Author Archives: Hyun Soo Lee

Does arguing with Mom help you fend off peer pressure?

When was the last time you got in an argument with your mom? Do you remember who ended up getting the upper hand?

Well, it turns out there is research that shows that adolescents who quickly back down during an argument with their mother have a harder time resisting peer pressure to use drugs and alcohol than teens who can hold an argument with their mom in a calm and persuasive manner.

study conducted at the University of Virginia explored the relationship between parent-child relationships and the child’s susceptibility to negative influences to use drugs or alcohol. Using a diverse pool of participants of more than 150 families, the researchers observed the daily interactions of the children at ages 13, 15, and 16, and asked all of them to answer questionnaires. Results found that adolescents who held their own in family discussions were better at standing up to peer pressure to use drugs or consume alcohol. The most skilled of the group were the teens who were able to persuade their mothers with reasoned arguments rather than by yelling, whining, or complaining when talking about contentious issues like grades, money, friends, and household rules.

These results indicate that a healthy level of autonomy demonstrated by a teenager may carry over into his or her peer relationships. According to the study’s lead author Joseph P. Allen, it may be that teens who are secure in their ability to turn to their mothers under stress aren’t as overly dependent on their peers and, as a result, are less likely to be influenced by their friends’ behavior when it is negative. I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, as it makes sense that a certain level of confidence brought on by communicating effectively with their mothers may induce teens to take their friends’ behavior with a grain of salt.

I’m curious to know how the researchers determined the teenagers’ level of influence from their friends to take up drugs and alcohol. This article explains that their friends were surveyed independently on the subjects’ drug and alcohol influences, but this isn’t very specific and doesn’t seem to be the most accurate measure of peer pressure susceptibility. I think a meta-analysis would be beneficial here to test statistical significance as well as investigate any possible confounding variables such as the mothers’ daily presence (how often the adolescent gets to see their mom on a daily basis might affect how close they are to her). That or a blind control procedure (where the researchers record the teenagers’ interactions with peer pressure in a naturalistic setting) could yield better, further results.

While these findings don’t mean parents should let their kids win every argument, they do underline the idea that parent-teen relationships as well as social skills are integral in the way teens handle peer relationships as they grow up. So next time you get into an argument with your parent, don’t hesitate to hold your ground and take charge of the argument, especially if you’re one who’s susceptible to peer pressure. Even if it’s something you’ve never done before, try communicating in a more calm and persuasive tone instead of resorting to your usual yelling and pressuring regime. You never know, it could help you to be less easily swayed by negative influences in your life.

Zombie Bees

It’s bad enough we have to deal with human zombies. Unfortunately, it seems nature has gone out of its way to make zombies out of our poor pollinating friends, the bees. Over the past several years, there have been stories of ‘zombie bees’ (also called ‘zombees’), which are exactly what they sound like — parasite-ridden bees that exhibit strikingly similar behavior to the ghoulish creatures we see in the movies.

In 2008, San Francisco State University biologist John Hafernik accidentally discovered a parasitic fly called the Apocephalus borealis, which has since spread across the country to as far east as Pennsylvania and New York. Hafernik had noticed a few bees on the SFSU campus walking around in circles on the ground, so he collected them in a vial to feed to his pet praying mantis but neglected them soon afterward. When he came back a week later and looked at the bees, the vial was filled with what looked like little brown fly pupae. That’s when he knew that these bees were parasitized.

A bee is infested by a female fly, the first step on its way to becoming a zombie bee

Hafernik says that the bees characteristically “fly around in a disoriented way, get attracted to light, and then fall down and wander around in a way that’s sort of reminiscent of zombies in the movies.” According to Hafernik, this phenomenon starts with the zombie fly, or the Apocephalus borealis, latching onto honeybees and laying eggs that eventually hatch and begin the eat the bee alive from the inside. After death, the flies then crawl out of the bees’ neck and embark on their “flight of the living dead”, which is a sure sign that they’re zombified for good and aren’t coming back. Hafernik explains, “The bees that get parasitized essentially get bee insomnia. They leave their hives at night, which is a really bad time for honey bees to be leaving their hives.”

