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Dilemmas, Decisions, and Brain Function.

Moral Dilemmas and Brain Function

Participants needed to take part in a decision making and brain scanning study.

You will be asked to answer written problems, whilst seated in front of a computer screen and having your brain function and emotional arousal monitored. You will also be asked to answer a short personality questionnaire. This will take approximately 1 hour. Participants must be comfortable with English language and be free from known reading / language problems in order to participate.

Contact Glen Carrigan to book a laboratory slot: GACarrigan1@uclan.ac.uk. When emailing, please indicate which times would be most convenient for you between the dates of the 18th and 27th of August if you have a preference.

The laboratory is located in Darwin Building at The University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK. We can arrange to meet you at the building or elsewhere on campus if needed, please make us aware of any access issues you may have ahead of time.

Ethical Approval: PSYSOC 159_2nd Phase

Campus Map

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Russell Brand’s Revolution And The Conspiracy Theory Link.

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Conspiracy theories and exponents of revolution have many holes in their arguments, even when they’re not as poorly made and detached from reality as when Russell Brand makes them. One of the main problems though, could be the mindset of the individual making all the noise themselves. Putting the word theorist after conspiracy, doesn’t then mean that an opinion becomes a testable hypotheses or is worth being taken seriously. Calling yourself a revolutionary, doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about, have a good heart, have the answers, or indeed, any solution at all. In Brand’s case, I don’t doubt that what he says comes from a good place, and I agree there needs to be a change in the way we live together in the world, but it needs to be actionable, and not just polemic that satisfies the idealistic – which is very difficult in the real world. I don’t discount everything he says, indeed, I’m impressed that he cares at all given his extremely privileged position as he might stand to lose out most. But, I’m skeptical of much of what he says for a few reasons.

One of the main problems if you identify as a conspiracy theorist, an anarchist, or a revolutionary, is that you tend to be against the ‘official’ narrative, whatever it is. It’s also possible that you’d object to many of the official positions and policies even if they’re beneficial, and any verdict surrounding unrelated events, even before there’s anything to object to, because you’ve primed yourself to. Another issue is the notion that you have to be open-minded to any alternative, whatever that option might be, even if it’s nonsense or just not feasible. However, without stretching the imagination, there are some theories that potentially have grains of truth to them: That aggressive financial lobbying for oil may have contributed in part to the Iraq war, or that the government are watching everything we do aren’t too far-fetched. There’s definitely a correlation between resources and war. And the government (and the media) are surely watching some of us, they have the technology, hopefully they’re focusing on terrorists though, but not me, I’m not interesting enough…. but maybe that’s what they want me to think! Read the rest of this entry

Moral Reasoning Research – What Will You Do?

I am a Masters by Research (MRES) student at the University of Central Lancashire under the supervision of Dr Lea Pilgrim, Dr Andrew Churchill, and Dr Mike Eslea. The following experiment asks you to fill in some basic demographic information, respond to a series of moral dilemmas and then complete a short questionnaire about personality traits. We anticipate this will take you approximately 25 minutes. We would ask you not to participate if you are under the age of 18. This study was ethically cleared by UCLan PSYSOC Ethics Committee under Reference Number: PSYSOC 159.

The dilemmas in some instances require you to make very difficult decisions which would involve the ‘death’ of hypothetical individuals described in the dilemma. Certain dilemmas also require you to make judgments on drug administration in a healthcare setting. Therefore we would advise that you do not participate if you think this may cause you distress. The personality questionnaire consists of over 60 questions that need to be answered honestly, and which look at how you feel about yourself, how you behave, and how you interact with others and the world around you such as: “I easily get bored.” You can withdraw your participation at any time by simply closing the browser window, after clicking the submit button withdrawal becomes impossible as your data will be anonymous.

The data we collect will be submitted for publication in a scientific journal and used in academic presentations and talks. You will not be able to be identified from the data due to its anonymity. Please feel free to contact the researchers with any questions.

If you are happy to proceed please indicate your willingness to do so, by clicking HERE.

