Psychology previous meetings

Wednesday 28 November – Visit to Nottingham University Psychology Department

Following lunch at The Gallery Café the group had eight 10 minute lectures delivered by various members of the Psychology Department. Topics covered included: A driving study – Eyes and brains on the motorway, which tracked brain activity whilst driving; Attention/distraction – looking at how seeing/hearing distractions differ; Using gaze to study memory – looking at the different time spent looking at presented objects that are familiar/recollected/unknown. Further studies looked at Timing in the Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s; What Brain Imaging can tell us about Stroke; Reading Research using eye-tracking technology, and Doing Experimental Psychology (without experiments). We had an excellent afternoon which will hopefully be repeated.

Wednesday 24 October – States of Consciousness
– Drug Use: The Highs and Lows of Consciousness

We looked at the various drugs in daily use. Caffeine is the nations favourite drug. It is contained in tea, coffee, many soft drinks and colas, some confectionery, included in many medicines and available in over-the-counter stimulant preparations e.g. ProPlus.  Apart from medicines in general, the next most commonly used drug is alcohol, followed by the nicotine in cigarettes and other tobacco based products.  Alcohol affects the brain more than any other organ in the body. Alcohol is a depressant as well as a substance that creates an abundance of psychological effects in the individual. It is a major mood altering substance and also affects the person’s ability to perform certain motor skill functions.  Excessive alcohol consumption can result in memory loss, fogged thinking, impaired judgment, lack of impulse control, inability to accurately perceive reality, confusion, mental unclarity.  This effect can be long term.

We discussed illegal drugs and the current situation with medicinal cannabis.  We also looked at the use of lsd in the treatment of alcoholics in the 1950s and the development of many drugs that are currently illegal but were used medicinally in the past, perhaps in a different form.  With addictive drugs you can develop a tolerance, meaning that you need more and more to get the same effect.  Long term use can make you demotivated and uninterested, with the ability to learn and concentrate diminished.  Drug withdrawal produces a variety of negative symptoms e.g.  cravings, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, irritability and restlessness.

Wednesday 26th September  – States of Consciousness
– The conscious and subconscious mind

Today we looked further at the conscious and subconscious mind. We learnt that the conscious state in which we are fully aware of our thoughts, feelings and beliefs makes up a small percentage of our brain function. Much like an iceberg where the larger part is beneath the surface our subconscious forms by far the larger (up to 9 times the storage) part of our accessible  mind.

We use our conscious mind to learn something new e.g. learning to drive, then once learnt the conscious filters out all these instructions and places them in the subconscious.

As we form attitudes values and beliefs, these go into the subconscious. The more a message is repeated, the more we hold onto it and it becomes difficult to change, e.g. phobias. Several group members shared their experience of phobias and whether they had found it necessary to try to change their thinking.

We can try to access our subconscious by using methods developed  by Freud and Jung and many psychologists since, using word association. The group did this and shared what came to mind using the words home, mother and happiness. We discussed how our words were influenced by early experiences, gender, and western culture.

We discussed the power of alternative ways of thinking described in the quote “whether you think you can or think you can’t you’re right” (Henry Ford).  We agreed that individuals always have a choice, i.e. we have the power to override or change unhelpful subconscious beliefs.

Some group members shared their experience of  meditation and relaxation techniques and using the power of the conscious mind to focus in on detail including noticing breathing and environment.  People who feel anxious or find it difficult to unwind or even sleep may find using these techniques helpful.                                          Marianne Sparrow

Wednesday 22 August – States of Consciousness
– Sleep & Dreams

We began the session with a quiz allowing the members to consider their current thoughts on various issues relevant to sleep e.g. dreaming, sleep requirements etc.  We then went on to question what we thought was a good night’s sleep: whether there was a definition, what this meant to individuals, length of time asleep/awake etc.  As expected we found that people have different sleep patterns or no pattern at all.

We then looked at the different stages of sleep: Non-REM (non-rapid eye movement) which covers both light and deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) where the brain is repaired and refreshed.  We found that theoretically we experience all stages of sleep each night, moving seamlessly from one stage to another through a 90 minute cycle.  In REM sleep the muscles become temporarily paralysed to stop the physical acting out of dreams but for some people this isn’t the case as the signals which generate the paralysis are blocked.  This is a dangerous neurological sleep disorder, requiring treatment.  Throughout sleep the heart rate changes and this is what technology such as fit-bits etc rely on to track levels of sleep.

REM sleep is important for consolidating new information and maintaining neural pathways.  It is also when we dream.  Everyone dreams but in the group approximately half the members didn’t remember their dreams.  We talked about the different subjects that people dream about – getting lost, falling, deceased relatives etc and looked at the top 10 dreams.  Freud considered dreams to be the window into the unconscious with theories about what specific types of dream meant. Currently Freud’s theories have fallen into disrepute; it is considered that the emotion of the dream is most important i.e. were you happy, sad, frightened etc.  There are many current theories on the purpose of dreams: helping to process our emotions and strengthening new memories to rehearsing social or threatening situations.                                                                                    Margaret Naylor

Wednesday 25th July – Memory 2

In this session on the theories of memory we reviewed the experiments of the 50s and 60s and discussed how the findings helped to develop the multistore model of memory. This theory states that memory involves taking information from the senses, encoding it so that short term memories form and processing it further to form long term memory.

