Author Archives: Megan Fleming

Your Parents Might Inadvertently Influence Your Choice In Partner

While gathered around the Thanksgiving dinner table with my family each of my siblings and I were  bombarded with questions about college, classes, and our love lives. My sister recently met a really nice guy, and upon stalking his Facebook I remarked that he kind of looked like our dad. My grandma responded that it’s human nature for females to be attracted to people who look like and remind them of their fathers, because for the first part of our lives they’re the dominant male figure. While it seems like a good theory, I wanted to look into if there was any science behind that claim.

But what is it about our parents that we look for in a potential mate? How they look? How they act? What they do? In an article for CNN, Dr. Elayne Savage said familiarity is a major factor that causes many people to choose someone who reminds them of their parents when looking for a partner.

According to a team of Hungarian researchers at the University of Pecs, what our parents look like is an most important factor. In their experiment, they looked at the facial features of 52 families. The team found a striking resemblance between facial features of men and their fathers-in-law and of women and their mothers-in-law.

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Above is a side by side comparison of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s father. The shaggy hair, subtle scruff, and even their similar choice in hats are a prime example of marrying someone who looks like your Dad.

A study conducted by the University of Iowa surveyed almost 3,000 high-achieving men (which they determined based on the top 10% income bracket for their age) and found they are more likely to marry women with similar education levels and careers of their moms.

The above two studies are both anecdotes they support the general claim that we are in fact attracted to people like our parents. Each study looks at two different explanations to this phenomenon, but the results don’t help us definitively determine why it happens.

The British news website, Daily Mail conducted their own survey to see if this phenomena was true. They were not looking to explain why it was true, but rather just simply if it was.

They surveyed 300 men and 400 women who were all raised by two parents, and were currently in a relationship. They asked the participants their hair and eye colour, as well as that of their partner and their parents. They found that the main predictor for the choice of a partner’s eye and hair color was that of their parents for both men and women. Meaning, if a man’s mother has dark hair and dark eyes, he will likely choose a partner with the same features. The same goes for women and their fathers.

While this idea is fascinating, there is no known biological explanation that explains why people are more likely to choose partners that look like, or remind them of their parents. It might not be the most scientific of theories, but it is certainly an interesting one.

The Science Behind Whitestrips

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Since getting my braces off I’ve used Crest Whitestrips once or twice a month, and I’ve noticed a significant difference. Whitestrips are significantly cheaper than whitening treatments offered by my dentist, and I’ve been pleased with the results. According to the Crest website, their Whitestrips are “thin, flexible strips that are coated with a tooth whitening gel containing peroxide.”  After reading this article, with the subtitle “Bleaching your teeth to make them whiter could turn them into mush,” I was prompted to find out more about the risks associated with whitening.

The article that initially sparked my interest on the safety of teeth whitening, by Livia Gamble, said two main side effects are gum irritation and teeth sensitivity, two side effects I’ve never experienced. The article focused who whiten on a daily basis, which explains why I have not experienced those side effects. Additionally, there was no scientific backing to the claim that whitening will in fact turn teeth to mush.

So what’s the harm? Crest Whitestrips come with specific instructions on the duration and frequency of usage, and their website has a detailed Q&A answering any and all questions related to whitening. Risk= exposure x hazard. As we discussed in class, the risk associated with an event is the likeliness it will occur multiplied by how bad it is. In the case of whitening strips, the exposure is low if you follow the directions. Additionally, the hazard is low. The American Dental Association says adverse side effects associated with whitening go away if you stop whitening.

Another article by How Stuff Works compared teeth bleaching to hair bleaching. When people over bleach their hair, it become thin and brittle. Similarly, excessive whitening can cause tooth enamel to break down. In this case, both the exposure and hazard to risk are high. Although this won’t turn teeth to mush, eroded enamel makes teeth more prone to cavities and decay, according to WebMD.

So what does this all mean? Based on my knowledge and understanding of risk, there is no reason to stop using Crest Whitestrips. By following the directions I am minimizing my risk of side effects while capitalizing on the benefits of whitening my teeth. It’s as simple as following the directions.

Hypnosis: Fact or Fiction?

smoking-hypnosis-ftr-1In an earlier post, I examined the science behind the popular phenomenon known as cycle syncing among women. In keeping with the fact versus fiction idea, I was curious to look at the science behind hypnosis.

I’ve never been hypnotized, and I’ve always been a skeptic on the whole concept. Based on the commercialization of the whole idea I assumed it was nothing more than someone standing over you, waving their hands, whispering ‘you’re getting very sleepy.’ However, I went to a hypnotist show in the spring and was absolutely shocked at what the hypnotized participants did and how they acted. I thought to myself, ‘this seems too real to be fake.’

Before looking any further into the science behind hypnosis, I wanted to find out exactly what it meant. By definition, hypnosis is a ‘state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion.’ 

