Planning your course effectively – the biological approach and development

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The biological approach to children’s cognitive development is well-established, as it seems obvious that learning must be directly related to neurogenesis (growth of new synapses connecting neurons) and neural pruning (‘cutting back’ of synapses no longer needed).  But of course this development through neuroplasticity requires not only good nutrition and nurturing to prevent injury, but also social stimulation, so a lot of research has looked at how trauma and deprivation may affect the cognitive development of the child, by delaying or preventing brain development in crucial areas like the hippocampus and amygdala.

The techniques used to study the brain and neuroplasticity topics under the biological approach can be successfully taught using material from the developing as a learner and the influences on social and cognitive development topics within the developmental psychology option. Recommended studies are Chugani’s (1998) PET scans of children from birth to late adolescence; Gotgay et al’s (2004) longitudinal study mapping brain development using MRI scanning; Luby et al’s (2013) research into the effects of poverty on the brain and the mediating effect of caregiving.

More help with planning is coming in the following weeks!

References (summaries of these studies can be found in Psychology Sorted Book 2):

Chugani, H. T. (1998). A critical period of brain development: studies of cerebral glucose utilization with PET. Preventive Medicine, 27(2), pp. 184-188.

Gotgay, G., Giedd, J., Lusk, L., Hayashi, K., Greenstein, D.et al. (2004). Dynamic Mapping of Human CorticalDevelopment During Childhood Through Early Adulthood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101(21), pp. 8174-8179.

Luby, J., Belden, A., Botteron, K., Marrus, N., Harms, M. P., Babb, C.,et al. (2013). The effects of poverty on childhood brain development: the mediating effect of caregiving and stressful life events. JAMA Pediatrics, 167(12), pp. 1135-1142.

 

Social networks are good for your health.

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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.

Research from Psychology Sorted: Social Identity Theory

sitHow we develop our social identity is still a hot topic today, and for those of you studying the effect of technologies, especially social media, on social identity, there is a developing literature on the subject.  But we should start with the classic minimal groups paradigm from Tajfel (1971), found in our new book Psychology Sorted, as it is still so relevant today.

The predominant 1960s theory of social identity formation came from Sherif et al.’s (1961) study which led to the development of his 1966 realistic conflict theory that competition for scarce resources is the foundation for group (social) identity, and also one cause of conflict. Think of the worldwide competition for water and oil on a large scale and maybe sporting competitions on a smaller scale. Why do you think that schools have ‘houses’, ‘sporting colours’, ‘house badges’?

However, Tajfel’s research contradicted this, demonstrating that only minimal conditions were necessary for group identity to form: his experiment randomly allocated schoolboys to two groups.  The boys thought they had been allocated their group according to their preference for a painting by either Klee or Kandinsky, but this was a deception and the allocation was random. This perception of belonging to a certain group was enough for boys to show in-group favouritism when allocating virtual money via a complex matrix of rules.  The minimal groups paradigm formed the basis of Tajfel and Turner’s social identity theory, which remains a powerful explanation of in-group favouritism and out-group discrimination.

The three sequential steps Tajfel & Turner (1979) deemed necessary for social identity to form are:

  • social categorisation – we understand that people (and things) can be grouped
  • social identification – we identify with a group
  • social comparison – we compare ourselves favourably with another group

Social comparison underlies stereotyping, gang fights (though these can also be seen as competition for scarce resources), between-class competitions, girl/boy competition, online identities…how many more can you think of?

Tajfel’s theory can be used extensively in the curriculum, from his lab experiments in the 1970s (research methods), to an argument for the formation of stereotypes (sociocultural approach), to an explanation of how competition and maybe even conflict is generated in human relationships, to how images are cultivated socially on Snapchat, Instagram and (amongst us oldies) Facebook for cognitive psychology.  This is an example of a classic theory that can be easily accessed through Psychology Sorted.

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.

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