The three articles chosen for analysis focus on the neurological correlation between ecstasy and memory impairment; one by Simon and Mattick (2001) assessed the relationship between ecstasy use and memory impairment. The second one by Zakzanis & Young (2001) dwelt on memory impairment in abstinent MDMA users over one year. Lastly, a study done by Bolla et al. (1998) focused on memory impairment in abstinent ecstasy users.
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Biological psychology methodology
Simon and Mattick (2001) used a correlational analysis to determine whether a relationship exists between prolonged ecstasy use and memory function. The researchers were also interested in comparison of this memory function with that of regular cannabis users. Therefore, this research method revolved around establishment of a relationship, definition of what the relationship was and how strong it was.
This was a cross sectional study because the researchers sampled the population and studied all the concerned measured at one point. Although the researchers were interested in analyzing the effect of prolonged usage of MDMA, they did not measure level of drug use for a prolonged period of time.
The authors recorded the histories of the participants and collected information about their average lifetime drug use and psychological well being. They tested their memory function using standardized tests. All these variables were collected using structured interviews.
Bolla et al. (1998) utilized an experimental approach in their analysis. They focused on a control group that did not use MDMA (drug-naïve participants) and one that used the drugs. They measured their memory scores and then compared the results. This allowed them to establish whether a cause and effect relationship existed between ecstasy drug use and memory impairment. The authors carried out a retrospective study.
Zakzanis & Young (2001) used a longitudinal approach in their analysis. Such an approach is quite sensible because it minimizes the effect of past difference in memory functioning. This method allowed the authors to show the causal direction of effects. During a twelve month period, participants were analyzed twice for memory functions and only MDMA users were employed.
Strengths and weaknesses of the biological hypotheses
The key strength with the research conducted by Simon and Mattick (2001) is that it acknowledges the possibility of cannabis as a confounding factor and thus analyses it. Possibilities of the effect of other drugs such as alcohol were considered, as well. Additionally, the researchers tried to narrow down the demographic variation and lifestyle differences between the test and comparison groups by focusing on members of the same age group.
These researchers also studied the psychological robustness of the subjects in order to ascertain that the variable would not interfere with memory functioning. The key weakness in this study is the fact that it is a correlational study in which the test subjects are subjected to a series of other confounding factors. Consequently, one cannot determine cause and effect relationship unless all the possible variables that affect memory are controlled.
First, this experiment uses subjects with different memory capabilities. No analysis of the subjects was done prior to their use of cannabis or ecstasy in order to determine their previous memory scores. This should have been compared with their current memory status (after prolonged ecstasy use) in order to determine whether there was any change. Furthermore, only average ecstasy dosage levels were considered for the entire group, yet individual consumption variations do exist.
Some people may take 30 tablets of ecstasy a month while others may only take two. Education plays a vital role in one’s performance during memory tests. Persons with tertiary education are more likely to remember certain things that those without it.
This study did not acknowledge that difference, and randomly selected test subjects. Lastly, the researchers did not consider the effect of lifestyle in patterns of use. Ecstasy is a drug that is associated with the ‘rave’ culture while cannabis is not. People who engage in prolonged dancing and are sleep deprived may report relatively low scores in memory tests, so this should have been considered.
The critical problem with Bolla et al. (1998) was that they allowed the control subjects to have experimented with other drugs. They claimed that this was only fair since members of the test group also used other drugs. Instead of incorporating two confounders, the scientists should have tried to eliminate the use of other recreational drugs from both subjects. If this was impossible, then they should have included prior recreational drug use in the regression analysis.
Another major problem that was also noted in the previous study was failure to measure underlying memory function differences between the control group (non MDMA users) and the test group. No incorporation of lifestyle differences between the control and test subjects was also made.
One of the vital strengths of this study was that it included the effect of drug dosage levels during the analysis. It also considered other demographic factors such as age, gender and vocabulary use. Furthermore, the effect of MDMA dosage concentrations on memory concentrations also validated their claims.
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Zakzanis & Young (2001) research was advantageous because it was longitudinal, so it eliminated problems with differences between the test subjects. Additionally, it used participants within the same age group; that is, 17- 31. Education level was also considered as all had to have at least 14 years worth of education. Since these factors were incorporated in the analysis, then the possibility of confounding factors in memory scores was eradicated.
Additionally, because the study only focused on ecstasy users, then there was no need to include lifestyle differences between the test subjects. The major challenge with this study was that the sample size was small; only 15 participants were employed in the study. In addition, no reference was made to psychological factors that could have affected the test subjects in the past; this may have impeded their memory during the study.
Assessment of the research findings conclusion
Simon and Mattick (2001) found that there was no correlation between memory impairment and regular MDMA use. However, they found an association between lifetime cannabis use and memory impairment. They explained that cannabis has a confounding role in other tests that measure memory impairment and MDMA use.