Research from the Stanford School of Medicine found that not everyone is capable of undergoing hypnosis. For the study, led by Dr. David Spiegel, 24 adults were selected. 12 of the participants were determined to be highly susceptible to hypnotization, and the other 12 had low hypnotizability.  Structural and functional MRIs were done on the participants.

They found that people who can undergo hypnosis, and those who cannot have differences in their brains. Highly hypnotizable participants had more active left dorsolateral prefrontal cortexes, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex than the non-hypnotizable participants.  Meaning, the areas of the the brain responsible for executive control and attention are less active in people who cannot undergo hypnosis. So no matter how good a hypnotist may be, there are some people who are not capable of undergoing hypnosis.

One method of hypnosis is known as posthypnotic amnesia (PHA). Patients undergoing PHA will experience functional amnesia, which causes sudden memory loss. A recent study published in Neuron found that PHA influences brain activity associated with memory. for the experiment, scientists carefully chose 25 people to participate. Participant screening showed that all 25 of these people could undergo hypnosis, but only half could respond to PHA, while the other half could not. The participants were then separated into the PHA group and the non-PHA group, respectively. During the experiment participants watched a 45-minute movie. A week later, the participants were hypnotized while hooked up to a fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scanner. While hypnotized, participants in the PHA and non-PHA groups were told to forget the movie until they heard a cue. Following this hypnosis, participants memories were tested twice using the fMRI scanner. In the first test, participants had not hear the cue to end PHA, and were asked 40 questions about the specifics of the movie and then 20 questions about the environment in which they watched the movie, all of the questions were yes/no. In the second test, the participants were asked the same 60 questions they were in the first test, but this time they took the test after they were told the cue which cancelled the PHA. Their results from both the PHA and non-PHA groups proved their initial hypothesis that PHA influences people’s ability to remember the past.

A study conducted by a scientist here at Penn State, William Ray, looked at if there was any validity to hypnosis as a form of therapy. His research included a variety of electroencephalogram (EEG) studies. EEG’s register brain activity with metal electrodes attached to the head. He concluded that while hypnotized, patients still experience sensory sensation without the emotional aspect. Meaning, your brain would register that you were poked, but not the pain associated with the poke. This finding proves hypnosis is in fact legitimate, contrary to what I initially thought. This finding also explains why hypnosis is often used as an effective tool to help patients undergoing psychotherapy.

Before looking into the legitimate science behind hypnosis, I thought it was all smoke and mirrors. Despite my prior assumptions, once I did more research I determined the practice of hypnosis is not a type two error, also known as a false positive. I assumed hypnotists made it appear that there was something going on, when in fact their wasn’t. However, I was wrong. As we talked about in class during our discussion on if prayer heals, the scientist’s decision and the state of the world determine if the scientific conclusion is correct or an error. Based on the information I found, scientists believe hypnosis helps cure patients, and the results from patients reinforce this belief. The science behind hypnosis begs the broader question of what else our brains our capable of, and proves how much we don’t know about what our brain functioning.

The Science Behind Celiac Disease

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When my younger sister was 10, our pediatrician noticed she was falling behind in the average height and weight for girls her age, and ran dozens of tests to determine the reason. That year, she was diagnosed with celiac disease. By definition, celiac disease is a disease in which the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten, leading to difficulty in digesting food. If the word gluten means nothing to you, think of it this way: milk is to lactose-intolerant as wheat is to celiac disease. However, gluten is not just wheat, the term gluten applies to wheat, rye, and barley. Upon my sister’s diagnosis, my family had never heard of celiac disease, and we had no idea the tremendous lifestyle changes we would have to make to adapt to her newfound dietary restrictions.

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation (CDF) celiac disease is a hereditary autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people. Following the class lecture on what our genomes say about us, I was interested to find out more about celiac disease.

Just because my sister was the first person in our family to be diagnosed, that doesn’t mean she was the first person to have the disease. There are over 300 known symptoms associated with celiac disease, and the symptoms present themselves differently for everyone, while some people remain asymptomatic. Therefore, celiac disease may trace back through generations of my family members, but it could have easily been misdiagnosed, or gone undiagnosed. Genomes say a lot about our history, however, my families genetic history with celiac disease begins with my sister.

According to the CDF, celiac disease is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide. However, in the past decade there has been a sharp increase in the number of diagnoses.  Although there is a genetic component to the disease, the scientific community is stumped as to why some people with the gene get celiac and others don’t.  After my sister was diagnosed, I was tested for the disease. Although I carry the gene, I don’t have the disease. This information will be useful if I have kids, because the fact I carry the gene is an indication that my children will be at risk to inherit that gene and have the disease.

