Author Archives: Anna Michelle James

Should you Give the Food a Second Chance?


2 seconds, 5 seconds, 30 seconds–we all have heard that there is the “___ second rule” for dropping food on the floor and being allowed to eat it. Somehow it became the social norm to declare that if the food is picked up before a certain amount of time, it can be safely eaten. How scientifically accurate is this rule?

Paul Dawson, Clemson University researcher, published an article on this in the “Journal of Applied Microbiology” on testing this rule. First they tested Salmonella longevity on surfaces and found it could remain viable for up to 4 weeks. Next, they dropped food and picked it up in certain amounts of time lengths and 99% of the bacteria was transferred instantaneously. Of course, this experiment is flawed because it only tests the effects of Salmonella, and there are countless other types of bacteria thriving on surfaces.

Another study was done by Jillian Clarke at University of Illinois. She swabbed the University’s floors in many different locations two times and found both times that there was a minimal number of microorganisms present, which is attributed to the fact that the floors are dry and pathogens survive better in environments with moisture. Then gummy bears and cookies where dropped on both smooth and rough tiles that had a measured amount of E. coli. Results showed that a “large number” of cells from bacteria were transferred before 5 seconds. The issue with the publication of this study as that “large number” is not defined, so it is a subjective result. In addition, while the measured E. coli amount was designed to keep the experiment controlled, this denies information on whether the amount of bacteria on the floor is correlated to the speed in which the bacteria is transferred from floor to food.

Professor of Microbiology at Aston University , Anthony Hilton, conducted a study that tested a variety of different foods on different levels of “stickiness” on a variety of different floor types. They found that the longer the food was left on the floor, the more contaminated it was. Therefore this somewhat supports the 5-second rule, but more as a standard of how much bacteria you personally consider “too much” and if the amount gathered by 5 seconds is acceptable, since each second you wait the food is dirtier. It also determined that sticky food collects more bacteria, but carpet transfers the least amount of bacteria.

Many factors are usually considered before your pick up the food and pop it in your mouth. How expensive is the food? How delicious is the food? How questionable is the surface? How hungry are you? When it comes down to these, science may not play much of a role in your decision to give the dropped snack a second chance. Based on these experiments, the studies are not very large or well conducted, so it’s difficult to decide that your childhood of eating food within only 3 seconds has actually been harmful. But on the other hand, you’ve been doing it your whole life and turned out fine, so why change now? Just like drunk driving is a cause for accidents but doesn’t always cause accidents, you can’t determine the action is 100% going to be harmful. So should you reject the 5-second rule? In the words of Andrew, it’s “hard to say.”


Is Your Hair Color Attractive?


Dumb blondes, temperamental redheads–the stereotypes regarding hair color have always been around; but is one hair color really superior to the others? In my Econ 102 class we watched a video that showed that blondes raised more money fundraising than any other hair color. Are blondes more desirable? I wanted to learn more.

First I hit up google. There are multiple psychological studies on hair color and the responses humans have to the certain hues. Nicolas Guéguen from the Université de Bretagne-Sud, in France, executed an experiment where he sent a woman to a night club for one hour over a span of 16 days for four weeks wearing four different color wigs. Then it was recorded to see the number of men that approached her with the different hair colors. The results are as follows: blonde-127 men; brunette-84 men; black-82 men; red-29 men. These results would suggest that blonde females are significantly preferred. As for the other way around, four 20 year old men were instructed to ask females to dance to a slow song at the club, and the black hair was accepted the most, then brunette, blonde, and finally redheads. But how does this come about?

Viren Swami and Seishin Barrett, psychologists at the University of Westminster, London performed a similar experiment, and developed the following hypothesis. Blondes appear as more “needy” which lowers the male’s fear of rejection so they are more willing to make the move. Brunettes are viewed as intelligent, but also arrogant. Redheads are the most temperamental and sexually promiscuous.

