Schizophrenia at a neural level
Not only are there lots of inspirational talks on the main TED site but there is also an independently organised smaller scale version of TED called TEDX which mimics the style of the global events at a more local level. Like its large scale inspiration, the idea of TEDX events is to provide opportunities to hear people talk about topics they are passionate and knowledgeable about and to stimulate discussion about the ideas presented.
Veronica Shalotenko (who I am presuming is a student) presented a TEDX talk (organised by TEDxCooperUnion) which has been uploaded onto the site entitled “The Truth Behind Those Voices in Your Head”. The talk explores the idea that auditory hallucinations in schizophrenia might be able to be explained as a corollary discharge mechanism failure, in the auditory cortex, which results in the person with schizophrenia interpreting internally generated dialogue as external voices. For me, the talk was as idea provoking from a presentation point of view as a learning resource, as it was in terms of its content.
Adding a biological layer to a cognitive explanation
The misinterpretation of internal dialogue as external is consistent with the ideas proposed from a cognitive perspective when explaining schizophrenia. Judith Ford’s work, however, seeks to explain how or why this happens at a neural level. Ford and her colleagues point out in the published literature that mapping symptoms to brain activity is not easy to do, due to a number of issues with the research methods in this area.
Students could evaluate this approach to understanding schizophrenia (or at least auditory hallucinations) in terms of reductionism, determinism, the use of brain imaging methods (see earlier post) as well as the issues raised by Ford herself about research with clinical samples (Mathalon and Ford, 2012). Put firmly in the context of schizophrenia, discussing whether mapping individual symptoms to brain dysfunction is useful and linking to issues of classification and diagnosis would make this effective AO2.
After watching and listening to this talk, I was stunned to see that someone had posted a comment in response pointing out the fact that the speaker was clearly nervous but making no intelligent (or otherwise) observation relating to the content. I think this video is worth sharing with students because the speaker is young, is passionate about what she is speaking about and healthily nervous about speaking in front of a large group. For me, her small voice did not detract in any way from the big message she delivered. I think this talk represents a valuable lesson in showing students that it is quite normal to be nervous about taking on challenges and coping with big obstacles but if the opportunity you have in front of you could be enriching, do it anyway!
Validation of new knowledge
There is also a lesson here in the importance of validation procedures, not only for published journals but for individuals passing on knowledge. Before recommending this video as a resource I should point out that I sought out the research the speaker referred to in order to ensure that the ideas I had heard came from a credible source. I would make a point of modelling this to my students, especially as they themselves can tend to trust even known unreliable internet sources without question.
I should point out, however, that I have not read the full text of Ford’s publications and so am taking the speakers summary at face value, to an extent, and am using it as a stimulus for analysis so would urge students to be interested but critical of what they hear.
Researcher passion as a source of bias…?
At the end of the videoed talk the speaker reveals that she has a personal interest in the area she has talked about. This reminded me that this is often true of researchers. Zimbardo and Milgram, for example, each selected their career path and research interest through the questions about humanity that arose outside of the classroom in their personal experience. My own third year research project whilst doing my degree (Applying the Health-Belief to predict decisions to become a bone marrow donor) was inspired by personal experience. I think it is worth discussing with students, in the context of the scientific approach, whether this creates a source of bias in a discipline striving to be as objective as possible. This certainly has the potential to stretch and challenge the most able students.
An obvious end to this post is to recommend holding your own “TEDX style” event (you have to have a license to actually co-ordinate a TEDX event and use the name). Give students a week to come up with an idea (someone else’s or their own inspired by Psychology) they want to talk about in class. Give students the opportunity to share this with a bigger audience by videoing and sharing and/or presenting in a Sixth Form or even whole school assembly. The talks could feature in lessons as a series of student-led starters designed to inspire if you don’t want to give over a whole lesson to what could be outside the scope of the specification. Students expressing an interest in studying Psychology at university would find this exercise valuable when they come to demonstrate a passion for the subject – without using the dreaded passion word! – in their personal statement.