Evolution calling….aquatic apes and religious chimps…..

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Atavism is a term to describe usually biological attributes which have no modern day function but are still if only partially, present as so-called ‘evolutionary throwbacks’.

These ” traits  such as ear wiggling, the appendix, the tail bone and even the ‘goosebump‘ response are all examples of such historical atavistic mechanisms that give us an insight into our past…..

But what about behaviour? To what extent are our current behavioural responses’atavistic’? How much of our ‘instinctual behaviours’ determined from our evolutionary past? The stress response is one of the most researched in terms of the ‘fight or flight‘ response, but how much more of our behaviour is influenced by such factors?

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Mammalian Diving Reflex

The mammalian diving reflex allows humans, although more prominently in young children and even babies, to hold their breath underwater for long periods of time (compared to above water).  When the face feels cold water (below 21 degrees), there is an involuntary physiological response from the body to reduce oxygen consumption as a survival mechanism.  The heart slows, blood flow is reduced to the hands and feet and at even greater depths the lungs are allowed to flood to help equalise pressure to increase survival.

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The mammalian diving reflex has caused some to examine the aquatic ape hypothesis, which says that the common ancestors of modern humans spent time adapting to life underwater. The hypothesis is based on the differences between humans and other great apes, and similarities between humans and some aquatic mammals. The theory uses many human functions to support the claims including hair loss, hair location, the subcutaneous fat on babies, the descended larynx, the hooded nose, voluntary breath control, the waxy coating on newborns, and the mammalian diving reflex.                                                                                                                              http://listverse.com/

The rise of religion in Chimpanzees

Recent footage released of chimps exhibiting what is described as ‘bizarre behaviour’ (throwing rocks at trees),  have been used to attempt to explain ritualistic behaviour in early humans that may have developed into religious activity.

This represents the first record of repeated observations of individual chimpanzees exhibiting stone tool use for a purpose other than extractive foraging at what appear to be targeted trees,” the researchers write in their abstract.

“The ritualised behavioural display and collection of artefacts at particular locations observed in chimpanzee accumulative stone throwing may have implications for the inferences that can be drawn from archaeological stone assemblages and the origins of ritual sites.

Cited from an article in the Independent  by Andrew Griffin Friday 4 March 2016

The work of Desmond Morris

Desmond Morris  explored  questions regarding the evolutionary aspects of humanity and more in his books and documentaries spanning the last decades of the twentieth century.

“Everywhere I go, I’m struck by how similar human beings are to one another in all important respects. Of course, there are many superficial differences and these are often so impressive that we pay too much attention to them and start treating one another as if we belong to different species — with disastrous results. But despite all our variations in costume, ritual and belief, biologically we’re all astonishingly close to one another — a fact that I find very reassuring.” ~ Desmond Morris

Further reading

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The Psychology of Magic….Would you wear Hitler’s jumper?

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‘How was that done?’ the question we have all asked after witnessing a card trick or some other form of conjuring or illusion.  We know it isn’t actual magic and that the illusionist, conjurer or magician has somehow manipulated our assumptions of what is going on with the intention to produce the desired effect.  However  such processes of misdirection mixed with genuine skill can be truly mind-blowing!  Derren Brown, Dynamo, Penn and Teller and world famous in their ‘abilities’.

However can Psychology help us understand some of the key elements to our magical experiences and is the truth stranger than the  fiction?  How can Asch’s research or Loftus’ help us understand how the impact of the illusion can be heightened.

Listen to the episode of ‘All in the Mind’ to find out how Psychology helps us understand how some of these effects work.

The Psychology of Magical Thinking

Magical thinking is something slightly different. In 1890, the anthropologist JMagical thinking and superstitionames George Frazer described “magical” contagion, which seems to permeate societies around the world. Magical thinking is how we make false associations (or superstitions) that can form beliefs and impact the way we view our world and change our behaviour.  This can impact all areas of our thinking but one of the most observable is in the area of Health Psychology, in particular, Sympathetic magical beliefs of which there are two ‘laws’-  Contagion and Similarity. On of the strongest magical beliefs is that ‘everything happens for a reason‘.

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The Law of Contagion –Would you wear  Hitler’s jumper?