Regards,Glen Andrew Carrigan, MBPsS | Senior Demonstrator | Bsc (Hons) Neuropsychology | Darwin Building 133 | GACarrigan@uclan.ac.ukDr Lea Pilgrim | Director of Studies | LPilgrim@uclan.ac.uk

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Hemispheric Differences in Facial Recognition

Poster (1)

This study has been ethically approved by The University of Central Lancashire.

Thank you for your interest in taking part in this study. I am a Graduate Diploma student conducting a project on hemispheric differences in facial recognition. For the task, faces will be presented on a computer screen. You will have to make a ‘same’ or ‘different’ judgment and press a button that reflects your choice. Your age and gender will be recorded.

Please be aware that you have the right to withdraw from this experiment at any point during the study. Due to the method of data collection, results will remain anonymous. Once you leave the laboratory, your data will be combined with previously collected data and therefore not possible to assign to a specific participant. As a result, once data has been submitted, it cannot be returned. Only the researcher, supervisor and examining body will see raw data.

If you still wish to participate in this experiment, please let the researcher know: Kimberley Ward: KWard1@uclan.ac.uk. If you wish to withdraw at this point, thank you for your time. Research slots are available from 9:00am – 11:00am. The experiment takes 10 minutes to complete.

 

Kimberley Ward

 

Moral, religious, psychopathic, or just human?

Glen Carrigan looks at the science of morality

Original article at British Humanist Association 07.07.2014

Science, increasingly, is answering questions which before only philosophers could attempt

Why doesn’t Microsoft Word recognise the word ‘Neuropsychology?’ Maybe because it’s a rather new field, although people have been musing on the workings of the physical brain for a very long time indeed – don’t worry though, we’re not trepanning people anymore!

My interest is the moral brain, how humans – and other animals to some degree – draw the distinction between right and wrong to organise society. Some argue that moral standards are axiomatic and that moral compasses come from god. There actually seems to be some truth to this, in that some absolutist standards like Thou Shalt Not Kill or the Golden Rule seem to be very intuitive – as is the notion that you’re somehow a social pariah if you play World of Warcraft. A paper by Baumard and Boyer called “Explaining Moral Religions” shows just how universal this is.

Is the Golden Rule any good though? Maybe, but you’re making your own narrow individual experience the basis for how you treat others. Wouldn’t it be better to ask them how they’d like to be treated? This should indeed be the case for issues such as assisted dying, where holding to Thou Shalt Not Kill diminishes the dignity and autonomy of a feeling, reflecting being. To hold dogmatic moral views also only works if you believe in god and that at least in some religions, you’re good to escape punishment in the hereafter, rather than for the sake of the here and now.

Far from being divine in origin, there seems to be a wealth of evidence showing us that being an individual yet social animal, with a big (relative to body size) and healthy brain, necessitates certain behaviours for us to flourish in a group. This then, gives rise to our need to discuss and reflect upon what it means to be a moral agent. You can see similar intuitive behavioural patterns to our own in other animals that operate in social groups. A wonderful example is the reciprocal behaviour of vampire bats, who seem to understand that a good deed (donating a regurgitated blood meal – stomach churning I know) deserves repayment. There is much converging evidence in evolutionary psychology that points to animals being the origin of their own ‘moral’ codes. But there are driving forces behind being a good egg other than reciprocity.

Throughout history philosophers have struggled with what constitutes the virtuous act. We notice that certain behaviours are predictable and wrong such as rape and rightly condemn people for it. We also need to accept that we make choices – if we have free will – and should be responsible for them. The fact that certain prohibitions are intuitive might suggest an in-built moral acquisition and refinement device (MARD) which is nurtured by social experience, emotion and reflection, rather than an omnipotent law giver. Perhaps we are actually responsible for the holy books that seek to have us tow the moral line – although we were managing to beforehand – in any event we seem to be the only species we know of that spends a great deal of time writing books telling ourselves to be good, that we’re special, and that we should be humble about it!

Neuropsychology can perhaps tell us a bit about this MARD and how we think, rather than what we should think here: We establish the social norms after all and what acts constitute deviance. The archetypal Psychopath seems to be deviant to many of us and this is why I study them. The fact is that we all have psychopathic traits along a spectrum; it’s just that some people have more pronounced, what the majority consider to be, morally deviant tendencies. Neuropsychology shows us that Psychopaths seem to have diminished empathic concern, as well as, fail to notice the importance of intention in a harmful act. Since it’s us that establish that intention to cause harm is worse than an accident (the difference between murder and manslaughter) we view psychopaths as morally deviant in society – perhaps their MARD is broken?

