Author Archives: amp6199

Familiarity over Tastiness: Why We Choose the same Foods


Some of us are more adventurous eaters than others. Whenever I go to a restaurant, I go in with the idea that I’ll try something new, but I usually end up with the same thing I usually get on my plate. The same goes with my family’s grocery shopping habits. Our grocery list remains relatively similar each week. Why is this? A new study finds that it is because we choose to pick familiar foods over foods that we actually might think taste better.

This study observed 30 young people in two different ways. The first observation had the participants sit down at a computer and rate the snacks that were displayed on the screen (the snacks were associated with a location). There was no actual food provided. After that, the participants were asked to choose between two locations that replaced the snacks. The young people went with the location they remembered from the first part of the test over what food they thought tasted better. Therefore, the participants picked the “food” they remembered (or were familiar with) over what they actually thought tasted better.

During this experiment, the participants had their brains scanned. The scan found that the brain had more active communication with the hippocampus, which is in charge of memory.

The hippocampus, or the part of the brain that is associated with memory.

The hippocampus, or the part of the brain that is associated with memory.

This experiment is very interesting, however the fact that there were only 30 participants, and they were all around the same age, makes me wonder how true the conclusion is. Also, the study mentioned that the participants were hungry. Maybe the fact that they were hungry made them pick what was familiar to them because that’s what seems to be the most available to them.

If this study is on the right track, perhaps it could link to better dieting plans. Perhaps dieting is so hard for people because they want to eat what they are used to, not what they know is better for them. Maybe the way to a better diet starts with changing up your grocery list once in awhile, or picking something different off the menu at a restaurant.

This study is not the first of its kind, however. In a study done on chickadees in 1989 scientists discovered that chickadees’ hippocampi are also linked to food memory. In this study, chickadees with damaged hippocampi often forgot where they had stored their food. This study was one that began scientists’ curiosity between  the hippocampus and food memory/familiarity.

Another study done in 2008 linked the memory of food intake to the amount eaten in a day. In other words, a scientist observed what happened to participants who were ate at the same time each day and recorded what they ate, as opposed to those who ate at different times of the day and did not do anything to record their eating to their memory. It was found that those who committed their eating habits to memory and ate at the same time ate much less. When the hippocampus was exercised, the participants ate less. However, it was not mentioned how many people were used in this study, so it is hard to tell how accurate it is.

If this study is correct, it would make sense for people who are trying to lose weight to keep a journal of everything that they ate, as well as try to eat at the same time each day. If a journal is too much to keep up with, there is also apps such as the Lose It weight loss app, where people can record what food they have eaten and even find the calorie intake associated with it.

I encourage everyone that reads this blog to mix up what they eat this week, however hard it may be to find something new at the dining hall.


Being Rude is Contagious (I Hope I Haven’t Caught It!)

There are so many people that we think are “rude.” There’s that person who merges in front of you and doesn’t use their turn signal, there’s that sibling who just takes too long in the shower, and (seasonably appropriate) there’s that relative that asks you about your GPA when they visit you for the holidays. Often times, people who are not rude generally can commit a  rude action. Perhaps some of the time they just got up on the wrong side of the bed, but maybe at other times they have been influenced by the actions of rude

For years, studies have been done on whether attitudes are contagious or not. One of the most famous studies was the Bobo Doll Experiment which took place in 1961. The hypothesis of this experiment was that children take after the actions of those around them. During this experiment, 36 girls and 36 boys around the ages of 3-5 (dependent variable) were shown either an aggressive or non-aggressive adult (independent variable). The aggressive adult yelled at a Bobo doll and threw it around, and the non-aggressive adult was gentle with the doll. This experimental study observed that children who were exposed to an aggressive adult model were in fact more likely to be aggressive to the doll themselves and vice versa.

This study proved that kids are influenced by what they see around them. The Bobo the Doll Study has become quite famous, because its good experimental design led it to be understood by many. The scientists accounted for confounding variables such as time delay (if the children would remain as aggressive/non-aggressive if given a certain period of time between seeing the model and playing with the Bobo doll themselves) and whether verbal of physical aggression had more of an effect.bobo

Since the publication of this study, similar experiments have been conducted to prove the conclusion, and the overall observation is that the Bobo the Doll study is correct in its findings. Now, behavioral studies have become more specific.

A recent study published focused on adults, and whether rude behavior was contagious or not. This topic shows how far behavioral studies have come since 1961. This study, done by researchers at the University of Florida, is focusing on a behavior that is not necessarily aggressive, and a less influential dependent variable: grown up adults.

This study was composed of 3 experiments, each using different people from different backgrounds. The experiment that I will focus on is the first one, which the experimenters say is the one that proves that rudeness is contagious.

The first study conducted was to test if someone being rude could put rudeness on peoples’ mind.   47 undergraduate students were divided into two groups: the control group and the experimental group. In the control group, the students were told to take a survey. After the survey had already began, a “late” participant walked in and asked it they could still participate. The experimenter politely told her no, and the late participant left. In the experimental group, The same thing occurred, however the experimenter was rude to the late participant.

Both the control and the experimental group were then told to take a lexical decision task in which the words ranged from being words that usually aren’t associated with feeling, such as “kitchen,” words that were associated with aggression, niceness, and rudeness. The faster the participants could unscramble the words, the more prevalent the word was on the participants mind. The aggression and niceness response times were average in both groups, but the rudeness response time was much faster for those who had just witnessed the rude interaction (the experimental group).

The results proved to the experimenters that rudeness can be contagious, and that it can be caught after just one interaction. It also shows that a single interaction can cause rudeness to be transferred, and it does not matter who the rude person is. As in, it could be your best friend or a complete stranger who is being rude, and it could still be transferred to you the same way.