The ‘Law of Contagion’ is an example of  magical thinking.  It is the belief once two objects or individuals have been in contact that a magical link persists between the two, in essence, once in contact, always in contact’.  Would you wear Hitler’s jumper? is a question posed by psychologist  Paul Rozin to allow people to test the strength of their own magical belief.  Many report a feeling of discomfort at the idea, worried that some essence of the previous owner may in some way contaminate them.   In health behaviour, magical thinking can relate to many situations, for example, individuals visiting someone with HIV or Cancer and them not wanting to shake hands or even use the same pen in fear of them becoming ‘infected’.

Thought Experiment; Would you be happy to drink recycled water?

However, these beliefs can produce powerful comfort in the objects once possessed by loved ones that something of them still remains and these possessions are often cited as those that are most precious to us.    Consider the ‘One ring‘ in Lord of the Rings or the ‘Horcruxes’ in Harry Potter, both set within the world of magic and fantasy yet reinforcing a belief that is very much observable in everyday life.

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Comedian Richard Herring, grew a toothbrush moustache to attempt to break the strong association with Adolf Hitler. There is obviously nothing evil about the style of moustache, but would its association with Hitler still make the wearer less trustworthy, less honest or even evil, like the one ring would it have its own evil agenda?

The moustache made him so paranoid about what judgements people were making that he shaved it off after the first week.”As people passed they would start laughing about five yards behind me. A group of lads called me ‘Adolf’. I haven’t had any sense of anger but I think some people were intimidated or scared.”

“I thought that at any moment someone might smack me in the face. I was being judged by my appearance and being a white, middle-class man I’ve never looked to draw attention to myself before.

“I felt quite afraid and a bit upset. Then I wondered if I was upsetting anyone, and was it worth it if I had done.”

  BBC News

The Law of Similarity 

The Law of similarity suggests that two objects that resemble each other share the same fundamental properties.  Consider how a historic Malay custom, similar to that of a Voodoo doll, works which incorporates the fashioning of a doll in the image of an individual (similarity) incorporated with actual hair and fingernails of the person (contagion) which then is believed to hold the ‘essence’ of that person.

The APA published research in 2003 investigating how people can mistakenly claim authorship of occurrences–believing, for example, that they cause a disliked person’s headache when they prick a voodoo doll.

The law of similarity has two distinct notions, ‘like causes like’ which is the basis of homoeopathic medicine and ‘appearance causes reality’ the view that if something looks like something else that they share the same properties, is it rational to fear a picture of  shark, for example?

Rozin et al (86) conducted research on 50 subjects investigating variations of both the law of contagion and similarity.  He found people didn’t want to eat fudge that was presented like dog faeces (similarity),  and participants are less accurate at throwing darts at pictures of people they like. How about a participant labelling a bottle themselves with the word ‘cyanide’ and then showing great reluctance to drink water from it?  Rozin also tested whether particip[ants would drink from a vessel that had contained a dead ‘sterilised’ cockroach as it can be imagined the results were conclusive.

In regards to the recycled water question posed earlier, In the first series of studies, Rozinasked adults in five cities about their backgrounds, their political and personal views, and, most important, their view on the concept of “recycled water.” On average, everyone was uncomfortable with the idea—even when they were told that treated, recycled water is actually safer to drink than unfiltered tap water. That discomfort, Rozin found, was all about disgust. Twenty-six per cent of participants were so disgusted by the idea of toilet-to-tap that they even agreed with the statement, “It is impossible for recycled water to be treated to a high enough quality that I would want to use it.” They didn’t care what the safety data said. Their guts told them that the water would never be drinkable. It’s a phenomenon known as contagion, or, as Rozin describes it, “once in contact, always in contact.” By touching something we find disgusting, a previously neutral or even well-liked item can acquire—permanently—its properties of grossness. 

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http://www.newyorker.com/

Watch the video on magical thinking to see how powerful an effect it can be.