In 2012, Hafernik published the first study that documented the fact that the flies infect honey bees as well as bumblebees. Using DNA barcoding, he confirmed that the larvae of phorids that emerged from honeybees and bumblebees were the same species. He put to use a hive of bees and assessed it over a period of eight months, with a nearby observation hive as a control. After finding a host of stranded bees near lights during nighttime, he and his team of researchers periodically placed an enclosure over their primary study hive and studied the rate of parasitism of bees that left their hive at night. The number of stranded bees declined as the enclosure was put in place, indicating that stranded bees generally came from their main study hive. Additionally, he found that bees that left the hives at night were more likely to bear the parasite than those that foraged during daytime.

These results tell us that zombie bees demonstrate the unusual behavior of abandoning their hives at night. However, we can’t exclude the possibility that some of the zombie bees may simply go out during normal foraging times and choose to die a fair distance away. Based on the results of his study, Hafernik drew up some questions about the zombie fly. He wants to find out how exactly the parasites are affecting the bees’ behavior, and what motivates the infected bees to abandon their hives — do they leave of their own accord, or do they give off a sort of chemical signal that prompts their hivemates to throw them out?

With the recent decline in the honey bee population due to colony collapse disorder, vampire mites and nutritional deficiencies, the surge of zombie flies presents yet another problem for the bees. To expand his research on the plight of honeybees, Hafernik has launched ZomBee Watch, a nifty tool that invites everyone to become a “zombee hunter” by collecting bees found near lights and uploading information about their sample to the internet. The map on the website reports that the highest rates of infection lie along the western coast, but it is very well possible that there could be some zombie bees on our campus at this moment. We’re a long way off from fully understanding the workings behind the zombie bees, starting with their link with the mysterious colony collapse disorder, but with time, we can aid research by taking advantage of this generous tool that Hafernik has bestowed us. Honey bees are no doubt of particular importance to humans, as we rely on them for pollinating many of the crops that make up our diet. Although it seems unlikely that bees are going anytime soon, we should still remain cautious of this newfound threat to our friends.

Here is a video detailing the infection process of zombie bees:

Why Does Music Evoke Memories?

We’re all familiar with this phenomenon: You listen to a song, and a rush of associated emotions and memories come flooding back to you, and you’re immediately transported to a certain time when that song played a significant part in your life.

Earlier this year, I started listening to a song that I hadn’t heard in a while, when I suddenly recalled a time about two years earlier when I had started listening to it copiously. I marveled at the way it captured the exact feelings, mood and emotions that I’d felt when I had just started listening to it during that time. It’s a strange feeling; you can’t call it nostalgia, because it doesn’t necessarily make you long for the past in the same way playing an old video game makes you all rosy-eyed for your childhood. No, music evokes something far more realistic and powerful that simply cannot be reduced to the meagre effects of ‘nostalgia’. It is something that far transcends the realm of nostalgia.

Why, then, is music so effective at stirring up vivid memories? What can possibly explain this powerful relationship between music and memory?

A number of recent studies have attempted to explain the neuroscience behind the phenomenon, stating that listening to music engages broad neural networks in the brain.

In one study, Amee Baird and Séverine Samson, from University of Newcastle in Australia, examined the effect of popular music on severely brain-damaged patients in an effort to find music-evoked autobiographical memories (MEAMs). A small sample of people with acquired brain injuries (ABIs) were played snippets of “Billboard Hot 100” number-one songs in a random order. The songs, which were released in the patients’ lifetimes from age five onwards, were also played to five control subjects with no brain injury. All of the participants were then asked how familiar they were with a given song, whether they liked it, and what memories it evoked, if any. The researchers found that the frequency of recorded MEAMs was about the same for patients and controls. The majority of MEAMs were reported to be of a person, people, or a life period, and were typically positive. Songs that triggered a memory were noted as being more familiar than songs that did not.

A previous study at the University of California, Davis found that the region of our brain where memories are supported and retrieved also serves as a hub that links memories, music, and emotion. The study mapped the brain using fMRI while people listened to music and found specific brain regions linked to autobiographical memories and activities are linked to familiar music. The hub that activated the music is located in the media prefrontal cortex region, right behind the forehead — and one of the last regions to atrophy over the course of Alzheimer’s disease. According to Petr Janata, the study’s author, this discovery may explain why music elicits such strong responses from people with the disease.

To assure the best chance of his student subjects associating music with memories from their past, he had his subjects listen to excerpts of 30 different songs from “top 100” charts from years when each subject would have been 8 to 18 years old. After every excerpt, each subjected responded to questions about the song, including how familiar and enjoyable it was and whether it was associated with any particular incident, episode, or memory.