This experiment was well-done, and it gives me reason to believe that rudeness is contagious. A confounding variable that could not be controlled are whether or not the participants were already rude when they got to the study, but this could easily be solved if the participants were properly randomized. However, it would still be wise to have a few more of these studies and perhaps a meta-analysis before being completely confident that rudeness is contagious.

Now that we are starting to get an idea that rudeness is contagious, perhaps we should look on the brighter side of things and see if kindness is contagious.

Nomophobia: The Fear of Being Without Your Cell Phone

Text Message

Our society is incredibly dependent on technology. Specifically, we are dependent on our cell phones. We always have them on our person, and we use them constantly. Earlier in the semester, my roommate broke her phone, and she was attached at my hip for 3 days because she was afraid of going somewhere without being connected to the world. That’s a prime anecdote that shows how attached our society is becoming to their mobile phones.

Scientists have become interested in what this attachment could mean to the human mind. They have dubbed the term nomophobia which means the fear of losing your cell phone. The four most common cases of nomophobia, according to the link above, result from broken phones, lost phones, stolen phones, and phones without service. But is this a real psychological issue?

Recent studies have looked closer into this issue. Scientific American has broken down nomophobia into two psychological behaviors:

  1. The feeling of anxiety that is experienced when one does not have their phone with them.”I can’t go alone, I don’t have my phone on me!”
  2. The degree to which we depend on our phones to complete basic tasks for us.”When was JFK elected into office?” “I don’t know, let’s check Siri.”

The psychological part of this attachment comes from the idea of transactive memory. This theory indicates that people use each others minds as memory devices. This takes place when you spend a decent amount of time with someone, and you know the subjects that they are knowledgeable about. So, let’s say that my brother is very into football and knows the starting quarterbacks for each team in the NFL. Since he knows this information, I won’t bother to learn who the quarterbacks are, because I can just ask my brother.

Research shows that the concept of transactive memory now applies to our relationship with our cell phones. It is suggested that we have this type of relationship with our phones, and we need it to know so many facts, that without it we become psychologically damaged.

A study done at Iowa State University took 9 undergraduate students from ISU and questioned them on their cell phone use. Questions such as “How would you feel if you left your cell phone at home and had to spend your day without it?” Were asked. Based on the participants answers to the above question and others, the scientists then developed  a questionnaire in order to measure the degrees of nomophobia among these undergraduate students.

This questionnaire asked 301 ISU undergraduate students to rate how much they would agree (on a scale of 1-7) with the 20 statements they were provided. These statements were as such: “If I were to hit my monthly data limit, I would panic.” and “I would feel uncomfortable without constant access to information through my cell phone.”

After the questionnaire was filled out, the participants were put on a scale that measured how “nomophobic” they were. Most of the results fell in the middle of the scale, at about a 3, 4, or 5. Although this shows that people aren’t so incredibly attached to their phones that they would go insane without them, there is definitely reason to believe that people are mentally attached to their smartphones.

However, we must remember that this is a questionnaire study, and not an actual psychoanalysis of what smartphones actually do to the brain. Therefore, it is not as accurate as an experimental study would be. If nomophobia continues to be a popular trend, there is reason to believe that a psychoanalysis will be in the works very soon.

Of course, there have be questions about the truth behind nomophobia. Is it really a phobia, per se? A phobia, as defined by, is “a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.” This sounds pretty intense for most cell phone users. Yes, we are probably more attached to our cell phones than we should be, but do we actually have an irrational psychological fear of going without one? Again, a psychoanalysis could help scientists decide whether or not “phobia” is the right suffix for this issue.

For now, I would suggest turning off your cell phone once in awhile, and just taking in the world as it is.

Halloween Safety: What’s Necessary to Keep Children Safe on Trick-or-Treat

trick or treat

Halloween is over, the costumes have been put back into storage, the pumpkins have been thrown away. With the falling of the final leaves on the trees comes the post-Halloween horror stories that are heard every year. Things like the classic razor in an apple given to an innocent child on Halloween, to a masked rapist taking a trick-or-treater at their doorstep.

Every Halloween, it seems as though many multimedia outlets come out with horror stories of Halloween’s past and parents are parents are warned about the dangers that come along with trick-or-treating. However, how true are these claims? There have been multiple studies done on many separate dangers that are posed on Halloween, and how often they actually come true.

One of the biggest concerns coming from parents each year seems to be the fact that something could be hidden in their child’s candy, like poison or a razor blade. This issue has been so popular that this tweet went viral during this past Halloween, putting a funny spin on the issue. dangerous halloween candyIn all seriousness, is this an issue that parents need to be concerned about? A study done about Halloween Sadism, published in the scientific journal Social Problems, took news stories of Halloween terrors from 1958-1983 and analyzed them to see how true these candy threats really were. The study found that most stories were exaggerated by the media, and there was barely any reports of threats that came from Halloween candy.

This report showed that most of the fear of tampered food came from media-fueled attention directed towards the issue, and that most reports of food being messed with were quickly cleared. Most cases of food tampering could be blamed on the trick-or-treaters themselves, who altered their own food for attention.

In fact, actual Halloween candy deaths have only happened twice in the United States. In both of these cases, it was not a random person hurting the child, but an adult the child already knew. The most famous case occurred in 1974, when Ronald Clark O’Bryan killed his own son by putting cyanide in a pixie stick.

So, based on the past, there is a very small risk of a child getting poisoned from Halloween candy, unless they are threatened by someone around them. Based on this evidence, most parents should not be afraid to take their child out for some good old Halloween fun.

At least, they shouldn’t be afraid of the candy. But what about the people? Another warning that parents are given each year is to be wary of sexual assaults. The common assumption is that Halloween provides a great opportunity for sex offenders to coax children into their homes. However, this assumption also proves to not be completely true.