A personal anecdote i’ve noticed since coming to college is a change in my digestive patterns. I attribute this to the fact I am no longer eating a predominately wheat-free diet like I was at home. Although I do not have celiac disease, eating minimal amounts of wheat could have made me develop a gluten sensitivity, since my body was not regularly digesting it.

In our class discussion on what leads to the genetic mutations that cause cancer, we talked about the role that environmental factors play. If someone has the gene for lung cancer, it is very unlikely that they will develop lung cancer unless they also smoke. Similarly, with celiac disease: someone can have celiac disease, but not show any adverse symptoms if they don’t eat wheat in their diet. Both of these examples show that there can be strong environmental factor that can effect our genetics.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at the relationship between when gluten is introduced to a child’s diet, and their subsequent risk of celiac disease. The trial looked at early and delayed introduction of gluten to infant’s diet who had a genetic predisposition to the disease. The children in the trial, 832 in total, were monitored from birth. Following a randomization, the participating infants were then assigned to one of two groups: the first was fed food with gluten starting at six months, while the second were introduced to gluten starting at twelve months. Parents were interviewed to get information on their children’s diet and intestinal function and the total intake of gluten was determined with a dietary questionnaire. Each participant received a workup for celiac disease was performed at 15 months, 24 months, 3, 5, 8, and 10 years. The study concluded that delaying the introduction of gluten in a child’s diet had no effect on the risk of the long-term development of celiac. However, the study interestingly found that infants who were introduced to gluten at 12 months had a delayed onset of the disease.

This study could explain why my younger brother tested negatively for celiac disease. He is in the same boat my sister was when she was diagnosed, he’s 10 and is currently falling off his growth-chart. In order to avoid cross-contamination of gluten and gluten free foods, my entire family eats a gluten free diet at home. Meaning my younger brother had very minimal exposure to gluten from a young age following my sisters diagnosis. According to the study in the New England Journal of Medicine, this could cause a delayed onset of the disease. Additionally, our gluten free diet could explain why he doesn’t have adverse symptoms to wheat.

My family’s journey with celiac disease and a gluten free lifestyle is not unique. According to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, nearly 2 million Americans have celiac disease. I know that my genome tells me I carry the gene for celiac disease, but I’d be interested to find out what my SNP map would reveal.

Cycle Syncing: Fact or Fiction?

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When my roommate and I moved in together at the beginning of the years, our moms were commenting on how small our dorm room was. During their conversation one of them made a remark about how since we would be living together and spending a lot of time together, it wouldn’t be long before our cycles synced. They were referring to the wide-spread beliefthat when girls spend a lot of time together, their menstruationcycles will sync up.

Ready for TMI? Eight weeks into the semester and our cycles (which were not previously on the same schedule) are now in sync. However, just because our cycles synced doesn’t prove that it happened for a reason, it could just be due to chance. As we’ve discussed in class time and time again, ‘correlation is not causation.’ So I decided to investigate if there was any scientific evidence to support thehypothesis.

This idea was first introduced by Martha McClintock, a psych student at Harvard in 1971. She published a paper in the journal Naturewith the hypothesis “synchrony and suppression among a group of women living together in a college dormitory suggest that social interaction can have a strong effect on the menstrual cycle.”

In McClintock’s study, she observed 135 female residents of a college dorm.She focused on the startday (which she called the onset date) of each females cycleand compared it toamong roommates and closefriends.She asked the participants to recall their onsetstart dates at three timesduring two semesters. When she compared her data she found that friendsstarted their cycles (on average) 6.4 days apart in October, and were within 4.6 days apart by April. Her results found that there was anincrease in the onset date of girls cycles when they spent a lot of time together.

The idea of menstrual cycle syncing is closely associated with McClintock’s research. On Wikipedia, it even lists that Menstrual Synchrony is also known as the McClintock effect. Herobservational study set out to prove that cycle synchronization among close females happens, not find whatmade thesynchronization happen. In theanalysis of her findings, McClintockquestioned whatmechanism made this cycle synchronization possible, which she is still studying today.

Inlooking at if correlation is casual, one of the main grounds for skepticism is if there is nodemonstrable biological mechanism. Although in this case there is no biological mechanism that explains why this happens, there is a proven cause and effect between time and cycle onset. Therefore the lack of a biological mechanism does not discountMcClintock’s findings asa false positive.

After her study was published, other scientists tried to replicate her findings. Some studies validated her findings, while others failed. I was not surprised by this. Menstruation cycles are easily influenced byso many factors, including: stress, diet, exercise, sex, and change in routine. Therefore it would be extremely difficult to replicate these results in women undergoing huge amounts of stress and change while adjusting to college. In my mind the fact that McClintock found girls cycles synced, despite all of the confounding variable that effect menstruation, makes her results even more legitimate.

However, thephenomenon of cycle syncing could just be a myth supported by chance. Unlessthere is biological mechanism found that proves women who spend a lot of time together will synctheir menstrual cycles, there’s no way to know for sure.

