Author Archives: srw5194

I’m 16 and have osteoporosis?

What if there was a hit TV show titled “I’m 16 and have osteoporosis…” Seems bizarre right? Since when do teenagers suffer from bone loss. A new study shows that teenage girls who smoke are at risk to “accrue less bone mineral that those who don’t light up.” (Seppa) 

We tend to associate osteoporosis with older women — a poor old lady walking slowly across the street with a hunched over back. 

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Bone growth occurs mostly in childhood and adolescence. Bones “regenerate and remodel” throughout life, but the teen years are “crucial to developing a strong, dense skeleton.” (Seppa) 

According to Lorah Dorn, a developmental psychologist and pediatric nurse practicioner at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, “failing to build adequate bone strength in adolescence could jeopardize a young woman’s ability to fully accumulate a bone bank…” Bone banks work basically like an ATM. When you need more bone mass, you withdraw some out of the bank. When you’re body produces more, you deposit it into the ATM, available for use when you are low again. Bone banks are very important when women are going through menopause and “begin to lose bone mass.” (Dorn) 


This study, done by Dorn, recruited 262 healthy girls ages 11-17. They were to return every 3 years “to undergo bone density tests.” (Seppa) Girls who reported smoking showed almost no bone growth in the “lower vertebrae and a decline in in bone density at the hips.” (Seppa) Nonsmokers showed the opposite. These girls had normal bone growth “in both regions.” The 19 year old smokers had fallen a full year worth of growth behind the nonsmokers. 

I wonder how many of the 262 girls were smokers and what ages. I also wonder if bone growth occurs more in any age between 11 and 17. These could both be confounded variables that affect the results of the study. A study where 50% of the girls were smokers would be more even, and I doubt 50% of the 262 were smokers – especially since the age group started at 11. Most girls do not start smoking that early. The article did say they took in account difference in “race, weight, calcium intake, physical activity, and Vitamin D level.” (Seppa) The article does state at the very bottom that it is “still unclear how smoking contributes to the reduced bone mineralization.” To me, this last sentence reduces the legitimacy of the findings. Another study definitely needs to be done to explain the results or it’s not very reliable. 

I still believe this study is just one more reason not to smoke. It shows smoking not only has harmful long term affects in adults like lung cancer, but also harmful short term affects. In a matter of 3 years, a teenage girl can lose 1 year of bone growth. 

nonverbal communication

Our body language actually tells a lot about us without even realizing it. For instance, people that are more shy tend to hunch over because it subconsciously covers their neck, a vulnerable body part. People who are confident or wealthy tend to have good posture and may even over expose their neck to show that they are not afraid. Over excessive blinking can be a sign someone doesn’t like what or whom they’re seeing, therefore, trying to see less of them by closing their eyes. If someone shakes a hand with their palm down that’s usually a sign they are the dominant person and vice versa. For example, Hitler’s symbol was not a palm up, it was a palm down to show everyone he was in control. 
Studies support the theory that body language can be read to tell a lot about a person or form an opinion. With my obsession of Law and Order:SVU and my newly found interest in nonverbal communication I was intrigued when I found an article in the NY Times that suggests a judge’s body language can affect a jury’s decision. A judicial study analyzed “courtroom lore,” the “judge’s attitudes,” and ultimately the “trial’s outcome.” (Goleman) 
In these studies the “judge knew that the defendant had a record of previous felonies,”(Goleman) but the jury did not unless the defendant took the stand. According to this Stanford Study, by Dr. Blanck and Robert Rosenthal, when judges did know of this information their “final instructions to juried were lacking in warmth, tolerance, patience, and competence.” (Goleman) The juries were twice as likely to come back guilty when the judge’s “tone of voice” sent a “negative message.” 
This study is thought provoking but even the article says its “one of a wave of studies,” (Goleman) thus not enough evidence to draw a conclusion. This study was also observational, it would be unethical and I’m sure illegal as well to manipulate trial variables to gain knowledge on the affects of nonverbal communication. So, then my question is how could you accurately replicate a trial to study this further? Possibly conduct a mock trial but then my concern would be the reality of it. The victim isn’t real, the defendant isn’t real, the jury wasn’t legally called for jury duty so they may not feel as responsible or their opinion. Also, 12 people are on a jury and all their opinions go into one decision. So it us unlike many other experiments where each person’s outcome is analyzed and added up for a total outcome because each participants result is separately recognized regardless of the other participants. What are the chances that 12 people in each different jury for each different sample trial would all be swayed the same way by the judge’s communication. The article stated this was a “pioneering field” of study so hopefully more will be done and more conclusions will be made. 

