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So seeing as we…

28 Apr

So seeing as we’ve been doing it in developmental I thought I’d blog on the hugely controversial case of David Reimer. This study isn’t as well known by none psychology people as say Zimbardo and Milgram. However I would put it on the same kind of shock level as both of these studies.

First off what was the study?  David (as he chose to later name himself) was born a boy but due to a botched circumcision spent the first 14 years of his life being brought up a girl. The man behind this idea? John Money. He was an expert in gender reassignments and confused at what to do with their son David’s parents asked him for help. His suggestion was, as said before, to fully castrate David and raise him as a girl. This provided an answer to the David’s parents but also a perfect opportunity for Money, the only catch was that David could never be told of his true sex. David was on one a set of identical twins. Money had created the opportunity to compare a set of twins of now different gender, he could now see if his theory was correct. David and his brother Brian were interviewed and followed throughout their childhood and for a while it seemed as if Money’s theory had been correct. However this was completely not the case. Brenda (David’s name when he was a girl) did not feel like a girl, she enjoyed to play games stereotypically that which a boy would play and hated to wear girly clothes. Money however did not want this and so set about to psychologically cement the idea that Brenda was a girl in her head. This led to some alleged behaviour that if happened is extremely unethical. Long story short. Brenda was pushed to the point where she threatened suicide if she ever had to see Money again and faced with this her parents decided to tell her the truth. This led to Brenda adopting her original gender, having reconstructive surgery and calling herself David.

Ok so ethically this study pretty much breaks every guideline in the book. The study itself started off entirely wrong. Money being the researcher and man behind the idea should have really had someone present that could monitor David to keep an eye on his emotional well-being. Psychologists have to protect participants in their studies and Money failed to this he was too involved with the theory he was trying to support to be able to maintain the objectivity needed to protect David. This is evidently shown in the allegations that David and his twin made that they were forced to act out sexual positions with each other as part of cementing the idea that David was a girl in his head. This is made even more important when the strain that such a thing put on the Reimer family is thought about; though it may not be the sole cause it could be argued that the experiment was a leading factor in the deaths of both David and his twin Brian. However some argue that because we discovered so much from the experiment about gender then the ends justify the means. The majority of what we learnt is that gender is definitely a case of nature and that gender cannot be nurtured. However what does this say about those that feel they have been born the wrong gender? The nature argument says if you are born a boy then that’s what you are but for those that are born boys but feel like they are a girl on the inside then where do they fall in the debate? And what can we take from Money’s study in relation to this? It could be argued that had the same experiment happened in today’s society then the results may have been different. Gender roles in the 60s were far more defined and separate from each other than they are now. David was forced not only into another gender but into the extreme of that gender, it may be that had he been brought up as a girl in the 20th century that he would never have felt so out of place. As in today’s society it is totally acceptable for girls to wear boyish clothes and to play with boys toys openly. He would just be labelled a tom boy and would have been readily accepted as such. However had the botched circumcision happened today hat with the advances in plastic surgery and reconstructive surgery there would have been other options for the Reimer family in comparison to when it actually happened when they had few options.

In conclusion no matter how ground breaking the findings of the David Reimer case the simple truth is that the study destroyed a family and ended in complete tragedy. This is a perfect case for me as to why the ethical guidelines are just so important, for me the end certainly do NOT justify the mean!

Could the process of gaining informed consent be changed?

25 Mar

This was inspired by one of the second years POPPS prepared speeches the other week. He concluded his speech with an idea I had never previously heard given on the topic of informed consent and that was this, though important it doesn’t necessarily need to be gained before the participant takes part in the study rather the study could be conducted using deception and the participant then gives their consent after the study has been done and the true aims of the study have been revealed during debriefing. This got me thinking is this possible? Is informed consent really there for the participant to say yes you can use my data or is it there for the protection of the participant? My conclusion? Well that’s what this blog is about.

