Author Archives: Jenna Campbell

Risk: Males vs. Females


We’ve been talking quite a bit about risk-taking in class, and I find it very intriguing. How we don’t consciously think about the array of things that could happen to us in a day. How the decisions we make could easily create either more or less risk. How a situation could change or a result could be altered in an instant because of something we may or may not have done. How me typing at this very moment is a risk itself. As you can tell, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, including the relationship it has with people. One of the more fascinating thoughts that crossed my mind is who is more inclined to take risks? If you are guessing that this post is yet another battle of the sexes blog, you would be absolutely correct. So without further ado, who is more likely to take risks: men or women?

Well, I’ll tell you up-front right now. The answer is, by an overwhelming amount, men.

No matter what article I clicked on involving risk-taking behaviors between men and women, they all said the same thing. Men are the risk takers of the two, and even though this probably didn’t come as too much of a surprise, some people still might be skeptical. Well, by all means, you don’t have to take my word for it. In a meta-analysis, three authors–Byrnes, Miller, and Schafer–examined over 150 studies on gender differences in risk taking. While conducting this study, they took into account “respect to to type of task, task content, and five age levels. The “results showed that the average effects for 14 out of 16 types of risk taking were significantly larger than 0” and “half of the effects were greater than .20%. “ What all of this indicates is that risk-taking was more prominent in male participants. It is unlikely that the Texas Sharpshooter problem had any effect on this meta-analysis, but from looking at this alone, the File Drawer Problem could have. However, there is a way to rule that out for the most part as well.

That’s by asking why. Why is it that risk-taking behaviors were more dominant in boys than girls? Now, here’s where it gets interesting.

Two separate studies by Case Western Reserve University and one published in a book entitled Psychology of Gender: Fourth Edition found that girls were less likely to take risks because they thought more about the consequences. In the first experimental study, they “used a structured interview and drawings that depicted children showing wary or confident facial expressions when engaged in injury-risk play activities.” The girls associated 80% of the play activities they were shown with more wariness than confidence. The boys, on the other hand, did not show more confidence, but just less wariness than the girls. As for the book’s explanation, when girls were observed, they were more inclined to think in a thought-out manner while the boys were more “act now, think later.” This relates back to an idea of perception, in the sense that “girls perceive situations as riskier than boys.”

Another possible explanation in terms of boys vs. girls and risk taking is the idea that
stereotypes and self-image play a role. Once again, Psychology of Gender: Fourth Edition made a claim about male’s and their self-perception.  It used the example, when males play sports and get hurt, they play through the pain because it is a sign of “toughness and physical battleofsexesstrength” while admitting pain is “weak behavior that undermines masculinity.” In order to back this up, a study by
Booth and Nolen, concluded a similar idea. Their controlled experimental design consisted of male and female subjects who “had an opportunity to choose a risky outcome.” However, these subjects were either in all-male, all-female, or co-ed groups. Results showed that the females were more inclined to participate in risky behavior when they were in an all-female group, while men stayed consistent no matter what group they were in. This caused them to then conclude that women and men may choose their a risky outcome based on “innate preferences or because pressure to conform to gender-stereotypes encourages girls and boys to modify their innate preferences.”

The next theory, is one that you may have heard of before in terms of risk, and that is Darwinian instinct or “survival of the fittest.” This idea of risk being more innate in men than women is supported in a study by the University of California, San Diego, another by Geoff Trickey, and a third by Richard Ronay and William von Hippel. Since all three of these studies go into intense detail, I’ll try and keep it short. All three simply said, that in order for men–in their primal state–to attract women, they would have to take risks and prove their masculinity or else they wouldn’t be able to gain companionship and reproduce. On the other hand, women were less likely to take risks because they were more concerned with calculating it in order to keep her children safe and protected. In other words, just like the common theme throughout history, men needed to take risks in order to lead and provide while women had to calculate them for the safety of her babies.

A final explanation in determining risk has to do with a male’s and female’s relationship to stress, and how they handle it. One particular observational study by Mara Mather and Nichole R. Lighthall, compiled data on stress and all of its possible effects, biology, and gender differences. It wound up concluding that “male risk-taking tends to increase under stress, while female risk taking tends to decrease under stress.” This was due to cognition and the gender differences in brain activity. Under stress, women were able to compute risk and prepare for action while men were more likely to act rashly and without thought.