the ballot order effect

Chances are you have voted for something in your lifetime thus far. Have you ever wondered why we vote the way we do? Why you wrote one name over another on a ballot? With running in a recent election myself for my sorority I am now more curious than ever of these questions. 


Turns out I’m not alone, there have been many studies done to explain the psychology behind voting. The explanation I will analyze is the ballot order effect. The ballot order effect is supported by the primary effect phenomenon: “our tendency to remember items at the top of a list better than those in the middle or bottom.” In voting this happens when we pick the first candidates irrationally. This may be because we’re bored and don’t care that much or it could be that we are still “processing the information at the top of the list” so other options don’t get our full attention. Seems crazy but studies a “classically demonstrated” study done by psychologist Solomon Asch in 1946 actually supports this theory. Basically, he gave one group of participants a list of positive adjectives of an anonymous person first and negatives second. The other group was given a list of negative adjectives first and positive second. When asked to “rate the person” the group with positive adjectives first “consistently rated the person higher than those who were given negative ones [adjectives] first.” 
This effect has also been theorized to be a significant factor when choosing a candidate in elections. “Statistical analysis of over 20 years of elections in California show that the so-called ‘ballot order effect’ may have changed the winner in up to 12% of the primaries.” Other advocates of the ballot order effect, such as Jon Krosnick, think it was also responsible for the 2008 New Hampshire Democratic primary. “Pre-election surveys in that state showed candidate Barack Obama leading candidate Hilary Clinton by as much as 7%. However, Clinton won the crucial early state.” “I’ll bet that Clinton got at least 3% more voted than Obama simply because she was listed closer to the top.” (John A. Krosnick) With elections there is always going to be biased because of spectators feelings and opinions. Perhaps this is true but could also be attributed to Krosnick’s possible favoritism towards Obama. 

I believe the study done by Asch with the positive and negative ordering of adjectives is very simple to understand to a layman and really makes sense. The fact the study was done over 50 years ago and is still plausible and respected shows studies trying to accept the null, that order has no effect, have not been substantial enough. The two questions I have are how many people were in each group and would it be beneficial to have a control group given adjectives in no apparent order? 

study claims to have “major consequences” for how life from chemistry is contemplated


A marvel of mine has always been how was life created. Was it science and evolution or the story of Adam and Eve? I tend to believe the more realistic approach is science and evolution, but how have we come so far from a “molecular level.” (ScienceDaily) Although I am still unsure, this scientific article “sheds light” on this “longstanding problem” using “mathematical research.” (Science Daily) 

Scientists have very different hypothesis of how life began, but they will agree on two “necessary ingredients” being “a network of molecules that have the ability to work together to jumpstart and speed up their own replication.” How molecules achieved this is where everyone gets stumped. Two studies have been published by two men, Wim Hordijk and Mike Steel of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. The first, in 2005, “mathematical models of simple chemical reactions” were used to show that such “networks” of these molecules might form more easily than previously thought. There new study which included Stuart Kauffman, a colleague from University of Vermont, analyzed the “structure of the networks” in the models and found “a plausible mechanism by which they [the networks] could have evolved to produce cell membranes and nucleic acids” among other things necessary for life.(ScienceDaily) 