On one hand you have the argument that as long as you thoroughly debrief the participant after the study has been conducted then it doesn’t really matter. Let’s take the classic debate topic in psychology- Milgram. In his study Milgram purposely deceived his participant, without the use of deception his study findings would have a) been completely different and b) been completely useless! Of the former participants from Milgrams original study 84% of them were glad or very glad to have taken part in the study. Milgrams study is possibly one of the most controversial studies to have been done (Zimbardo being another of course) and if the participants of that study felt that the stress of the study was totally worth the personal awakening they had (one participant became a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war because of what he learnt from taking part in the study) then there must be some merit to his methods. Yes the study was stressful for the participants (they believed they were actually giving electric shocks to another person) however the public and personal advancement that came as a result would not have happened had the ethical guidelines been in place at the time. This would have been a great misfortune for both the psychological field and the participants themselves.

Then on the other hand is the argument against the idea that the benefits outweigh the costs of an experiment. The purpose of informed consent is to brief the participant on what exactly the study entails so that they are aware of the possible risks that they are making themselves vulnerable to if they take part in the study. If informed consent is taken out of the mix then the participant has no way of protecting themselves from research that could negatively affect them, a role that only they themselves can perform as they are the only ones that know their emotional limits. If informed consent is no longer used then where is the line drawn for ethics to go out the window in the name of the research? How can you dismiss one ethical guideline for the advancement of psychological knowledge? Will there be a time when it’s deemed acceptable to get rid of other ethical guidelines eg: right to withdraw, right to confidentiality in the name of research?

In conclusion the stance you take on this really depends on how you view informed consent. If you see it as a super important protection of rights then you probably will think that the idea of gathering informed consent after the experiment is ridiculous (I’m not saying this is the wrong stance to take on the issue by the way). In my opinion? I think that it could be viable for some kinds of research. I think that as psychologists in research the standard of debriefing should be high and I think as such it should totally cover any stress or effects of research the participant may encounter. Therefore for me, in research where a degree of deception is needed to benefit knowledge then such a process of informed consent should be considered. Of course this doesn’t mean that the idea should be abused by use of excessively harmful levels of deception, this however could all be decided by a committee beforehand to see whether or not they believe the use of deception justifies the possible outcomes and advancements the study could provide just as is done to ensure that psychological research doesn’t harm participants.

Can correlation show causality?

11 Mar

This week I’m looking at whether or not finding a correlation in a experiment can and does show causality ie: does finding a link/correlation between two variables prove that variable A is responsible for the change in variable B? The short answer….well no it doesn’t. There is no way of proving that some other extraneous variable in the experiment wasn’t the reason for the change. However this doesn’t mean that the two aren’t in some way linked for example it’s impossible to find a causal relationship if there wasn’t some sort of correlation between the two variables therefore correlation is essential for finding a causative relationship but it doesn’t mean that everytime there is one causation is proved. This is of course asssuming that the varibale relationship on linear. If the relationship in non linear a correlation may not be present.

In an experiment in order to find causation there needs to be high levels of control, control that is so tight that it probably would be highly difficult, if not impossible, to acheive. Think how would you be able to control the movements, life etc of participanst without breaking every ethical code in the handbook? Cause and effect means that you have a definite ‘this led to this’ relationship whereas causation is more of a ‘well they’re connected’ kind of link. This is no where near as recise and definite as what is needed for a casuative relationship to be determined. A non psychology example of when correlation doesn’t show causation is arm length. There is a high correlation between the length of people’s right arm and their left arm, the length of the persons right arm however didn’t cause the left arm to be the length it is. A psychology version of this is the example of Reiche et al’s study (2004) they looked into whetehr or not extreme psychological stress causes cancer. They found no casusative relationship between the two they did however find a strong suggestion of a correlation between extreme stress and a weakened immune system which in turn  makes people more suseptible to virus associated cancers.

In conclsuion though causation is associated with correlation and is often precluded by a correlative relationship, a correlation doesn’t determine cause and effect and therefore should not be viewed as proving a cause/effect relationship.

