FREE – Hallowe’en Offer!

Paranormal final final

Whoo Hoo! For HALLOWE’EN our Book 1 Kindle e-book is FREE! Get your best-ever bargain from Oct 31st to Nov 1st (Pacific time, so be patient if you’re in another time zone.) Just click on and buy for nothing! It was always free to read with Kindle Unlimited, and now it will be free for everyone, but ONLY for two days. Hope you love our ‘Paranormal Distribution.’ 👻

Overlaps between cognition and health


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!


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.

Ethics of animal research

monkey-3512996_1280A few months ago, we posted about how we could use animals for research.  Today we are looking at the ethics surrounding the decision to conduct research using nonhuman animals. Most students can reel off the ethics involved in conducting research on humans (informed consent, lack of harm, right to withdraw, privacy, etc.) but when we talk about the ethics of conducting research using nonhuman animals as proxies for humans, they are less clear. Often the argument gets stuck at the level of “It’s OK for medical research, but not for cosmetics.”  This is not good enough for an understanding of the complexities (nor for an exam answer).  For students that wish to argue that conducting research on nonhuman animals in order to avoid causing pain or distress to humans can never be ethical, point out that this is a worthy philosophical question, and could even be a counter-argument in a psychology debate on the topic, but again, it cannot constitute the main argument of an exam essay on ethics.

The APA,  BPS and Australian government publish guidelines for conducting nonhuman animal research ethically. What emerges from the guidelines are the ‘3 Rs’ of animal research:

  • Replace animals with other alternatives – such as computer simulations, use of lesser species (such as single‐cell amoebae and nematode worms),  use micro-dosing, CRISPR DNA editing, or human cell cultures – known more colloquially as ‘patient in a dish’ or ‘body on a chip’.  But animals are used to generate new hypotheses, so CRISPR editing was tried out on animals first, as was stem cell research. 
  • Reduce the number of individual animals used, by using data from other researchers, or by repeated micros-sampling on one animal in a repeated measures design.
  • Refine procedures to minimise suffering, by using appropriate anaesthetics and painkillers, and training animals to cooperate with procedures to minimise any distress. Imaginative research, where faecal matter is analysed to investigate stress levels, rather than drawing blood from an obviously stressed animal, has a part to play here.

In Psychology Sorted Book 1, we provide summaries of studies by Xu et al. (2015) and Stanton et al. (2015) which show how nonhuman animals may be used more ethically, to contrast with others such as Barr et al. (2004) and Weaver et al. (2004) which cause more stress to the animals used. These will help to keep your students more closely focused on the complexities of whether and how we should use nonhuman animals in psychological research.

Social networks are good for your health.


One of the options in IB Diploma Psychology is Health – how to stay healthy, the relationship between biology, cognition and health, and of course, how social factors affect our health. More and more psychologists are concluding that social support is one of the main factors in maintaining good mental and physical health.

A recent longitudinal study conducted into the effect of work stress on health found that men with pre-existing diseases like heart disease, stroke or diabetes who also had stressful jobs with little control over their workload were at a much higher risk of mortality. (Interestingly, there was no similar relationship found between stress at work, heart conditions and early death in women – maybe female social networks are more protective?)

The Guardian summarised these results: “Men…who experienced job strain had a 68% greater risk of premature death than men in more manageable jobs. A greater risk remained even when the men exercised, controlled their weight and blood pressure, and did not smoke.”  It is therefore no use telling men under stress  who have a pre-existing heart condition to get out and exercise more and not smoke, unless we also provide social support, teach positive coping mechanisms, and encourage employers to provide more flexible working hours.

This would provide a good introduction to the Determinants of Health section of the Health option.  In Psychology Sorted Book 2, we summarise Haslam et al’s study into the tendency to underestimate the role of social factors in ill-health, and to also underestimate the ability of social support to keep us healthy. So, be social and stay healthy!


Book 2 out now! Free Theory of Mind sample studies below.

We’ve done it!  Click here to order your copy of Psychology Sorted Book 2. And just to thank you all for your patience, I am writing this blog on one of 0. FINAL. front.2the most frequently-asked questions: ‘What is Theory of Mind?’  Of course, I am including studies from the new book, so you can see how helpful our  text will be when teaching Psychology.

THEORY OF MIND is investigated when studying development.  It is a developmental process linked to empathy, and exam questions on the topic will take the form of ‘Discuss the development of empathy and/or theory of mind.’  The slight difference between empathy and theory of mind is that empathy seems to be emotionally driven, and  theory of mind is cognitive. Theory of mind is understanding what others think, and thus being able to predict their behaviour, while empathy is identifying others’ emotions and being able to identify with these. It develops in parallel with theory of mind, and the two seem to depend on each other. Links can be seen here with Piaget, who believed that taking the position of others takes place in the pre-operational stage (before 7 years old), and Hughes, who argued that with the correct task design, this could be shown much earlier.