A study done on sex offenders during Halloween proved that there is no greater risk of a child being sexually assaulted on Halloween as there is on any other day. This study, done in 2009, examined 67,307 sex offense cases that were not within the child’s family within the course of 9 years 30 different states. The study concluded that “Halloween appears to be another autumn day where sex crimes against children are concerned.” In fact, the study went on to say that tax dollars are wasted on trying to protect kids from a threat that doesn’t actually exist.

All in all, it seems as though Halloween is just another case of the media and the public forcing the government to use precautions they do not need to use. Many parents have the opportunity to x-ray their child’s Halloween candy before the child can eat it. In many states, sex offenders are forced to  act differently on Halloween. In some states in America, sex offenders are forced to put a sign in their yard saying “no candy will be given out at this home.” In other places, such as Long Island, New York, sex offenders are forced to report to the court house on trick-or-treat night.

This issue seems like a smaller scale, yet still wasteful, vaccine issue. The media has caused the public to have concerns that are not true, and therefore the government must act in order to keep the citizens happy, despite scientific evidence that these threats are not true.

So what should one look out for on Halloween? The number one cause of death on Halloween is children running out in front of cars and getting run over. Perhaps instead of wasting tax dollars on untrue threats such as tampered candy and sex offenders, money should go towards more streetlights and crossing guards, to keep children safe from the real threat.


Cats: We Can’t Seem to Domesticate them, but maybe they’ll Help us in Other Ways

Pets are a part of many people’s families. In fact, the ASPCA reported that about 37-47% of families in the U.S. own dogs, and 30-37% of families in the U.S. own cats. Although domesticated dogs started out as being wolf-like beings that helped humans hunt and gather, they have since adapted to be smaller, have shorter muzzles, smaller teeth, and generally less of an instinct to hunt in order to survive.


My cat, Smokey, may not be that domesticated, but it sure doesn’t look that way!

Cats, on the other hand, are animals that we have not been able to change.

About a year ago, the LA Times reported a study that showed that after about 10,000 years of cats living with us humans, we have only managed to semi-domesticate them.

Unlike dogs, who have changed so much under the influence of humans, cats retain many of the traits they started out with: the instinct to hunt, similar sensory systems, and digestive systems have remained relatively the same throughout the domestication years.

The only thing that humans have been able to change about their kitties is their fur (there is a difference in color and pattern) and a set of genes that scientists think relate back to tameness. Other than that, cats are only approximately 13 genes away from their ancestors, making them not very domesticated at all.

This study might not surprise the average cat owner at all. As someone who has had to clean dead mice off of the porch many times after my cat spent a few hours outside, it’s easy to tell that they have kept a lot of their traits from their ancestors. However, this study was useful for more than just showing us how close our cats are to their wild cousins- this study will actually help humans in the future.

New genes were also discovered during this study (which was conducted by the National Academy of Science and compared cats to other animals and analyzed the genome of domestic cats themselves). By knowing the similarities between domestic cats and wild cats’ genes, scientists will be able to better understand and better treat over 250 diseases that cats and humans have in common.

Cats have their own version of everything from HIV/AIDS to diabetes, and studying the newfound genomes of the domesticated cat could help scientists link these diseases back to humans. Using comparative genetics  humans can link cat and human genes to one another.

However cool this may sound, these studies can take a long time and sometimes not even be successful. However, there is a chance that these studies may lead to a greater understanding of diseases, and maybe one day a a treatment or even a cure.

So, maybe cats haven’t really changed their ways of living since their domestication, but they could still change our lives.

Vaccinations: Personal Belief is not an Excuse, and California is Doing Something about it


Recently in class we have been talking about vaccinations and if they are worth the risk. Last year in Disneyland, 111 people were infected by the measles virus when it spread throughout the theme park. Most of these people were not vaccinated, even though the measles vaccine has been available since 1968. Since then, Californians have been pushing to ban vaccination opt- out due to personal and religious beliefs.

Dr. Richard Pan, a California State Senator (D), was named a hero by TIME Magazine for his work to provide a safe environment for school children. Pan’s bill, which was prompted by the measles outbreak at Disneyland, was signed into law under the name SB 277. This bill requires children to get all of their vaccinations, in order to create a safer learning environment for those kids who cannot be vaccinated for medical purposes.

As of June 30, 2015, California passed SB 277 into law, and it will take affect on July 1, 2016. With this law, California tykes are required to have their vaccination record in full when they enter kindergarten and seventh grade. If it isn’t  up to date- they will be banned from all public and private schools. People who chose not to vaccinate their child have the option of homeschooling their child or doing independent studies at the public schools. Now, “personal belief” is not a good enough reason for children to not be vaccinated, children must have a specific medical condition that prevents them from getting vaccinated.

California is the state with the most measles cases so far in 2015 and it is also one of the 17 states that still has personal belief laws, but it is the first state to get rid of opting out of vaccinations for religious beliefs. Personal belief laws has taken a toll on California in the past, when 10 children died of whooping cough. A study done on this topic showed that many cases of whooping cough came from those children who were not vaccinated due to “personal belief.” Other children were left to suffer because they were exempt from being vaccinated either because of medical reasons. The case broke in the first place because not enough children were vaccinated to create herd immunity, which occurs when enough of the population is vaccinated so the rest of the non-vaccinated population is safe. (measles is so highly contagious that 90-95% of the population must be vaccinated in order to generate immunity, while whooping cough requires about 94% ).

Although these numbers are relatively high, Dr. Pan says that children must be safe in school, and among the Californian school population, there should be close to 100% immunity.

Opponents of SB277, including an anti-SB277 organization that took the URL of, say that this law violates children’s constitutional right to receive an education.