Further Reading

Rozin P, Millman L and Nemeroff C (1986) Operation in Laws of Sympathetic Magic in Disgust and other domains. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol 50 No 4 pp 703-712

Rozin, P and Nemeroff. (2002)  Sympathetic Magical Thinking:  The Contagion and Similarity Heuristics, The Psychology of Intuitive Judgement  pp 210-216

Experimenter – The Stanley Milgram Story

“The social psychology of this century reveals a major lesson: often it is not so much the kind of person a man is as the kind of situation in which he finds himself that determines how he will act.” –Stanley Milgram, 1974

asch-experimentOne of the most infamous psychological studies of all time was conducted in the early 1960’s by Staley Milgram.  Milgram was a student of Solomon E. Asch a Social Psychologist who believed our behaviour is strongly determined by the influence of others.  Asch showed with a simple line experiment that an individual can often go against the most obvious of decisions to  keep in with the group – this is referred to as majority influence and has implications for all areas of applied psychology including jury decision-making.

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Milgram’s work took a slightly different slant  rather than conformity as Asch had done, instead interested in the interpersonal interaction caused by an authority figure.  Creating a wholly artificial situation for unwitting participants, Milgram created a scenario where participants essentially were instructed to administer electric shocks to an individual (with an apparent heart condition), if they got a question wrong to a simple word pair exercise.  Predetermined verbal ‘prods’ were used by the experimenter…..’The experiment requires that you to continue…..’ and ‘Please go on.….’.

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Milgram was interested in how many participants would increase the intensity of the shocks – especially as they could hear the cries of pain as they administered the shocks. Milgram conducted research prior to the study asking many groups to predict the level of obedience in such a study.

The responses were highly consistent ‘maybe 1 in 1000’ and ‘only a sadist would complete the task‘.  Milgram reported 65% of the participants completed the task – probably the most shocking result of all.

Milgram’s research was deemed to be highly controversial and unethical, however, it was recently (2009) replicated – something that many thought would never occur.  In that study 63% of participants obeyed, a result strikingly similar to Milgram’s own.  Read the original study here.

Now the story of Milgram’s research has been transformed into a feature film.  A must see…..you must watch this…you have no choice….

The Clinical Psychology of Children and Young People

Edinburgh University are currently advertising some free online courses such as ‘The Clinical Psychology of Children and Young People‘.  Even though it doesn’t contribute to a formal qualification they are providing a verified statement of accomplishment (for a fee of around £32), the course run over for 6 hours per week and take from 1-3 hours.  Here are some of the outcomes they are offering;cours

  • Understand essential developmental processes and how they relate to child and adolescent mental health and well being
  • Understand key mental health difficulties that affect children and young people
  • Develop a critical reflection on the nature and perception of typical and atypical development and psychological difficulties
  • Understand and to critically examine the cultural and societal context for child and adolescent development and developmental psychopathology.

The University is also providing a range of other online programmes such as Mental Health: A global policy help develop a broader understanding of mental health and illness from a global perspective.  The Philosophy of Science is also being offered.

There are also a range on general and non-psychological courses running such as fundamentals of music and theory and the rather bespoke ‘Chicken behaviour and welfare‘.

For a full list click here.

Psychologists in focus; Kevin Dutton

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Dutton takes the view that we often miss what should be the obvious anomaly sidelined by the charm – But is it all smoke and fingers?

Kevin Dutton is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford.  He is specialises in the study of Psychopaths, but rather than the traditional forensic route Dutton takes interest how the ‘symptoms’ of psychopathy can have an advantage in a modern world that is fraught with stressors.  The psychopath often described as  having a selection of specific traits such as cunning and manipulativeness, lack of remorse or guilt, callousness and lack of empathy, charm, grandiose estimation of self, need for stimulation and pathological lying.  Not the best characteristics to put on a C.V.  It is included in the DSM under the classification of Antisocial Personality Disorder.   However in his book The Wisdom of Psychopaths Dutton discusses how these traits are rewarded in society particularly as resistance to stress where others feel the pressure, psychopaths are able to thrive. Self doubt and fear can impair decision making, the psychopath is arguably resistant to this – but would you want one as your boss?  Dutton is clear that this is far from the glorification of violent psychopaths (stating only a small minority of psychopaths are violent) rather acknowledging that the ‘spectrum of psychopathy‘ which all people can be measured and the right characteristics in the right circumstances can be a force for good – hence his term ‘the good psychopath‘.