I found this study to be interesting but vague. The article doesn’t go into details of how the study was conducted so I tried googling it and found another article with the exact same information. I enjoyed reading about it because I am so intrigued in the beginning of life but it didn’t do much to cement my theories. I still believe science and evolution are responsible but will need to read more articles, in depth studies, and opposing viewpoints to really conduct an educational hypothesis. How do you think life began? Have you read any compelling articles that do go more in-depth with their findings? 
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). “Model sheds light on chemistry that sparked origin of life.” ScienceDaily, 26 Nov. 2012. Web. 27 Nov. 2012.

natural selection v. artificial selection.


It may be said natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensible working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life.” 


Since the beginning of time, survival of the fittest has been crucial in the “struggle for life.” (Wallace, A.R.) Evolution depends on it to preserve the “most favored race.” Before modern scientific advancements, the survival of the fittest has been left up to nature. But now, like everything else, humans want to be a part of it too.  

The fact that “environmentalists are [even] pursing legal protection of nature’s right to evolve suggests that nature’s ability to evolve could be threatened or withheld.”(Martin, Laura) I think this is a valid argument. Consider all the negative impacts humans have had on the Earth – pollution, destroying of natural habitats, overconsumption, global warming. The list goes on, and in great detail. But, “can humans really stop evolution?”(Martin, Laura) And if so, should we? 

In one experimental study testing this question the results contradicted their hypothesis of artificial selection leading to the most rapid adaptation. These scientists tested “the rate of adaptation to genetic stress caused by negative pleiotropy – [one gene effects multiple traits] – of a major resistance mutation in A. nidulans [a fungi].”(wikipedia) They did this with two test groups.

One representing artificial selection, weekly transfers of the fastest growing sector onto a new plate; and the second representing natural selection, random samples of all spores were transferred.The

Thumbnail image for JEB_934_f1_thumb.gif fungi strains evolved in two different environments: “a fungicide-free environment [artificial selection] and an environment with a weekly alternation between presence and absence of fungicide [natural].”(Rolf F. Hoekstra) After the experiment was complete the natural selection group surprisingly showed the fastest adaptation, opposite of what the experimenters had expected. 

The experiment was done with 10 weekly transfers, whether this was adequate time to gather correct results I don’t know because I’m not an expert on fungi. But, the scientists to explain some reasons for their startling results. One, “the number of mitosis needed to produce a spore from a nucleus in a mycelium.”(Hoekstra) Two, “the fittest sector approach only samples nuclei that manage to form a sector, i.e. are located in the growing front of the mycelium”(Hoekstra) at the right moment. Third, “selecting only on the basis mycelial expansion may lead to an underestimation of the rate of adaptation.”(Hoekstra) Therefore, it seems as if the experiment could have been done differently, like selecting another variable to manipulate and observe, in order to collect more reliable results. 

All in all, I do believe natural selection has done a fairly good job at preserving the best species. I mean look at us today, how far we’ve come since the dinosaurs roamed the Earth. In some cases, artificial selection may be necessary to combat human effects on Earth that natural selection may not  be able to take into account. In the end though I do believe Mother Nature should take her course. 


a b “Letter 5140 — Wallace, A. R. to Darwin, C. R., 2 July 1866”. Darwin Correspondence Project. Retrieved 2010-01-12.

“Letter 5145 — Darwin, C. R. to Wallace, A. R., 5 July (1866)”. Darwin Correspondence Project. Retrieved 2010-01-12.

^ “Herbert Spencer in his Principles of Biology of 1864, vol. 1, p. 444, wrote: ‘This survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called “natural selection”, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.'” Maurice E. Stucke, Better Competition Advocacy, retrieved 2007-08-29, citing HERBERT SPENCER, THE PRINCIPLES OF BIOLOGY 444 (Univ. Press of the Pac. 2002.)

