PSYCHOLOGY IN THE NEWS 1

Psychology in the News

Student’s Name

University of Maryland University College

 

 

 

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Coffee and Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is a form of learning that occurs when a neutral stimulus is paired

with a separate stimulus, creating a specific pattern of behavior (Saylor, 2015). This was

demonstrated in the experiment of Pavlov’s dogs, in which dogs learned to salivate to the sound

of a bell after associating the tone with the food that would inevitably follow (Saylor, 2015).

Coffee lovers may be surprised to find that they have been subjected to classical conditioning.

According to the Forbes article, The Funny Psychology of Why We Love the Taste of Coffee

by Alice Walton (2018), coffee drinkers have learned to associate the bitter taste of coffee with

the boost of energy received from the caffeine. According to Walton, the aromatic qualities may

also be related to the perception of flavor. Even more surprising is that coffee enthusiasts tend to

be more sensitive to the bitter taste. A study by Northwestern University looked at the data of

over 400,000 people to compare their sensitivity to caffeine, quinine, and propylthiouracil and

their coffee-drinking habits (Walton, 2018). The results unequivocally showed that “people with

sensitivity to the bitterness of caffeine tended to drink more coffee” (Walton, 2018).

There is evidence that our predisposition to liking coffee is genetic. Research shows there

is a connection between certain variants in the TAS2Rs bitter-receptor gene that is associated

with liking the taste of coffee (Pirastu et al, 2014). The study looked at the genetic makeup of

4,066 people from various countries in Europe and Central Asia and surveyed them on their like

or dislike of coffee (Pirastu et al, 2014). A significant portion of those with the affinity for the

beverage had commonalities within their genes. The researchers found two functional gene

variants, W35S and H212R, were detected on the TAS2R43 gene (Pirastu et al, 2014). Simply

put, a coffee lover’s relationship with the beverage is clearly complex from both a psychological

and biological standpoint.

 

 

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Sadness Circuit in the Brain

Located between the brain stem and two cerebral hemispheres is the limbic system. The

limbic system governs memory and emotion through the amygdala, hippocampus, and

hypothalamus (Saylor, 2015). According to Saylor, the amygdala is responsible for our

perception of fear and emotional responses such as pleasure, anxiety, and anger. Furthermore,

the hippocampus is essential for storing long-term memory (Saylor, 2015). Considering the

functions of the amygdala and hippocampus, it seems possible that sadness could be observed

through a circuit between these two brain structures.

According to National Public Radio (NPR), researchers have discovered that sadness

occurs through communication between the amygdala and hippocampus (Hamilton, 2018). The

researchers observed the brains of 21 individuals and concluded that there is a detectable circuit

caused by sadness. Although the study could not confirm that the increase in communication was

the result or cause of mood change, this development shows that changes are undoubtedly taking

place in the brain (Hamilton, 2018).

In a study published in the Frontiers in Neural Circuits, Yang and Wang (2017) found

that “the circuitry of the basolateral amygdala and the hippocampus act synergistically to form

long-term memories” (p. 1). The researchers sought to understand the intricacies of these

structures and their interaction reviewing current studies done primarily with rodents. They

found that the circuitry between the amygdala and hippocampus is involved in many disorders

such as anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s.

Saylor (2015) states that Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is an effective tool

used to measure this circuitry. Saylor explains that TMS is a procedure that utilizes magnetic

pulses, which temporarily and safely deactivate a region of the brain. Although the amygdala and

 

 

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hippocampus were previously thought to be involved with sadness and other negative emotions,

Yang and Wang’s (2017) study reinforces and expands on this theory.

