Introduction to a topic – acculturation

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Acculturation is the process of adaptation to another culture, both by the people who move to the new ‘host’ culture and those already living there, who are receiving the immigrants.  It is an interesting topic, with many complex layers, encompassing as it does the ideas of ‘acculturative stress’ and ‘culture clash’ as well as issues of bilingualism and transmission of values. For a touching introduction to the topic, see this Youtube film – Refugees in Europe on their adopted homelands.  I identified language, sport and food as adaptations that the refugees had made in order to integrate. You will probably find others.

Berry (2008) argues that the process of acculturation leads to cultural and psychological changes in both parties. Instead of one rather homogeneous global society ensuing, as the ‘non-dominant group’ (the minority group) is absorbed into the host culture, the behaviours of those engaged in acculturation are varied and complex, and he identifies four acculturation strategies used by immigrants.  He points out that the responses of the host culture are crucial in shaping these.

STRATEGY DEFINITION
Assimilation When individuals do not wish to maintain their own culture and seek daily interactions with people from the host culture.
Separation When individuals wish to maintain their own culture and do not wish to integrate, therefore they avoid contact with the host culture. This can only be pursued if the host culture does not impose marginalisation or assimilation.
Integration When individuals wish to interact with the host culture and be an integral part of this culture, while maintaining their own identity as well. Integrated individuals are bicultural. This can only be pursued if the host culture is open and welcoming and does not impose marginalisation or assimilation.
Marginalisation Often follows on enforced cultural loss, and is when individuals have no interest in integration or assimilation into the host culture, even though they have lost their own.

Application of this theory can be seen in the works of Lyons-Padilla et al. (2015), who have developed a hypothesis that marginalisation in a globalised society leads to radicalisation. See her TEDx talk on ‘cultural homelessness’.

Maybe you are living in a culture that is not your own?  Think about the adjustments you make each day, and how people adjust to you.  This is a part of the psychology course that you can really make your own!

Social media ‘addiction’ – the evidence.

screen timeWhile most of us think of addiction as the physical and psychological dependence on a substance such as alcohol, cigarettes or any kind of drugs, the word has also been used for psychological dependence on behaviours like shopping, eating, gambling, and now screen time – especially the time that adolescents spend on social media. But what is the evidence for this?

Well, as everyone knows, when doing research, first of all the terms have to be operationalised.  Given that screens are multi-media, and the person could be reading a book, Skyping with a grandparent, watching a TED talk for their homework, contacting a friend, or posting their latest pics on Instagram, we need to be clear that it is time on social media that is causing the moral panic.  Though it is also worth noting that every time a teenager is seen staring at a screen, the assumption is always that they are on social media. In his latest letter to social media firms, Jeremy Hunt (UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care) proposed a future where every child gets a state-imposed social media limit, similar to the alcohol units recommended by government. After a child surpasses a set cutoff point, their social media access is stopped for the day.

To implement such an extreme policy, scientific evidence of damage would be needed.  And this is where the problem begins:  the evidence is controversial.  Social media use has been found to be correlated with depression and  sleep disturbance  in young adults. The popular press has many alarming stories of permanent damage done to young people.

However, longitudinal studies of social media suggest that frequent social media use is generally associated with increases in self-esteem and empathy for adolescents.  As Professor Sonia Livingstone notes in her TEDx talk on how children engage with the internet, research suggests that little has changed in terms of youth mental well-being since the pre-internet era which makes the causal connection between internet use and lower mental well-being unwarranted.  Moreover, US statistics on crimes against children showed a significant decrease in physical and sexual abuse and neglect of children between 1990-2014, with sexual abuse (the crime most often associated in the public imagination with internet use) showing the biggest decrease.

All new forms of media, especially those used predominantly by young people, tend to disturb the equilibrium of older people.  Newspapers, radio, TV, video games and now social media all receive or have received negative attention and been blamed for a perceived decrease in moral values amongst the young. Socrates blamed writing for weakening memory, and allowing the pretence of understanding, rather than true understanding.

What Options do we Have?

The first year of a new IB Diploma Psychology curriculum is almost ended, and next year, if you haven’t started already, you will be teaching/studying one (SL) or two (HL) options.  But which ones?  Most teachers will probably have chosen these already, and (hopefully) used some of the studies from the options while teaching the approaches.  But for those who are not yet certain, here are the pluses and minuses – as I see them – of each.

Optionstable1 Optionstable2

Online research

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Most of the studies you will want to read can be found online, but some will be behind what is called a ‘pay wall’.  This means that your school librarian should be able to help you with access, in that most school libraries will subscribe to at least one online data repository of resources.  However, that is no guarantee of availability, and you may have to do some online searching of your own.

The best place to start your search is Google Scholar, where you can type in key words, or the study title and authors, and a list of versions will come up.  If one of these is a ‘pdf’ then you are in luck.  If it is not, sometimes a site like Researchgate will have a pdf version for free. If they don’t, then they may have the abstract and, unlike other sites, if you join them (it’s free, and also spam-free) you can then request the full text direct from the author.  (This works for teachers, who can declare their interest in Psychology, but I am not sure if students would be able to join). I have put in 65 requests over the past few years, and received 12 texts, so while it’s not a sure method, it’s worth pursuing.

Finally, while most teachers will say steer clear of Wikipedia because of sometimes inaccurate information, the list of references at the end of the entry may prove very useful.  For example, it is well known that in 1986 researchers Yuille and Cutshall published research into eyewitness testimony of a crime that can act as a useful critique for Loftus and Palmer.  However, it is behind a pay wall, though may be requested through Researchgate.  But, if you go to Wikipedia and find Canadian psychologist John C. Yuille, scroll down and look at the references, you will find some that can be tracked and are freely available – such as this one on the effect of alcohol on eyewitness memory.  All of the hyperlinked articles at the bottom of Yuille’s Wikipedia page come up in PsycNET first, where they must be paid for, but by taking the article title and typing it into Google Scholar, or even into your usual search engine, the pdf can often be found.

This does take time, but once you have these items, you have them forever, which is a useful thought for teachers, or for students hoping to take their study of Psychology further. And if you don’t want all of your online searching to be tracked by Google, try using DuckDuckGo as a search engine.  Happy hunting!

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.