Now, I know you may be thinking, “okay, but why does all of this matter?” Well, the take home message truly is whatever you want it to be. Men, should you think things through a little more? Maybe. If you find yourself more prone to accidents then you may want to evaluate your decisions before you make them. Ladies, should you walk around thinking nothing bad is going to happen to you? Probably not. Just because these results show that men are more inclined to imagestake risks, does not mean they do 100% of the time. As I stated at the beginning, risk is everywhere. A woman can increase her chances of risk just as much as a man can decrease his chances. There are still many variables and factors that contribute to the risk of each individual’s personality and decisions. However, that does not mean that you shouldn’t stop and think about risks that could have terrible consequences. Male or female, bad things happen, and if you can take precautions to help prevent some of those things, you’ll probably live a longer and happier life.

Say Hello to the Dumbo

Pearl_filmNearly everyone knows the octopus from Finding Nemo that says “you guys made me ink.” Well, I always just thought of that octopus as any other one I’d seen before, until now that is. A day or two ago, as I was scrolling through Facebook, I saw a video of a “shy” Dumbo Octopus, and I immediately got curious. Dumbo Octopus? What is that? Well, not only is it the same type of octopus as the one off of Finding Nemo, but it also has some pretty unique characteristics as well. Some of you may already know about this type of octopus, but if you’re like me and didn’t, then you might want to keep reading.

There actually isn’t much known about Grimpoteuthis spp, but what we do know is quite fascinating. It is one of the seventeen species of the Umbrella Octopus class, but dubbed The Dumbo Octopus because of the way its “ear-like” fins protrude from its body, giving it a Walt Disney’s Dumbo the Elephant kind of look. One of the rarest kinds of octopi in the ocean, these little guys live extremely close to the seafloor in places like New Zealand, Australia, Monterey Bay, California; Oregon, the Philippines, and Papua, New Guinea, in waters as deep as 3,000 to 4,000 meters or 9,800 to 13,000 feet with some living even deeper. Like most creatures that live so close to the seafloor, the Dumbo Octopus can flush the top layer of its skin which simply means they can make it translucent. However, this isn’t even one of the most interesting things about it.

Some of the unique features of the Dumbo Octopus that are unlike any other of its kind are its mouth, methods of mobilization, and reproductive habits. The mouth of the octopus is bizarre. It has an opening similar to that of a mollusc which “allows it to swallow prey whole.” This 4570078_f520spares it from having to “tear and grind” the tiny crustaceans, bivalves, and worms it calls prey
and dinner. As for the way it moves, the Dumbo has a special system. It not only has learned to propel itself away from predators by “shooting water through [its] funnel,” but it also uses its distinct shape as well. Since this octopus is an Umbrella, it has webbing between its tentacles which it uses to its advantage. The Dumbo’s eyes are on the side of its body because it is easy prey for “sharks killer whales, tuna, cephalopods, and predatory animals,” so by expanding and contracting the tentacle webbing as well as by moving its “ear-like fins,” the Dumbo Octopus has a pretty good chance of escaping its attackers.

Perhaps the most interesting characteristic of the Dumbo Octopus is the way it reproduces. Extremely different from all other species of octopi, female Dumbos do not have a specific mating season. They are able to bear eggs through the entirety of their maturation process, laying them under small rocks and shells on the seafloor. or tucking them in their tentacle webbing and carrying them. Males have an extra “tentacle-like structure” which carries their sperm. It is believed that this means they can mate with a female at any given moment and the female can make the sperm last over a longer period of time.

Unfortunately, the odds of a human seeing one of these octopuses in their lifetime is slim to none because of how deep into the ocean they live. However, if you are fortunate enough to ever see one of these tiny, intriguing creatures, pay attention because they have a variety of characteristics. Dumbo Octopi can be short, yellow, brown, or giant. They can have a spine, suckers, and different colored fins. Also, they can be a bit camera shy.

Source Links:

Aquarium of the Pacific



The Science Behind Sexual Orientation

Disclaimer: I am about to discuss a very touchy subject which many people have extremely strong beliefs about, myself included. I am going to keep all of my information strictly scientific and fact-based, and I would appreciate it if everyone would do the same. For science’s sake, let’s treat this like any of the other topics on this website.