Another complaint is that this law violates religious freedoms. According to this website, MMR vaccines contain the cells of aborted babies, and those against abortion should therefore be against the MMR vaccine. Other religious protests include: people who think that God made their bodies to be able to protect them naturally and that vaccines do not help with their health, and that unless it is the religious belief of a person that God punishes non-vaccinators, it is a step over religious boundaries to claim that every child must be vaccinated.

This site went on to harp on the cliche that vaccines kill and injure an uncountable number of people a year, and that a government that is powerful enough to force people to get vaccinations that could harm them has too much control.

Most of these complaints are easily arguable. Vaccines obviously help the health of people, since a vaccine is what eradicated polio. Secondly, there is no merit to whether your religious belief allows you to get vaccinated or not. If religious belief is what the government based all of its laws on, I’m sure many people would have the belief that paying your taxes got you punished by God. And as for vaccines harming people, as we went over in class, you are much more likely to get killed in a car accident than you are from getting a vaccine.

California’s new law is something that the rest of America should adopt. For the greater good of the rest of the children in contact with those who are not vaccinated, as well as for the greater good of the community as a whole, vaccinations can help immensely with children remaining healthy.



Commuting to Work and Why People Hate it so Much

For people in America, it is not uncommon for people to commute to work. This is often because people who work in a city do not always live there, but rather they live in the suburbs surrounding the city and commute to work. Stats from the 2010 census showed the top 20 cities with the highest commuter day time population, with Manhattan coming in at number one, with more than 3 million people who commute in from the suburbs for work. Since mass transit is such a big part of so many Americans’ lives, why don’t we like it?

commuter chart

Authors Bruno S. Frey and and Alois Stutzer did a meta-analysis of many commuter studies, and found that many say they commute to work because the housing market is better outside of the city, or because the workload or income given at their inner-city job is worth the stress of the commute. However, when the commuters were actually studied, Frey and Stutzer discovered something that they coined the “commuter paradox”. This paradox showcases that the longer someone commutes to work, the lower they report their well-being to be.

Frey and Stutzer found that commuting is the number one common daily activity that causes stress. They say that most of this stress comes from the out-of-pocket costs provided by commuting and the amount of time spent on the go (time that could have been spent relaxing or spending time with family). According to CNN Money, those who commute to work spend an average of 200 hours traveling per year, as well as $2,600 in traveling expenses. commuters

This extra stress caused by commuting could be caused by the pollution in the air, the noise level involved in being on the road, in the subway, or another mobile form. Another big stress that many commuters experience is the fact that many commuters can’t control when their ride is coming (such as a subway rider, a bus taker, and the like).

These types of anxieties can lead to high blood pressure, anger, and musculosketal disorders (the inflaming of the muscles in the limbs, neck, and back). Issues like these can result in estranged relations, which can lead to even more health problems.

Only 31% of working commuters have claimed that they do not experience any health problems when it comes to their commute. With such a small number of people not be affected by this, it is something that most people should take into consideration before purchasing a home away from their work.

A Sensitive Topic: Abortion and its Psychological Effects

Abortion is one of the most controversial and talked about issues in America. In 1973, “Roe vs. Wade” a United States Supreme Court case, made abortion legal in all 50 states. Since then, it has been a battle between those who are pro-life (anti-choice) and pro-choice (anti-life). The correct terminology for the two terms depends on who you might ask. Whatever your views are on the actual abortion law aside, I want to answer the question: “Does Abortion Cause Psychological Effects?” Throughout my research, it was incredibly hard to find papers and sites that were not biased. This factoid proves how hot this issue is in America. However, I just want to know the facts.

According to a meta-analysis done by the U.S. National Library of Medicine  there is usually no emotional or psychological side effects that come from abortions. This meta-analysis examined 225 sources, and found that usually the mental side effectsof women who have had abortions were there before the abortion was performed. The report goes on to say that children who were supposed to be aborted but ended up being born are more likely to have “numerous, broadly based difficulties in social, interpersonal, and occupational functions that last at least into early adulthood” (National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine).

However, there are several factors that attribute to whether and individual woman is emotionally affected by her abortion. The American Pregnancy Association explains that women who were brought up to believe that abortions were wrong (either just ethically or because of a religion) are more likely to suffer from post-abortion psychological damage. The website goes on to say that women who are forced to get an abortion are also more likely to experience psychological damage. On the other side of that page, women who wanted to get an abortion but were discouraged by their significant other were also had less emotional stability. Finally, women who were informed that their child had genetic deformities and then made the choice to abort also had a higher chance of psychological disability.

The above study failed to mention the how adolescents are psychologically effected by abortions. This study researched 360 black teenage girls from Baltimore with similar economic backgrounds.   Surprisingly, adolescents who have abortions are often times less likely to experience psychological problems than those who decided to go through with their pregnancy. The explanation given was that the girls who go through with the pregnancy are so overwhelmed by early motherhood that they often experience psychological and emotional damage.

The studies I found above come from credible and reliable sources. This is not a biased report and my opinion did not make its way into this article. Even though this is just a blog post for science class, I feel it is my duty to remind my audience that the health of the mother should only effect half of the decision. I’ll leave with two quotes: one from the anti-abortion side and one from the pro-abortion side.

pro life

pro choice


Does Only Mean Lonely?

