Friday, March 28

Psych 2.0: Connecting the Psychological World

The Internet can be a daunting place to look through for resourceful websites. As in my previous post, I have yet again traversed the world wide web in order to create a substantially informative link roll (located to the right), with great success. In concordance with IMSA (Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy) and Webby Awards criteria, the following websites and blogs are sure to provide one with great psychology resources. Brain Connection is one of the greatest of the sites I have come by. Like PsychCentral, it is a site dedicated to developments in neurology, providing a blog of its own, news updates, education tools, and its own library of information. The site is professionally designed and easy to navigate, the only drawback is its extensive focus on brain functions. Even so, this site is highly recommended. Yet another comparison is that of Scientific American which, like Psychology Today, contributes articles in their mind and brain section. Updated several times throughout the day, Scientific American is both an online and print subscription expanding its content via blogs. An added bonus is its RSS feed feature, to keep one up to date on new posts. Clinical Psychiatry News is a newspaper focused on new developments in clinical psychology, accompanied by colleague commentary on current research. Despite its bland aesthetic, its archival news database is invaluable. In regards to evolutionary psychology, one of the newer branches in the field of psychology, I have come across the Human Behavior and Evolution Society. Simple layout and graphics make this website both easy to use, but dull and unappealing. Irregardless, this website is resourceful; an introduction to evolutionary psychology, journals, online courses--these are only some of the many academic assets. At, the goal is to be informative, relying on professionally written articles for various branches of psychology. The information extends from basic knowledge of the discipline to in-depth analysis on topics of choice. The medical website, WebMD, is a general information site geared toward educating the general public, acting as a pre-medical intervention source. This website runs a risk, through no fault of its own, due to its popularity and credibility because many may consult to this as an alternative to medical help.

At PsyBlog, Jeremy Dean, a freelance writer who majored in law psychology, and mastered in research methods at University College London, writes on a variety of categories in relation to psychology. An example of less is better, the blog is easy to navigate and easy to use; nearly all the posts and resources are only one click away. At In-Mind, an on-line quarterly magazine for social psychology who's "purpose is to interact with everyone that is interested in everyday human concerns and to inform you on the hot trends in scientific social psychological research." Edited by professionals, and consulted by university students, In-mind provides blog posts, media, and online research on current phenomenon in social psychology. Also, Psycholinguistics Arena has journals, book reviews, and a blog arena--the conglomeration of blog posts, linked to the original source. They even have a student psychology website, suitable for undergraduate and graduate level students. Similarly, Psychology Bloggers Network is "a community for people blogging in the areas of psychology, mental health, and neuroscience." In its network, people from all over use the blogosphere to further research the three aforementioned areas, and support each other's work in the process. With the difficulty in finding faults for these websites, all are sure to supply not only students and professionals with quality resources, but the general public as well.

Monday, March 10

Battle of the Bulge: The Psychology of Appetite and Diet

Obesity, a growing epidemic in the U.S., is a serious disease many Americans are trying to overcome yet Americans are the ones losing the battle of the bulge. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a press release last November indicating that although obesity in adults is statistically insignificant since 2003-2004, an alarming sixty-four percent of America is overweight, and a little over half of that is considered obese. The question: why and how? Studies of eating behavior, in rats and humans alike, have shown that appetite is a complex system that is yet to be understood. Karen Wright, science writer and contributor to Psychology Today, explains in her article, "Consuming Passions," that hunger and craving play an integral part in dieting and weight management. In modern society, where it is common to live to eat as opposed to eat to live, the difference between the two has been obscured. It is easy for one to stop by a fast food restaurant for a meal, especially with dollar menus making the process rather affordable. As a living testament to will power, I know it is a daunting task to lose weight, but I continue to reach my goal. Yes, brain-hunger is a distraction, but a restrictive diet is not suitable to the mind, or the body. A well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and determination can keep that hunger in check.

Hunger, or "stomach-hunger," is the body's way of demanding energy, whereas craving, or "brain-hunger," is the mind's desire to eat for pleasure. An empty stomach produces a hormone called ghrelin, the hormone responsible for those hunger pangs all too common in college students throughout the nation. Ghrelin, in conjunction with a drop in blood-sugar levels and the resulting decline of insulin in the bloodstream, primes the body for a meal. Any food intake produces the hormone leptin, which initiates satiety. These four visceral messengers communicate with the central nervous system to regulate appetite. The hypothalamus, specifically the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH), is also responsible for regulating appetite; but this antiquated model has been replaced with a biochemical one, one which takes into account neurotransmitters, hormones, peptides, and receptors "within and beyond the hypothalamus," Wright explains. The model, which neuroscientist Satya Kalra of the University of Florida at Gainesville calls the "appetite-regulating orchestra," works like the previous one with notable adaptation: the stomach produces ghrelin, in turn activating the hypothalamus to release the neuropeptide Y (NPY), known as the most potent appetite enhancer thus far. Ghrelin also suppresses the production of proopiomelanocortin (POMC), an appetite inhibitor. Leptin slows the production of neuropeptides Y and promotes POMC production. Some visceral signals reach the brain via nerve cells rather than the bloodstream. A satiety peptide called cholecystokinin (CCK) is released in the small intestine, possibly triggering the vagus nerve, which runs from the stomach to the brain.