 

Meditation Aids Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may develop from “combat, torture, sexual assault,

imprisonment, abuse, natural disasters, or the death of someone” (Saylor, 2015, Ch 6, Defining

Psychological Disorders, Section 2.7, second paragraph). According to Saylor, those with PTSD

may experience high levels of anxiety, flashbacks, rage, and insomnia. They may also have a

strong aversion to reminders of the event including the anniversary of the ordeal. Saylor reports

that about five million Americans are affected with PTSD, most notably veterans and survivors

of natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

According to the Associated Press (2018) veterans with PTSD have traditionally been

treated using exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is “based on the classical conditioning

principle of extinction, in which people are confronted with a feared stimulus with the goal of

decreasing their negative emotional responses to it” (Wolpe, 1973, p. 83). Considering the

intense nature of exposure therapy, many veterans either quit the program or avoid the

behavioral therapy altogether (Associated Press, 2018). However, the Associated Press reports

that there may be a promising new option on the horizon. According to an experiment sponsored

by the Department of Defense, meditation has proven to be as effective as conventional therapy

methods. The study measured the symptoms of 200 veterans in the San Diego area and assigned

them to different groups, one which included lessons on meditation. Following three months of

therapy sessions, “61 percent of the meditation group improved on a standard PTSD assessment,

 

 

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compared to 42 percent of those who got exposure therapy and 32 percent of those who went to

classes” (Associated Press, 2018, paragraph 13).

In the academic article entitled Transcendental Meditation for Veterans with Post-

Traumatic Stress Disorder, researchers studied 29 veterans to evaluate the benefits of meditation

for those with PTSD (Kang et al., 2018). The study concluded that transcendental meditation was

effective and well-received by veterans, as there was a high completion rate and there were

improvements in PTSD symptoms and mindfulness. Meditation may work as a supplement to

exposure therapy, or as a safe alternative for those who do not feel comfortable with traditional

therapy methods.

 

Authoritative Parenting

According to Saylor (2015) there are four types of parenting styles: authoritarian,

authoritative, permissive, and rejecting-neglecting. Authoritarian parents demand and impose

rules, but generally do not respond to their child’s desires. Permissive parents do not make many

demands, give little punishment, and typically allow their children to make the rules. Rejecting-

neglecting parents are undemanding and unresponsive altogether, failing to provide their children

with the adequate amount of attention. Saylor recommends the authoritative parent because these

parents can balance the roles of disciplinarian and negotiator. In other words, a parent who is

authoritative will make demands, but will also make compromises and listen to his or her child.

Marisa LaScala of Good Housekeeping writes that “authoritative parenting is a little bit

of everything: Parents set rules and boundaries that they enforce with consistency, but nurture

kids so they can meet those standards” (p.1). LaScala (2018) explains that children with

 

 

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authoritative parents often have positive relationships with their peers, achieve greater success in

their academics, and appear to be more well-adjusted than those with authoritarian or permissive

parents. Not only does the authoritative arrangement prove beneficial to children, but it is also

easier on the parents. LaScala believes that setting the appropriate expectations based on age and

developmental phase contributes to the overall confidence in a parent-child relationship.

According to the journal article Parenting Style in Family and the Risk of

Psychopathology, “the authoritative parenting style applied by both parents minimalizes the risk

of depression, suicidal tendencies and is also negatively correlated with substance abuse, bulimia

and anorexia nervosa” (Konopka, Rek-Owodziń, Pełka-Wysiecka & Samochowiec, 2018,

Summary, Paragraph 1). This research shows that parenting with excessive control and little

emotional support can lead to depression and substance abuse in children and adolescents.

Konopka, Rek-Owodziń, Pełka-Wysiecka and Samochowiec further show that rejecting-

neglecting parenting, or parenting with little control or emotional support can lead to aggressive

behavior. Thus, they conclude that the authoritative style of parenting, which consists of both

control and expression of emotional warmth was proven to be the most advantageous to children.

 

Memory in the Digital Age

 

According to Saylor (2015), memory is the ability to process, store, and retrieve

information over a short or long period of time. The processes involved in long-term memory are

known as encoding, storage, and retrieval (Saylor, 2015). In the modern age, we often substitute

these processes with technology. Data is consistently saved and stored on computers or mobile

 

 

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devices, which eliminates the need to manually retrieve this information from memory. Still,

some are committed to storing memories the old-fashioned way.

In an article from The Guardian, Lavelle (2018) describes how “memory athletes”

compete to remember card sequences, dates of events, names, and faces in the shortest amount of

time. Lavelle believes that we may be able to learn techniques on how to retain information from

memory athletes. One of these techniques, according to Lavelle, is known as “the method of

loci,” which relies on associating an image with the item and placing it in an imagined room. As

one walks from one room to the next, he or she can recall the items from the list.