The surveys revealed that, on average, a student recognized about 17 of 30 excerpts, and of these, 13 were moderately or strongly associated with an autobiographical memory. Like the recent Australian study, the songs that were linked to the strongest memories were the ones that evoked the most vivid and emotion-filled responses. When Janata looked at his fMRI images and compared them to these self-reported responses, he found that the degree of prominence of the memory corresponded with activity in the upper part of the media prefrontal cortex, which supported his hypothesis that the brain region links music and memory.

So, what does this all mean for the relationship between music and memory? Baird and Samson conclude from their study that “Music is an effective stimulus for eliciting autobiographical memories and may be beneficial in the rehabilitation of autobiographical amnesia, but only in patients without a fundamental deficit in autobiographical recall memory and intact pitch perception.”

The results of these two studies seem pretty statistically significant, meaning there could be some evidence to reject the null hypothesis, which is the idea that music does nothing to evoke memories. Of course, the fact that the responses were self-reported always leaves open the possibility that the studies were flukes. And while I think that playing popular songs in “Top 100” charts was the best course of action for this type of randomized study, I would like to see another study where subjects listen to several songs in their library (which may or may not necessarily be their favorites) instead. In general, I don’t think many of the Top 100 songs stood as an example of the songs that evoked THE strongest or most emotion-laden responses from the subjects. So an experiment where subjects listen to various songs from their own music library could trigger even stronger memories, or MEAMs, and further explore the idea that brain region is linked to music and memories. One drawback of this method would be that not everyone is equally ‘into’ music (hence why playing popular hits for the subjects in the two studies was a good procedure), but it could be somewhat evened out by utilizing a much larger sample size.

Nevertheless, the implications arising from the relationship between the prefrontal cortex and music-evoked memory remain endlessly fascinating. Petr Janata concludes that because autobiographical memories linked to music seem to be spared in people with Alzheimer’s disease, one of his long-term goals is to use his research to help develop music-based therapy for people with the disease. Music can also be used for those with depression, as it can help people recall difficult parts of their lives that were not as bad as they had originally thought.

The evolution of your music taste

With the explosion of music consumption in the past century, the type of music you listen to has become quite an important personality construct of sorts. Whether you’re a hardcore music junkie or a general listener, everyone has a loosely defined ‘taste’ they refer to when it comes to what kind of music they listen to. How is it that you came to like your favorite artists, and what compelled you to listen to them? Do you ever wonder if you’ll still love them in 30, 40 years?

It has commonly been held that music taste is practically sealed by adolescence, but a new study suggests that our music taste continues to change as we get older to meet our social and psychological needs.

First, let’s go over a brief overview of how the average person’s music taste is formulated:

We start forming our music taste at around the age of 10, even if we have no prior interest in music. After that comes the formative window, ages 11 to 17, when self-discovery is in full swing, and we find our impressionable selves reacting dramatically to every new piece of music we hear. With 14 being a magic age for the development of music preferences, our cognitive development makes it so that music taste become a vital part of our identity.

Dr. Jason Rentfrow, a senior lecturer at the University of Cambridge, says, “Teenage years are often dominated by the need to explain identity, and music is a cheap, effective way to do this.” I’m sure we can all relate do this in some form. Think about the number of times you’ve ever dropped the name of a certain band or artist in the bio of your social media account. Or alternatively, have you ever listened to an artist for the sake of impressing that one guy or girl you like?

It is commonly thought that our music tastes are essentially solidified by our late teens or early twenties. That isn’t to say you can’t be turned on to some crazy new genre after this point, but our basic music preferences are there and laid out for us, according to scientists. It’s when we find our footing and direction in terms of what we’ll listen to in the future. For example, think about the type of music that you listened to when you were 14. It’s not that much different than what you’re into now, right? A little less sophisticated, certainly, but the basic genres that you liked back then you probably still like now. If you were into really moody and depressing sad sack artists, your music library now might contain even more moody and depressing music in an abundance of genres and styles. If you were a hip-hop-head at 14, chances are you still really like hip-hop, even if the stuff you’re into now is more cerebral and complex in comparison. Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, explains the importance of the adolescent period in your music taste:

“Most of us base our adult musical tastes on what we liked when we were twelve to sixteen. In some cases, through effort, we can expand our musical tastes as adults. But if we had relatively narrow tastes in our developing years, this is more difficult to do because we lack the appropriate schemas, or templates, with which to process and ultimately to understand new musical forms.”

