Lifelong learning – old dogs and new tricks

dog-2183114_640You can’t teach an old dog new tricks – or so the saying goes.  Developmental psychologists like Piaget tended to assume that cognition and the corresponding brain development were complete by the age of about twenty.  However, recent research into brain neuroplasticity shows that adults, even older adults, can continue to learn throughout their lives, and improve their brains in the process.  Lisa Pauwels and her colleagues published a paper this month, describing the structural and functional brain changes that occur with practice of a new task.  They found that older adults may be a little slower than younger ones in attaining new skills, but they were equally capable of learning, and intensive practice led to modulation of GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter) and an increase in neurons and connections  (neurogenesis) in the corresponding brain regions.

The brain doesn’t only respond to learning, as Sandrine Thuret describes in her TED talk (below).  When you eat and what you eat, exercise and sleep all increase neurogenesis in adults.

So, if some days you are struggling with your studies, remember,  it is never too late to grow some more brain!

Cognitive Dissonance theory explains a lot.

cigarettes-3564364_640Cognitive dissonance theory was developed by Leon Festinger in 1957, and, for an old-ish theory is in very good health today.  Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort we feel when trying to reconcile our beliefs with our actions and cognitive dissonance theory explains how we try and reduce this.

An excellent example to illustrate this is teenage smoking.  We all have the clear evidence that smoking leads to heart disease and/or lung cancer in the majority of people who smoke.  At the very least it reduces lung function and gives you a hacking cough and some breathlessness, especially if you catch a cold or have a chest infection.  This is often when most people try their hardest to give up.  Yet 19% of UK adults smoke, and 40% of these began smoking before they were 16.  (UK Cancer Research statistics, 2017). So how do teenagers deal with the cognitive dissonance created by smoking?

Firstly, fewer teenagers smoke now than ever before.  So by not starting, they are avoiding cognitive dissonance in that their actions mirror their beliefs – they are what is called ‘consonant’.  Others try and give up, and while the dangers of ‘vaping’ remain fairly unknown, this is a viable alternative that allows them to argue that the tar, and not the nicotine addiction is the problem, and they are solving that.  Those who are already too addicted to give up have to change their beliefs, as the discomfort of knowing that you are negatively impacting your health becomes unbearable.

They do this through statements like: ‘While I’m young and doing sports, the impact will be minimal, and I’ll give up when I get older.  Therefore it won’t affect me.’  Or they rationalise that they have never had a cough in their life and can still run and play sports better than most adolescents their age.  Or they admit that they would like to give up, but it’s just too difficult at the moment, as they’re under a lot of stress, but will definitely do it later.

The point at which teenagers and young people who smoke give up is when they cannot ignore their underlying beliefs and the facts any longer.  This usually happens when someone close to them dies of a smoking-related disease or is told by their doctor to give up before they do die of it.  Sometimes, the sociocultural approach can explain smoking or non-smoking behaviour: as friendships change, the teenager may find him/herself socialising largely with a non-smoking group, and the attractions of smoking become less.  The cognitive dissonance then becomes too large to ignore as friends dismiss your arguments and rationalisations to point out the harm you are doing yourself.

Cognitive dissonance theory can explain our behaviour while (not) dieting, or when feeling a dislike for a certain person, or even when choosing a political party to support.  We show a confirmation bias, by selectively attending to information that supports our decision, and closing our ears to dissenting voices.

Coming soon – ‘Psychology Sorted’, the book!

Hi Psychology teachers from all over the world! Yes, I know that summer is beckoning but wouldn’t you like a sneaky peak at a BRAND NEW RESOURCE that is due to be out around October 1st? Written by Laura Swash and Claire Neeson, this resource will solve all those pesky teaching dilemmas such as: ‘Which studies should I use for each topic and how can I re-use them to create less bulk for the students to learn?  How can I find a streamlined, easy, cross-referenced resource that’s user-friendly (for me and my students)?  What can I use for both teaching AND revision?’ Here is a sample for you to taste, to get the ‘flavour’ of what we’re doing. Add us to your school shopping list: #1 Order ‘Psychology Sorted’ next term.  Sorted!

Sample_Section 1_Bio. updated

Bio KS1 Fisher et al_2005

Holiday Reading for all

kindle-381242_640Psychology teachers and students alike must by now either be on holiday, or be desperately looking forward to being on holiday.  Some lighter reading recommendations (with links to summaries or reviews) for those who just can’t get enough psychology are:

Alexandra Horowitz – On Looking  – 12 stories of walking through a city with different experts (one being a dog!).This is really good for TOK as well as a good discussion on schema creation.