Let me start off by saying that this is in no way an attack on people’s sexual preference, nor is it male-female-symbols-gender-signs-vector-two-colors-48979320my way of putting people into a group and stripping them of their individuality because of how they identify. I have family members and friends who are both gay and straight, and whom I love equally. This is simply my way of getting a better understanding of why we are born attracted to the same sex, opposite sex, both, or neither. Is it nature, nurture, a little bit of both? Could there be such a thing as a ‘gay gene?’ Well, hopefully this post will shed some light on those questions for my sake and yours.

First we should talk about sexual orientation as a whole, before getting into details. According to the American Psychological Association, sexual orientation is a complex thing that many researchers believe depends on a variety of components such as genetics, hormones, development, social factors, and cultural influence. In other words, there really isn’t a general consensus as to why we identify a certain way. This idea about sexual orientation being inconclusive actually makes a lot of sense in the broader spectrum of things. When you grow up inherently liking (or not) what you like, it can be difficult to pinpoint an exact explanation as to the when, why, and how your attraction occurred. Besides, many people believe that the reason humans are straight is to reproduce, a perfectly logical way of viewing things, but if we–for argument’s sake–say that is the case, then why are people gay?

Although, just like all sexual orientations, the true reason why people are homosexual is inconclusive, there is a lot more research done in an attempt to explain being gay than any other orientation. This chain of studies started with Simon LeVay’s observational study on the human brain. He took the brains of male, female, and homosexual cadavers and reported that the “hypothalamus was smaller in homosexual men than in heterosexual men” and smaller yet in women. However, Levay’s sample size was small, his study observational, and his record keeping poor. There was also a confounding variable that had a potentially extreme effect: all of the cadavers died from the HIV/AIDS virus, which has an enormous effect on the brain. Although this type of study was never repeated, it sparked theories from several other researchers, and it continues to today.

Gay Gene? A later study by Dr. Dean Hamer is where the genetics and homosexuality 3755284016_crop380w_iStock_000021997198XSmall_xlargerelationship came into play. Hamer took a non-random group of homosexual men and examined their family history. In total, there were “76 gay men and 40 gay brother pairs.” Through DNA linkage analysis, he and his team examined the men and found a common set of DNA markers (called Xq28) on the end of an X Chromosome, and it was found on 33 out of the 40 pairs of homosexual brothers. This caused Hamer to conclude not that there was a ‘gay gene’ per say, but that “statistical evidence of such genes exist.” Another larger study conducted later on by the NorthShore Research Institute backed up Hamer’s conclusion when they collected “blood and saliva” from 409 pairs of gay brothers. They wound up finding the same Xq28 marker as well as another 8q12 marker, but they did not conclude that this proved homosexuality was a result of genetics, just that there was a possible positive correlation.

Proving the inherited idea wrong: Since Hamer’s study, there has been a lot of backlash and many people have set out to prove this idea false. One fault that was found in his study was that he didn’t test the heterosexual family members to see if they carried Xq28 nor did he explain why it wasn’t found in the rest of the brother pairs (Source). After finding this flaw, Rice and Ebers, repeated Hamer’s experiment, but they found that “the gay brothers were no more likely to share Xq28 marker than would be expected by chance.” Other studies that go against this idea of genetics are the separate twins studies by Bailey and Pillard and Dr. Neil Whitehead. Both researchers hypothesized that, if being homosexual was strictly genetic, then more twins would bear the same sexual orientation than biological brothers and sisters. However, this was not the case for either study. Whitehead summed up both of their conclusions when he said “At best genetics is a minor factor.”

So with all of that said, what should we believe? Well, the choice is up to you, but there truly isn’t a way to determine what’s correct and what isn’t. The idea of a gene certainly is plausible, but an entirely separate study by Brandeis and Temple Universities suggest that many people are more willing to believe in the ‘gay gene’ because of how sexual-discrimination1much emphasis the media puts on it.
We can conclude that this theory is also likely because it is similar to the relationship between media and vaccines.There is also little information on gay women and bisexual people to compare research to. Some people may not need to know what causes their sexual orientation and might think that the entire question is completely unethical to begin with. Others will tell you that sexual orientation is a choice, no matter what research you try to show them. With that said, the best conclusion for now is probably the one by the American Psychological Association which states “Sexual orientation is a complex thing.” That’s something I think everyone can agree with.