I don’t know how many times in my life I have heard the word “Only children are brats.” In fact, I have probably said it myself. After heading to college, this has hit me in a different way. I have an older brother, and with us being at separate colleges about 4 hours away from each other, I really miss him, but I’m also really glad that I grew up with a sibling. I think I would be a much different person if I grew up as an only child. However, this is an anecdote from my own life. So, I asked the question: Does only really mean lonely?

only child

According to a study done by the University of Memphis, being only and lonely can correlate sometimes. This study took 139 school-aged children, and studied kids who were the older of two siblings, the younger of two siblings, and only children. This study found that only children seemed to have as many friends as the kids with siblings, and that the friendships were just as good for the only children as the children with siblings. However, the only children were also the most likely to be the bullies or the victims. Therefore, this study suggested that having a sibling around helped children understand and deal with conflict.

Considering the hypothesis of this study stated that children with siblings would be more likely to be social, the null hypothesis was not completely rejected. Just like the study of prayer and a patient’s health that we learned about in class, the scientists were right about some parts of the null hypothesis, but wrong about others. This study helps show that the experiment must be reviewed from all angels in order to draw a fair conclusion.

Another study published by the Journal of Family Issues observed only children in adulthood. This study also started with the hypothesis that only children were less social, even in adulthood. This study found that an only children’s sociability seems to improve with age. Thus, the older one gets the less likely it is to matter that they are only children and they are able to interact in the world without much of a problem. Something that surprised me with this study is that only children participate in less social activities with their relatives than those who grew up with siblings. I would have assumed it was the other way around since only children generally have more attention from their parents than children with siblings, but this study found that this relationship doesn’t always carry into adulthood.

This study ended up denying the null hypothesis, since those who were only children ended up being able to be just as sociable as those who grew up with siblings, once they reach a certain age. However, this study also mentioned that only 3% of adults in America think that one child is enough for a family. Perhaps it is not so much a matter of science as it is of American culture, and parents and children feeling complete in their society.

Some parents who argue that one kid is enough often cite Granville Stanley Hall’s study “Of Peculiar and Exceptional Children”. This study was done in the late 19th century, and many of the tactics used to research the study have long since been dismissed. In this study, Hall calls only-childhood “a disease in itself.” These harsh words have apparently stuck in the minds of the American people, and only child syndrome has been a fear of parents ever since.

However, this multiple children stereotype may be beginning to change. According to Time Magazine, 1 in 5 American families have only one child. And, even more staggering, the cost of a child is $286,050… before college.time magazine With this unbelievably high number, and with scientific evidence pointing towards only not usually meaning lonely, perhaps an only child will become more normal, and all of the mostly false stereotypes will cease.


The Weather is Changing, and for some of us, it’s Really SAD

Last week, when it was cloudy and or rainy for many consecutive days, I got a bit irritated and down in the dumps. I think some of it may have had to do with the fact that I neglected to bring rain boots, or a rain jacket, or even an umbrella to school with me. Therefore, those couple of days were not the happiest days for me. Then, I began to wonder if you can actually people’s moods can actually be affected by the weather. Actually, there is a condition in which people get more than a little ticked that they forgot to bring their umbrella- it’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

Four seasons - spring, summer, autumn, winter. Art tree beautiful for your design

SAD is a form of bipolar and or depressive disorder in which one can actually be depressed during a certain time of the year, due to the weather. SAD is most common in the winter, due to the fact that the disease may be linked to the amount of light someone is exposed to. SAD could occur because someone’s circadian rhythm, more commonly know as your “biological clock” could be offset by the lack of daylight experienced during the cold winter months. Another light related issue that could be linked to SAD is the lack of light can cause an over-production of melatonin, a chemical in the brain that assists with mood and our sleeping patterns. Reduced sunlight can also cause a drop in another type of chemical in the brain, called serotonin, which affects moods and can cause depression.

However, SAD can still exist in the summer. Summer SAD also could occur because of light. Instead of lack of light, overexposure to light could be the cause of Summer SAD. Other studies show that it might be linked to heat, or even allergies. Specifically, pollen can be linked to changes in mood, and those who are allergic to pollen may be depressed in the summer because of these mood changes. Unfortunately, the amount of research done on summer SAD is not as extensive, because only 10% of people with SAD suffer in the summer months.

So, how can someone tell that they have SAD? Well, although there are differences between summer SAD and winter SAD: “Both summer SAD and winter SAD people can experience the full range of symptoms of major depressive disorder—depressed mood, hopelessness and feelings of worthlessness and nihilism,” said Ian Cook, of UCLA’s depression and research program.  But other than that, winter SAD and summer SAD have completely opposite symptoms.

Winter SAD: Symptoms of Winter SAD often begin around now, when the weather is beginning to change and the days are getting shorter. Signs that you may have SAD during the winter months include:

  • being more sensitive than usual
  • craving fattening food and weight gain
  • low energy and oversleeping
  • heaviness in the arms and legs
  • problems cooperating with others

If you or someone you know has these symptoms, perhaps contacting a doctor would be smart. In fact, if it is true that you are suffering from these types of symptoms, and you think you may have winter SAD, there are ways to feel better again. Although there is no one specific mechanism that scientists snowmanhave been able to link to SAD, something called “light therapy” has proven to help the disease’s victims. Light therapy is simply a machine that can be used in your home that mimics outdoor light. The exposure to the light may cause an upward shift in mood.


Summer SAD: Summer SAD begins once the world begins to warm up again, and sun shines for longer. Signs that you may have SAD during these months are  include:

  • general depression
  • having trouble sleeping or insomnia
  • poor appetite and loss of weight
  • irritability or anxiety

Again, if you or someone you know seems to have these symptoms in the summer months, perhaps contacting a doctor would be best. Treatments for summer SAD are not as researched, since, as I said before, it is not as suncommon. Basically, SAD in the summer months is treated like general depression- with therapy sessions and antidepressants.





Perhaps the winter months will get some of us a bit down, due to the fact that it’s cold and dreary and our beds seem so much more inviting than class. And the same goes for summer, people with pollen allergies may just want to stay inside and blow their noses in peace. But watch out for symptoms of SAD, because they can be serious and harmful. That being said, have a great winter, Happy Valley.