Still, I wanted to see what the main preference was just by recording opinions. I created a survey on and posted the link on my personal Facebook and the Penn State Class of 2018 page. The free version only allowed me to see the first 100 results submitted. The results were as follows:

Hair color preference: Blonde- 27 people; Brunette- 70; Red- 3.

This information goes against the previously mentioned experiments where blondes were the more desired, so I looked further into the information. I evaluated the individual results and recorded the preference in retrospect to the gender of the person taking the survey. This helped clarify the results.

Female preference: Blonde-14; Brunette- 57; Red-1

Male Preference: Blonde-13; Brunette-13; Red-2

Females typically preferred the darker hair, whereas the men were evenly split between blonde and brunette. Redheads were always dead last (sorry redheads).

72 females completed the survey, whereas only 28 men did. Since I could only see the first 100 submitted, I was not able to create balanced testing groups. This is something I would alter if I were to do this experiment again.

This helps explain why the connection to the psychologists experiments and my surveys were different. They tested it seeing which is typically desired on a woman whereas my results focused more on what a girl looks for in a guy.

The results show how important it is to have a randomized trial to make sure the information would apply to the general population. This is notable from the imbalance in male-female ratio of survey participants and how my results were focused on what a woman wants and that contrasted with what a man wants from the previously mentioned experiments. It only focuses on late teen years to the twenty-somethings, so it’s difficult to say what a group of 80 year olds would find more attractive. Perhaps there are generational trends in this.

Other correlations I noticed were interesting. I added eye color preference to have another aspect to compare the hair preferences to. For the most part, if blonde hair was selected, blue eyes were also selected. Blue eyes were preferred by about 40% of both genders. In another question, all but one of the participants selected that they only moderately require their favorite hair color in a partner, or they don’t really care. A question I wish I had asked is whether or not the hair/eye color the person was attracted to is the same or different as their own.

All in all, your hair color really doesn’t determine whether you are attractive or not. Each person has their own preference, and most cases those preferences aren’t even important.

Here is the link to the survey.



Is it Worth the Climb?


As a finally approached the 7th floor of my dorm building to my room, I started to really wonder if taking the stair was really benefitting me or not. Every now and then I feel ambitious and force myself to walk past the elevator and venture up the 7 flights. I was always told that it was healthier to make this small athletic initiative, but does it really have significant benefits?

To get my answers, I turned to Google where most of the sites seemed to have the same consensus: the benefits of taking the stairs are not significant, but they are a step in the right direction that is more beneficial then standing on an elevator. There are many substantial benefits such as taking the steps: helps maintain a good cholesterol in the blood; helps maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints; and can help maintain a healthy bodyweight.

Taking the stairs challenges the body to work harder than it would walking on level ground. Different muscles are utilized for the task. Hip extension, knee extension, hip flexion, and ankle plater flexion (which works the calf muscle). To ascend the stairs you must lift your leg higher, which moves your hip and knee towards a 90 degree angle. When you make contact with the step and straighten your leg, you are using a hip flexion to transfer the climbing to the other leg. Meanwhile, your calf is working to support your angle in the process, and differs whether you climb with the balls of your feet or place the whole foot on the step.

Taking the steps isn’t powerful enough to to fight off the freshman 15, but “HealthStatus notes that a person who weighs 175 pounds burns about 21 calories during a two-minute stair climb. Standing still on a 60-second elevator ride, conversely, burns about two calories” ( A 150 pound person would have to spend 6.5 hours climbing stairs to burn 1 lb of body fat.

In conclusion, taking the steps is the healthier alternative to taking the elevator, but it’s not enough exercise to keep you fit. Typically, people who take the stairs regularly are more fit. However, due to reverse causation it can be argued that people who are already fit take the stairs. So, the steps might not make people fit but rather only fit people take the stairs. In addition, there are so many variables that play into health and fitness that taking the steps is pretty insignificant in the overall result of the hard points in this situation.



Is that a Toilet Seat in your Pocket?