Do dogs sense human emotion?


A picture of my dog, Mia.

I am an avid dog lover. I currently have three dogs that I love more than anything. Particularly, the youngest of the three which I am lucky enough to call mine. Sometimes my parents swear that, since I’ve been away at college, I miss my dogs more than I miss them, which may or may not be true considering how happy I get when I finally get to go home and see them. My emotions toward my dogs got me thinking, do they really know how I’m feeling? I know any time I’ve been sad, happy, angry, nervous, excited and every emotion in between, my dog seems to have a “sixth sense” about it. She knows how to react and approach me according to my mood, but does she truly know what that mood is? Can dogs read emotions? And if so, how?

As it turns out, many researchers believe dogs do understand how their human counterpart is feeling, the tricky part is determining how and to what extent.


Borbala Ferenczy and Eniko Kubinyi

According to one of the more recent, bigger, and advanced studies ever done on dogs, there is an emotion detector in the dog’s brain which is activated through voice. Published in the journal Current Biology, a team of researchers at E​ötvös Loránd University in Hungary conducted an fMRI scan on 11 dogs. While the dogs were in the scanner, they wore headphones that played over 200 different sounds that ranged from human voices to dog noises to sounds of the environment as well as silence. Just like a human, the dogs’ brains reacted more to vocalized noises which showed emotion–whether it was from a human or dog–than to non-vocalized noises. Although there is no way to determine what exactly was going on in the dogs’ brains to make them react, it is safe to conclude that dogs can tell the difference between a sad noise, a happy noise, and so on and so forth.

Meanwhile, two separate studies conducted by the University of Tokyo (published in the journal PLOS ONE) and the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna alongside Ludwig Huber (published in the journal Current Biology) found that dogs were able to recognize human emotion by 70189.ngsversion.1422284449513.adapt.768.1watching their faces. The first study made the connection between dogs and yawning. By ruling out stress (because the dogs’ heartbeats did not speed up when they yawned), researchers concluded that the dogs were empathizing with their owners, especially since they were more likely to yawn when it was genuine and done by their owner and not a stranger. In the second study, where the dogs were trained to pick out the pictures of humans with happy and angry faces, dogs approached the happy faces faster and hesitated before approaching the angry faces, which caused researchers to conclude that “dogs were able to decipher between happy and angry faces because of their memories from other human relationships.” In other words, they were able to understand one emotion from the other.

A final study done by the University of London met all of the previously mentioned studies in the middle and concluded that it was a bit of both vocal and visual. The dogs in the study were more likely to go toward and submit to a person who was sad and crying than a person who was humming to spark their curiosity. By going toward the crying people, researchers decided that dogs were capable of differentiating between genuine emotion and lack thereof.

In my opinion, I think the study done by the University of London is on the right path. If studies are using different methods in order to test the same hypothesis but both methods are finding homeless-cuddling-dog-by-kirsten-bole-100-dpithe same result, it is more than likely a combination of both visual and vocal cues which allow a dog to relate to human emotions. However, there are a countless number of problems that could occur during such tests. For one, researchers may not be able to examine both theories at the same time. They also may never find a mechanism, working with dogs and not humans, it is unlikely that we will be able to know the driving force behind why dogs do what they do because we can never truly know how or what they’re thinking about. Inadequate sample sizes as well as confounding variables come into play, too. Despite this, all of the studies continue to state that dogs can recognize human emotion, it’s the ‘how they do it’ that will remain inconclusive, but no matter what, all of the conclusions have one thing in common: they will either be correct or a false positive.

Midnight Snacking: Why do we crave junk food at night?


In my  last blog I discussed how eating late at night doesn’t necessarily lead to weight gain, but because many of the studies gave varying results, the conclusion is inconclusive. However, a few sources did mention that it may be because of our junk food intake around the time we go to bed that makes it seem like we are gaining weight due to eating late. If this is the case, then I’m here to ask why. Why are we craving salty, sweet, and all around unhealthy snacks after the sun goes down? What is it about the nighttime that makes us want junk food? As promised, I’m here to tell you.