Is Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder?

beautiful flowers

Many times in our lives, we hear the term “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Sometimes, when we’re feeling down on ourselves, it seems like the only person who really finds us beautiful is our own mother. Often times this can be a comment said by someone who does not see what the big fuss is about someone that people seem to find good looking. To me, at least in this day in age, this phrase is something that can be heard in a high school hallway: “Why is he dating her?” “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.” Of course it can take on multiple meanings, but, how does the beholder determine what they define as beautiful?

A study done on this topic showed that if this is true, one beholder has relatively similar opinions to all the others. This experimental study used 16 minor celebrities’ head shots as models, and gave them to the 242 test subjects to rate their beauty from one to ten. The celebrities were not always making the same facial expression in these head shots, and they were all Caucasian in order to avoid racial prejudices from interfering with the study. After putting all of the results into an algorithm, the results showed that people with asymmetric faces had a much higher approval rating.

Still, there may still be some truth to the saying. Another study admits that facial symmetry is highly regarded as a “beautiful”  feature, but it is our life experiences that cause us to distinguish between who we find to be beautiful and who is “nothing to write home about.” This observational study shows that the environment in which someone has lived and how they have lived causes them to have certain preferences on individual faces and structures.

However, that is not to say that experience completely shapes our judgement. In some cases, you really are born with it, and it’s not Maybeline. Beauty can actually be perceived by our brains in the same area for all of us. The medial orbital frontal cortex perceives beauty for us, and it is not quite clear why some of us have a different reaction to how beautiful something is compared to others.

medial orbital frontal cortex

medial orbital frontal cortex

It is apparent that there are many ways to perceive beauty, and all of them come together to form what we find to be beautiful. In my opinion, this should be an uplifting post. With all the different factors that can go into beauty perception, someone out there must find us beautiful, other than our moms.

Is there a link between Hypoglycemia and Aggression?

Hypoglycemia is a disease that effects many people, mainly those who also suffer from diabetes. Hypoglycemia happens when blood glucose drops below its normal levels, causing the body to have less energy stored up. Common symptoms of Hypoglycemia are things like hunger, sleepiness, and dizziness. However, what if hypoglycemia can cause a person to become aggressive?


photo found on

In an experimental study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience experimenters manipulated the amount of glucose and bovine insulin admitted into isolated male Swiss mice. The experiment showed that the manipulation of glucose and bovine insulin in these mice did not cause them to change their defensive or attack behavior, however, it did modify certain aspects of these types of interactions.  The study also noted that their is a surprising lack of information on this topic, provided hypoglycemia is not that uncommon.

A correlational study  was done on 54 men from the Qualla Indian Tribe of Peru. First, it was determined that 13% of these men were severely hypoglycemic, 42.6% were moderately hypoglycemic, and only 44.4% seemed to have the proper amount of glucose. Of these statistics, those who proved to be most aggressive were the men with hypoglycemia.

At first glance, the high amount of aggression exerted by the Qolla men seems to be incredibly irrational. But, when looked at through this study, it was noted that the men who randomly struck out the most (when asked questions about things like their family or emotion) were the ones with moderate hypoglycemia. However, we cannot rule out other confounding variables that could cause this behavior, such as the lack of food that causes a hunger problem for many people in the tribe.

It is not a surprise that hypoglycemia causes changes in moods. When glucose isn’t being distributed to the brain properly, the brain does not operated as it should, and it cannot concentrate as well. When a person cannot concentrate well, they are of course more likely to get grouchy or irritable. Having a tough and stressful day or, in the case of the Qolla tribe, a generally stressful life, can lead people to go from simply “grouchy” to aggressive.

These two studies, one being experimental and the other being correlational, as well as already known facts about hypoglycemia, point to the fact that hypoglycemia does indeed make a person more aggressive. Although one can never be sure (both studies suggested that more studies should be done on the subject- and these two studies were done 33 years apart from one another). And third variables can always be a factor, especially in the case of the Qolla tribe, there is significant evidence that leads many professionals to believe that hypoglycemia has a correlative link to aggressive behavior.



Netflix: Is “Binge Watching” Causing Our Demise?

Ahhh, Netflix. There are very few people I know that don’t have a Netflix account. It’s almost a nightly ritual for me to snuggle up in bed and watch an episode of “Friday Night Lights” before dozing off. However, during those long days of Christmas break, or any other time I have some downtime, I start to “Binge Watch.”


According to a study done by Harris Interactive on Behalf of Netflix, “Binging”  is considered watching 2-6 episodes in a row, according to 73% of Netflix users. The same 73% said that they don’t consider this “Binging” a bad habit. Netflix says that people enjoy watching the long, drawn out stories that Netflix has to offer, and that instead of it making them zone out from the world, the way social media often does, it gives them a new chance to tune in.

Actually, 76% of users say that watching Netflix is a great refugee from their busy lives, and it helps them to wind down after a tough day. 76% also say that they prefer to watch their shows on their own schedule, and 51% use it as a social activity.

Obviously, the people love Netflix. Even more, the people love Netflix in bulk. But is that really what we need? According to Reader’s Digest, the answer is no, for four reasons.

The first reason is that excessive TV watching may lead to major health problems, because of your lack of physical activity. These health issues include cancer and diabetes. The Journal of the American Heart Association says that people who sit and watch TV for more than 3 hours a day double their chances of an early death.

I know we all joke about being addicted to Netflix, but it’s actually a true possibility. People who “binge watch” are prone to addiction. You can identify the addiction if you are beginning to replace other important duties in your life with watching season 5 of How I Met Your Mother. The addiction process goes hand in hand with being anti-social. More than half of these “bingers” prefer to watch alone, and 98% say that they watch at their house. So, spending hours a day, inside your house, watching hours of a TV show, is not a good equation.