Relationship between happiness and pets proves dogs should be allowed in dorm rooms

Kids with autism and people with disabilities often find great comfort, and make great progress when they have a pet. However, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that everyday people also benefit from having a furry friend.

The hypothesis was, “human interactions often provide people with considerable social support, but can pets also fulfill one’s social needs?” And the study ultimately concluded that, “pets can serve as important sources of social support, providing many positive psychological and physical benefits for their owners.”

Being a pet owner myself, I can personally attest to the joy having a dog has brought me.

Before reaching this conclusion, the study conducted three separateexperiments all differently designed to challengethe hypothesis. The results, “found consistent evidence that pets represent important social relationships, conferring significant benefits to their owners.”

The first study surveyed 217 community members and found pet owners overall were found to have greater self-esteem, bemore active, and bemore socially outgoing than non pet owners.

“Pet owners reported receiving as much support from their pets as they did from their family members, and that people reported being closer to their pets as they were to other people. Thus, people did not turn to pets because their human social support was poor — instead, owners seem to extend their general human social competencies to their pets as well.”

The last sentence in this excerpt from the study is an important one, as it acknowledges the possibility of reverse causality, and refutes it.

The next study looked at 56 dog owners, and found owners were healthier and happier and reported theirpet “fulfilled their social needs.”

The first two experiments were both correlational. And as we have discussed time and time again in class, correlation is not causation. However, this study did a third experiment in a lab to “experimentally examine the ability of pets to benefit people.”

97 pet owners were brought to a lab, and some were “induced to feel socially rejected.” Afterwards, they were either told to write about their pet, write about their best friend, or draw a map. The third group (the map drawers) were the control group.

The experiment was designed tofind out “ifthinking about one’s pet fends off the negativity that accompanies social isolation as effectively as thinking about one’s best friend.”

Here’s an except from the study, detailing their findings,

“The peoplewho drew a map after experiencing social rejection felt worse at the end of the experiment than they were at the beginning of the study, showing that our social rejection manipulation was effective.However, those who wrote about their dog were just as happy as those who wrote about their best friend (both groups did not show any negative feelings, even after the rejection experience was induced).”

Essentially, what this study set out todo was put scientific reasoning behind a widely believed idea, that pets radiate happiness. I can’t imagine someone having a pet and wishing they didn’t, because theyare selfless, loving creatures. Granted, they may pee in the house or eat your socks, but at the end of they day there’s a reason they’re man’s best friend.

A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself. Josh Billings

 

The Bystander Effect

Picture this: You’re walking to class, you see someone’s backpack is unzipped, but you don’t say anything.  You probably justified this by saying to yourself, ‘someone else will point it out to them.” This is the bystander effect. By definition, the bystander effect “is a social psychological phenomenon where individuals do not offer help to a victim when other people are present.”

The bystander effect was given its name by psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latané following the murder of Kitty Genovese.  Kitty was murdered outside her house in Queens, New York.  As she was being stabbed to death her neighbors were home and heard her screaming, but they did not call the police.  Once the details of this case came out, people were shocked, and this “psychological phenomenon” got its name.

There are three fundamental factors that contribute to the bystander effect.

  1. Ambiguity– People will first consider their own safety before worrying about the safety of others.
  2. Cohesion– When in groups of people, people unknowingly alter their behavior.
  3. Diffusion of responsibility– Seeking help is inversely related to to number of people around.

Many studies have been conducted to examine the bystander effect, and uncover if, why, and how people will help others in certain situations. The first experiment was conducted by Darley and Latané, the psychologists that originally coined the term ‘bystander effect.’

They used college students for their experiment. They told the students they would be members of a group discussion about their lives at school and subsequent problems.  The students would talk to other students, but they would all be in individual rooms.  Participants had to use microphones and speakers so they could not be able to see the people they were talking to.

When it was their turn, participants had two minutes to speak.  Participants did not know that the voices they heard were actually pre-recorded.  One of the pre-recorded voices was of an epileptic student (note: this person did not actually have a seizure, an actor just pre-recorded a message making the participant think they were talking to someone having a seizure.)  The epilitic student first told the participant about his condition, and that it could be life-threatening.  After that, the seizure started.

According to the study, the amount of time it took the participant to seek help was the response they were measuring. Meaning,  the dependent variable is the time it takes to seek help and the independent variable is the number of participants within each discussion group.

At the conclusion of the study, Darley and Latané found that only 31% of participants left the room and sought out help. 69% of the participants were okay with continuing the experiment and letting the person (potentially) die.  Granted, maybe they weren’t actually okay with it, but by doing nothing, they might as well have been.

