Author Archives: Matthew Zackschewski

Extra Credit – Conformity

Everyone wants to fit in. They will even sometimes break personal rules or morals in order to do that. Conformity is the definition of trying to fit in.

When I was in middle school, I had a group of friends just like everyone else. They were cool guys and I enjoyed hanging out with them on the weekends and at the lunch tables. These were the kids I would cause shenanigans with and just have a good time. However, towards the end of middle school, they started to hang out with their high friends. I didn’t care, a friend of theirs was a friend of mine.

One day I went with my friends to another friend’s house. When I got there, I realized many things: the high schoolers were there and the parents weren’t. I didn’t care about that, I actually felt kind of cool breaking the rules, being a rebel. However, it all got serious when the high schoolers started doing drugs in front of us. Apparently I forgot the memo that said we were doing this. The key word in that was ‘us’.

My friends were hesitant to try drugs but were convinced by the high schoolers to try it. I was scared to do that so I made up some stupid excuse that made me leave. My friends just wanted to fit in and conform to the imaginary standards of their friends. I’m sure if they chose not to do drugs they would still be good friends but unconsciously they felt obligated to partake in them as well. Conformity has helped me by following the pack but sometimes it is quite the opposite.

Scared of What?

Many people in the world have phobias, things/places that they are scared of beyond belief. For example, many people have a fear of spiders otherwise known as arachnophobia.

I had some phobias before in my younger years. I was deathly afraid of spiders and heights. However I would always say “No, I’m not afraid. Are you!?” to seem manly to my friends. This never changed the fact that when I was at home by myself and saw a spider next to me, I would go to the other room, not killing it but just leaving it alone. Also, whenever presented with opportunities that involved heights like a rock wall, I did not back down. This situation was a little different. I would start the challenge but then realize how far I was from the ground, obviously not following the common advise “Don’t look down”, and freaking out while hanging on the side of a wall. Undoubtedly, I would let go or slip and return to the sweet ground once again.

Through my life I have been heavily involved with Boy Scouts. I started when I was 7 as a TIger Cub and am now an Eagle Scout with 4 Eagle Palms; I have spent many years in Scouting. Through these years, many of them have been spent in the woods with no electronics. You will be surprised how your body changes when it realizes you have no niceties anymore. You will begin to avoid things that normally you would try hard to get like Oreos for example.  Instead, you begin to crave the main meal like lasagna because you need the nutrients. Along with your body adapting comes overcoming fears, one of them being insects of all kinds. Since you are living in very close vicinity with every insect known to man, you must become very comfortable dealing with their presence in a calm fashion, otherwise you get made fun of. As you would expect spiders were included in the insect category and I have had many run ins with these creatures. I remember one time in particular where I realized that I had to overcome my fear of spiders. My friend was more afraid of spiders than I was and there was a black widow on the roof of his tent, right over where he was sleeping. That would freak out anyone but the fact still remained that we needed to remove it so we could continue sleeping. No one else was up so it left me to deal with the nuisance. I was so inclined to wake up a leader to do it for me but the amount of alarm that would raise at 3 am would be all on my shoulders and I did not want that. So I took my Pringles can and proceeded to whack the spider multiple times until it was dead. I felt bad that I killed it but I also felt vindicated that I overcame my fear.

Recently I overcame my fear of heights. My friend called me from back home and asked if I would like to celebrate his 18th birthday with him. Since we were really close friends I obviously said sure. He told me he was skydiving and would come pick me up so we can do so on a specific weekend. The height I knew I would be at was frightening but two things made me say yes. The first being that if I said I was too scared he would definitely hold that over me for a long time. The second being that I heard skydiving was one of the most exhilarating things ever to be done. So I said yes and that weekend came up and we both went to the skydiving center. He even got a package where we went an extra 3,000 ft higher so we could have more free fall. Retrospectively, I am so glad he did. That was the best experience of my life. Now I look at heights a different way. Instead of being scared, I think that if I fall, I will die quickly so I don’t worry about pain or anything.