As it turns out, not a lot of research has been done on the subject, but there are a few theories and experiments out there that either say one of two things: junk food cravings at night are psychological, or they are caused by sleep deprivation.

Psychological: There are few studies done on psychological junk food cravings that are experimental, however, psychologists have done correlational research by observing trends in people who have a tendency to eat junk food at night. One website poses multiple explanations imagesas to why we seek out unhealthy foods after dark. Among them is that the undercover feeling of night allows us to feel less guilty about deviating from what we believe to be acceptable behavior. Another is emotional eating–whether it be due to loneliness, depression or another emotion–causes us to seek out comfort in foods that increase dopamine (chemical in the body that plays a role in happiness) levels. Although, there is an insufficient amount of research to confirm or support the validity of such hypotheses, both of them have yet to be rejected.

On the other hand, one theory that has been researched more extensively is the theory of willpower. According to the aforementioned source as well as a study by Massive Health, people are eating unhealthier foods as the day goes on which could be due to their willpower decreasing as time progresses. Since “willpower is a finite substance,” the longer you fight off the urge to succumb to junk food, the more likely it will run out by bedtime. This causes you to give in and eat the high-calorie foods. Then again, this is simply a correlational study and we all know, correlation does not equal causation.

Sleep Deprivation: The next explanation for why we crave junk food at night is sleep deprivation. Despite the fact that there are more credible studies done on this topic, they all differ. To begin, one study done by Brigham Young University took 15 women and showed them pictures of high and low-calorie foods while scanning their brains once in the morning and again in the evening a week later. As it turns out, the area of the brain associated with reward “didn’t react as strongly to images of food in the evening as they did in the morning” which brought the researchers to conclude that “if we see food as less rewarding” it will continuously cause us to go back for more “until we feel satisfied.”

Another study discussed in this article begs to differ. St Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center and Columbia University took 25 men and women and conducted MRIs on them while they, once again, looked at pictures of healthy and unhealthy foods. After exposing subjects to two different conditions (five nights of sleep for nine and four hours), contrary to the other study, the areas of the brain associated with reward reacted more strongly to the higher-calorie foods. Researchers explained that “under restricted sleep, individuals will find unhealthy foods highly salient and rewarding, which may lead to greater consumption of those foods” and “when you’re fatigued, your body would want calorie-dense foods that give you quick energy.” A third study published in the medical journal, Appetite, backs up this conclusion with a correlational study which found that, if participants slept “a little more than an hour and a half extra,” their overall appetite would go down by 14% and their cravings for junk food would decrease by 62%.

So what does all of this mean? Well, in terms of the psychological relationship with junk food cravings, more research should be done, and the same goes for the sleep deprivation hypothesis as well. Even though, the theory regarding sleep deprivation is more reliable in terms of experimental design (as opposed to correlational), all of the studies used small sample sizes and were subject to many confounding variables as well as reverse causation.

What is the takeaway message from all of this? Well, since there is no clear answer to the question “Why do we crave junk food at night?” the decision is yours. If you’re one of those people who finds yourself snacking before bed, maybe try healthier options instead–like fruits or vegetables. If those kinds of foods aren’t your thing, you could try going to sleep a little earlier to avoid the temptation sleep deprivation may or may not bring on, or you can carry ongiphy with your midnight snacking because it’s just too difficult to resist. I know I’m not going to take my chances with the weight gain I discussed previously, so I’ll either resist the temptation to my fullest ability or just consume my higher-calorie foods during the day. Even though, all of the studies discussed could be due to chance, sometimes the risk isn’t worth it.

Does eating late make you fat?

Let’s face it, a large majority of college students like to eat, there’s no doubt about that. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because of how accessible food is. We can always find an open restaurant, order anything we want online, have it delivered to our doors, and pay for it with the swipe of a dnews--1533--why-midnight-snacks-are-terrible-for-you--large.thumbcard. Food is available at all hours of every day and college students take advantage of the opportunity. As we do this, we normally feel guilty afterward because on some level–whether it be conscious or subconscious–we know that this isn’t healthy, but how unhealthy is it exactly? In the long run, will eating late at night make you gain weight faster than eating during the day?

