Could a fear of spiders, snakes (or even orcs) actually be an inherited defence mechanism laid down in a family’s genes by an ancestors’ frightening encounter with one of these terrifying beasts?
New research suggests that memories can be passed down through the generations as a result of chemical changes in DNA that allow offspring to inherit the experience of their ancestors. The research, carried out by Brian Dias and Kerry Ressler and published this week in the journal Nature Neuroscience may offer an insight into how phobias can develop.
Scientists have long assumed that memories and learned experiences built up during an individual’s lifetime must be passed on by teaching later generations or through social learning.
However, Dias and Ressler found that mice can pass on learned information about traumatic or stressful experiences to subsequent generations through their DNA.
They trained mice to fear the smell of cherry blossom using electric shocks before allowing them to breed. Their offspring also showed fearful responses to the odour of cherry blossom compared to a neutral odour, despite never having encountered either of these odours before.
The following generation of mice also showed the same behaviour and the effect continued even if the mice had been fathered through artificial insemination.
The researchers discovered structural changes in areas of the brain used to detect the odour in those mice that had been trained and also in their offspring. The DNA of these mice also carried chemical changes on the gene responsible for detecting the odour, suggesting that experiences had somehow been transferred from the brain into the genome, allowing them to be passed on to later generations.
Dias and Ressler now hope to explore whether similar effects can be seen in the genes of humans.
Memory website Memrise suggests that pictures of cats can help people who a learning a foreign language to remember new vocabulary. If you are familiar with Memrise, you’ll know that it asks users to provide images to help encode new memories. Memrise’s research into what images were most effective in helping people remember (visual mnemonics) showed that cats featured disproportionately amongst the highest rated mnemonics. This has led Memrise to develop Cat Academy, which uses images of cute cats to build memories of Spanish words and phrases.
The Complete Companions series has, of course, long been associated with cute cats at AS (and noble hounds at A2), and we’ve continued this trend with our latest recruit, Maisie: the cover cat for our forthcoming AS Psychology The Revision Companion title. So what is it that makes cats so effective as visual memory-boosters? While some experts talk of cuteness, the Psychology Blog would suggest that the inscrutable wisdom of our feline friends carries with it the opportunity for catastrophic loss of dignity – a terrific combination, and very memorable.
The reports offer the usual excellent exam skills advice for students, and there is an especially useful section at the start of the Unit 2 report about command terms, answering the question asked and where and where not to write on the exam paper.
Another useful comment (this time from PSYA1, Q4):
’It was evident that students usually scored better marks where they outlined one or two research studies accurately and in reasonable detail, rather than when they outlined several studies less accurately’.
All in the Mind – Radio 4′s programme about psychology and psychiatry – had an episode on 19/11/13 about psychology research and the contributions it makes to our day-to-day lives. The programme is 25 minutes long and you can download it from iPlayer. Here are a few questions the programme considers:
is psychology just about ‘researching the bleeding obvious’?
has introducing psychology as a school subject led to there being more women in science?
how has psychology influenced politics?
why don’t psychologists give straight answers?
is neuroscience taking over from psychology?
Perhaps the most useful part of the programme for AS students is about the use of EWT research and use of the cognitive interview. This section starts at 20 mins 30 secs.
An early CT scanner at the Science Museum (image Robin van Mourik, Flickr )
The Science Museum’s ‘Mind Maps’ exhibition opens on the 10th of December. Sponsored by the BPS, this looks to be a fascinating survey of key discoveries about the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions, from the 18th century to the present. The exhibition is free and runs for 9 months.
We’re excited to reveal the cover for Psychology AS: The Revision Companion for AQA A, featuring Maisie, the winner of our Cover Cat Competition. Publishing in early 2014 in response to teacher feedback, Cara Flanagan and Mike Cardwell’s newest title contains expert guidance on interpreting and answering exam questions alongside write-in activities for both independent and classroom-based learning. The book’s unique combination of differentiated information and exam skill practice will help students understand how to achieve their full potential.
To see it for yourself, please email Fiona McCollum (email@example.com) for an inspection copy. The book is also available for pre-order on Amazon now.
A recent study by Stein et al. (2013) supports the NICHD (1991) study (page 68 of the AS textbook) that children who spent more time in day care centres when they were very young were more likely to have behaviour problems when they started school.
This longitudinal study recruited 991 families with a 3 month old child. All the mothers involved were over 16 (the average age was 30). The researchers carried out direct observations of the childcare provided by the mothers, plus direct observations of the care received by those children who went to day care or a childminder. When the children started school (when they were around four and a half years old), both their mothers and their teachers completed questionnaires about their behaviour.
Children who had more group care in day care were rated as having more behaviour problems (e.g. hyperactivity) than those who had home care, by both their teachers and their mothers. But they had fewer problems interacting with their peers. Children who had more care with a childminder were more likely to have problems interacting with their peers – but they were more likely to help others (called ‘prosocial behaviour’).
The strongest and most consistent influences on behaviour and emotional problems were found to come from the home environment and were related to socio-demographic status (the lower the status, worse the behaviour), maternal caregiving, parental stress/maternal mental health problems, as well as child gender – boys’ behaviour being more likely to cause problems at home and school. Non-parental daycare had only a small impact compared to these factors.
Many thanks to vick_the_chick for a comment about our diagram of the multi-store model on p. 24 of the AS Complete Companion. Cara and Mike have clarified the status of rehearsal. You can see their changes in these two pdfs: one for page 24 and one for page 26.
‘Stress Shoot’ exercise, from The U.S. Army’s Photostream (Flickr)
Hardiness helps people resist many of the harmful effects of stress on daily life. So should UK students be trained in hardiness? Dr Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, speaking at last week’s Positive Education Summit at Wellington College, says they should. He thinks techniques designed by the US Army to mentally prepare soldiers for war could also help students develop mental fortitude.
Over 2,000 US Army drill sergeants attend Dr Seligman’s course on positive psychology each year, with the idea being that they then pass on what they have learned within their battalions to help reduce the impact of post-traumatic stress. The course is based on Dr Seligman’s PERMA model: Positive Emotion (P), Engagement (E), positive Relationships (R), Meaning (M) and Accomplishment (A).
Becoming aware of one’s negative thoughts and then challenging them is at the heart of the positive psychology approach. Some critics of the approach think this may lead to unrealistic views of life, to denial about problems and to an inability to reflect objectively on what has gone wrong and how to put it right.
As A Level Psychology students will know, research on the hardy personality is based on the fact that within any population of highly stressed people, some of the people appear to be able to deal with stress better than the others. For example, in Kobasa’s study of stressed US business executives, some executives had lower illness records than others, although their SRRS scores were equally high. So can this hardiness, or emotional resilience, be taught? And if it can, should it be?