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However, because of the retrospective nature of the study, researchers could not determine which of the many variables associated with famine (e.g.
nutrient deficiencies, generalized stress, infection, ingestion of toxic substances, or a combination of those factors) contributed to the increased risk of psychosis.(6) Determining the relative contribution of environmental factors to the onset of schizophrenia is further complicated by the interactions between genetic and environmental variables. (2005) found that different versions of the catecholamine-O-methyl transferase (COMT) gene, which is involved in the regulation of dopamine release in the prefrontal cortex, affected the degree to which adolescent cannabis use was a risk factor for schizophrenia.(7) The genetic contribution to depressive disorders is estimated to be approximately 30 to 40 %.(8) While a variety of environmental characteristics have been identified as risk factors for depression, early life stressors, such as childhood physical or sexual abuse, parental neglect, and loss of a parent, have been shown to significantly increase the probability of developing depression later in life.(9) The effects of early life stressors are influenced by a variety of genes, and the 5-HTTLPR gene, involved in serotonin transporter functioning, has received significant attention. (2003) found that the short version of the gene, which is associated with a reduction in serotonin transporter function, increased the risk of developing depressive symptoms and suicidality following exposure to stressful life events and maltreatment during childhood.(10) However, results from studies of the 5-HTTLPR gene have not been consistent, and Heim et al.
(2012) emphasize that many studies have also identified a host of environmental risk factors for schizophrenia.
For instance, a classic study of the Dutch Hunger Winter (1944-1945) found that exposure to famine early in pregnancy was associated with a significant increase in schizophrenia risk for both male and female offspring.
We have climbed over the highest mountains and descended into the deepest caves.
And yet, the brain hasn’t revealed all of its secrets.
The factors listed above do not act in isolation to contribute to the development of psychological disorders, and the nature of gene by environment interactions is the subject of substantial research.
Gene-environment interactions describe the phenomenon by which certain gene variants modulate the effects of environmental factors.