Here is a quote from Dutton’s book the Wisdom of  Psychopaths, from James Geraghty cited as one of the UK’s leading neurosurgeons.

I have no compassion for those whom I operate on. That is a luxury I simply cannot afford. In the theatre I am reborn: as a cold, heartless machine, totally at one with scalpel, drill and saw. When you’re cutting loose and cheating death high above the snowline of the brain, feelings aren’t fit for purpose. Emotion is entropy, and seriously bad for business. I’ve hunted it down to extinction over the years.”

Do we need people like this in such high stakes roles where emotion maybe a hindrance rather than a help?  Or is compassion an essential characteristic that allows a surgeon to consider the long term impact of their work?

In fact jobs that Psychopaths are believed to flourish in are;

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1. CEO
2. Lawyer
3. Media (Television/Radio)
4. Salesperson
5. Surgeon
6. Journalist
7. Police officer
8. Clergy person
9. Chef
10. Civil servant

here’s the list of occupations with the lowest rates of psychopathy:

1. Carer
2. Nurse
3. Therapist
4. Craftsperson
5. Beautician/Stylist
6. Charity worker
7. Teacher
8. Creative artist
9. Doctor
10. Accountant

At what age can psychopathy develop?  A recent study in the journal of abnormal child psychology argues that reliable cues of psychopathy can be observed as young as the age of 3 and in some cases younger.

 “We essentially found that preschoolers that show impaired development of conscience are deficient in how they process emotions, similar to what we find in older adolescent and adult populations with the same problems. These children are poorer at recognising other people’s emotional expressions, and images depicting others in distress don’t capture their attention like it does for typically developing children as young as age three,” Dr Kimonis

Read an article reviewing the ideas here from the Independent.  

Could you spot a Psychopath?  Take the test here.

An online study with over 2 1/2 million British participants found the following results relating to psychopathic tendencies.

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Dutton discusses how Psychopaths process ethical dilemmas differently.

Follow Kevin Dutton on twitter

The rise of the anti-psychiatry movement; Szasz, Laing and Rosenhan- ‘The Normal Are Not Detectably Sane’.

“Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colours, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity.”

Herman Melville – Author (Billy Budd, Moby Dick)

The 1960’s and 1970’s were a huge time for social and political change.  One such change that was at the very core of the Psychological community was the role of psychiatry.  Psychiatry  attempts to diagnose and treat mental health conditions but at the very heart there is still a raging argument today about what can be considered normal and thus define abnormality in particular the dangers that can arise from the medicalisation of normal experience.  Is psychiatry there to help or has it now or historically had a more sinister agenda, to control people through stigmatisation?

If you talk to God, you are praying;
If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.

–Thomas S. Szasz, The Second Sin, Anchor/Doubleday, Garden City, NY. 1973, p. 113.

Thomas Szasz is central to what is known as the anti-psychiatry movement which took the view that Psychiatry was a form of dangerous social control. Watch the video below to hear him briefly discussing his views on  psychiatry.

As part of the British Anti-Psychiatry movement R.D. Laing  shared the concerns of Szasz, taking the view from a more existentialist perspective providing case studies of schizophrenia rather than traditional  ‘flawed’  notions such as psychoanalysis or behaviourist perspectives in his famous text ‘The divided self’  in 1960.  Watch the video of Laing below.

David Rosenhan was present and inspired by Laing at one of his lectures.  Could there be experimental evidence to support the view that psychiatrists were unable to distinguish ‘Sane from insane’?  Thus leading to one of the most important studies of all time.  Read the original study by Rosenhan here.

Watch the video below for an overview of the study.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 published by the APA is arguably the most influential text in mental health.  It is used almost exclusively within the USA (most of the rest of the world use the ICD 10 published by the World Health Organisation and the Chinese have the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders CCMD -3).  Review this document that discusses the history and provides an overview for all classification systems used. 

Did Psychiatry heed the warnings of Rosenhan?  Read and listen to the links from Tea Break Psychology 2

 

read an overview of the study with a critique/evaluation of Rosenhan’s conclusions. here.

The 1975 film ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest‘ dealt with many of the themes that Rosenhan and the anti-psychiatry movement were interested, it was very much a film of its time. Provocative, insightful and very well observed it still stands as one of the best films of the 20th century.