Finally, and I think that I am most guilty of this one, you can overwork your brain by spending a large amount of concentrated time. That is, you simply waste your time watching Netflix when you most certainly could be doing other things. Statistically speaking, if one were to sit down and watch all 7 seasons of West Wing (that’s on My List, by the way) without a break, it would take you 5 whole days. That’s a lot of time to spend dedicating yourself to something that’s not reality.

So, I guess binge watching isn’t very good for us. Reader’s Digest went on to suggest that we should consider taking breaks in between episodes, even if it’s just to simply walk around or stretch. They also suggest finding someone to watch the show with (the classic “netflix and chill”) or at least finding people to talk about it with, to help you think about what you have just retained before going on to the next show.

Well, I guess this is the end of my blog. With Netflix just a tab away, I wonder what’s going to happen to Tim Riggins on the next episode of Friday Night Lights…

Is Orange Juice Good for Sore Throats?

sore throat

When walking around campus, it seems as though everyone has been struck by the “Penn State Plague.” I myself have bronchitis (yes, I’m the one who hacks up one of her lungs once every class). But, I have other friends who have similar colds, such as sore throats. The other day, I walked into class and sat down with a few of my friends. One of my friends had a sore throat, and he was drinking a a big bottle of orange juice.

“Why are you drinking that?” I asked him. He said it was because he had always been told that orange juice had vitamin C, and it would help heal his throat faster. I recalled a time that I had strep when I was younger, and my doctor told me to avoid anything acidic, including orange juice. Since then, I have seen people drinking orange juice when their throats are sore. I have always wondered if my friends were right and my doctor was a quack, and orange juice did help your throat, or if that is just a myth that is causing people more pain than they already have.

From the research I have done, the answer to this question is no. Orange is  very acidic, and the acids can irritate your throat. Also, a study at The University of Maryland shows that drinking orange really doesn’t help cure a cold, at least in the short term. If a person has a high and consistent Vitamin C intake at all times, not just when they have a cold, the duration of their cold will be lowered by one day.

So, how can you actually help your cold? I suppose if you are very paranoid about next semester’s Penn State Plague, you can be proactive and start to drink more orange juice now. But, if you’re like my poor friend, and you’re already sick, you can use home remedies such as gargling salt water, getting plenty of rest, and drinking chamomile tea.

I hope that all of my fellow Science 200ers avoid the Penn State plague, but if you don’t, and you do get that scratchy, terrible feeling, don’t drink orange juice!

It’s a Crying (or Laughing?) Shame

laughing and crying

Have you ever taken time to think about how odd it is that we laugh? Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, how odd it is that we cry? We often think of these two as emotions. But really, they are responses to our emotions. When we are sad or happy, a certain part of our brain is turned on, almost like a switch board, and as a reactor to that switch being turned on, a different part of our brain responds with facial expressions, noise, and tears.

For those of us that are healthy, our laughing or crying reactions do not happen in a straight line. That is, we do not weep every time we think of something that was slightly upsetting, and we don’t laugh hysterically when we think of a funny joke. To put it into perspective, although it was tragic when “Freaks and Geeks” was cancelled, that does not mean that every time a healthy person thinks of it, they are inconsolable.

New research shows that emotions may actually be spontaneous reactions given subconsciously by our brain. Our frontal lobe has been culturally formed, and how we were raised has a lot to do with how we react to things. However, once we are culturally formed, our emotions become more subconscious.

So, what is the difference between emotions and feelings? Scientist Antonio Damasio claims that emotions were developed when in primitive humans- they are our key set of survival skills. However, with evolution, we were given certain responses to certain emotions, and those are our feelings. In another sense, emotions are what we initially receive when stimulated- they are happiness, sadness, fear, and they like. Feelings are what follows, they are how we respond to our emotions.

So, we can have trouble necessarily distinguish emotions from feelings. They are directly correlated to one another, and a feeling is just a reaction to an emotion. Emotions can last for years, and feelings are fleeting. The difference between feelings and emotions is subtle, yet very important.


Which is Better for the Elderly: Cats or Dogs?

I am a huge fan of animals. Back home, I have two cats whom I absolutely adore. Up until a few weeks ago, I had a dog who lived to be 17 years old. I’m 18, so that dog was a part of my whole entire life. Losing him was the most heartbreaking day of my life. But, it got me thinking about how much dogs really mean to people. Especially the people in this world that generally spend the most time alone- the elderly. So, I began to ask the question, which is a better pet for the elderly- a dog or a cat?

dogs and cats

In the book Companion Animals and Us: Exploring the Relationships Between People and Pets the authors explain the difference between older people owning a dog or a cat. When mapped out in this text, it shows that both cats and dogs can help the elderly, and even give them a reason to live. Although both animals have been proven to help the elderly, dogs seem to be the better companion.

Since dogs are usually with their owners from a very young age, humans are able to morph their dogs into a more subordinate relationship, which humans often take to mean friendship. In this “friendship,” the elderly gain both social and emotional benefits from being around their pups. Dogs are found to give the elderly life help through things like companionship, an emotional bond, and loyalty. In fact, 75% of the elderly surveyed in a 1990 study claimed that their dog was their only friend.

When it comes to cats, however, a study done in 1994 proves that although cats do help with preventing loneliness and increasing companionship, they do not replace human contact the way that dogs do. In other words, although a cat is nice to have around, they do not replace the natural craving for human interaction in the way that dogs do.