People often panic here and think that if we can predict someone will think and perhaps behave murderously then the notion of choice in society falls apart. It might, if you want Neuroscience to strip us of our humanity. In my view, although we could see why such people might be like this, that doesn’t mean they walk away scot free. What matters is that we discuss our options reflectively and organise society around us as moral beings that makes choices, with a sense of responsibility, and who can be punished for transgressions, rather than allowing my brain made me do it as an alibi in all cases where mental instability is an issue. It’s also worth pointing out that most psychopaths actually don’t run around murdering people like Heath Ledger in Batman!

Theoretical and Applied Aspects of Distraction: An International Symposium

Glen Carrigan, John Marsh Symposium ay UCLan, 30th April 2014

Symposium: Theoretical and Applied Aspects of Distraction

The University of Central Lancashire

Wednesday 30th April, (Adelphi Building Lecture Theatre 2), 9: 30 am – 15:00 pm

Organised by Dr John Marsh and Glen Carrigan, University of Central Lancashire


Schedule

  • 9:30 am           Overview of the Symposium by John E. Marsh

Session 1 (9:45 am – 10:45 am):Attentional Capture and Cognitive Control

  • 9:45 am        Jessica K. Ljungberg (Umeå University, Sweden) “What’s In a Name? No More than when it’s Mine Own”: Evidence from Auditory Oddball Distraction
  • 10:00 am     Robert F. Potter (Distinguished Visitor, Indiana University, US) Two Really is Better than One: The Voice Change as a Means to Increase Attention to Radio Messages
  • 10:15 am       Robert W. Hughes (Royal Holloway, University of London) Auditory Distraction: A Duplex-Mechanism Account

  • 10:30 am       John E. Marsh (University of Central Lancashire) Cognitive Control of Distraction: Task Difficulty Eliminates Attenuates the Between-Sequence Semantic Similarity Effect
  • 10:45 am         Break/Group Discussion

 

Session 2 (11:00 am – 12:00 pm): Applied Aspects of Distraction

  • 11:00 am        Faye C. Skelton (University of Central Lancashire) In the Face of Distraction: The Impact of Changing-State Speech on Person Identification
  • 11:15 am         Charlie F. Frowd (University of Winchester) The Impact of Weapons and Unusual Objects on Face Recall and Composite  Construction
  • 11:30 am         Patrik Sörqvist (via Skype; University of Gavle, Sweden) Task Difficulty and Distractibility: Basic and Applied Aspects
  • 11:45 am         François Vachon (Université Laval, Canada) Reverberation and Multiple Voices: Solutions to Reduce the Cognitive Impact of Office Noise
  • 12 pm              Lunch

 

Session 3 (1:00 pm – 1:45 pm): Distraction, Action Planning, and Specialised Processing

  • 1:00 pm          Paul J. Taylor (University of Central Lancashire) Action Planning Interference of the Visual Processing of Action-Related Stimuli
  • 1.15 pm           Linden J Ball (University of Central Lancashire) When Distraction Helps: Evidence that Concurrent Articulation and Irrelevant Speech Can Facilitate Insight Problem Solving
  • 1.30 pm           Lea Pilgrim (University of Central Lancashire) Hemispheric Specialisation in Semantic Processing: Using Distraction as a Device to Evaluate the Fine-Coarse Model of Cerebral Asymmetry in Conceptual Processing
  • 1.45 pm           Break/Group Discussion

 

Session 4 (2:00 pm – 3:00 pm): Music as Distraction and Distraction within Special Populations

  • 2:00 pm           Nick R. Perham (Cardiff Metropolitan University) Music as Background Sound
  • 2.15 pm           Rona Linklater (University of Central Lancashire) Music Messaging for the Brain
  • 2:30 pm           Jingqi Yang (University of Central Lancashire) Examining Whether Lonely Individuals are Hypervigilant to Social Threat Using Attention and Memory Tasks
  • 2:45 pm           Tanya N Joseph (University of Central Lancashire) An Investigation of the Vulnerability of Child Cognition to Auditory Distraction

  Read the rest of this entry

UCLan Psychology; Genetics and Neuropsychology

After a successful debut at The Big Bang in Liverpool’s World Museum last year, I’m honoured to be asked to present my workshop at UCLan covering genetics and neuropsychology on Sunday the 23rd of March; so what’s it all about?

