Thursday, April 06, 2006

Why I Love Psychology

As I've said here before, I am a psych major, and I love it. I love it so hard, that while my overall GPA is a lowly 2.5 (that's a middling C), my GPA for psych courses is 3.1 (that's a B). Obviously, I do well in psych, because I find it interesting and therefore retain it (unlike, for example, calculus and organic chemistry, which I find dry as toast).

So, for those of you who don't know (and hopefully, this blog is anonymous enough that that's most of you), I was abused in my teen years. I don't remember how long this went on, but it was my first sexual experience, and like many folks in similar situations to mine, I now have PTSD (with PTSD-related depression, different from checmical-imbalance depression, as an added bonus). I can function well in my daily life, I very rarely have flashbacks or intrusive thoughts, and since I'm very aware of what's going on in myself, I can look at various behaviors/thoughts and go, okay, I'm acting this way because of X, so let's examine myself and see if I still want to act that way, aside from that influence, and all in all aside from the depression, it works very well.

Well, today I learned an interesting thing about Learned Helplessnes theory. Learned helplessnes is when an animal is given an aversive stimulus (such as a mild shock) that they cannot control. The animal learns that it cannot control its environment, it forms cognitions to that affect, which then decrease its motivations to try and control it. Secondly, the behavior and the environment have no association at this point - in fact, the animal learns that they specifically do NOT effect one another, that the shocks will start or stop regardless of whether the bar is pressed. This works to later on prohibit learning at a time when pressing the bar is able to alleviate shock - they press the bar, the shock stops, but the connection doesn't form in the animal's brain. This is learned helplessnes.

The cool thing I learned today is that when the animal is in this situation, where it has no control over the enviroment, the brain helps the animal endure it by releasing opiates, endorphines, so that it doesn't feel pain as strongly - you know, the same thing the body does in childbirth. Anyway, this opiate may actually be the key to learned helplessnes, because later on when the animal is in the situation where control is possible, they choose to do nothing and get the opiate rather than do whatever (complex) actions give it control (note: if it's a simple action, learned helplessnes doesn't really apply).

However, if you get a Learned Helplessnes rat, and then put him in a situation where he learns that he DOES have control, the opiate effect and the learned helplessnes goes away! (not entirely to the same point where it would be if he'd never had the experience, but close enough to not be statistically significant)

Anyway, the way this all relates together is that PTSD? Yeah, totally works in a very similar way! So I love psychology, because it tells me that those things that make me happy (knitting, driving, living independantly) are actually helping me overcome my PTSD, by learning on an intuitive level that I have control of my environment! Isn't that awesome? Isn't that the most awesome thing ever?

Also, I decided to go ahead and get my ICNHA certification today. I did the practice test and got 98 without using any of the extra credit questions, so I'm feeling pretty confident. I'll have to take pics of my henna tonight and send them in with my recipe :)

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