Robert M. Sapolsky – Behave  and Why Zebras Don’t get Ulcers – why we do what we do, and why zebras don’t.  Great insight and humorous asides in both.

Ethan Watters – Crazy like US – the McDonaldization of psychiatry.  Very easy, historical view of how typically Western conceptions of mental illness have been exported to the rest of the world, and the effects of this.

Lisa Genova – Still Alice – fiction, but could so easily be fact, about a 50 year old female professor who develops early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  Told from her perspective.  Lisa Genova has written two other fictional accounts relevant to psychology, but this is (in my opinion) far and away the best.  Heartbreaking.

Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Christopher is on the autistic spectrum in his behaviour, and perceives the world entirely logically, like his favourite detective Sherlock Homes.  When a neighbour’s dog is killed, he sets out to solve the murder.

Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl – This tells the story of Nick, a man who becomes the main suspect when his wife mysteriously goes missing. Though he initially seems an unlikely killer, looks can be deceiving.  Tense thriller.

Emma Donaghue – Room – This novel of a boy and his kidnapped mother in extreme isolation is a great study for child development. A sensitive telling of a horrific story.

Meg Haston – Paperweight – a newish novel (2017) that follows 17-year-old Stevie’s journey as she struggles not only with her eating disorder and her guilt over her brother’s death. Mesmerising and sensitive.

Leslie McGill – Running Scared – another novel about an eating disorder, but quite different from Paperweight.

Finally, the best-ever fiction book written about addiction, written by Beatrice Sparks many years ago, Go Ask Alice ticks all the boxes for me.

Enjoy your reading, and maybe you have some recommendations?

 

 

 

 

 

The new IA process for IB Diploma – get started!

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Let’s get started! This is a useful summary for teachers and students of the process for the new IA (internally-assessed student-conducted experiment…now you see why the name is shortened 🙂  This will first be assessed in May 2019, and I’m sure some of you are getting started soon.

Group work is mandatory.  Up to 4 students in a group, and preferably each group conducting a different experiment, so you don’t run out of participants.  The experiment is run together by the group to collect the raw data, but every section, and all data calculations, have to be performed and written about individually.  

Statistical Analysis must be conducted by everyone.  Descriptive statistics identify if there is a difference between the two conditions and inferential statistical analysis tells you whether or not this difference is significant at the p<0.05 level.  Unless you are an expert statistician, it is easier to just manipulate the independent variable once to give two conditions under which you measure the dependent variable. Plan how you are going to do this, and which tests you need to use before even starting your experiment.

Ethical Considerations – be sure that your experiment will cause no harm or stress to the participants, who may not be animals or young children.  Conformity experiments are not allowed, because they are stressful, and you may not ask your participants to eat or drink anything in order to test the effects. Neither may you deprive them of sleep.  Your appendices at the very end of your report should contain a blank copy of the informed consent form, a copy of your briefing and debriefing notes, raw data tables and your calculations for the analysis.

IA Report – This needs a header containing the following information:  title; your IB candidate code and the codes of all group members; date, month and year of submission; no. of words.

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The Report should be between 1800 and 2200 words and split into the following 4 sections:

Introduction  (6 marks) –  Contains the aim of the experiment, and explains the link between the experiment and the model or theory on which it is based.  (Most likely your experiment will be based on another study or experiment, but you need to know the underlying theory and show the link).  The hypotheses should be written out carefully, and contain the operationalised independent and dependent variable.  It is probably easier to write these separately first and then combine them to make the hypothesis.

Exploration (4 marks) – This is where you describe your procedure, including the design, sampling technique, participant characteristics, controlled variables and materials.  Write it very carefully, as you will want to refer back to it later in your last (Evaluation) section.

Analysis (6 marks) – Consists of correctly chosen and applied descriptive and inferential statistics.  The descriptive statistical analysis results should be shown in a bar chart (graph) that is carefully labelled.  The inferential statistics results need to be interpreted in terms of what they show about the hypothesis.  Do you have to accept or reject your null hypothesis, and why?

Evaluation (6 marks) – This is where you explain your results, in relation to the theory/model and study on which you based your experiment.  You need to explain the strengths and limitations of your design, sample and procedure and suggest how you could have improved upon what you did.  We cannot always anticipate the effect of decisions we made earlier when deciding how to conduct the experiment, but we can explain their effect at the end.

All IAs need a list of references at the back, and the appendices follow this.  They do not count towards the word count.

__________________________

Remember – it doesn’t have to be a complex experiment.  The simpler the better.  Old ‘favourites’ from Cognitive Psychology always do well: Loftus and Palmer, Stroop, Peterson & Peterson and Bransford & Johnson are all tried and tested studies from the area of memory.

 

 

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.