In the 70s researchers thought that the level of processing should also be taken into account. We discussed shallow and deep processing. The later involves images, thinking and association and leads to better recall. The 80s saw the research focusing on types of memory that were defined as:

  • Procedural memory unconscious, automatic eg motor skills- how to ride a bike
  • Semantic memory   LTM eg meaning of words, general knowledge London is capital of England
  • Episodic memory LTM episodes we have experienced in our lives eg 1st day at school. It involves conscious thought and is declarative

Evidence for distinction between declarative and procedural memory has come from research on patients with amnesia.

We also discussed forgetting which filters information and enables us to access the memories we want. Some information is forgotten because of interference, selective attention and lack of rehearsal. (proactive and retroactive interference). We also forget due to lack of consolidation. Consolidation is the process of modifying neurons in the nervous system in order to form permanent memories

We discussed brain injuries and various forms of amnesia including forgetting early childhood memories. This is due to the brain undergoing a major expansion and overhaul around the age 6-8 resulting in forgetting most things that occured before the age of 3.

The group also took part in 2 activities which examined our memories of events and the recall of words from a list. We discovered that we conformed with research results remembering the first and last words, unusual words and repeated words most easily.                                                                                                                                          Marianne Sparrow

Wednesday 27th June – Memory 1

In this first session about memory we looked at the difference in recall between memories that are processed in depth, because they evoke strong emotions and sometimes involve our other senses, and those that deal with one-off unfamiliar information.

Members of the group shared information about an object they had either brought along or another significant memory. We discovered that in many cases the object or story held very strong positive and sentimental emotional memories.  We heard about a treasured charm bracelet, a pair of gloves, a wooden apple, a ceramic jug, paper mache sculpture, and several photographs depicting images which brought about strong positive emotions. In many cases the object was also associated with a person who had had major significance for the person for example a son, husband, mother or grandmother. Some of the photographs were taken at times when the person felt proud, a sense of achievement and challenge and when self esteem was high.  The memories included strong recall of the place it was associated with for example the colour of the room and surrounding furnishings (visual memory).  We discussed how sometimes a smell e.g. of a certain perfume can also trigger strong memories. Some people said the objects or photographs were visible to them every day while other people had kept them in the loft or out of sight.  Is there a possible link here with the conscious and unconscious mind?  The wide ranging discussion that took place during this part of the session saw us briefly discuss childhood amnesia, false memory and made us pose questions like “is this my memory or has somebody else told me”? Members were grateful to everybody for sharing their memories

We went on to do a quiz about memory and discovered research is now saying that the capacity for memory develops at 20 weeks. Our short term memory lasts for about 20-30 seconds, good sleep and reflection or thinking aids memory. Most people can’t recall things that happen before the age of 3.

The final task in this session was to try to recall a story with unfamiliar characters and location. A 500 word piece was read to a member of the group who had to relay it to another person who had not heard any of it. This was repeated and person 1 related what they heard to the next person. Five people took part in the experiment and the last person had very little left of the story to recall. From this experiment we learned that we can’t recall that amount of information accurately, especially if it’s content is unfamiliar. We also learnt that there was too much information to rehearse and trying to do so meant that interfered with listening. There was better recall of the beginning and the end of the piece while most of the middle section was lost.
The session was wide ranging and fun. In the next session we will look more at the research and theories underlying the psychology of memory.
                                                                                                                             Marianne Sparrow

Wednesday 23rd May – Attachment Theory

Today the Rev Nick Price from Eastwood Baptist Church talked about attachment theory.  Rev Price previously worked in Mental Health.  He explained that Attachment Theory suggests that the earliest years of a child’s life are critical for later development. He talked about Bowlby, a well known psychologist, who viewed the problem of maternal deprivation as a social problem. Apparently one of our members worked with John Bowlby for a short time many years ago; this impressed everyone in the room.   Rev Price explained the different levels of attachment and how this influences how we relate to others.  The talk was very enlightening and we began to question ourselves and what long term difficulties we may have handed down to our own children.

Wednesday 25th April  – Senses Perception Review

At the meeting today we looked at what we’ve learnt about our senses so far and took part in experiments that show how one sense can influence another. We reflected on our own experience and came to the conclusion that as individuals we have similarities and differences in our perception. Some people found that lack of visual feedback hindered performance of a task while others did not.

Our senses develop and deteriorate at different rates, for example taste develops by the age of 8 but deteriorates after the age of 50.