How to learn a language in 10 days

Learning a foreign language in 10 days sounds like a linguistic crash diet. I, along with many of you, have been given the dreaded requirement of completing a certain amount of credits in a foreign language in order to graduate college. Luckily, I am finally done with my second language, but it would have been nice to know I could have “wired” my brain to pick up a new language in record time. This “wiring” method is known as the Pimsleur Approach – “a well known provider in audio-based language learning.” (SmarterLifestyles) Even the FBI purchased it and it was featured in Forbes! 


Dr. Paul Pimsleur created this method based on the idea that it wasn’t the amount of words you know but rather the relevance of them. According to this article, studies show native speakers only use about 2,500 “distinct words and phrases on a daily basis.”(SmarterLifestyles) The Pimsleur Approach uses these “language building blocks” to teach these specific 2,500 words. 
He unfortunately died suddenly in 1976, at 48 years old, before his courses were even available to customers. It wasn’t until 1980 that a “listening booth” was used at the Harvard bookstore so “prospective learners could sample the lessons and understand how the Pimsleur Method worked”(Simon and Schuster’s) before they were convinced and committed. 

Pimsleur’s methodology behind his method was based on several key concepts he deemed important in learning a language. 
1) Anticipation
Pimsleur argued that “to repeat after an instructor” was a “passive way of learning.”
(wikipedia) Instead, he created a “challenge and response” technique. 

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The student would translate a phrase in his/her first language “into the target language.” Pimsleur said this was a more “active way of learning” forcing the student to “think before responding.”(wikipedia) 
A way of learning language through retention by spaced repetition. Vocabulary is tested based on Pimsleur’s “memory schedule” – 5 seconds, 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, 1 day, 5 days, 25 days, 4 months, 2 years. To me, this is similar to using flash cards but for a longer period of timing (Pimsleur, P.; Modern Language Journal) 
3) Core vocabulary 
As stated above, studies have shown native speakers only use a specific set of 2,500 words regularly. Pimsleur says in the English language “2000 words composes about 80% of the total printed words.”(Nation, Paul; Waring, Robert) 
4) Organic learning 
This is his school of thought that “auditory speech…is different than reading and writing skill”(Charles A.S. Heinle)  
I looked for any statistics of students using the Pimsleur Approach versus say Rosetta Stone. I did not find any. I also looked on statistics solely focused on results from using Pimsleur – also nothing. Until I see some data I am intrigued in learning a language in 10 days, but not convinced. 
Pimsleur, P. (1967). A memory schedule. Modern Language Journal, 51, 73-75.

Feeling Blue?

Have you ever deeply thought about your connotation of a color? Perhaps your favorite color? While the color blue is not my favorite color, it is half of the world’s favorite color. After reading the NYTimes article “True Blue Stands Out in an Earthy Crowd” I have really gotten to know Blue. 

The color Blue was born in 1704. Created by a German color maker named Diesbach, Blue was an accident. Diesbach was manufacturing red pigments but ran out of his supplies so he improvised and used some that had been contaminated by animal oil. Voila! Blue is introduced to the world. Instead of getting red, Diesbach got purple and then blue. This Prussian Blue was the first synthesized color to me made. Blue is the opposite of red according the psychologists studying the “complex interplay of color, mood, and behavior.”  
Red has a common negative connotation, often associated with blood, death, betrayal, and hell. While blue has a positive one, representing the open escape of the sea and sky, “a pocket-size vacation.” 