Can psychologists measure everything?

12 Feb

Is it possible for psychology to measure everything in society and is it a viable aim for the subject? If it’s true (and i believe it is) that knowledge and it’s validity is forever changing due to new findings then does it matter if psychology tries, and fails, to study everything?

The main issue I think with this question is the operationalisation of concepts. Take for example research into studies based on emotions. Emotions are very hard to operationalise as they differ in meaning from person to person. Take for example the emotion of happiness. This word is used to describe a wide range of good feelings by people that are as a result of a wide range of events and news. To operationalise this means that some versions of happiness will be missed out as one definition would never be enough to cover the whole range. Easterlin (1994) looked at whether or not that increasing the income of people made their happiness increase. He found that as the peoples income increased so did what was needed to fulfill their happiness. For example a poor family may only need their bills and food to be paid for in order for them to class themselves as happy, however would this suffice for the billionaire who is used to a large house, fancy cars and designer clothes. I think maybe not. If anything this study showed that there are some concepts like emotions that are changing constantly that mean any measurement of them would be outdated the minute it was taken (I get that this is the case for other concepts as well but I think that emotion measurement is probably more fluid than most).

So  back  to the question… is it possible to measure everything for psychologists? In my opinion no. Though the majority of things there is some way to measure and study i just feel that some things are too ambiguous and not specific enough for research. Again back to emotions how would this be measured exactly..a scale? If so what would be used for the different intervals? Life events of some kind maybe rating your happiness on a scale against certain other events in your life? This doesn’t exactly sound very scientific to me and how would it all be quantified? everyone’s experiences are different so how could they be compared to each other if the life events scale are different? It just doesn’t seem entirely possible to me.

Should psychology be ‘dumbed down’ so it’s accessible to everyone?

5 Feb

This put simply is whether or not psychology should be open for all to understand or whether it should be reserved purely for scientists and those that are knowledgeable on the subject. This poses questions of whether or not the findings in psychology (a field that professes to study in order to improve society) is actually of any benefit to everyday life. On the one hand in order for scientific research in general to be understandable to the public certain aspects have to be simplified as without a technical understanding the whole concept would be lost on the majority of the population. However in the ‘dumbing down’ process is not some part of the findings lost in translation and therefore does this not detract from the overall concept?

The wording that goes into research and the publication of research is chosen specifically by the researcher in order to convey their findings exactly the way that they understand them and how they wish them to be presented. To paraphrase words where such thought has gone into their presentation cannot help but to take away from the findings even if it is just marginally. For example no one would think of taking a timeless classic novel and changing the setting and plot in order to make the story easier to be understood by todays generation. This would be seen as a desecration of culture. So why is it viewed necessary for science? The main culprit of this ‘dumbing down’ of science is the media and seeing as their aim is to improve ratings I seems that they are the most likely to twist the findings of any study. For example a Telegraph article in Jan 2009 claimed that a scientist had found evidence to suggest that it was greenhouse gases that caused an ice age. They then went on to misquote the scientist himself and ignore any attempt to correct the mistake- his research had actually found that a hot greenhouse gas filled atmosphere could co-exist with a cold ‘snowballed earth’. This just shows that when research is taken by none specialists and put into ‘understandable’ words often the information is misrepresented.

However the answer to the question of why science is treated this way seems, to me, to lay in the fact that areas like science study things in order to improve society, how can they do this if their findings are illegible to anyone without a PhD in the area of study? Not only is it important that findings are understood in order to be implemented but also it stands to reason that people will only ever take an interest in something if they can understand it. Take for example physics very few people understand the simple theories let alone the complexity of Quantum physics. This is being reflected in the declining number of people choosing to take physics at a higher level of learning. In order to maintain interest in psychology and to inspire future researchers theories and studies need to be understood by none specialists.

In conclusion though it is important for fields like psychology and science to make themselves accessible to none experts the way that this is done needs to be monitored in some way to ensure misrepresentation isn’t given. Maybe the researcher themselves could create a laymen friendly version of their findings? Just an idea.