In groups we examined how our senses work. Each group drew a picture of one of the senses and then explained to the whole group how the brain receives information and then interprets it. The groups also had a question to answer about their sense. Answers were then shared and discussed by the whole group.

Finally we applied our knowledge to a research question. The task was to design an experiment that could be conducted with 50 people. The feedback from one group included that sometimes trying to find a specific question leads to broadening out possible ideas which then need to be narrowed down again (very valid as a lot of researchers say this).  The feedback from the other group included a well thought out experiment about the influence of our senses on the taste of a meal.
                                                                                                                               Marianne Sparrow

Wednesday 28th February – Senses & Vision/Perception 

In this session we looked at the basis of the central nervous system, the function of neurons and parts of the brain.

Using a number of videos we examined the strengths and weaknesses of how the brain processes information from the eye to form a picture of our world. Including optical illusions and abnormalities of our vision.

A powerpoint presentation and links to videos are available.

Wednesday 24th January – The History of Psychology

In this session we looked at how Psychology originated as a subject in its own right and developed from a study of physiology into a complex cognitive behavioural one investigating both the conscious and unconscious mind.

We learnt of some major theorists including Wundt, Freud, Skinner, Bartlett and Festinger and looked at their various approaches to understanding more about why we do what we do.

We then discussed methods of conducting research in psychology and in groups developed a research question that could be investigated further.  Through this exercise we became aware that to conduct research that stands scrutiny it must be free from bias eg cultural, gender, age and the sample must be realistic.

We will use this knowledge to assess the validity of all claims we hear about in future sessions.

Marianne Sparrow

Wednesday 22nd November – My Brilliant Brain

In November we watched a documentary from the My Brilliant Brain series. This documentary tackles the age old question of nature vs nurture using computer generated images, brain scans and expert testimony.   The long-running nature vs nurture debate is about whether human behaviour is determined by the environment, either prenatal or during a person’s life, or by a person’s genes.

Is a genius born or made?  Susan Polgar was the first female chess grandmaster. She wasn’t born with a brilliant brain – it was created through a unique experiment that dominated her childhood.  It was thought that women (girls) didn’t have the mental capacity to win at chess.  The documentary tells the story of how her father turned her and her sisters into chess prodigies.

As well as nature vs nurture the film also touched on other areas e.g. gender, memory, pattern recognition.

The My Brilliant Brain DVD was borrowed from the Third Age Trust Resources Centre.  

Wednesday 25th October – The Brain

Jim Stirland gave a talk on the brain/mind.  It was a lively meeting with members contributing to the discussion.  Jim began by explaining how the brain, the most complicated organ, develops from the embryo stage through life.  He explained how the first two years of life are the most important in the brain’s development and gave an example of Rumanian orphans where, through lack of stimulus and social contact, had completely stunted brain function, in most cases never to be restored.
After the break Jim talked a little about Sigmund Freud and in particular his ideas on Conscious, Semi or Pre Conscious and Unconscious. Freud believed that each of these parts played an important role in influencing behaviour.
The conscious mind contains all the thoughts, memories, feelings and wishes that we are aware of at any given time.
The subconscious mind is closely related to the conscious mind in that you can pull items from the subconscious into the conscious. Freud likened this to an iceberg. The conscious being the part out of the water and the subconscious the part that is visible under water, still accessible. Your brain performs 10,000000,000000 synaptic connections per second without you knowing it.
The unconscious is the massive bulk of the iceberg that lies invisible and unseen below the water surface. Memories, thoughts, feelings and information that is too painful, embarrassing, shameful or distressing for conscious awareness is stored in this enormous reservoir.
Freud believed the unconscious played a powerful role in conscious behavior and well being, He developed therapeutic techniques to bring these unresolved feelings, memories and urges into conscious awareness so they could be dealt with effectively. Now called Psychoanalytic theory, it is used in the treatment of mental illness and psychological distress.
Brain exercises where carried out and ten ways to keep your brain healthy were explained.

10 things you can do to exercise your brain

  1. Test your recall
  2. Learn to play a musical instrument or join a choir
  3. Do maths in your head. To make it more difficult walk as well
  4. Take a cookery class. Cooking uses a number of senses, smell, touch, sight and taste. Learn how to cook new cuisine.
  5. Learn a foreign language.
  6. Create word pictures. Visualize the spelling in your head.
  7. Draw a map from memory.
  8. Challenge your taste buds. Try to identify ingredients including subtle herbs and spices.
  9. Refine your hand-eye abilities. Take up hobbies that involve fine motor skills, drawing & painting, jewellery making.
  10. Learn a new sport, athletic exercises utilizing both mind and body. Yoga, golf, tennis, etc.

Jim Stirland

Wednesday 30th August – Preliminary Meeting

Thirty one people attended the preliminary meeting  It was decided to meet on the 4th Wednesday each month from 2.30 – 4.30 pm at Eastwood Town Council offices – behind the old Post Office, opposite Heron. The first meeting will be in October.