The bystander effect inspired a reality TV show called What Would You Do. The premise of the show is: “actors act out scenes of conflict or illegal activity in public settings while hidden cameras videotape the scene, and the focus is on whether or not bystanders intervene, and how.”  What Would You Do looks at the bystander effect in everyday, real life situations.

This is a fascinating phenomenon that psychologists still try to reason with.  The bystander effect proves what we have discussed over and over again in class, “our intuition is lousy.”  You would think that if you heard someone being stabbed, or having a seizure that you would do something to help, but that’s not always the case.  Thankfully, “science helps us overcome our human blind spots.”

The effectiveness of online versus traditional learning

school-clipart1  image from here.  

As college students, many of us spend at least 15 hours a week sitting in a classroom.  Our course loads are dominated by in class lectures and outside readings, following the traditional learning module.  The working definition of this learning philosophy is:

“Teacher-centered delivery of instruction to classes of students who are the receivers of information.”

Education Advocate Julie Hudson argues, “Unlike alternatives to the usual public school model, traditional schooling means that state-approved standards in all the curricular areas will be covered.”

However, a study by the SRI International, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, calls into question the effectiveness of traditional learning versus online learning.  The study came to a jaw-dropping conclusion: “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”

I spent 12 years in public schools, and am currently continuing my education in a traditional learning setting here at Penn State, and was shocked by this finding.  Would I be smarter and perform better if I spent my time learning on a computer instead of in a classroom?

Let’s dissect this study:

  •  It collected data from 1996 to 2008.
  • The SRI looked at 99 studies where there was quantitative data comparing online and traditional learning performance in courses.
  • The study looked at learners of all ages; including grades K-12, college students, and education programs for adults.
  • Statistically speaking, the study found “students doing some or all of the course online would rank in the 59th percentile in tested performance, compared with the average classroom student scoring in the 50th percentile.”

“The study’s major significance lies in demonstrating that online learning today is not just better than nothing — it actually tends to be better than conventional instruction,” said Barbara Means, the study’s lead author, in an article with the New York Times.

Since this research was observational, there are countless reasons that could explain this conclusion other than online learning is flat out better than traditional learning.

The causality here is that online learning yields better results than traditional learning.  However, reverse causality has not been ruled out.  What if the students taking online classes are smarter than their traditional counterparts, and thus do better? There is no way to prove this through experimental manipulation because this research was based on data from 99 different observational studies.

However, the fact the study looked at 99 different observational studies and concluded the same findings across the board, means it is highly unlikely these results are due to chance.

All in all, this research is not to be discounted.  The 9 percent difference between online and traditional learners in similar courses is a statistically profound finding.  A subsequent experiment should look to delve into why this is the case, to determine if it is how the students are learning that is creating this achievement gap.

New found relationship between gender and art

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A recent study, published in Psychology & Marketing by scientists at Michigan State University, found men and women appreciate art differently.  The study was aptly titled,

“WHEN JUDGING ART, MEN AND WOMEN STAND APART”

The study aimed to uncover “how consumers determine the worth of artwork,” according to Stephanie Mangus, co-author of the study.

The study included 518 participants.  Each participant looked at two unfamiliar paintings that featured made-up biographies of the artist next to them.

Half of the paintings featured bios that described the artist as a ‘lifelong painter who creates unique work.’ While the other half featured bios that described the artist as an ordinary painter who took up the craft only recently.

The study found that when artists were described as authentic, people were overall more inclined to buy that artist’s work, and were willing to pay a higher price for it.

An excerpt from the study discussed that although people overall were drawn to the authentic artists simply because they were described as authentic, the actual artwork was a bigger factor for women.

It is important to note this was a marketing study, not a scientific experiment.  This is fundamental because it calls into question the methods used to collect the data that produced these results.

There are a few essential things to consider when looking at this study.

Foremost, how were the 518 people selected? Are they all the same age, or from the same area? If so, they are not an accurate representation of the population as a whole. In addition, if the data was not collected in a systematic and uniform way, the results may be skewed.

Also, the main finding was people were drawn to art made by authentic artists.  However, the study focuses on the fact that although the majority of men and women favored authentic artists, they did so for different reasons.  However, it is unclear how they made this distinction between men and women, which is a huge red flag.

The fact people favored authentic artists should have been the hard end point in this study, the response variable that matters.  Unfortunately, the difference in how men and women concluded they favored authentic artists was presented as the hard end point, when in fact it is only a correlation.

Consider this quote from a co-author of the study,

“Women are more willing to go through a complicated process of actually evaluating the artwork,” Mangus said, “whereas men may say, ‘This guy’s a great artist, so I’ll buy his art.'”

While this notion seems plausible, there is no evidence in the study that qualitatively explains this difference.  Therefore, this theory, only just a theory.  Unfortunately, the way it is presented in the study makes it seem as though the study proved this to be true.

