According to a recent article on the Guardian’s ‘Note’s and Theories’ section, approximately 10 million people in the UK are believed to have some form of phobia: that’s out of a total UK population of 64 million. (I would tell you what percentage that was but I have a fear of calculating statistics.)
The vast majority of those phobias are not causing these people to visit their GPs or report them in any other way (so the 10 million figure is an estimate and we don’t know from the Guardian what this estimate is based on), but for some people their phobias cause them to make significant changes in the way they live their lives. The NHS lists the top ten phobias in the UK (from a survey by Anxiety UK) as:
social phobia – fear of interacting with other people
agoraphobia – fear of open public spaces
emetophobia – fear of vomiting
erythrophobia – fear of blushing
driving phobia – fear of driving
hypochondria – fear of illness
aerophobia – fear of flying
arachnophobia – fear of spiders
zoophobia – fear of animals
claustrophobia – fear of confined spaces.
The new AQA A Level specification puts phobias together with the behavioural approach to psychology, in which we learn about (amongst other things) the two-process model as an explanation for why phobias develop, and systematic desensitisation (SD) as a technique for treating phobias. This Guardian article is mostly about using virtual reality SD techniques as a way of treating phobias that are difficult to recreate in other ways – for example the phobias for public speaking or flying. What is good about phobias, in virtual reality terms, is that the simulation doesn’t need to be entirely realistic because the parts of the brain that produce the initial anxiety – the insula and amygdala – pick up on any trigger relating to the feared situation: a waggly, spidery leg is enough for someone with arachnophobia.
As we know, many people can relate their phobias directly to personal experience – they were once sick on a train, for example, and now they are worried about being sick every time they go on a train. Others pick up fears from the media even if they have not had a bad experience themselves – this is common for those with aerophobia. But for around one third of sufferers, the cause of their phobia is not known. It might be that they have simply forgotten it – perhaps it happened when they were very young. However, this Guardian article offers another possible explanation which might be useful for those evaluating the behavioural approach to phobias:
‘While there is currently no evidence that this occurs in humans, research involving animal models suggests the effect of traumatic experiences can be passed from the brain to the genome and inherited by future generations. Scientists found that the offspring of mice conditioned to experience fear when exposed to a particular odour became fearful when they were exposed to the same smell.’
The new AQA spec (soon to be approved, we hear) includes, at A Level, ‘ways of studying the brain: scanning techniques, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)’. This YouTube video gives a functional, magnetic and resonant view of what fMRI involves and what its results look like in practice.
The AQA spec is concerned with the appropriateness and effectiveness of ways of studying the brain, and this clip could be useful for showing how fMRI works well for comparing brains between different types of people (in this case people in vegetative states with people who are not), and is effective in picking up changes in the brain at the superficial level (the motor cortex in this case).
The clip then goes on to look at a brain scan produced by diffusion tensor imagining (DTI), which is a magnetic resonance imaging technique but students need to be clear that these DTI images are not produced by fMRI. DTI images white matter structures in the brain through measurements of water diffusion, fMRI images changes in brain activity through changes in the supply of blood to brain tissues.
Judit Lőcsei-Campbell contacted Cara to let us know her students spotted a discrepancy between the current (third) edition of The Complete Companion student book (AQA A) and the previous (second) edition.
While the second edition says (on page 35) that Yarmey (1993) found no significant differences in the accuracy of recall that could be attributed to the age group of the witnesses, we have changed that for the third edition where the text reads (also page 35): ‘There were significant differences in the accuracy of recall also – the oldest group was inferior to the other two groups in terms of accuracy of recall.’
So what happened? The error in the second edition came from the abstract to the original article, which you can read here. It was only when our authors rechecked the original article itself that they discovered the error, which is why we have made that correction for the third edition.
As Cara says, ‘getting research right is not always easy as there are many Chinese whispers – Mike and I try as far as possible to consult original papers’.
Thanks very much to Judit and her students for giving us this opportunity to explain the reason for this change.
Identical twins – helping research methods stay ethical
An excellent article on the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog considers why it is so difficult to establish cause and effect in studies of links between intelligence and education. One difficulty is that it is not ethical to remove one randomly-selected group of children from education to test what happens to their intelligence levels in later life. Another is that genetic differences between children may have as much to do with later differences in their IQ scores as the education they receive. Again, it seems unlikely that psychologists will consider it ethical (or practical) to clone children in order to remove this genetic influence from research on education and intelligence.
Such is the ingenuity of psychologists, however, that studies have tackled both these difficulties without unethical methods being resorted to. So for example, identical twins have pretty much 100% genetic similarity, so any differences in reading ability between twins should be due to differing environmental influences.
The difficulty then comes in establishing what those differing environmental influences are. The researchers writing the article could identify an effect, but could only speculate on the possible causes – and all the possible alternative explanations for their findings. But they hope that by using twin-studies in this way, they are ‘edg[ing] further up the causal ladder, away from the basic correlational study’.
Our fabulous authors Cara Flanagan, Mike Cardwell, Ros Geillis and Mike Griffin have been VERY hard at work on the A Level Year 1/AS Complete Companion student book (Cara and Mike C) and Teacher’s Companion (Ros and Mike G), making sure they are the best resources possible to support the new AQA specification.
You can see two sample spreads from the new student book here and also two sample worksheets from the new Teacher’s Companion. These aren’t in their completely final form yet, but we hope you like what you see.
AQA’s new (draft) AS and A Level specifications feature Approaches in Psychology, where students learn about the contribution made to our understanding of human behaviour by psychologists and other individuals who probably secretly wished they were psychologists.
The behaviourist approach is a favourite of ours, especially operant conditioning as exemplified in this clip from The Big Bang Theory.
Results day has come and gone, and we hope with all our hearts here at the Psychology Blog that everyone who has just got their results will continue to get lots of interest and value out of your psychology knowledge and skills – either at school, if you are going into your second year, or in college or out in what psychologists tend to call the ‘real world’ (it isn’t noticeably realer, truth be told).
In this post we’ll take a first look at the results statistics for psychology this year. You can find the data at this link.
Compared to last year, psychology numbers have gone down from 56,088 candidates last year to 54,818 this year – a drop of 1,270
This is in the context of an overall drop in A Level candidate numbers of 17,000 students
The drop in psychology numbers was not as significant as that for other large-cohort A Level subjects like English (-4,000) or General Studies (-7,600)
Subjects seeing the biggest rises in numbers were biology, chemistry and physics. Maths saw an increase, but so did Religious Studies (both grew by about 800 candidates)
Psychology is the fourth largest A Level subject still, with chemistry nipping at our heels: 53,513 candidates so 2,575 candidates behind.
More analysis to follow once the boards have released their individual results statistics.
We hope it all went well and you got the results you wanted. Remember, its all because of your ability and effort. Mind you, if it didn’t…well, you can always blame your parents, after all you are a product of their genes!
Page 110 of the Research Methods Companion has a small but statistically very significant error: in the table for Step 3, the last value should be 0.3905 instead of 1.3905. We are very grateful to Kelly Bristow for bringing this typo to our attention and the corrected page is attached here: apologies for any chi-squared confusion that has resulted from this mistake.