As pathetic as it is, my cell phone is my life. It goes everywhere with me. Everywhere. It makes contact with countless surfaces and admittedly doesn’t get cleaned very often. Earlier this week I was eating a cookie and had to put it down, so I put it on my phone because I would never put food directly on the germy table. And then I realized–there is no way my phone is sanitary. I tried forming a hypothesis on just how germy it is, and scaled it somewhere between a public table and a dollar bill. Turns out I underestimated it a bit.

Admit it, you check Twitter while you sit on the toilet. Which is why you shouldn’t be too surprised by the fact that cell phones are typically found to carry ten times more bacteria than a toilet seat. An experiment was performed where a lab tested 8 random phones from an office in Chicago. Between the 8 phones, there was a total of between 2,700 and 4,200 units of coliform bacteria, a bacteria indicating fecal contamination. To put this into perspective, the drinking water limit is less than 1 unit of coliform per 100ml. Good thing you don’t drink your phone, right? Not quite. What about when you are eating lunch–you take a bite of your burger, pick up your phone and text, and then take another bite. That coliform has transferred from your phone to your hands and to your food, and is now hanging out inside your body. Yum!


Because we are constantly with our phones, they are exposed to any surface they touch and any bacteria that we collect from the surfaces we touch. In the 2009 journal “Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials” a study was published where 200 hospital staff members’ phones where tested, and 94.5% were found to be contaminated by some type of bacteria. By testing the workers’ hands they determined that the bacteria was exchanged between hands and phones. Many forms of bacteria are transferred by touch, which means all you need to do is make contact with your mouth, hands, etc.

Another major issue of the bacteria collection on our phones is through sharing them with other people. There’s the obvious case of someone talking on your phone and breathing directly onto it. However, it can be less obvious like when you give your phone to your friend to Facebook stalk that cute boy from your science class (admit it, you do it). According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, 20-30% of viruses can be transferred by touch from a fingertip onto a touch screen. Hmmm, interesting how the entire campus was so easily plagued a few weeks ago…


The problem here that it is difficult to clean phones. With the new touch screen technology, the surface of the phones are vulnerable to cleaners. You can’t just whip out the Windex and spray down your phone without running a risk of damaging the $200 dollar screen. While there are some cleaners available for the specific purpose, they aren’t proven to be the most productive.

As Andrew has explained, before changing your habits it is important to consider the research and the habit in question. In my opinion, the amount of bacteria that could be reduced by a few simple changes is well worth separating yourself from your cell phone for a few minutes. There are some measures that can be taken to protect yourself from the germfest that also happens to be your lifeline. Don’t take it to the toilet. Put it away when you eat. Try not to share it with others. When you talk on the phone, hold it at a slight distance away from your head. These actions will not only protect you from bacteria, but you might realize a new connection with the real world that you didn’t notice because you were too busy texting during your dinner.

p.s. A man in Uganda reportedly got ebola after he stole a phone from a quarantined section of a hospital. Lesson learned, don’t steal phones or you’ll get ebola.


Backpack or Back Problem?


1 laptop; 2 textbooks; 3 notebooks; 24,000 miscellaneous writing utensils—the weight of these really begins to add up. Lugging a heavy backpack on a 20 minute walk to the opposite side of the massive Penn State campus certainly isn’t fun, but it could also be dangerous to our health. We are all aware of the soreness after a long day with the backpack, but could the weight cause deeper problems?

According to, the weight of backpacks can damage the soft shoulder tissues and cause nerve damage, which could result in irritation or even diminished nerve capacity, which can inhibit hand and finger movement as a result of diminished ability for muscles to respond to the brain’s signals. This can limit writing ability and ability to operate machinery.