However, Zheng, Zhang, Li, Liu, and Luo (2016) found that memory must also be

exercised and activated regularly, preferably through various retrieval routes. The researchers

found that not only can retrieval practice improve one’s ability to remember, but also that

practicing multiple retrieval routes can lead to greater memory retention. Elaborative encoding,

the self-reference effect, the spacing effect, and overlearning can be used independently or in

conjunction with each other to aid memory retention (Saylor, 2015). However, using two

separate retrieval routes has proven to be more effective for long-term memory than using the

same method twice (Zheng, Zhang, Li, Liu & Luo, 2016). The maintenance and retrieval of

information in the digital age does not have be relegated exclusively to our devices. We hold the

power of memory in our brains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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References

Associated Press. (2018, November 17). Meditation helps veterans with PTSD, Defense Dept. experiment

finds. NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/military/meditation-helps-

veterans-ptsd-defense-dept-study-finds-n937311

Hamilton, J. (2018, November 8). Researchers Uncover A Circuit For Sadness In The Human Brain.

NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-

shots/2018/11/08/665615440/researchers-uncover-a-circuit-for-sadness-in-the-human-brain

Kang, S. S., Erbes, C. R., Lamberty, G. J., Thuras, P., Sponheim, S. R., Polusny, M. A., … Lim, K. O.

(2018). Transcendental meditation for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychological

Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 10(6), 675–680. Retrieved from https://doi-

org.ezproxy.umuc.edu/10.1037/tra0000346

Konopka, A., Rek-Owodziń, K., Pełka-Wysiecka, J. & Samochowiec, J. (2018). Parenting style in family

and the risk of psychopathology. Postępy Higieny i Medycyny Doświadczalnej, Vol 72, Pp 924-

931 (2018), 924. Retrieved from https://doi-org.ezproxy.umuc.edu/10.5604/01.3001.0012.7026

LaScala, M. (2018, November 17). What Is Authoritative Parenting? Experts Say It’s the Best of All

Worlds. Good Housekeeping. Retrieved from

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/parenting/a24881944/authoritative-parenting/

Lavelle, D. (2018, November 13). How to avoid losing your memory in the digital age. The Guardian.

Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/nov/13/how-to-avoid-losing-your-

memory-in-the-digital-age

Pirastu, N., Kooyman, M., Traglia, M., Robino, A., Willems, S.M., Pistis, G., d’Adamo, P., Amin, N.,

d’Eustacchio, A., Navarini, L., Sala, C., Karssen, L.C., van Dujin, C., Toniolo, D., Gasparini, P.

(2014, March 19). Association analysis of bitter receptor genes in five isolated populations

 

 

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identifies a significant correlation between TAS2R43 variants and coffee liking. Plos One, 9(3),

e92065. Retrieved from https://doi-org.ezproxy.umuc.edu/10.1371/journal.pone.0092065

The Saylor Foundation. (2015). Introduction to psychology. Revised by LD&S Staff of UMUC in 2016.

Retrieved from http://www.saylor.org/books

Walton, A. (2018, November 15). The Funny Psychology of Why We Love the Taste of Coffee. Forbes.

Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2018/11/15/the-strange-psychology-

of-why-we-love-the-taste-of-coffee/#567b4c5178e2

Wolpe J. (1973). The practice of behavior therapy. New York, NY: Pergamon.

Yang, Y. & Wang, J. (2017). From Structure to Behavior in Basolateral Amygdala-Hippocampus

Circuits. Frontiers in Neural Circuits, Vol 11 (2017). Retrieved from https://doi-

org.ezproxy.umuc.edu/10.3389/fncir.2017.00086/full

Zheng, J., Zhang, W., Li, T., Liu, Z. & Luo, L. (2016, September). Practicing more retrieval routes leads

to greater memory retention. Acta Psychologica, Vol 169, 109-118 (2016). Retrieved from

https://doi-org.ezproxy.umuc.edu/10.1016/j.actpsy.2016.05.014