So if we rely on the basic schemas, or templates, that we have accumulated over the past few years, do we become less open-minded and less malleable with age as we process new music forms? If you think about it, it does make sense that the older you get and the more music you’re exposed to, you form a sort of preexisting standard for every new song or artist you listen to.

However, a study led by Jason Rentfrow decidedly opposes this idea and claims that music taste is an ongoing and constantly evolving process. While there has been much academic research to support the claim that music taste is sealed at an early age, Rentfrow was not totally convinced this was the case. To counter the conception that music taste does not radically evolve past adolescence, he conducted a study with Arielle Bonneville-Roussey that suggests that music taste actually changes according to the ‘life challenges’ we face at different stages in our lives. In this study, the researchers divided musical genres into five broad, “empirically derived” categories called the MUSIC model — mellow, unpretentious, sophisticated, intense, and contemporary — and noted the patterns of preference across different age groups using data gathered from more than a quarter of a million people through online forms.

Results found that the youngest subjects in the study gravitated heavily toward “intense” — this includes punk and metal, to name a couple of genres — and “contemporary” (mainstream pop, rap, vocal, etc.) music, which both decreased with age. The high frequency of “intense” lends itself to the adolescents’ need for autonomy, which is one of the key life challenges of this period. As adolescence segues into early adulthood, “intense” gives way to “mellow” — such as electronic and R&B — with “contemporary” remaining popular. Rentfrow states that in this life period, the key life challenge concerns “finding love and being loved – people who appreciate this ‘you’ that has emerged”, and “mellow” reflects the more laid-back attitude people have compared to their teenage years. After going through this stage and reaching middle age, the last musical age emerges, which is marked by higher trends in “sophisticated” – such as jazz and classical – and “unpretentious” – such as folk, country and blues. Researchers write that the prevalence of “sophisticated” is linked to social status and intellect, while “unpretentious” speaks to people’s direct experiences with family, love and loss.

The results of this study seem quite plausible as a general descriptor of one’s musical development, but it certainly isn’t an accurate representation of everyone’s music taste. It might just be that the study only represents the general population’s music taste, as the music taste of more serious music fans may look quite different. If, say, a young music fanatic who is well-versed in a variety of genres continues with his passion throughout his entire lifetime, it is hard to say if in 20 years he will just be starting to appreciate jazz or classical music. For all we know, he might be deep into those genres now. But for all the rest of us, I think our music taste might retain a semblance of the life-stage development model as shown by the study. I predict that in thirty years, when I’ve experienced a bit more of what life has to offer, my music taste might reflect the middle-aged trends in the study and I’ll have a deeper appreciation for calm classical and country-folk music. I have no idea if this will be the case, but regardless, I’m very curious to see how my taste will look at that age.

Do you know of someone older, a parent perhaps, who thinks their taste in music has significantly changed since their teenage years? If you have any stories or thoughts about the study, feel free to share them in the comments.

Does writing have physical benefits?

Right now, the concept of writing may produce a pretty divisive response in all of you reading this. As a journalism major, I admit that I do not write nearly as much as I probably should be writing. Many of you may feel the same way, whether or not you are in a writing-based major or are a fan of writing in general. You have probably heard that writing is good for you, although you might not know how exactly so. Well, there is significant evidence to show that writing holds many mental health benefits – it makes you happier, improves your thinking and communicating skills, and leads to increased gratitude among a number of other things – but did you know that if taken a step further, it provides physical benefits as well? Yes, writing has commonly been used to help people heal from stresses and traumas — but further research suggests that in addition to psychological benefits, expressive writing may offer physical benefits to people suffering from terminal or life-threatening diseases.

It turns out a few studies have been conducted to support the idea that writing holds physical benefits:

In 1999, a groundbreaking study led by Joshua Smyth, PhD, of Syracuse University was one of the first to make known the physical health benefits of writing. 107 asthma patients and 107 rheumatoid arthritis patients were assigned to write for 20 minutes on each of three consecutive days – 71 of them about the most stressful event of their lives and the rest about a more emotionally neutral subject, their daily plans. Four months after the writing exercise, 70 patients in the stressful-writing group showed improvement in objective evaluations, compared to just 37 of the control patients. APA states that those patients who wrote about stress “improved more, and deteriorated less, than controls for both diseases.”