A study was done on soldiers who carry heavy backpacks reporting numbness and tickling sensations in their fingers. Using biomechanical analysis methods, the data shows how force placed on a particular area of the body is transferred under the skin and damages tissue and internal organs. Data was collected by an MRI and it was determined that the weight of the backpack is transferred to the brachial pleux nerves, accounting for stiffness of shoulder tissues. I think of it like this: the weight of the load is equivalent to stepping on a garden hose—it slows down the flow of signals sent through nerves the same way the water in the hose is slowed down.

Look at your peers walking down the street. Are they slightly leaning forward to compensate for the weight? Most probably are. This itself can cause issues for the spine and back muscles.

What can we do about this? Not much. Heavy backpacks exist anywhere from schools, to the army, to even hiking. The progress of technology may lead to the eradication of heavy textbooks, but it will be years until books are entirely digital.

As for us, there’s only so much we can do to lighten the load. Sometimes returning to the dorm to swap out books between classes is not an option, and leaving the laptop behind isn’t very efficient now that most classes are based on ANGEL. There are backpacks with wheels, but they aren’t exactly socially acceptable beyond 3rd grade (no offense to roller backpack enthusiasts). Not to mention, carrying roller backpacks up and down stairs is not reasonable either.

Is this something we need to be gravely concerned about? Probably not. My back has already grown stronger/adapted to carrying a heavy backpack all over campus, and it doesn’t bother me as much anymore. I also have a theory that walking with the extra weight burns more calories, but I have yet to look into that. We will have to wait and see if there are newfound patterns of our generation having more back problems in our older ages, seeing that many of our parents or grandparents carried their books in their hands and never used a backpack so they wouldn’t show those results. In my opinion, this study is not concluded.



Wooder vs. Wahhter: The Debate of Dialects

via Pinterest

Penn State University attracts students from all over the country. These students bring along with them different customs, habits, and dialects. Even the people from a few hours away say words differently than what you may be accustomed to. My inspiration for this post came from a heated debate with a guy from the Philadelphia area. He was drinking a glass of “wooder” but I tried to explain to him that he was drinking “wahhter.” This got me thinking about dialects and their origins.

According to an article from Oxford English Dictionary, “…dialect is any variety of English that is marked off from others by distinctive linguistic features. Such a variety could be associated with a particular place or region or, rather more surprisingly, it might also be associated with a certain social group—male or female, young or old, and so on.” Dialects are not to be confused with accents. Dialects include a small range of different pronunciations for a smaller category of words including grammar and vocabulary native to that particular region. Whereas accents encompass the sounds alone of how words are said in the entire conversation. Andrew has an accent, but someone from Philadelphia has a dialect.

The article explains that it is impossible to classify a certain dialect as “correct” because each dialect has existed for countless years and extends to early history. The most distinguishable aspect of dialect is the regional vocabulary. For example, some areas in the United States drink soda, while others drink pop. Dialects form as a result of social factors and upbringing. The influence of family, friends, neighbors, education, etc. all play a part in the child’s cognitive reception of words and their meanings that form in the early developmental stages.

According to, a child starts to differentiate between words as early as 6 months old where he/she rehearses and processes the language for when he/she is capable of speaking. When the child does begin to speak, the language will mirror the sounds and twangs that the adults around have always spoken, thus forming its dialect from the very beginning. As a result of the vocal characteristics solidly forming so early, it is very difficult to adapt away from those forms. This is why even after all the time Andrew has spent in America, he still has his strong New Zealand accent. It’s most likely too late for his brain to rewire the way which it processes sounds and language.

Dialect extends beyond region. Depending on the upbringing, social class can play a huge role in the language even if the two different people being compared are from the same town. This also applies for age gaps–you don’t talk exactly the same as your grandfather. Even men and women speak differently, usually as a result of societal pressures.

In the end, there is no distinguishing the correct dialect, because everyone believes that the way they speak is the “normal” way to speak. Thus, the “wooder” vs. “wahhter” debate remains unsettled.

My thoughts: My favorite part about this concept is seeing how influence social science is. I think it’s important to remember that science goes beyond biology and chemistry, and simply observing human behavior is just as scientific. Also, it is interesting to see how the biology (example- the way infants interpret the sounds around them so strongly) influences the social science (example-how Philadelphians pronounce words) proving that everything is interconnected in our world.