One may question these findings because adjustments for lifestyle differences between cannabis and MDMA were not done. Failure to incorporate other confounding factors such as education level, age and memory capabilities before the study also place doubt on these findings.
Bolla et al. (1998) found a strong relationship between memory impairment and drug use. However, the challenges in proving a cause and effect relationship in studies of memory impairment were not overcome in this paper. No consideration for recall differences was done and no incorporation of lifestyle variations was included in the research, so one might question these findings.
Zakzanis & Young (2001) found that continued ecstasy use led to a decline in delayed recall. One may count on this research because its design was the least problematic among the three. The authors eliminated inaccuracies that stem from lifestyle variations, and preexisting memory differences between non MDMA users and MDMA users. Besides these, problems with sample size can easily be corrected.
The study plan under consideration will be a correlational longitudinal study. It will be longitudinal because such studies allow authors to study effect patterns over long periods of time. They can authoritatively make cause and effect correlations owing to these patterns.
This study design was borrowed from the one done by Zakzanis & Young (2001). It will use correlational analysis because a group that will possess the characteristics under analysis will be compared with one that does not have these characteristics, and a conclusion will be made. The latter correlational section is similar to Simon and Mattick (2001).
The hypothesis of the research is “The lifestyle of MDMA users causes memory deficits”. Many analysts acknowledge that ecstasy users have an exclusive way of life that is not found among other drug users. These individuals often engage in prolonged dancing and visual stimulation. Users may lack sleep and may eat minimal quantities of food.
These are all factors that may affect how a person’s memory functions. Few researchers have considered this factor in their research, let alone use it as the main research variable. Only a a small number have tried to exclude its confounding effects from their findings. Consequently, the line of research is worth pursuing.
How to design a study to verify the hypothesis
The research will involve 50 individuals. All participants will be MDMA users, but 25 of them will have a relatively dormant lifestyle while the other 25 will have a lifestyle that is identified with ecstasy users. The study will last for a period of one year, and the memory scores of test subjects will be measured at the beginning of the study and at the end of it.
A longitudinal analysis of memory functioning will be done for these two groups and their t-test values compared. If the group with the typical ecstasy lifestyle has higher declines in memory than the one without the active lifestyle, then the hypothesis will be confirmed (refer to the section above for the hypothesis statement).
Independent and dependent variable
The hypothesis will provide a guideline on the dependent and independent variables in the study. First, the dependent variable is memory decline or memory deficits while the independent variable is the lifestyle of MDMA users. People who manifest this lifestyle will be persons who lack sleep and food due to dancing and participation in the rave subculture. Those who do not possess this quality will belong to the control group.
How to assure validity of the research
In order to ensure validity in the research, it will be imperative to avoid most of the pitfalls that researchers in this field often fall into. First of all, the research will employ a longitudinal analysis that will eliminate the problem of comparing separate groups of people whose previous memory scores were not known.
The paper will not compare discrete memory scores between the control and the test group; instead, it will look at the patterns of memory decline in these two separate groups. This will eradicate any possible psychological factors that may alter individual memory scores among these groups.
Another method for ensuring validity will be to use participants of the same age group, gender and educational background. Such an approach would eliminate possible confounding effects on memory. Additionally, since prior drug use of other recreational drugs may affect outcomes, it will be imperative to include these in the correlational analysis. Characteristics of drug use will also be included in the calculations so as to preclude the effect of this exposure on the dependent variable.
Criteria for conducting the study safely and ethically
Only participants who give informed consent will be used in the research. They will be informed about the purpose of the research, procedures involved and the duration. Furthermore, their identities will remain anonymous, and those who feel uncomfortable with any of the research procedures will be excused.
The matter under analysis is MDMA drug usage. Since this substance has neurological effects, then no participants will get the substance from the researcher. It would be unethical to subject participants to biological harm through this avenue. Consequently only those individuals who take MDMA out of their own accord will be considered for the research.
During analysis of the results, findings will be used as is. In other words, no manipulation of outcomes will take place in order to confirm or nullify the hypothesis. Acceptable data analysis techniques will be used in order to come up with the most accurate results.
Bolla, K., McCann, M. & Ricaurte, G. (1998). Memory impairment in abstinent MDMA (Ecstasy) users. Neurology Journal, 51(6), 1532-1537.
Simon, N. & Mattick, R. (2001). The impact of regular ecstasy use on memory function. Addiction Journal 97, 1523-1529.
Zakzanis, K. & Young, D. (2001). Memory impairment in abstinent MDMA (Ecstasy) users: a longitudinal investigation. Neurology Journal, 56, 966-969.