Statistics Made Easy 3: Relationships or Differences?

For inferential statistics classes, what I always emphasis to my students from the very first classes is:  "Know what you are trying to find: Relationships or Differences?"  This is especially for continuous data, rather than discrete or categorical data.  Please do a bit of research and read up these types of data (and variables). I will probably write a post about this some other day.

So the big question: "Relationships" or "Differences"?
This question looks at the link between your independent variable (IV) and dependent variable (DV), and also helps you decide what type of tests you are going to use (once you decide on whether you are going to parametric or nonparametric statistics for the different types of variables (to be discussed in another post).

To better understand whether you are going to do a statistical test to evaluate the relationship or difference, we need to first look deeper into the IV and the DV by asking some simple questions:
1.  Are there different groups in the IV and the scores in the DV might differ as a reason of that?  If "Yes", you are looking for a difference (between the groups).  If there are no groups, there is a high chance that you are looking for a relationship between the IV and DV.
2.  Does the scores in the DV fluctuate or vary with the IV, i.e. you are expecting that whenever the IV scores increase, the DV scores should increase/decrease in a fixed pattern?  If that is the case, it would certainly be an analysis towards the relationship between the IV and the DV.   
Hope this clears up a big question mark for you towards understanding statistical analyses!!  If you wish to read the rest of the statistics-related posts, here they are!!!

Stereotypes vs Reality: Psychology Major

I happen to come across this Stereotypes vs Reality: College Major video by WahBanana last night, and I was quite glad that they did not do the example on psychology majors.  Purely for two reasons: a) otherwise, I would not have the idea and chance to write this post, and b) I am not too sure if they will actually get it right.

So for the sake of accuracy, rather than fun, here goes my version of Stereotypes v.s Reality of studying psychology:
1.  Studying psychology is going to be interesting and fun. (Try telling someone that you study psychology, one of the common one-word replies would be "interesting" or "fun")
2.  We learn how to read people's minds. (The other replies would be "Don't try to read my mind" )
3.  We will be studying a lot of methods to counsel and help people.
4.  Because psychology is an "arts" subject, we will be not doing maths-related or science-related topics.
5.  People who study psychology will be good in communication and relationships.
1.  There will always be some modules which are not interesting or fun at all, and these uninteresting modules will be different for different people.  For those modules, unless you are a person who commit everything to memory, it will be quite hard to get an A.
2.  No.  That module is not in the syllabus.  Period.
3.  You will be studying a lot more on the theories regarding the therapies, rather than practicing the therapies.  Don't worry, as that will be covered more when you get to the postgraduate level.
4.  Dream on.  Talk to anyone who did a psychology undergraduate and they will tell you they studied statistics and about parts of the brain.
5.  Studying it does not mean that the application will be perfect.  Understand?
I believe these are purely teasers and some of the many stereotypes out there.  There will be many more out there.  What psychology stereotypes have you encountered when talking to people?  Tell me and I will add them into this list.

SGPsychStud: R.I.P. Robin Williams

This great comedian has just passed away.  And strangely his death has hit me quite a bit.  Not really sure why.  But I believe his movies have touched many in both the humourous and serious sides.  To commemorate him, I decided to show this movie in my class with the purpose to illustrate how we could connect with our clients.

But I feel this part will be exceptionally useful for other psychology students out there.

Abstract from Patch Adams (1998) movie:
You treat a disease, you win, you lose.  You treat a person, I guarantee you, you win, no matter what the outcome.
Now here today, this room is full of medical students.  Don't let them anesthetize you.  Don't let them numb you out to the miracle of life.  Always live in awe of the glorious mechanism of the human body.  Let that be the focus of your studies and not a quest for grades, which'll give you no idea what kind of doctor you will become.  Don't wait till you're on the ward to get your humanity back.
Start your interviewing skills now.  Start talking to strangers.  Talk to your friends, talk to wrong numbers, talk to everyone.
And cultivate friendships with those amazing people in the back of the room - nurses that can teach you.  They've been with people every day.  They wade through blood and shit.  They have a wealth of knowledge, and so do the professors you respect - the ones who are not dead from the heart up.  Share their compassion.  Let that be contagious. 
Take-away from this part for psychology students:  Do not study without a purpose.  Make sure you study with the purpose of understanding the human mind and behaviour, and not for your grades.  And interact with people as much as you can, as there is often much more you can learn from them than you ever know.