Matthew Zackschewski – mgz5020

Operant Conditioning

Many people see dogs and other animals perform tricks and tasks the owners  ask of them. When these are executed correctly, people are amazed and the dogs are happy because due to the reaction, they know that something good will follow. Owners use a technique called operant conditioning; they use reinforcement and punishment to curve or “shape” behaviors into the behaviors desired. If a dog is behaving well, performing the right tricks, etc, the owner will reward it with a treat or something good that the dog likes. Then the dog knows that whatever they did right before that was a good behavior, thereby reinforcing it. However, if it does something bad, the owner will do something bad to the dog to let it know that whatever it did is not acceptable and thereby punishing the dog. This will ultimate eliminate the behavior in most cases.

When I used to live in Missouri in middle school, my neighbor had a big dog that they kept outside in a big fenced in yard. I still to this day do not know what kind of dog other than it looked like a lion with all of its hair and the color. Since they began to lose interest/time to take care of the dog they told me that if I would like to go in and walk him or feed him, feel free. Little did they know I love dogs. The next day I went over, opened the gate and this big beast came and tackled me. It weighed the same, if not more than I did. This is where I, and my mom, began the operant conditioning.

I would go over everyday after school so he knew who I was and would play fetch with him and take him for walks. I noticed something weird though, the dog would walk perfectly. He would not take off running or pull you. He would simply walk at your pace and if he got too far and felt the leash get taught, he would stop and just wait. This confused me because I never heard of him being trained. After a couple months, he understood that tackling me is not good by me punishing him every time he did it. He was a very lovable pet.

Before I moved, I still was curious as to why he was so well trained in being walked so I asked my neighbors. They told me that he went to some teacher that trained him how to walk. This would explain why he acted so wildly in his yard but was very tamed when I walked him. Retrospectively I see how my operant conditioning took affect on him; towards the end of my time with him, he  respected me and would not jump or tackle me anymore (along with some other behaviors). I saw how the training he already had curved some behaviors most dogs have when being walked while the other behaviors involved with just playing in the yard had not been checked yet.

Matthew Zackschewski – mgz5020

You Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone

As we all know, Penn State has a multitude of options when it comes to food. There are the commons, the many specialty places (i.e. the mix, the leaf, etc.), and many places close to campus. However, being the somewhat lazy college kid that I am, I tend to frequent the places that are closest to me. In my week, I will eat at the mix in Pollock almost every day; it is close to my dorm and is normally quick with the orders I choose. Now, with the second semester starting, I cannot stand the food there anymore. I have eaten my favorite combinations from the menu many times and now, every time I eat it again, it tastes bland and not exciting. I believe that I have developed some sort of sensory adaptation to the food at the mix.

Sensory adaptation is a process by the sensory receptors in the body. As a constant stimulus, like my food, continues to stimulate the sensory receptors, they become less receptive to the stimulus unless a big change happens (like they forget the cheese on my cheesesteak). This is different from habituation cause in sensory adaptation, the receptors themselves become less responsive to the stimulus where as in habituation, the brain does not send those signals to the cortex.

There are many options at the mix to choose from, from the simple chicken strips to the complex Philly cheesesteak. I have tried all of these and even tried putting different things on them or trying to eat them in a different combination, but I continue to eat my meals from there with a dull expression on my face. The food does not taste as exciting or strong anymore. I noticed this at the end of last semester as the food I kept getting from the mix almost every day began to taste more bland and generic.

My friend, and future roommate, Alex has been convincing me to try the Pollock commons. I have been going there almost every day for dinner now and even though they have different items daily, I have begun the same process as the mix. It does not help that I get the same things at the commons, salad, some pizza, and whatever thing they have new that day. I still enjoy going there because the few items that they have that change.

An interesting point to discuss is the fact that sensory adaptation can go away. If the constant stimulus is taken away, the receptors return to normal in regards to that stimulus. Therefore, I recently revisited the mix and ordered a cheesesteak. I was surprised at how much I liked it; it had a lot more flavor than I remembered. It was the exact same thing I would get all last semester but since I hadn’t eaten it for a while, it tasted so much better. I think the most appropriate saying that best sums my experience with eating here at the mix is “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.”

Matthew Zackschewski – mgz5020