What is Neuropsychology?

DNA extraction

Neuropsychology is the study of how we think, and also how the physical brain helps us to interact with the world. Neuropsychologists seek to find how behaviour can highlight problems in the brain, and also help to indicate if there is a biological or psychological basis to many conditions. As you can probably guess, neuropsychology is a cross between neurology and psychology. Neuropsychologists can work as part of a team involving amongst others: neuroscientists, biologists, neurologists, psychologists and many other “ists”. Many practitioners are invested in applying the science directly to help clinical patients, others help by developing new techniques to achieve this, and other neuropsychologists conduct research into many related areas. Neuropsychologists use many different tools from behavioural questionnaires to sophisticated scanning techniques at the cutting edge of technology. One such recent development in technology has been dubbed “clarity” and is truly mind blowing, having been covered in a very accessible video by the guardian.

Read the rest of this entry

UCU statement on UCLan Redundancies

uclan jpegThe following is a statement issued by UCU with regards to the issues raised in my article in support of staff at UCLan: “You can at UCLan: Well actually you can’t without exceptional staff.

“Hello,
 
Just to inform you that following the outcome of the recent ballot, in which over 81% of members who took part voted ‘Yes’ to strike action in defence of jobs and to protect national agreements on roles and grades, UCU has called for strike action on the following dates:
 
A two-day strike on Thursday 6th and Friday 7th March
 
With a further two-day strike on Monday 17th and Tuesday 18th March 
 
Why are we taking this action?
 
As you will be aware, UCU has been in dispute with Management over three substantive issues;
i.                     the threat of academic job losses
ii.                   the breach of the national framework agreement on academic role profiles in the form of the proposed new academic job descriptions
iii.                  the breach of the framework agreement on the use of Associate Lecturer (a.c.1) grade staff
 
UCU has been engaged in talks with Management since the start of the academic year but no significant progress has been made on any of these issues. On the issue of redundancies, ACAS (the arbitration and conciliation service) has offered to broker talks to break the deadlock. UCU has indicated that we are willing to engage in such a process, but University management have rejected the ACAS offer.
 
Furthermore, it was revealed yesterday that none of the proposed ‘new’ posts (which Management made so much of when announcing the job cuts) will be available to ‘at risk’ colleagues as redeployment opportunities. We also have evidence that members are being pressurised into taking ‘voluntary’ redundancy (VR), despite the fact that Management have stated that no-one should be pressurised into taking VR and that only those who ‘genuinely wish to leave the institution’ should apply for VR. Of course we know that there are colleagues who wish to avail themselves of VR but cannot do so because Management has limited the scheme only to those ‘at risk’. UCU has consistently argued for an institution-wide scheme which allows such colleagues to take VR and thus open up potential redeployment opportunities for ‘at risk’ colleagues (known as ‘bumping’, widely practiced as a way of avoiding compulsory redundancies).
 
UCU had hoped that the substantial vote for strike action in the recent ballot would encourage Management to engage in serious negotiations to resolve the dispute.  Unfortunately this has not been the case. UCU is therefore calling for this robust strike action in order to send out the signal that the union is serious about defending jobs and defending our national contractual agreements. Only by building on the mandate given by our members can we achieve our goals of halting the threat to jobs and preserving our contractual agreements.
 
Of course we hope it will not be necessary to engage in a prolonged campaign of industrial action, and the strategy the Branch Committee has devised allows Management ample opportunity to settle the dispute, but unless significant progress is made on all three issues the campaign will continue.  
 
What about the students?
 