Week 12 Blog- God

16 Dec

What happens when people ‘meet with God’ in a religious experience? The idea at the begining of the century was that  these religious experiences were governed by the brain  as is all human behaviour and some argued by a specific region in the brain known as ‘the God spot’. However, is there actually a certain part of the brain that is active and controls  a religious experience? This is the question that prompted Beauregard and Paquette’s study.

In the study they used Carmelite nuns and asked them relive in their mind the most powerful experience of God they had had since becoming a nun. Using an fMRI scanner the regions of their brain were monitired during the exercise. They found that several regions of the brain were active during the religious experience.  The findings, researcheres said, neither proved nor diproved the existence of God and all they showed was that there was a correlation between neural activation and religious experiences. And that’s exactly what what the title of the article implies. That there’s a link. It can be argued however that the design of the study is flawed, the nuns were asked to imagine the religious experience whilst being tested, it could be argued that the activation of the different brain regions may be different/ not be as apparent in a ‘real’  religious experience, however the experimentors argue that prior studies, where brain scans of actors imagining an emotion were compared with brain scans of people who were genuinley feeling those emotions found that the brain activation was the same in both cases. I think this supports the conclusion sthat were drawn from the study.

The media however reported the study in a different way. The headline in the telegraph was ‘Nuns prove God is not figment of the mind’ this in itself is something the study never really claimed to do,  they said the opposite.. If you actually continue to read the article you will see that in fact it quotes on eof the experimentors as saying this, thereby misleading people who only read the headline. Can the findings be used in a way that supports the existence of God, as the headline makes out? It seems to me that if a biological response happens that can almost relive a religious experience from God if anything it seems to prove that God doesnt exist. Now don’t get me wrong this isn’t me saying God doesn’t exist, just that personally I don’t think that the study and their findings can be used to support a claim as such the Telegraph was making. The nuns were being retrospective in the study and remebering how their religious experience felt, therefore surely the findings just show what happens in the brain when this is remembered and not that God exists (again not saying he doesnt)

In conclusion the findings of the study show that there is a link between brain activation and religious experience, it seems ot disprove that the acivation occurs in a specfic ‘god spot’ as the caee was thought as many different regions of the brain became active during remembrance. However there is not enough evidence to support the claim made in the Telegraph’s headline.


Use of animals in psychological research

2 Dec

The use of animals in psychological research is a controversial and very debateable subject. 7-8% of all psychological research involves animals, and though this doesn’t seem a lot in the grand scheme of things it is a large proportion of research if, like some believe it to be, the results of which aren’t actually useful. So my question is what exactly are the pros and cons of using animals in research?

The use of animals in research has truly led to some major advancement in the psychological field; animals have been used to research studies that have helped form the basis for many behavioural theories of psychology. Take for example theories of classical conditioning (Pavlov) and operant conditioning (Skinner) these form the basis of the behavioural approach. Pavlov used dogs to investigate natural reflexes and stimuli, the findings of which are now used during systematic desensitisation. This treatment is now used to help people overcome their phobias whereby the person is slowly exposed to their phobia at building extremity. Without the use of animals this therapy wouldn’t have been developed.

However are animals close enough to humans in order to make the research useful to e generalised to society? In psychological research 90% of the animals that are used are rodents and birds ie: rats, mice and pigeons. The good points about using animals like these is that they are readily available for use and so are cheap however they are very unlike humans biologically. Primates, animals that re meant to be more similar to humans are only used 5% of the time in research.  Surely it would be more useful for psychological research if animals have to be used that they are closer to humans biologically? This would be more useful to avoid situations like what happened with the thalidomide situation.

In conclusion animal testing is very handy to use in Psychology as it means that human advancement can happen without harming any people and this has been done multiple times in the past. However due to the biological differences in species can the results from animal studies ever give the same results that would be gathered from human trials?