Here is a statement from the APA regarding the DSM 5

What was the process that led to the new manual?

The APA prepared for the revision of DSM for nearly a decade, with an unprecedented process of research evaluation that included a series of white papers and 13 scientific conferences supported by the National Institutes of Health. This preparation brought together almost 400 international scientists and produced a series of monographs and peer-reviewed journal articles.

The DSM-5 Task Force and Work Groups, made up of more than 160 world-renowned clinicians and researchers, reviewed scientific literature and garnered input from a breadth of advisors as the basis for proposing draft criteria.

The APA Board of Trustees, which approved the final criteria for DSM-5 on Dec. 1, appointed a Scientific Review Committee of mental health experts to review and provide guidance on the strength of evidence of proposed changes. The Scientific Review Committee evaluated the strength of the evidence based on a specific template of validators. In addition, a Clinical and Public Health Committee reviewed proposed revisions to address difficulties experienced with the clinical utility, consistency and public health impact of DSM-IV criteria.

Read an article here on the current DSM 5 F.A.Q from the APA

And finally….a more individualised view on the difficulties and dangers of labelling people based upon subjective criteria…

 

 

 

 

Falsifiability as a scientific criterion; Was Freud really the enemy of science?

Science isn’t a subject, it is a process, a methodology for inquiry and developing knowledge and understanding.  But what counts as a science?  What criteria, what check-list is there to know if a subject can be counted as a science and having testable theories?

Essentially,  replicability- to repeatedly yield precise results using a highly controlled methodology to infer cause and effect from testable predictions. A theory should be simplistic in terms of its unification of explanation (Psychology has a multitude of paradigms that are contradictory- consider the social and physiological approaches). Theories should be falsifiable, the notion that whilst there may be evidence for them they just have not  been disproved…….yet.  This was classically illustrated by David Hume, “No amount of observations of white swans can allow the inference that all swans are white, but the observation of a single black swan is sufficient to refute that conclusion.”  Often referred to as the induction fallacy.

Psychology has a vested interest in this argument as it is often viewed by the ‘pure sciences’ as wishy -washy, ‘let’s just sit around and talk about our feelings kind of subject.’  However, many of those in Psychological research would take the view that they have just as an equal right to be considered as a science – however with the paradox of having to ‘prove’ its worth, Psychology suffering from an inferiority complex on a collective level.   An interesting article in the Guardian explores some of the finer point further here.

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hypothetico-deductive model

The in joke to summarise this view is that Psychology has been suffering from ‘Physics envy’.  A play on words of a Freudian concept that is used to exemplify the position of Psychology.  Freud and the Psychodynamic approach has been the perspective in Psychology which has been the material used most effectively to reinforce this point.   Philosopher Karl Popper has been attributed with being the most vocal on his views particularly on Freud.  The scientific process is now based on the hypothetico-deductive model  Popper (1935).  Popper suggested that theories/laws about the world should come first and these should be used to generate expectations/hypotheses which can be falsified by observations and experiment.

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Have a watch of this insightful video which discusses the Psychodynamic approach and other examples of methods used within the history of psychology that are examples of a non-scientific approach.  The answer to the question posed to the beginning of the post?………. history will answer yes.  Psychologist researching in Universities tend to work from a multidisciplinary perspective collaborating on research rather than working in isolation from a specific approach and taking a more applied stance.  Here is an example of what modern psychological research looks like....a long way from the Freudian model often wrongly considered to be the remaining foundations of the subject.

Freewill Vs Determinism; irrational decision making…..how a warm drink can manipulate your thoughts and other priming influences.

In the previous post, a link was created to provide some information on the cognitive bias- how are thoughts tend to be irrational and not based upon cost/benefit analysis as some cognitive models hypothesise. How rational are humans? To what extent do we choose our destiny or more importantly to what extent can our behaviour be influenced  by unconscious ‘nudges’, that makes it seem like we chose something when in fact we didn’t – how do you even measure such an effect? Showmen like Derren Brown use this grey area to provide simple but high impact effects such as priming.

The following BBC documentary shows how the science of decision-making shows us free will is something more scarce than most of us think.