Online teaching and learning

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Many of us are now teaching our classes through a virtual learning environment. Most had very little notice, maybe one or two days, and are now on the steepest learning curve ever. Here are a few tips, followed by some very useful sites and links:

online learning

Several online sites are very kindly offering teachers free access to psychology resources  for at least a month, and often through to the end of June 2020. 

Thank you to those teachers who have sent their students home with copies of Psychology Sorted. Our sales have held steady through March, and we’re sure, with the key studies summaries, QR codes and links to many online resources, all students will appreciate this.

Finally, for those who would like to use psychology as a lens for discussing the current pandemic: 

I am sure there will soon be more resources available on this topic.

Cognitive biases like those listed on the Raconteur site (see this link, and below) can be a useful way to describe not only our own reaction to all the troubling news of the Covid-19 virus, but also to analyse the ever-changing reactions of some of the more prominent politicians!  Here’s hoping your families and you keep safe, and stay online 🙂

Cognitive biases

 

‘Psychology Sorted’ Book 1 second edition (including all the new additions) out now on Amazon!

Laura and I have been working hard to get the second edition of ‘Psychology Sorted’ Book 1, Core Approaches out – and here it is! This second edition includes key study summaries for all of the new additions to the Core Approaches – yes, those pesky topics that could come up on Paper 1, Section A. So, if you have been wondering about which study to use for agonists, antagonists, excitatory/inhibitory synapses, neural pruning etc. (I mention the Biological topics as these are the ones that seem to have caused us all so much grief!) then do not fear, we have them here!

You can order the book here

And if you love it please leave a review to say that you do!

Neurotransmitters – keys in locks

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All neurotransmitters are agonists – chemicals that bind to receptor neurons and activate them to respond. They act like keys in post-synaptic receptor neuron ‘locks.’ They fit into their own receptor neuron and bind to it to produce a voltage change called an action potential. When they do this they are having an excitatory effect in the synapse. An example of a neurotransmitter that does this is acetylcholine, which binds with receptors, especially in the hippocampal area, to improve encoding in memory. Kihara and Shimohama (2004; 2018) – found that a decrease in acetylcholine receptors has a leading role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease

Some drugs are also agonists, and bind to or mimic the effect of the neurotransmitter, provoking the same response in the receptor neuron. Alcohol does this for dopamine – activating dopamine receptors in the nucleus accumbens area of the brain.

However, although they are all agonists, not all neurotransmitters have an excitatory effect in the synapse. Sometimes they make it less likely for the receptor neuron to fire an action potential. GABA and serotonin both do this, decreasing the receptor neuron activity and having an inhibitory effect in the synapse.

Several neurotransmitters can have either excitatory or inhibitory effects, depending where in the brain  they are acting and with which receptor neurons they are interacting. This Youtube video is very informative regarding neurons and neurotransmitters https://tinyurl.com/qo8yqxp

Clinical biases in diagnosis

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In the abnormal psychology option, what is the difference between cognitive biases and clinical biases?

Clinical biases are cognitive biases that take place when a psychiatrist or psychologist is trying to make a diagnosis and label the behaviour. They can arise from experience (‘these symptoms nearly always mean this mental health problem’) and result in a misdiagnosis when other explanations for the behaviour are too readily discarded. This is a confirmation bias – symptoms are interpreted to confirm the mental health professional’s original swift diagnosis. It was demonstrated in Rosenhan (1973)  when the admitting medical staff interpreted the very vague symptoms described as schizophrenia, and even more clearly when the normal behaviour exhibited by the pseudo-patients was interpreted by medical staff to confirm the validity of the original diagnosis.

They can also arise from an existing societal and/or personal bias, such as an ethnic or gender bias. Jenkins-Hall and Sacco (1991) found that a sample of USA psychotherapists showed an ethnic bias against black clients in that they evaluated depressed black clients more negatively than depressed white clients. While both groups were diagnosed with depression, the black clients (ethnic minority in this case) were seen as being less socially capable and were evaluated as more seriously depressed, using a standardised scale. A larger study by Bertakis et al (2001) demonstrated that women were much more likely than men to be diagnosed as depressed by their primary care physicians, even with a similar number of visits. This showed a gender bias in diagnosis.