Essentially, this study is a perfect example of a type one error, a false positive.  It concludes something is going on when, in fact, nothing is.  If this study focused solely on how people appreciate art, it would be correct in its findings based on the data presented.

 

If I ruled the world, it would be a better place

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My title is a complete joke, if I ruled the world there would be puppies and sunflowers everywhere and absolutely nothing productive would be accomplished. But enough about me.

A team of researchers from San Diego State University set out to find if college students today are more self-obsessed than previous generations. They created a Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) and examined the responses of 16,475 college students from all over the country from 1982 to 2006.

The NPI included true and false questions such as as:

  • If I ruled the world, it would be a better place
  • I think I am a special person
  • I can live my life any way I want to.

The researchers found that over the years NPI scores steadily increased.  At the conclusion of the study two-thirds of students had above-average scores; which is 30 percent more than in 1982, when the test was first given out. They concluded that college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than ever before.  But what does this mean? Professor Jean Twenge, the head researcher on the study, said “narcissists tend to lack empathy, react aggressively to criticism and favor self-promotion over helping others.”

Another study by researchers at UCLA found similar results.  They surveyed college freshman on what they thought should be considered priorities in life. In their survey, almost 75 percent of college freshmen said it was important to be “very well-off financially.”

Compare that number to 62.5 percent in 1980 and 42 percent in 1966, it would appear that the team of researchers at San Diego State University were correct in their findings. However, I don’t think that’s the case.  Although based on the numbers the results seem credible, there’s some crucial errors in their research methods that call into question the validity of their findings.

First, by naming the test the Narcissistic Personality Inventory students are predisposed with the notion the test has to do with narcissism.  Having this knowledge before taking the test may have consequently altered how they answered the questions.

Second, are the 16,475 students that took the NPI a good indicator of our population as a whole?  There is no information in the study that indicates what colleges the students came from or what cities they were from.  If all of the students that took the NPI were from top tier colleges with affluent backgrounds, they are not a fair representation of the average college student in America.

This also raises the question, why did they only look at college students instead of young adults as a whole?  It would be interesting to see if this study was replicated with both young adults (not in college) and college students, would the groups score similarly?  If they did, that would beg the question if society (as a whole) is becoming more narcissistic.

There was no independent variable being tested, meaning both reverse causality and confounding variables could explain the findings in the research. In addition, there is no clear hypotheses.  This study took place over the course of 24 years with no clear direction in what the researchers were hoping to prove with their findings. This is a perfect example of the Texas sharp-shooter problem.

Essentially, it appears in this study, the researchers formed a hypothesis to be consistent with the data that they found.  In essence, they used the data to prove something they did not set out to find. Based on the apparent flaws in research design, this study appears to be a false positive, concluding something is going on when, in fact, nothing is.

However, the phenomenon they looked at is an interesting one: is our society becoming more narcissistic, and if so, what is causing this?

A vaccination without a needle?

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The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine is currently researching alternatives to getting vaccinations without having to get a shot.

On their website, they claim, “instead of a dreaded injection with a needle, someday getting vaccinated against disease may be as pleasant as drinking a yogurt smoothie.”

The alternative they’ve developed is an oral vaccine made of probiotics (the healthy bacteria in dairy).

At first, I was skeptical.  Although I don’t particularly like to get shots, I’ll do so because it means protecting myself from things like influenza and HPV.  However, the research claims “this new generation vaccine has big benefits beyond eliminating the “Ouch!” factor.”

Here are some of the key benefits of the new oral vaccine:

  • Probiotics are natural, and replace the chemicals found in typical shots which often give unwanted side effects such as nausea or dizziness depending on the vaccine.
  • The probiotic oral vaccine is more cost effective to produce, which is important because according to Discovery Medicine, “Vaccine-preventable diseases are still responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million children under the age of 5 years annually, mostly in developing countries”
  • By swallowing a vaccine instead of injecting it into a muscle, Associate Professor of Medicine Mansour Mohamadzadeh claims, “you are able to harness the full power of the body’s primary immune force, which is located in the small intestine.”

    “You swallow the vaccine, and the bacteria colonize your intestine and start to produce the vaccine in your gut,” Mohamadzadeh said. “Then it’s quickly dispatched throughout your body. If you can activate the immune system in your gut, you get a much more powerful immune response than by injecting it.”

Mohamadzadeh and his team at Northwestern conduct an experiment where they fed mice their oral anthrax vaccine, and then exposed them to anthrax bacteria.  And the hard end point they published was impressive, with eighty percent of the exposed mice surviving.

In conclusion, the experiment proved “the immune response was higher and more robust than with the injected vaccine,” said Mohamadzadeh.

While the results from this experiment seem promising, only the success rate was published, which poses some serious questions. This leaves an insurmountable amount of unknown variables that could discount the findings of this experiment.