Well, as much as we want an answer to that question, there just might not be one. However, I’ll approach that in more detail later. First, I want to talk a little bit about the metabolism. According to several sources–such as this one and this one–the “body doesn’t process food differently at different times of the day” because “a calorie is a calorie, regardless of when you burn it.” When we think about this, it makes perfect sense, right? Our body is going to process food the same way, even when we’re winding down for the night because, although we’re done being active, our internal organs are still functioning which, in turn, is burning calories. This is basic high school health class knowledge, weight gain occurs depending on caloric intake and activity levels (excluding disease and genetics), and there are studies which go along with and backup this idea.

For example, one study conducted at the Oregon Health and Science University, highlighted in this Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center article, used rhesus monkeys to test the hypothesis of eating late leading to weight gain. The results showed that the monkeys who ate later were “at no greater risk” than the monkeys who ate earlier in the day. This result is also consistent with the beliefs of the credible National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease discussed in the same article as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Weight Control Information Network which is mentioned in this article. Both of these sources support my aforementioned claim–that it’s daily and long-term eating and activity which determines weight gain, not the specific time you consume calories.

There are some studies which claim otherwise. According to Northwestern University researchers who conducted a study that was published in the journal Obesity, “eating at night led to twice as much weight gain. This result, however, was determined by one trial which observed mice (source). Meanwhile, another study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) concluded that “nighttime eating was common, and it predicted weight gain,” but there were many factors to consider in this study which could lead to confounding variables. For example, The AJCN’s study was not randomized, it used white people and Pima Indians as well as observed them as inpatients in a research unit; not in a normal everyday environment.

So with that in mind, it is safe to say that the answer to the question “does eating late make you fat?” is inconclusive, but I may be able to provide some insight on why people think it does. You see, despite the fact that every study differed, many of them still managed to agree on one thing: the things people were eating as “midnight snacks.” In all of the sources I mentioned above, as well as this one, it was a common claim that the reason why it seemed people were gaining weight after eating later in the evening was because they were consuming high-caloriemidnight-snack foods. People tend to not only lack self-control and intake when they eat later, but they are also more inclined to reach for quick and easy snacks, and if you didn’t know already, quick and easy snacks tend to be higher in calories. I’m sure the light bulb just went off in all of your heads like it did mine, and as much as I’d like to go into this topic more, it’s going to have to wait until next time as this is getting quite lengthy. Look out for my next post though, because I plan on giving a more thorough examination of the question: Why do we crave junk food at night? Stay tuned.

Click, Crack, Snap: Popping Your Joints

I hear it time and time again, not only because I am a culprit myself, but also because it’s a pretty common habit among people my age. The sound is a familiar one, and every time I hear someone make it with their body, I have to do the same. If you haven’t figured it out by now (and it you failed to notice the title) I’m talking about joint cracking. This topic hits close to home because I have a weird talent: I can pretty much pop and crack every joint in my body (too much information?), and just as I was cracking my fingers after finishing an essay, I thought to myself. Is it true what they say about cracking your joints? Will intentionally making things click and pop really lead to arthritis or osteoporosis when we get older?

The answer: No. At least, it isn’t likely to.

Believe it or not, joint cracking (the most common being cracking your knuckles) is still an unexplained phenomenon. There have been many tests to try to determine why we crack our joints–whether it be intentional or not–without pain, but there are only a few theories that attempt to explain the reason behind why a sound is made. According to Johns Hopkins, joint healthy-jointcracking could be the result of “ligaments stretching and releasing” or “by the compression of nitrogen bubbles in the spaces of the joints.” Adding to that, the  Library of Congress states that the sound a person hears when a joint clicks or snaps is due to gas build-up in the synovial fluid that acts as a lubricant between joints. In this fluid is oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen which, when popped rapidly releases and forms bubbles. Continue reading

Can Heterochromia just happen?

heterochromia1Heterochromia Iridis (or just heterochromia) is medically defined by Merriam-Webster as “A difference in color between the irises of the two eyes or between parts of one iris.” In other words, a person’s eyes have some sort of color mutation. I actually have heterochromia myself, but it isn’t always completely noticeable, and sometimes I forget that it’s there. Now, I was born this way, but are there exceptions to this rule? Do some people just “get” Heterochromia or are genetics always a factor?