Obviously students are affected when we take industrial action. Contrary to the misinformation spread by University Senior Management, we do not take action to damage our students’ education; on the contrary, as those of us who have dedicated our professional lives to the success of our students, both present and future, we are seeking to defend quality higher education from the immediate and longer-term damaging effects of a reduced (and consequently overworked) and de-skilled academic workforce and from the effects of an increasingly ‘managerialist’ culture in HE . Surely it is in the interests of our students that academic quality not be sacrificed for managerial imperatives; that students are taught by staff who genuinely feel their work is valued and who are not fearful of being discarded in the name of ‘workforce planning’ based on a spurious rationale? And is it right that the University should continue to gamble its assets on loss-making and highly risky overseas ventures instead of focussing on the needs of students here in Preston who are paying £9 a year? I invite you to agree with me that it is not.
As always, I am happy to meet to discuss further. In the meantime I urge you to stand up and support your lecturers in their defence of high quality public higher education.
 Michael McKrell
Chair
UCLan UCU”
Petition: Please sign the petition “UCLan: Let our lecturers keep their jobs!” if you agree that the very real intellectual foundations of our university are our cherished academic staff.

Memories in the Making; Neuroscientists Observe Memory Formation

mouse brainFor the first time in history, neuroscientists are observing memory formation and transmission around the brain of a mammal. Developing on advances in the field of RNA research, this astounding discovery really does reveal how this particular function of the brain might work.

Memory is a complex cognitive process comprising many different facets. Before we have a memory (that which we can reconstruct) it has to be encoded in the brain in some way. This is an ever-changing process that is not entirely understood but what we do know is that an initial phase of encoding must take place; this can involve visual, auditory, olfactory perception and more, with a system of storage following its receipt.

This need to store the memory leads to the alteration of molecular structures in the brain including synapses – think of them as radio antennas, one transmitting a particular signal that needs to hop across a gap to another which is designed to receive it; both synapses and radio signal can be strengthened and thus make the job of bridging the gap easier. Memories on a cellular level are seen to be encoded and stable when long-lasting synaptic connections occur between neurons that are in contact with each other. But how do we see this work? Neurons are minute, despite there being 86 billion of them – a figure arrived at by Dr. Suzana Herculano Houzel of the famous ‘brain soup’ study – they are difficult to see and their processes even more troublesome to appraise.

Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Yeshiva University developed a mouse model within which they were able to fluorescently tag molecules of RNA (mRNA) that code for beta-actin (β-actin) proteins. This is a process that we have used before to tag particular types of neurons in the brain; you might also remember a similar technique being used to produce a fluorescent pig! The appeal of this technique is in the fact that one can tag beta-actin proteins without disrupting the normal cellular processes within them. Bet-actin proteins are found thought living organisms with large concentrations in the brain.

One study describes a process where Dr. Park stimulated neurons in the hippocampus (memory associated) of the mouse, producing glowing beta-actin mRNA molecules which they were able to observe travel within the dendrites of the neuron. A second study by graduate student Adina Buxbaum observed that the way in which beta-actin mRNA is synthesised and controlled by neurons may be unique, leading to a process where it is packaged making it inaccessible for making protein and subsequently unpackaged making it available of beta-protein synthesis.

Dr. Singer in whose laboratory this was discovered remarks: “This observation that neurons selectively activate protein synthesis and then shut it off fits perfectly with how we think memories are made.” This would allow for selective stimulation of beta-actin protein where and when needed in order to strengthen synapses and in turn, memories. I only wish my synapses were sufficiently strengthened when taking Japanese language classes: transmission of language through auditory and written media and rehearsal of what is heard leading to better retention and reproducibility, all through the effective functioning of our neural circuitry.

To find out more about the molecular basis of memory please click the links cited within text for academic research articles.
Video courtesy of Albert Einstein College of Medicine

* RESEARCH* Facial Recognition and Eye Witness Memory Study

Facial Recognition Research

Facial Recognition Research

Participants required! 

Earn a £10 Love to Shop voucher for taking part in two Psychology studies at The University of Central Lancashire.

Would you like to take part in two pieces of research that contribute to the understanding of Face Recognition and Eye Witness memory?

This research will involve tasks such as learning faces and selecting faces from a lineup, as well as naming celebrity facial composites and attempting to name celebrities based on the description given. Te session will last approximately one hour.

If you would like to book a time slot or you would like further details, please contact Dr John Marsh at JEMarsh@uclan.ac.uk or Rachel Thorley at RThorley@uclan.ac.uk. For background to this research click here.

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