By 4 years old a child knows that what they see and believe may not be the same as what others see and believe. Three useful studies that test for the presence of Theory of Mind, which can all be found in the book, are:

Baron-Cohen et al._1985– who used a false-belief test (the Sally-Anne task) to investigate whether or not children with autistic spectrum disorder have theory of mind. While there have been criticisms of the study, not least because it has since been shown that many of these children do indeed possess theory of mind, it is a classic in design.

Repacholi and Gopnik_1997 – studied children between 14 mths and 18 mths old, to see when they could identify that others’ wishes were different from their own.  The younger children would offer a researcher crackers instead of broccoli, because crackers were what the they liked, even though the researcher had already shown disgust at the crackers.  However, the slightly older children, once they saw that the researcher liked the broccoli, would offer that, even though they themselves didn’t like it.

Alison Gopnik was also part of a study investigating a possible gender difference in development of empathy.  See the hilarious film clip below.

Finally, a more recent study by Cowell et al._(2015) found that pre-school children with theory of mind were less willing to share their resources than children of the same age without theory of mind. So, it seems that understanding how another is feeling is not enough to make you feel empathy with them.

Antagonists – what do they do?

dementia-3761172_640Antagonists are any chemicals that fit into receptor sites on the post-synaptic neuron, inhibiting the neuron from firing. Well-known antagonists for serotonin, which we looked at in the previous blog post, are anti-psychotic drugs like Clozapine, which acts on the HT2A serotonin receptors to decrease the effects of serotonin in the brain. Many ant-psychotic drugs also act as antagonists for dopamine, as an excess of both dopamine and serotonin has been associated with schizophrenia.

However, easy-to-understand studies referencing this effect of Clozapine are difficult to come by, so while this is useful knowledge for students on how anti-psychotic medication works, when teaching about antagonists there is more available research on the effects of scopolamine on acetylcholine, and hence on memory.  (And incidentally on motion sickness, as scopolamine is excellent at preventing nausea and vomiting!)

Scopolamine acts by blocking the acetylcholine receptors, specifically the muscarinic receptors (see the link below). Atri et al (2004)  reported how blocking the muscarinic acetylcholine receptors (mAChRs), by injecting scopolamine impairs learning of paired words.

As an age-related deterioration in cognitive function is thought to be predominantly related to a decline in cholinergic neurotransmission (relating to nerve cells in which acetylcholine acts as a neurotransmitter), scopolamine administration has often been used to model dementia. Scopolamine has therefore been extensively used for preclinical and clinical testing of treatments for cognitive impairment.  For example, Tröster et al (2013) found that scopolamine negatively affected anterograde short-term memory and verbal and nonverbal learning in middle-aged men.

Agonists – what are they?


Biological psychology has come to the fore over the past years.  The mapping of the human genome combined with improved brain-scanning techniques has meant that the biological correlation to psychological conditions is more easily identifiable, and it is clear that many mental disorders like major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia are explainable through a gene x environment interaction.  This usually means that an inherited genetic pre-disposition to a disorder, or a certain behaviour or addiction is triggered environmentally.

Talking of genes takes us to neurotransmitters.  How? Genes make proteins which make neurotransmitters and genes also transport neurotransmitters across the synapse. (See Caspi et al._2003 and the 5HTTR serotonin transporter gene).  Neurotransmitters are agonists –they bind with receptor sites on the post-synaptic neuron and cause an action potential.  Drugs are also agonists that act in the same way, but they are not natural in our nervous system.  Neurotransmitters are known as endogenous agonists (internal agonists); drugs, or any chemicals taken into the body, to deliberately stimulate a certain neurotransmitter or group of neurotransmitters, are exogenous agonists (external agonists).

An exogenous agonist for serotonin is MDMA (Ecstasy).  It works by binding with the serotonin transporter genes and also with the receptor sites, temporarily increasing the serotonin in the synapse in the neocortex (part of the cerebral cortex), the amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus, affecting cognitions such as memory and perceptions, as well as mood. We party!

However, studies have suggested that there is a rebound effect, whereby damage to the serotonin transporters after several doses of MDMA over a period of a few days has resulted in an ultimate decrease of serotonin in the brain, and memory and mood impairment, leading to theories that this might be linked to a motivation to take more and eventually to possible addiction. (See McCann et al MDMA and memory).

Of course, the opposite to an agonist is…an antagonist, which will be the subject of the next blog post.