So, there is a clear link between this material and the study of cognitive biases, especially confirmation bias.

References

Bertakis, K.D., Helms, J., Callahan, E.J., Rahman, A., Leigh, P. & Robbins, J.A. (2001).  Patient Gender Differences in the Diagnosis of Depression in Primary Care.  Journal of Women’s Health & Gender-Based Medicine, 10(7), pp. 689-698.

Jenkins-Hall , K. & Sacco , W.P. (1991).   Effect of Client Race and Depression on Evaluations by White Therapists.  Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 10(3), pp. 322-333.

Rosenhan, D. L. (1973). On being sane in insane places. Science179(4070), pp. 250-258.

Taking a holistic approach to the course

connections jigsawI have been trying over the past few years to do this, and am sometimes asked what I mean by ‘a holistic approach.’  The easy way is to demonstrate using an example. If you are teaching/studying the abnormal psychology option, for instance, you will probably be doing this after you have spent some time looking at the core approaches to explaining human behaviour (biological cognitive and sociocultural) and also looking at research methods and ethics.

So, now comes the time to apply your learning to the content of this option. Explore the differences between psychiatry (more medically and biologically based) and psychology (more cognitively and socially based). Take major depressive disorder, for example: how might a psychiatrist explain it?  How might they look for evidence to see if their explanation is correct and what sort of evidence would they see as valuable? How valid is their method of looking for evidence? How reliable is it? Does it allow them to develop a theory of etiology of MDD that has good explanatory power? How might they want to treat MDD once they are sure a person is suffering from it? Discuss the benefits and limitations of this treatment. Are there any ethical considerations regarding this treatment? 

Now, how might a cognitive psychologist explain MDD? How would s/he look for evidence and what would they accept as evidence? How valid is this method? How reliable is it? Does it allow them to develop a theory of etiology of MDD that has good explanatory power? How would a cognitive psychologist treat MDD.  Discuss the strengths and limitations of this treatment. Are there ethical considerations regarding this treatment?

What about sociocultural arguments that childhood trauma, domestic violence, poverty and stress can all singly or in combination be responsible for MDD? That removing the conditions that lead to MDD is the best treatment? 

Finally, consider the eclectic approach that is more common nowadays. What is the evidence that a combined approach to both the diagnosis, explanation of* and treatment for MDD may be more successful than a single approach? What is the evidence that doing nothing also works? What about a choice of approaches, or sequential treatment?

If we start the abnormal psychology option with these questions and work together to answer them, then the specific content becomes easier to understand in context of perspectives on abnormal psychology, and within the framework of approaches to research. This can be put into practice in the other options as well. Put it all together!

*e.g. Interaction between genetic vulnerability, environmental trigger and possible faulty cognition.

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Overlaps between cognition and health

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There are several overlaps between the cognitive approach and the health option. For example, cognitive psychology can explain stress through the theory of cognitive appraisal: how we appraise our level of stress can affect the level that we experience. The theory of planned behaviour can explain addictive behaviours and the varying success of health promotion programmes, mainly through its concept of perceived behavioural control. But remember, as with any option, no one approach can act independently of the others. We are our biology, our cognition and our social interactions – no getting away from it!

References:

Ajzen, I. (1985). From Intentions to Actions: A Theory of Planned Behavior. In Kuhl, J. & Beckmann, J. (eds.), Action-Control: From Cognition to Behavior. Heidelberg: Springer.

Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behaviour. Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 50, pp. 179 211. 

Lazarus, R. S. (1993). From Psychological Stress to the Emotions: A History of Changing Outlooks. Annual Review of Psychology, 44, pp. 1-21.

Lazarus, R. S., & Alfert, E. (1964). Short-circuiting of threat by experimentally altering cognitive appraisal. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 69(2), pp. 195-205.