Procrastination Nation

Procrastination is an ongoing plague that is sweeping the world. Whether it’s delaying completing a project, doing the dishes, or writing Science 200 blogs, we generally tend to fall victim to procrastination in one way or another. But what causes this? What are we waiting for?

Turns out, there is a scientific backdrop to procrastination. Psychologists have studied procrastination and determined that procrastination is based on emotions—if you don’t feel motivated in the given moment, you will wait in hopes that when you are under the pressure of a deadline you will become productive. Procrastinators know they must complete the task, but they struggle with the act of self-control in finding the connection between intention and action. They can’t bring themselves to commit to the work they have lined up, so they find other uses of their time instead. Procrastination is rooted in an emotional and psychological state of dissatisfaction. Procrastinators are fully aware that waiting to do their work will only cause them harm and stress later, but yet they continue to prioritize pleasure over responsibility.

A study done at Case Western Reserve University recorded the success of students who procrastinate and those who don’t. Results showed that the procrastinators had the initial benefit of less stress because they pursued pleasure over responsibility. As time went on, the procrastinators had to make up for lost time, thus becoming more stressed, as well as having lower quality of work and a higher tendency for illness. Therefore, procrastination will hurt you even more in the long run, and it can easily spiral out of control when overwhelming responsibilities pile up yet time remains limited. However, because this study was correlational, we cannot rule out reverse causation or third variables. The study states that procrastinators perform worse and are more stressed, but it is possible that people who are more stressed and are cognitively designed to do worse are the ones that put off the work until the last minute, perhaps in an attempt to avoid the stress or lack of confidence in their ability. In addition, the procrastinators that are more stressed could be receiving the stress from other events in life–drama, family issues, overwhelming courses, etc.

Procrastinators tend to feel regret, guilt, and shame when they realize that they should not have waited. Regardless, they fail to learn from their habits. They try to justify their actions, or lack thereof, by saying things such as, “At least I got the work done” or “Three hours to spare, I could’ve waited longer if I really wanted to.” This emotional imbalance only worsens the situation, because the procrastinator feels bad, yet fails to admit he/she has a problem and improve.

However, there is a difference between a “procrastinator” and a “person who procrastinates”. Checking Facebook for a few minutes before opening the textbook does not mean you will suffer under the curse of procrastination. However, if you consistently cannot do anything until the stress forces you to address it, or you go out for hours instead of starting your homework, doing nothing as your grades fall and your stress levels rise, then you may have a problem. Psychologists recommend setting personal deadlines, chopping up task sizes, or even receiving counseling if necessary.

My thoughts: I don’t think procrastination can be a labeled disorder as the article source suggested. I personally think that our society today has a tendency to over-diagnose. However the causes of procrastination do seem very  plausible to me. I think more research could be done on this topic to examine the demographics of procrastinators and see if there are patterns shown in the type of people who procrastinate. At the beginning of the semester I tended to procrastinate but now I focus more and get the work done in advance, and I have to say, I enjoy the relaxed and accomplished feeling that results from being ahead.



First Blog Post

i) I am taking this course to fulfill my science requirement. I chose this class in particular because my advisor recommended it. When I read the course description, it appeared to be one of the less challenging science course options. Since I do not need any science background for my intended career, it didn’t make sense to choose a more rigorous science course. ii) I am not majoring in science because I did not think I would be satisfied spending the rest of my life dealing with science. I always did well in my sciences courses in high school, but never found them very interesting because of how all the information was presented in such a boring, clear cut manner without any opportunity to think outside the box. It was just memorizing things someone else decided were true, when I honestly didn’t see that much proof behind the existence of an atom. There was no creating to it or modern concepts, only reviewing theories presented hundreds of years ago. After only one day in this course, I can already tell that this is not the average high school science class.