For example, were all the mice that were exposed to the vaccine the same age and gender, or was there a variety? Was there a control group?  Without more information it would be easy to write the results of this study off as a false positive.

Without more information on this study, it’s difficult to determine if the results are an indicator of how the oral vaccine works.

However, The National Institute of Health remains optimistic, and calls this possible vaccine break through “the use of probiotic bacteria (…) an exciting new approach.”

Only time will tell if the probiotic oral vaccine is the next big thing.

Adjusting to new germs at college

A month into the new semester, and lecture halls are filled with coughing and sniffing students.  Every convenient store on campus has to constantly restock their shelves with cold medicine and cough drops to meet the demands of sick students.  So why is everyone sick, with what has been nicknamed the Penn State plague?

properly-blow-nose-its-runny-800x800

Brown University estimated in a study that in one year, people in the U.S. suffer 1 billion colds. 

Germs are everywhere.  According to the Health Center at Virginia Tech, shaking hands, kissing, touching doorknobs, desktops, phones, remotes, sharing drinks, catching a sneeze or cough in the face, all put you at risk.

“College campuses are a “hot zone” of upper respiratory viruses,” according to an article published by Virginia Tech called Common Cold and the College Student.  They attribute this to the large number of sick students  in close proximity to each other.

You’ve heard it before, but the best way to stay as germ free as possible is frequent and thorough hand washing.  The Health Center at Virginia Tech called hand washing “the single greatest preventive measure you can perform to stay well!”

Here’s a quick guide on how, and when to wash your hands, courtesy of the Health Center at Virginia Tech: “Wash hands returning from class, before eating, after coughing or sneezing, and after using the bathroom. Wash hands with soap and water, rubbing for 20 seconds, dry and use the towel to turn off faucet and open door.”

It is not that your immune system suddenly gets weaker when you get to college, rather, there are just more germs and new germs that your body doesn’t know how to fight off.

Brown University advises students to get enough rest, stay hydrated, and take medicine to beat a cold.

Is walking to class enough exercise?

As a new student in college, I find myself walking more than ever before.  I walk everywhere: to and from class, to get food, or to run errands.  I avoid taking the bus because I want to stay active.  While I have a gym membership, I seldom use it.  I find that I don’t have enough time between classes, and by the end of the day i’m tired from class, or have too much to do.  I justify this by reminding myself I walk a ton on any given day, and I eat healthy.  However, I don’t know if there’s any basis behind that.  In this post i’m going to examine if walking everyday is enough exercise to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “a daily brisk walk can help you live a healthier life.”  Their research shows walking everyday helps people: maintain a healthy weight, strengthen bones, and improve your balance and coordination.

The Mayo Clinic further explained, “the faster, farther and more frequently you walk, the greater the benefits.”  A few simple changes will make your daily walks more effective, and enjoyable: wear supportive shoes and have good posture to capitalize on the benefits of walking.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends people get 60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. According to Kids Health, splitting physical activity into 15 minute increments throughout the day works just as well as doing a full 30 minutes at once.  Meaning your various treks to class throughout the day are an acceptable way to engage your body in physical activity.

The Association of College Parents of America looked at a study from Tufts University that found students who exercise are generally happier.  Essentially, walking to class is a good way to stay active in college.  However, it is not enough to stay healthy.  It’s important to stay active and make healthy choices.

When is your brain most awake

Before the last test, Andrew told us the test would be open for 24 hours and we could take it whenever we wanted within the time frame.  He mentioned that we could take the test at midnight and then try again when we wake up.  I attempted to do this, although I usually don’t do schoolwork that late, and found it impossible to focus.  Which made me wonder: when is our brain most awake? brain-awake-in-class

 

Image from here

An article for NBC News suggests it varies for each person, and is based “largely on your sleep pattern, exposure to light, and genetic makeup.”  Meaning there is no unanimous peak performance time for everyones brain.  Which makes sense because some people are night owls, while others are morning people.

According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) in order to capitalize on the amount of time your brain is awake and alert, you need to stick to a routine.  The NSF explains that two factors control our sleep cycle: the circadian biological clock and homeostasis.  Both serve two different purposes.  The circadian biological clock “regulates the timing of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day.”  While homeostasis “helps us maintain enough sleep throughout the night to make up for the hours of being awake.”

Slight changes can cause disruptions to both cycles, such as: not going to bed at a consistent time, frequent napping, and drinking caffeine or sugary drinks before trying to go to sleep.

Melatonin is a natural aid to controlling your sleep-wake cycle.  According to the Mayo Clinic levels of melatonin in the blood are highest at night.

Melatonin does not make you fall asleep, it simply aids in regulating your sleep cycle.  Which explains why I was unable to focus on doing the test late at night.  Normally, on a Monday night after midnight I am already asleep, and if i’m still awake i’m usually not doing schoolwork.  Meaning my brain was preparing to enter the sleep-cycle and the level of melatonin in my blood was increasing.  Although I felt awake enough to take the test, my brain was not.