As it turns out, Heterochromia is “caused by too much or too little melanin (pigmentation)” (Source), and there are three different types. Central Heterochromia is when the middle of the iris has two different colors. Sectoral Heterochromia is when the same iris contains completely different colors, and Complete Heterochromia is when both eyes are completely different 5d8875845fda0d6030a34a1b491c0832colors. All three cases of Heterochromia are actually extremely rare. So rare, in fact, that “six out of 1,000” (1% of the population) people are born with it, and “in most cases, it is hardly noticeable and unassociated with any other abnormality” (Source). Therefore, more often than not, Heterochromia Iridis is acquired.

How you ask?

Well, Heterochromia can happen for a multitude of reasons. When it comes to being born with Heterochromia, a person can get it through Waardenburg Syndrome, Sturge-Weber Syndrome, Parry-Romberg Syndrome, and Horner’s Syndrome–to name a few (Source). I won’t explain those though because they’re beside the point. Heterochromia can develop after the time of birth and childhood from a multitude of difficulties.

A few examples include:

Pigment Dispersion Syndrome: When the outer surface of the iris loses pigment, and then said pigment is dispersed into the inner part of the eye. This causes the anterior part of the iris to darken.

Trauma: If a blunt or sharp object hits, penetrates, scratches, or damages the eye in any way, it can cause one side of the eye (the hurt part) to lighten. This occurs because the damaged part of the eye has lost cells.

Medication: Xalatan, Lumigan, Travatan which are eyedrops used for Glaucoma and Latisse used for cosmetic purposes can darken the iris because of “stimulation of melanin production.”

Other causes of Heterochromia include (but are not limited to): inflammation from any source, c0a7b8e635056b66e01fe790d408a5ffGlaucoma, iron, tumors, scarring, bleeding, clouding of the cornea, malignant melanoma, diabetes, injury/disease affecting the sympathetic nervous system, genetic disorders, and other specific diseases. (Source)

This goes to show that things are not always what they seem. Most people who inherited heterochromia are actually pretty lucky, and are among a small group of the Heterochromia population–which is something I know I never would have guessed. So the next time you come across a person with Heterochromia, don’t think about how they look cool or different, but rather, the story behind the color because it was, more than likely, completely beyond their control.

Fun fact: Inherited Heterochromia is more common in dogs, cats, horses, cows, and water buffalo than it is in humans.

Nail Biters

I will be the first to admit that nail biting is not a particularly attractive habit. I will also be the first to admit that I bite my nails. I have tried giving up this terrible habit so many times, and I have successfully gone many months without doing it. However, no matter how long I hold out, I always wind up giving in, but I know I’m not the only one. Actually, “about half of all children between the ages of 10 and 18 bite their nails at one time or another” (source). Is there a real reason behind why we do it though or is it just some kind of innate tic?

Actually, nail biting, also referred to as a onychophagia is a body-focused repetitive behavior that “is a common, but unresolved problem in psychiatry, psychology, medicine, and dentistry” as stated in a study by Ahmad Ghanizadeh. However, despite this one point of view, there are still many theories as to what the root of nail biting could be. According to this article, nail biting is believed to be a “stress-relieving habit” which is something most people would agree with. Some people know they bite their nails (often without even realizing it) when they’re bored, nail-bitingexcited, nervous, afraid, anxious, stressed, and about every other emotion in between, I am living proof that this is true. Sometimes I bite my nails to preoccupy my mind when emotions are high. Fred Penzel, PhD actually backs this up in his article. He states that nail biting “satisfie[s] an urge” because it gives people a “pleasurable or relaxed sensation” which produces an “uncontrollable feeling of needing to do [it].” This isn’t the only cause for nail biting though. In fact, other explanations include learned: behavior, perfectionism, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Learned Behavior and OCD are pretty self-explanatory reasons for nail biting. In learned behavior, a person sees someone of authority or whom they may idolize biting their nails, and then they learn to bite their nails too, or they do it once, like the results, and develop a habit out of it. A person with OCD bites their nails because they feel it is necessary in order for them to function. Those who bite their nails obsessive-compulsively do so without restraint and because of a mental illness. The last one, perfectionism, is the newest solution and also the most interesting. In a study highlighted by this article, perfectionism seemed to be a likely explanation as to why nail biters, well, bite their nails. Kieron O’Connor, who led the study, summed up the results by stating that “individuals with these repetitive behaviors [nail biting] may be perfectionistic, meaning that they are unable to relax and to perform tasks at a ‘normal’ pace [making them more] prone to frustration, impatience, and dissatisfaction when they do not reach their goals. They also experience greater levels of boredom.”