To further explain why dogs trump cats in the elderly companion department, an article done by Social Indicators Research studied certain mechanisms in which animals would make the elderly more active. In this study, it was found that owning a dog led to a more healthy and active lifestyle, while owning a cat led to the opposite. In my own personal opinion, based on what we learned in class, the correlation between dogs and a healthier lifestyle could be because dogs require walks and outdoor exercise, whereas cats do not need to go outside. Since cats do not need to venture outside, their owners would feel less obligated to do so.

Another study elaborates on why cats are not as therapeutic as dogs. This study actually states that cats do not even come in second on the list. In fact, cats come in third, behind horses. The study explains that cats are not regarded as the best animal to use for the elderly because people tend to have very polarized opinions of them- they either love kitties, or they strongly dislike them. This hit or miss statistic could result in quite a gamble when choosing a pet for the elderly.

So why would society be concerned with whether or not the elderly have dog? A 2008 study showed that elderly people who interacted with dogs tended to have greater mental and physical health. In fact, these older people can become so involved with their dogs that they do not depend on the services the way they did before having a canine companion. Because there is an increase in the health of a person after they interact on a regular basis with a dog, it can be assumed that they would live longer. Therefore, the health of our elderly population, whether it be grandparents, neighbors, or any of the like, would improve. Therefore, the lives of people we personally care about could be extended due to the ownership of a dog.

Obviously, the increase in an elderly person’s health can be caused by the ownership of a dog. Therefore in this experiment, correlation does in fact equal causation. So, although dog or cat ownership is a treat for people of all ages, it is especially good for the elderly. Perhaps the next time you see your grandmother, let her know that owning a pet, especially a dog, could increase her health and happiness.

old person and dog

The Science of Sailing

Recently I have discovered a new hobby of mine at Penn State- the sailing club. I was walking through the involvement fair last week, and I was convinced by one of the members of the club to sign up. I have never sailed before, until this past Sunday. While I was giving sailing a try, my skipper (the person who controls the main sail of the boat as well as steers the boat) told me that sailing is all about the science of finding out where to put your sails in order to achieve the highest velocity and the cleanest turns. This got me thinking, perhaps if I know the science behind sailing, I’ll be able to become a better sailor.

psu sailboats

First, the basics of sailing. There are typically two people on a sailboat, the skipper and the crew. The skipper,  who is at the back of the boat, does the main job, as I already mentioned in the previous paragraph. The other position is the “crew” or the one that manages the smaller sail, called the jib. The basic job of a sailboat sailor- whether competitive or noncompetitive- is to go with the wind in precisely the right way in order to generate the most velocity.

Guillaume Florent explains in his article “Sailing: From Work to Fun” that the sail must develop a synchronization with the wind in order to move at maximum speed. This means that the sail must remain convex, so that the flow of wind around the sail does not detach and begin to increase the pressure put on the sail. If a lot of pressure is put on the sail, the speed of the boat decreases significantly. So, what is the perfect position to steer your boat to most effectively reach your destination? Of course, it depends on the direction of the wind, but there are plenty of options.

There are multiple ways to steer the boat, and some are more effective than others. The different positions are called points of sail. All in all, there are 6 points of sail, which are listed below.

the eleven points of sail

the points of sail

Starting at the top of the circle, there is the point of sail called “in irons.” This is the area in which it is completely impossible to sail. The boat is going into the wind, and just like if a person tried to walk straight into a wind tunnel, the boat would be blown backwards if this type of point of sail was used.

Going down the circle, the next point is called “close hauled.” When sailing in this position, the boat is on a 45 degree angle. The boat will go upwind in a diagonal direction. The sailors must position their sails so that they are close to the boat, in order for the wind to form a channel through which it is possible for the boat to pass through. If the channel is not formed, then the boat is at risk of turning back into “in irons” and capsizing.

Next, there is “close reach.” The sail is let out a bit more, and the boat moves in the direction of 2 o’clock. This position is the most ideal, because it is one of the more efficient ways to sail.

Fourth, there is “beam reach.” Beam reach puts the boat at a 90 degree angle. This point of sail is incredibly ideal, because it is the fastest one. However, the boat’s direction would simply be straight, so unless you are on a broad and open area with no true destination, using “beam reach” will be rare.

After that comes broad reach. When it comes to “broad reach,” the boat is reaching out at 100 degrees to 140 degrees. The sails should be positioned about three quarters of the way out, and the wind should hit the sails in a way the makes them convex enough to push forward in a position that almost qualifies as going downwind.

Finally, the last point of sail is called running. This is when the boat is going completely downwind. During with this tactic, the boat sails will be completely parallel to the sailboat itself.

I never would have thought that I would come to Penn State and join the sailing club, but I’m happy that I did. Obviously, sailing is complex, and there is a lot of physics that goes into it.  Most sailors probably do not think about the science behind their sport while they are sailing, but now that I understand it, I think that it will improve my skill in my newfound hobby of sailing.

 Picture: School of Sailing

Initial Blog Post

Hi everyone!

My name is Alanna Powers and I am a freshman Communications major. I was born and raised in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I am taking Science 200 because I was told by my adviser that it was a great GenEd to take for my first semester to help complete my science requirement. I’m not going to be a science major because science usually involves math, something that I am completely terrible at, and I am also not patient enough to be a scientist.

However, I know that I will be able to put my future communications degree to good use, and I hope that this course helps my view science in a different light so that I develop an understanding of it that will make me not only a better communicator but also a better world citizen.

That’s basically all there is to know about me, I’ll leave you with what I did this summer. I spent my time here this summer, taking my first two summer courses. I got to experience a lot of what State College had to offer before the crowds arrived. My favorite thing of this summer was Arts Fest, where I got to do a project about the diversity of one of my favorite things, dogs! dogIf you would like to know more about what I did this summer, watch my first year experience video!