And this next part is more about me:
This is what I want to do with my life.  And as God is my witness, no matter what your decision today, Sir,  I will still become the best damn doctor the world has ever seen.  Now you have the ability to prevent me from graduating.  You can keep me from getting the title and the white coat.  But you can't control my spirit, gentlemen.  You can't keep me from learning.  You can't keep me from studying.  So you have a choice.  You can have me as a professional colleague, passionate, or you can have me as an outspoken outsider, still adamant.  Either way, I'll probably still be viewed as a thorn.  But I promise you one thing.  I am a thorn that will not go away.      
For those who do not like me or do not see the purpose of why I am writing this blog and the posts, it is to better prepare the psychology students, current and future, for what they are coming up against.  I believe this will only improve our psychology scene in Singapore, and not meant to criticise it in any way or form.  I will keep on researching and writing, as long as my brain and mind allows.  So you have a choice.  Try to understand my views and try to improve our psychology scene in Singapore, or just ignore me.  "But I promise you one thing.  I am a thorn that will not go away." (I love this sentence...)  

What we need NOW in Singapore psychological education and training system

Based on my updated list of psychology programs in Singapore, I have been getting emails from students (and some parents) asking whether the programs that they are planning to enroll  in are "recognised". My reply is:
Programs conducted in Singapore (in the above list) are recognised by CPE but the accreditation of the programs are done by respective accreditation councils of the various countries. There is no accreditation council in Singapore to verify whether the programs are of high quality training and will suffice for one to move up to the next levels of education and training.
Having an accreditation council to accredit psychology education and training is very important for students, as:
  1. Having a list of accredited programs will allow you to know which programs are accredited.
  2. If you have graduated from an accredited program, this will allow you to move on to the next levels of tertiary education and training (e.g. Masters, Phd, etc.).
  3. There will be no dispute of whether your degree is "recognised" or not, as long as the program is accredited by the accreditation council.  With the accreditation, it would mean that the program that you are doing will be able to equip you with the psychological knowledge and skills to proceed to your postgraduate studies.
  4. Those who complete accredited programs will be "sufficiently qualified and competent to meet the registration requirements" (APAC, 2012).  With the registration requirements met out, this accreditation standards could be in line with the registration requirements.  This would mean that the program that you are doing will be able to equip you with the psychological knowledge and skills you will need to become a psychologist.
Hence, it is important and essential that an accreditation council is existing in our local psychological system.  However, it has to be understood that building and developing this council is a a task of Himalayan proportions, and it cannot be completed by just only one person or volunteer.  It has to be completed by a team of professionals working on this large project, and has to be done hand-in-hand with the registration council. 

The Mysterious Neurotransmitters

This is a topic in psychology which we can't avoid studying about: Neurotransmitters.  You might study it in the first year or last year of your Bachelors program.  I thought that we probably need more information, especially on what neurotransmitters are and how they work.  To have a more accurate answer to that, I decided to ask a colleague of mine, Dr. V., who is a biochemistry scholar to give us some advice.  If you have any further questions about this topic, you may email me at and I will further your email to her.  Here goes:  

Point I: No Discrimination

The term ‘Neurotransmitter’ maybe intimidating but it is important to explore this stereotype.  In actual fact, ‘Neurotransmitter’ is just a fancy name for a chemical molecule that is synthesised and functions within the proximity of the brain.  It is essentially brain hormone, just like any other hormone in the body.  It does not have any special magical power for being in the most complex organ, the brain.

There are still many unknowns within the world of neurotransmitters, like:
-  How many different neurotransmitters are there?
-  Are all known neurotransmitters fully characterised?
-  How does neurotransmitters work?
-  Why are there so many different neurotransmitters functioning together?

Point II: A Stable Partnership

Neurotransmitters are produced from two main types of cells:  Neurons and Glia cells.  Neurons are commonly known as brain cells (the main players).  However, they cannot function without the help of Glia cells (the supporters).  Glia cells feeds and maintain neurons, from the blood supply which the neurons do not have access to.  The functionality of the brain is dependent upon these brain cells’ stable partnership.