Just one in six Americans have blue eyes. Yet it’s not surprising that one in two consider blue to be the prettiest eye color and 50% of tinted contacts are made to turn brown eyes blue (Angier) Blue is unique – think of bluejeans. Everyone has that one pair of jeans that are different and better than any other pair. Studies also show that sick children prefer for their caretakers to wear blue rather than white or yellow. I can understand this because the brain perceives blue as calm and soothing. Blue represents “stability, trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven.” Water is blue, and water is clean, therefore, blue embodies cleanliness. These are all traits a sick child would hope to see in his/her nurse. For that matter, these are traits any human being would hope to see in another. 
So, why the saying “feeling blue?” Blue can also “imply coldness and sorrow” just like the color red can imply love and passion rather than betrayal and death. The accepted connotation depends on the person. This is what helps shape our favorite colors. If you fall into this “global affair” with “blue love” than you are accepting the positives of blue and 

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 rejecting the negatives. Although blue is not my favorite color (purple is – best of both worlds, blue and red) my mood is almost always better when State College’s notoriously unpredictable weather decides to forecast clear, blue skies for the day. 
I encourage you to research your favorite color. Even research your least favorite color. Learn about the contradicting connotations of that color and which one you choose to associate with that ultimately makes it your favorite, or least favorite.

The Psychology of Giving

After this past canning weekend I thought deeply about why people give to THON. This is a recurring question of mine. Is it because they know a family member who goes to Penn Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 74866_10152136161095133_830096315_n.jpgState, or maybe they are Penn State alum? Is it our signs and cans that say “Help Kids Fight Cancer” that guilt trip people into donating, making people ask themselves “what kind of human being am I if I don’t help kids fight cancer?” Or maybe the ripple effect is responsible – once the first car donates every car behind it donates. Sure, THON is an amazing cause, but what really compels drivers to drop a dollar into our tin cans? 

Many studies have been done to explain the psychology of giving. As a result many roles
have been found to play a part. One study shows that “people are more willing to help one individual in need than many.”(Singer) In one experiment, people were given information of “Food shortages in Malawi are affecting more than 3 million children.” The second group was

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shown a picture of a 7 year old Malian girl named Rokia and told 
“her life will be changed for the better by your gift.” People in the second group gave more. This idea that people feel like they’re doing more by saving one life than by helping save many is why organizations like World Vision tell donators they are “adopting” a child. The donators receive a picture of their child millions of miles away in a poverty stricken country, coupled with letters written by the child, thanking them for their generosity and giving positive updates of their improved life. 
Now, whether or not the person’s money is actually going to that child in the photograph or into a larger pool of money and disbursed based on need is unknown. And whether or not the letter the person is receiving is from their sponsored child or even a child in need is also up for question. Regardless, this is a charity gimmick to increase donations based on the
     psychology behind giving. THON uses this tactic too. 
We “Adopt A Family” to make it real. We are not just helping kids with cancer. We are helping our kids with cancer and their families. We form relationships with them leading to stronger fundraising efforts.  
This article, “The Science Behind Our Generosity,” in “Newsweek Magazine” also states that “futility thinking” plays a role in our donations. This study shows that people will give more to 80% of 100 lives at risk than they will to save 20% of 1,000 lives at risk. Do the math; people would rather save 80 lives than 200. 
Now, the third study shown in this article reverts back to my original question. Why do people donate to THON on canning weekends? One of the reasons I suggested was a ripple effect leading to donations. The first car at a stoplight donates, then every car after feels like the should, too, donate, “knowing that others are giving makes [them] more likely to give.” Vice versa, if the first car doesn’t donate, from my experience, I have noticed the chances of other cars donating is decreased dramatically. “Seeing other bystanders not helping makes us less likely to help.” This held true this past weekend while I was raising money FTK. I had a booth for THON in my town. It was undeniable that once I got one person to give money, others crowded around ready to do their good deed of the day. 
Every charitable organization uses some tactic to real in their supporters. Scientists have done many studies to learn about the psychology of giving. Organizations, much like THON, use these to their advantage to increase money raised FTK. The science behind giving made it possible to raise 10M for THON 2012. 

Are you a second guesser?