Scientists and researchers turned to leptin injections to curb appetite, but to their dismay, it was not the cure to controlling it. In actuality, obese people have high leptin levels leading researchers to think that brain cells of most overweight people do not register leptin for its inhibiting property. Ironically, the body recognizes when there is a deficiency of leptin, which the mind recognizes as an impending loss of body fat, to a dieter's chagrin. The stomach-hunger system has been researched in rats. Psychologist Bartley Hoebel of Princeton University has seen this behavior in his lab rats. By injecting NPY into the brains of rats, Hoebel witnessed feeding frenzies as expected. Unexpectedly, genetically engineered rats with no NPY still ate to satiety. With respect to evolutionary psychology, overeating is an adaptive behavior not needed in modern times. As neurologist Barry E. Levin explains, "Under [conditions of scarcity and unpredictability of food sources], the ability to ingest and store as many calories as possible when food is readily available would have obvious survival value;" thus, humans have become susceptible to easier methods of gaining weight throughout evolution.

In addition, evolution has also provided humans with the added benefit of making eating a pleasurable experience, via neurochemicals and neural circuitry. This is where "brain hunger" comes into play. Food has become not only a means of gustational pleasure--it has also become an addiction and emotional fix. In fact, the same neural signals used in the facilitation of an orgasm are used in brain hunger. Gene-Jack Wang, head of medicine at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York states, "Now we're not just talking about energy balance...we're talking human psychology. This stems from brain-imaging studies done on people, where the "mere sight and smell of barbecued chicken, hamburgers, and pizza release dopamine in the striatum." The striatum is a part of the limbic system in the brain that helps create motivation; dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure seeking and produces feeling of enjoyment. The same system is observed in compulsive gamblers and drug addicts, as well as in eating and sex.

Seeing how the same system is implicated in these behaviors, Hoebel proposes that food may have addictive properties. As Wright indicates, high calorie foods cause the release of opioids, a chemical that masks pain and promotes euphoric sensations. Drugs, on the other hand, hijack this network causing the same reaction, only amplified. For dieters, the stomach-hunger/brain-hunger dichotomy is a nightmare. The human mind is not aware of being overweight, but it does detect weight loss--a type of fight or flight response. As losing weight requires eating less calories than physically needed, hunger sets in which drives one to eat. The biochemical model of appetite works against the dieter, where both types of hunger set in. Using strategies, such as substituting unhealthy snacks for healthier ones or drinking a great amount of water before a meal, the individual can satisfy his or her hunger and avoid the repercussions of the mind's need.

Monday, March 3

Networking: Ten Websites to Consult for Psychology Research

The focus of this week's post is to expand on the linkroll (located to the right) with useful resources. Under the guidance of the IMSA, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, and Webby Awards criteria, I was able to find blogs and websites that generate psychology research and information. Science Daily, for instance, is a superb source for news articles in the fields of mental disorders, neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry, et cetera. The content is rich in text, video, images, books, and news feeds. It is easy to navigate and accessible to all web-experienced users. Psychiatric Times, on the other hand, isn't as visually pleasing, but it is rich in journals composed by the psychology and doctorate scholars. To its detriment, this website is not interactive and can only be used for textual evidence. Association for Psychological Science (APS) and American Psychological Association (APA) are similar to one another as they are organizations with the goal to further research psychology. Both APA and APS are a source of up-to-date psychology journals. While both these websites are aesthetically pleasing, properly structured, and content-filled, these websites are highly interactive in that they strive for new members to join and contribute to the organizations. National Mental Health Association (NMHA) and National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) are more general resources for psychology information. The main goal of these sites is to inform the general population about mental health precaution and treatment. Mind Hacks, a blog created by Tom Stafford and Max Webb, is an expansion of a book by the same name, created by the aforementioned authors. This blog was created for the main purpose to teach people "how to inside their brain using neuroscience and psychology." Although the blog is structured well, the activity and timing above standard, the authority and influence is lacking. The language is informal, but geared toward individuals who have minimal psychological background. The lack of comments by spectators renders this blog for consulting rather than researching. BRAINETHICS, a blog created by Thomas Ramsoy and Martin Skov, is a good example of a blog with minimal authority and influence, but who's aim is further investigate neuroscience. The bloggers are a neuroscientist and neuroaesthetician from Norway, and their goal is to provide insight into"tinkering with the brain" and explain human behavior. Unlike Mind Hacks, the activity and timing is substandard, as the blog has not been updated since December 2007, and the language sufficient. Pertinent to IMSA criteria, these blogs are overall satisfactory and useful. Cognitive Daily is a great blog, from psychology professor Greta Munger, focused on cognitive psychology. With posts made "nearly every day," if not more, Cognitive Daily is a professionally appearing, authoritative and influential blog posting on peer-reviewed . Last, but certainly not least, is PsychCentral, a psychology hub for the student, professor, and average Joe. A cut above the rest, PsychCentral (as seen on the left) is a website with its own blog, quizzes, research, news, community, et cetera. The resources this website provides merits the site's subtitle to "Learn. Share. Grow." The content is up-to-date, which ranges from articles, essays, to journals. This site is meant to educate and provide academic enrichment in the field of psychology. For the "neuroscientifically" inclined, its sister website NeuroTalk is advised.
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