 Point III: The Factory

The brain works as a network of neurons, which is constantly communicating with one and other.  This is how the brain control and regulate our whole biological being.  The communication between neurons is based on chemical and electrical signals.  The chemical signals are provided by the neurotransmitters, produced by the brain cells.

Point IV: The Delivery Service

Neurotransmitters are the ultimate messenger of the brain.  However, this job is not straight forward.  This neuronal network is made up of neurons that are not physically in contact with one another.  So, it is not possible for the neurotransmitters to travel fluidly from cell to cell.  That is why the electrical signal is equally important.  These tiny gaps at the neuronal terminal are known as synapse (Figure 3).  The message overcomes this hurdle in a specific manor:
1.  Neurotransmitters are grouped together inside a membrane to form a vesicle.  This makes a neat and tidy package for delivery (Figure 4).
2.  These vesicles get stacked and wait just before the synapse.  When the electrical signal arrives, it will trigger the release neurotransmitters into the synapse.  (It is OK – don’t panic. This is part of the delivery process).
3.  The released neurotransmitters form the chemical signal in the synapse (Figure 5).  The neurotransmitter will swim across to the surface of the neighbouring neurons, where there are receptors (life buoys) to note their arrival.  [Please note:  under no circumstances are any neurotransmitters permitted to enter neighbouring neurons.  They will be rescued, biochemically, by their own parental neurons.]
4.  The arrival of the chemical signal will in turn trigger the electrical signal.  This will then sprint toward the awaiting packages (neurotransmitter-filled vesicles) and push them off the synaptic cliff (release of neurotransmitter).  Then the cycle will repeat from one neuron to the next, until the message has reached its destination.

Point V: The Cocktail Mixture

There are a large number of different neurotransmitters.  About 50 neurotransmitters have been identified so far.  The most commonly known ones are GABA, Histamine, Acetylcholine, Dopamine, Noradrenalin, Endorphins and Substance P.
It is not clear:
i)  Why the brain needs so many different neurotransmitter?
ii)  How are each neurotransmitter different in function from each other?

Initially, the theory was that a specific neuron was only capable of producing a specific neurotransmitter.  Therefore, the outcome function is very rigid and limited.  One neurotransmitter is for one type of functional output.  This is supported by the vase number of neurotransmitters that has been identified.  However, it is unlikely that neurons are only able to function in ~50 different ways.  Biochemically, this number is far too small for any biological system.
A more feasible theory is that each neuron produces a cocktail of neurotransmitters.  The mix ratio from each neuron is varied, so a different combination of neurons gives a different message for a different function.  Just like if each neurotransmitter is a letter of the alphabet, the different combination of letter can form different words to give different meanings.
All in all, the outcome of the neuronal system (Brain) is dictated by the neurotransmitters.

Point VI: Error in the Signal

Neurotransmitters have a heavy role in neurological diseases, but very little is known.  Since the brain is the most complex organ of the body and it governs all other organ systems.  There is no limit to the outcome of any neuronal disorders.  However, it can be categories as anatomical deficit (physical/structural damage of neuron) or chemical deficit (lost of chemical signal).
The neurotransmitter’s function has been associated with physical action, thinking, mood and behaviour.  The most abundant neurotransmitter is Glutamate, which has been linked with autism, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia and depression.  This does not suggest that glutamate is the cause of these psychiatric disorders.  The pathology is likely to be much more complex because some have these disorders have also been linked to other neurotransmitters as well.  Dopamine has been linked to schizophrenia and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).  Serotonin has been linked to depression.
This overlap of neurotransmitters and diseases strongly suggest that each neurotransmitter must have more than one functions.  The role of these neurotransmitters in psychiatric disorders is unclear.  By studying these diseases, it will give clues to the normal neurotransmitters’ function that is lacking.
The mystery that lies within the different neurotransmitters cocktails are waiting to be discovered.  The master recipes of these cocktails may be the key to tackling psychiatric disorders and possibly be the cure.

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