In a similar study led by Elizabeth Broadbent, a sample of 49 senior citizens, aged 64 to 97, were subjected to an assignment wherein half of them wrote for 20 minutes a day about the most traumatic moment they had ever experienced. They were encouraged to be as open and candid as possible and were even asked to share any emotions or thoughts they had never shared to others about what they had gone through. The other participants simply wrote about their plans for the next day while taking care to avoid mentioning any feelings, opinions or beliefs, much like the control group in the previous study. Two weeks after writing commenced, the researchers took small skin biopsies which left a small wound on the participants’ arms. A week later, they came back to photograph the wounds every three to five days until they were completely healed. Eleven days after the biopsy, they found that 76% of the group that had written about their most traumatic experiences had fully healed while only 42% of the other group had.

Meanwhile, James W. Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has conducted a long-running study in which he assigned people to write down their deepest feelings about an emotional upheaval in their lives for 15 or 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days. Many of those who followed these simple instructions have found their immune systems strengthened.

The results of these studies point to a significant correlation between writing and improvement of physical health, possibly suggesting the existence of a lurking variable at play. As held by Pennebaker, the writing itself is probably not a direct cause of the correlation – in this case, the underlying mechanism is the stress-relieving, mental health benefits of writing about trauma, which in turn push over into the improvement of physical health in the long term.


So what is it about writing that makes it so good for you?

“Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives,” Pennebaker says. “Writing helps us focus and organize the experience.” In other words, he believes that writing can help us put some structure and organization into any negative feelings we have about an event and allow us to move past them instead of obsessing over them. By doing so, stress levels go down and health correspondingly goes up.

Does writing really help heal wounds? After all, the healing is rooted in the patient’s mind and nothing else, say a number of psychologists who use it with their patients. Not everyone may agree that writing is necessarily beneficial to one’s health. If the results of the studies I mentioned above are true, does that mean we should all keep a daily log of our worst experiences? According to Pennebaker, that would not necessarily reflect the best course of action as it may produce the opposite of the desired effect on some people. “I’m not convinced that having people write every day is a good idea,” he says. “I’m not even convinced that people should write about a horrible event for more than two weeks. You risk getting into a sort of navel gazing or cycle of self-pity.” Which, of course, produces the exact opposite of what you would want writing to accomplish assuming writing is good for you — wallowing in a heap of self-pity elevates your stress levels, which leads your health to proportionately go down.

On the other hand, although more studies are needed to support the idea that writing helps to heal, such approaches could become commonplace if they continually turn up positive results like Broadbent’s and Pennebaker’s studies. So if you ever find yourself in a great deal of physical pain or illness, it would not be a bad idea to try probing the hidden recesses of your mind and putting onto paper some of the most unpleasant thoughts you’ve racked up over the years. It might be distressing, cumbersome, or downright excruciating for some, but who knows? It could speed up the healing process in more ways than you would ever have thought. No matter what the occasion, writing is never a bad idea, so we should all break into the habit of writing more.

Initial Blog Post

Hi y’all,

My name is Hyun Soo Lee and I’m from Hershey, PA, which is about two hours away from State College. As a journalism major, I’m taking this class to fulfill a GN requirement and, naturally, this was one of the courses that came up during my course scheduling session at NSO. So, at the suggestion of my academic advisors, I signed up for this class — and am I ever glad to have done so.

For the past seven years and counting, I’ve had a most tumultuous relationship with science. In sixth grade, I once proclaimed science as the weak link in my knowledge base and the one subject that I would have trouble with for the duration of my secondary education. For this reason, I guess you could say I could never be a science major. And it’s true – I really don’t think I am suited for any branch of science whatsoever. When I was scheduling my classes at NSO, what caught my eye was this was labeled as a class exclusively for non-science majors, so I thought I could definitely have the potential to succeed in it if I tried. As it turns out, I still stand by that statement, now that I know what I am in for.

I’d also like to mention that I am originally from Texas. I have to say, I miss a lot of things about the state. From the irritatingly bipolar weather to fresh, homemade kolaches to the surprising overabundance of hipsters, I always get swept with a pang of nostalgia whenever I think back to the various sights and sounds that reside uniquely in my memory of Texas. Here’s a photo of the “iconic” College Station water tower that you would always see driving in from Earl Rudder Hwy.

College Station water tower

Lastly, here’s a link to what is undisputedly the greatest album of all time. Hope you all enjoy.