student.  Below is a short example of what this could look like, from the biological approach.

KEY STUDY: Caspi et al. (2003) Influence of Life Stress on Depression: Moderation by a Polymorphism in the 5-HTT Gene.

 Background

Looked at the relation between inherited short alleles on the 5HTT serotonin transporter gene and incidences of stress and subsequent depression.

Links to:

  • Abnormal Psychology: Genetic explanation for inherited predisposition to depression as a response to environmental stressors.

Aim

To investigate whether a functional change in the 5HTT gene is linked to a higher or lower risk of depression in an individual.

Participants

The researchers used an opportunity sample from a cohort of participants who were part of another longitudinal study. There were 847 participants of 26 years old and they were split into three groups, depending on the length of the alleles on their 5HTT transporter gene.

Group 1 – two short alleles

Group 2 – one short and one long allele

Group 3 – two long alleles

Procedure

  1. Stressful life events occurring after the 21st birthday and before the 26th birthday were assessed using a life-history calendar.
  2. Past-year depression was assessed using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule.
  3. A correlation was tested for between stressful life events and depression, between the length of the alleles and depression and an interaction between perceived stress and the length of the alleles.
  4. A further test was done to see if life events could predict an increase in depression over time among individuals with one or two short alleles.

Results

The participants with two short alleles in the 5HTT transporter gene reported more depression symptoms in response to stressful life events than either of the other two groups. Those participants with two long alleles reported fewer depression symptoms. Moreover, childhood maltreatment was predictive of depression in adulthood only in adults with either one or two short alleles.

Conclusion

While there is no direct relation between short alleles on the 5HTT gene and depression, there is a relationship between these and incidences of stress and subsequent depression. The long alleles seem to protect against suffering depression as a result of stress. The effects of the gene adaptation are dependent on environmental exposure to stress.

Evaluation of Caspi et al. (2003)

Strengths

  • This was a very large cohort of males and females and the age was controlled in order to isolate the variable of number of stressful life events between the ages of 21 and 26.
  • It was a natural experiment, with the naturally occurring IV being the length of the alleles. If the results are replicated this would suggest high reliability.

Limitations

  • Gene action is highly complex, and actions of other genes could not be controlled. While the stressful life events were standardised as employment, financial, housing, health and relationship, whether or not a participant experienced a certain event as stressful is highly personal.
  • The symptoms of depression were self-reported, although each participant was contacted in order to verify the symptoms; self-reporting can be unreliable.

Reference

Caspi, A., Sugden, K., Moffitt, T. E., Taylor, A., Craig, I. W., Harrington, H., … & Poulton, R. (2003). Influence of life stress on depression: moderation by a polymorphism in the 5-HTT gene. Science301(5631), pp. 386-389.

Exam tips – for the days themselves.

First tip is – don’t panic. Once the exams are upon you, then make sure you know the Panicdates and times (timetable on fridge, on bedroom wall, in school bag, on phone, etc.) Once you have sat an exam, no matter how badly – or how well – you feel it’s gone, it is gone.  Forget it and move on mentally, and physically, to some revision for the next exam, or move on to eat lunch if the your next exam is in an hour or two. And avoid any panicking friends if possible!

Be prepared, with several pens and pencils and any other necessary equipment.  Make sure your phone is not even in the room – leave it in your locker, or at home. (Radical thought, I know!)  Have a bottle of water, and make sure you have visited the loo and have eaten something.  Otherwise your rumbling stomach will be all anyone is thinking about! If you have allergies/a cold make sure you have tested any medication beforehand to ensure it doesn’t make you either twitchy or sleepy, and have plenty of tissues.  Tell the invigilator, who may be able to move you away from any open windows, or to the back corner of the room so you don’t feel you’re disturbing others.  Don’t forget your glasses if you wear them.

On non-exam days, revise for the next exams, but give yourself an hour extra in bed first.  It will feel like a reward and lighten your mood.  Don’t let yourself dwell on anything.  Revision by now should be going over your weak points, handwriting test answers, book closed, and going over them either alone or with other ‘study buddies.’

If you don’t have to wear school uniform, dress in comfortable layers. Exams that start early in the morning in a cool room can make you feel like you’re in a sauna several hours later.

Bad handwriting needs space so the examiner can read it – write on every second line.  Everybody should leave a couple of lines or more between paragraphs and start each answer on a new page.  This gets rid of the need to write vertically in the margin if you think of something that you want to put into your essay.  Exams are marked on screen nowadays, and these inserts run the risk of not being read if they can’t be seen easily.

Plan your time carefully, answering questions you know first, and those you will find harder last.  Leave at least ten minutes for looking over your answers.

Never leave an exam early.  Ask if you need to use the bathroom, and then come back and stay for the whole of the exam.  If you have finished very early, then you have done something wrong, and need to check your work again.  If you have missed out answering one question, because you don’t know the answer, then go back and try it; even one or two marks are better than zero.  There is usually something you can add, so use the time allotted to you.

Finally, try and ignore the other people in the room, whether they look confident and are writing away like crazy, or look as if they are about to burst into tears.  Try and think a ‘little bubble’ around yourself as you focus on answering the questions.

Good Luck!

 

Overstimulation of newborn mice leads to deficits in cognition and attention

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This research could be a useful counter argument to the classic Rosenzweig, Bennett and Diamond study (1972) into enriched environment and neuroplasticity.   It suggests disco lights are out, but toys are in!

This study was based on earlier findings by Christakis et al. (2004) that young children’s excessive television watching led to later attention problems. Christakis, Ramirez and Ramirez (2012) subjected ten mice to overstimulation by flashing lights and noise for six hours a day for 42 days.  They then compared them with a control group on four different cognitive tests, and found that the experimental group subjected to the stimulation performed the tasks significantly worse than the control group in terms of memory and attention, exhibiting ‘increased activity and risk taking, diminished short term memory, and decreased cognitive function.’

The results suggest that overstimulation during periods of critical development can have unexpected negative effects on cognition.  However, this is a very small experimental study, and no measurements of brain changes were taken, so its reliability remains open to question.

 

Later School Start Times Help Students

asleep-3126444_640It has long been suspected, and now research is supplying the evidence: delaying school start times results in students getting more sleep, and feeling better.  The most recent study in Singapore investigated the impact of a 45-min delay in school start time on sleep and well-being of adolescents.  They shifted the start of the school day from 7.30am (which though early is not uncommon in Asian countries) to 8.15am, without making the day end later.  After one month, researchers interviewed students and found that bedtimes on school nights were delayed by nine minutes while the times students got up were delayed by about 32 minutes, resulting in an increased time in bed of 23 minutes.  This may not seem like much, but the percentage of students getting at least 8 hours of sleep in the school week rose from 6.9% to 16%, and all reported more alertness and feelings of well-being.

These findings support studies from the USA and UK.  However, it has proved difficult to change practices, even in face of this evidence, and calls in 2015 by Paul Kelley of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford, to delay the start of school and college in the UK for the benefit of students largely went unheard or unheeded.  Teenagers don’t get to make educational policy!