You’re taking an exam in the Pollock Testing Center. You read the question, look over the answers, and you see it! Yes, it must be b. That is the answer. But wait, maybe it’s c… That one makes sense too. What if by automatically choosing b. I chose too quickly and missed the right answer? If the answer is b. that is just too easy. I need to think this through more. This could make or break my exam grade! Should I go with my initial gut feeling? Or my second guess… 
Science shows second guessing ourselves can actually lead to unhappiness. My example above is a regular occurrence in most college student’s lives. I know I have walked out of an exam thinking I should have changed that one answer. Then I ponder this decision until I get my exam grade, leading me to be unsure and even unhappy about a grade I haven’t even received yet. 
When it comes to making decisions Joyce Ehrlinger, an assistant professor of psychology at Florida State University, says people are either “maximizers” or “satisficers.” “Satisficers are those who make a decision or take action once their criteria are met.” “Maximizers want to make the optimal decision. They can’t make a decision until after they’ve examined every option, so they know they’re making the best possible choice.” Maximizers obsess over the right choice. Two studies of Florida State undergraduate volunteers finds that maximizers “focus on finding the best option ultimately undermines their commitment to their final choices.” For example, maximizers would get very nervous if they saw an “All Sales Final” sign because they would be forced to commit. Therefore, they rethink their decision. Satisficers don’t necessarily settle, but once they find a choice that meets their needs, criteria, etc. they choose that option and are satisfied. 
In Barry Schwartz book, The Paradox of Choices, he states that satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers. Maximizers spend more time and energy to make a decision, and they are often anxious and worried if they are making the right decision. Afterwards, they may feel regret. Similar to how a student may feel after an exam.  
So, are you a satisficer or a maximizer? 
Think about when you took exam 2 for this class… Did you second guess your answers? If you took the exam a second time were any changes you made correct or was your gut feeling right in the first place? If you got a B on the first try were you satisfied, or did you want to try again until you made the best choices? 

Can you resist yawning while reading this blog?

For most of us, we can’t resist yawning after seeing someone else yawn or even reading about yawning. This is not an unfamiliar practice to us, but why does it happen? Contagious yawning has been long ignored by scientist. Now, some scientist are saying “it’s a really big deal.” 

The practice of yawning… 
“A yawn is a reflex of simultaneous inhalation of air and stretching of the eardrums, followed by exhalation of breath.” (Wikipedia) Contagious yawning also occurs in chimpanzees and even dogs. (Watch this video  Yawning in humans starts as early as an 11 week old fetus. People tend to yawn when they’re tired, stressed, or bored. Before, yawning has been a sign that the body is trying to go to sleep. Now, though, researchers are saying a yawn is our bodies way of “cooling our brains” to actually stay awake and alert, re-stimulating our brains. 
One of the oldest theories claims yawning was a part of our language. “Yawning might have helped early humans to communicate their alertness levels and co-ordinate sleeping times.” (BBC News) For example, one person would yawn, and then if others were also tired they would yawn to show their agreement. 
Another theory says that yawing is an unconscious “herding behavior.” In this context, yawning is still used as a form of communication. Scientists compare yawning in humans and chimpanzees to flocks of birds taking flight at the same time when one has sensed a predator. 
In my opinion, the most interesting suggestion for yawning was made by Molly Helt, a graduate student at the University of Connecticut. “Yawing when others yawn is a sign of empathy and a form of social bonding.” (Helt) Helt states that kids develop this powerful behavior around age four. And, the most interesting part, kids suffering from autism typically do not “catch yawns” as often or in severe cases not at all. But, why is this? What is the link between yawing and autism? 
Molly first recognized this link when she tried to get her own son to pop his ears on an airplane. She would yawn in hopes that he would follow her, but he never did. “The fact that autistic kids don’t do it might mean they’re really missing out on that unconscious emotional linkage to those around them,” she said. Helt compared contagious yawning to contagious laughing and crying. All three are shared experiences that promote social bonding throughout a group. Robert Provine, a developmental neuroscientist at the University of Maryland says yawning is “at the roots of empathy.” 

So, did you resist the urge to yawn while reading this blog?