The takeaway from all of this, is that in order to maximize your success on assignments, work on them when your brain is most awake.  In order to do this, get in a routine and stick to it.  Your brain and GPA will thank you later.

Why are there still student smokers on campus?

The past two classed we talked about the harmful effects of smoking and our societies understanding of the consequences of smoking.  In the lecture, we discussed that smoking has a big effect, and is a major cause of an otherwise rare disease.

However,  you’re bound to see a student smoking on campus in front of the HUB, or walking to class.   So despite the fact we now know that smoking is not only bad for you, but also the people around you: why are there so many smokers on campus?

An article by ABC claimed a third of college students smoke.  The study that found these results was conducted by researchers from Harvard, that surveyed 14,000 students at 119 universities across the country.

SMOKE graph

Graph from here.

The University of Missouri School of Medicine reported what events triggered college students to smoke.  Based off the graph, college students most often smoke in social situations.  Because of its addictive properties, what starts as a casual thing when out with friends can quickly develop into an addictive habit.

According to USA Today, in 2008 the state of Pennsylvania banned smoking everywhere on campus at 14 state-owned universities.  However, Penn State still allows smoking on campus.

While the Penn State Student Affairs outlines strict smoking areas on campus, there appears to be little or no enforcement of this.  If the smoking areas were strictly enforced, there may be a drop in the number of students smoking on campus.  New smokers would not be able to casually light up on the way to class without fear of punishment.  That leads into the controversy of how the university would go about enforcing this, and the fact that just because you’re not allowed to smoke doesn’t mean students will listen.  But it begs the question if Penn State had stricter smoking policies, would there be less students smoking on campus?

“If this trend continues, it threatens to reverse the decline in U.S. adult smoking that we have witnessed over the past half-century,” Dr. Nancy Rigotti said, in an interview with ABC.  

How to treat a sunburn

If you were atBeaver Stadium this Saturday cheering the Nittany Lions onto a victory against Akron, chances are you got sunburned. Walking to classes Monday,it was easy to tell who was at the game based on how red people’s faces were.

A few factors can be attributed to the number of awkward tan lines and sunburns seen around campus since the football game:

  1. The start time was at noon, and according to WebMD, “you are more likely to get a sunburn between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon, when the sun’s rays are the strongest.” Meaning if you were outside tailgating and then at the game, you were outside during the hours you are most likely to get sunburned.
  2. It reached82 degrees on Saturday, which was significantly hotter than the rest of the week. So most people probably did not think to use sunscreen. According to skincancer.org SPF 50 blocks out 98 percent of UVB rays, which is the main cause of sunburns.

A sunburn, by definition, is reddening, inflammation, and, in sever cases, blistering and peeling of the skin caused by overexposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. So if your skin is still red (and probably starting to peel) the most effective way to treat your sunburn is aloe vera.

The aloe vera plant can grow up tofour feet tall, andaccording to the National Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine: “Aloe leaves contain a clear gel that is often used as a topical ointment”

Fox Newsexplains the benefits of aloe vera, ”the cooling, soothing gel of this beautiful succulent plant provides almost immediate relief for sunburn pain.”

Not only is aloe vera effective, it’s also safe to use, with little to no side effects. According to the Natural Science Journal, aloe vera gel is safe if applied topically.

So how does it work? What makes aloe vera more effective at treating a sunburn than any other plant in your backyard?

Aloe is 99 percent water, but according to The University of Maryland Medical Centeritalso contains glycoproteins and polysaccharides. “Glycoproteins speed the healing process by stopping pain and inflammation, while polysaccharides stimulate skin growth and repair.” These two powerful components give aloe vera its healing powers that make it a popular, and effective way to treat sun burns.

Initial blog post

I’m a freshman and I plan to major in journalism.  I’m from Grosse Pointe, Michigan and chose Penn State for the highly ranked College of Comm.

In high school I did not enjoy Chemistry or Physics.  I did not do well with the fact they both focused on formulas and concepts that were abstract and not tangible.  In contrast, my AP Environmental Science class was one of my favorites because I left that class with a better understanding of the world around me.  Although I enjoyed Environmental Science, given the fact I hated every other science class I’ve ever taken, the thought of majoring in science never crossed my mind.

My academic adviser at orientation saw I got credit for my AP Enviro class and recommended this class to me to fulfill my other science gen-ed requirement.  After reading the course description I took her advice and after the first two classes i’m looking forward to the rest of the semester.

Attached is a picture of my dog, Cooper.  When I was little I wanted to be a veterinarian, but that would mean taking a lot of biology classes and putting animals to sleep; two things I would not be able to do.  However, I still love animals and hope to be able to focus some of my future blog posts on them.

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