So, in the end, all of these reasons seem a likely cause. Although I never truly arrived at an answer to why people bite their nails, that’s okay. Whether, it’s relaxing, learned, obsessive-compulsive, or perfectionistic, the habit can be broken. If it doesn’t eventually go away on it’s own, a person can use a variety of different techniques–from bitter-tasting nail polish to psychological help–in order to get rid of it. Either way, nail biters don’t have to be nail biters forever.

Cell Phones and Catching Quality Z’s

We’ve all been there. We say goodnight to anyone we might 141222131348_1_900x600have been talking to, get under the covers, check “one thing” on our phones, and then have every intention of going to sleep. However, all too often that “one thing” turns into “multiple things,” and then it’s 3A.M. and our smartphones are still in hand, screens glaring. The other night, as I found myself in this position, I started to think “is this something I should really be doing?”

The simple answer: probably not

According to Harvard Health, smartphones and other electronics give off what’s called blue light/wavelengths that actually make the brain believe it is daytime. This stream of photons (the wavelengths) from our smartphones prevent the production of melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone) which: causes people to stay awake longer, makes it more difficult for people to fall asleep, disrupts circadian rhythms, and disturbs the sleep cycle. All things that contribute to poor sleep quality and incomplete repair of damages to the mind and body. However, if that isn’t enough to convince you to put down your phone at night, let’s put some things in perspective through a few studies. Continue reading

The ‘C’ in Curing the Common Cold

Australian-Skin-Institute-Vitamin-C-resizedEvery time I found myself “under the weather” on account of the pesky and all too common cold, both my parents would ask the exact same question: “did you take some Vitamin C?” You see, when they posed this question, they weren’t just asking if I took a singular tablet of the round chalk known as L-ascorbic acid, but in actuality were telling me: “you need to take two 500mg tablets of Vitamin C throughout the day and you need to start immediately.” So I did. Why shouldn’t I? The two people who I trust more than anyone and who have lived on this Earth far longer than I are saying this orange juice you can chew is going to help me feel better in a smaller amount of time. What do I have to lose?  I actually continue to take Vitamin C to this day when myself or someone around me has a cold because, as far as I’m concerned, it helps. At least, I thought it did. However, now I’m living on my own with a roommate and just as she found herself “under the weather,” I found myself reaching for the canister of acid in the dose of 500mg. Except this time, I stopped to ask myself: does Vitamin C really work or do I just think it works because I’ve been taught that it does?

As it turns out, many people have sought answers to this question. In fact, there have been over sixty years of research and a plethora of double-blinded placebo controlled studies on whether or not mega-doses of Vitamin C (2,000+mg) make the duration of the common cold shorter, prevents colds from happening, and helps alleviate or lessen the severity of symptoms.  According to the National Institutes of Health, Vitamin C is a “water-soluble nutrient” that helps protect cells from the damage free radicals inflict. It also has to be present in order for collagen to be made and iron absorption to take place. On top of that, Vitamin C does, in fact, help the proper functioning of the immune system as well as assists in protecting the body from disease. With that being said, the answer to the question posed should be easy. Vitamin C helps prevent, get rid of, and lessen the severity of the symptoms of the common cold, right? Wrong.

It was Linus Pauling who first conducted a double-blind placebo study  and published a book entitled “Vitamin C and the Common Cold” in 1970. He stated that there was a positive correlation between Vitamin C and the common cold in the sense that it decreases how often the common cold occurs as well as the severity of it.

Every study that has ever succeeded Pauling’s has had differing results. For example, studies by the Cochrane CollaborationCochrane Acute Respiratory Infections Group, and the British Journal of Nutrition found that taking Vitamin C did not prevent colds from happening, but it did shorten the length one had a cold by a day or two as well as lessened the severity of symptoms by a significant amount. This may be because of the antioxidant property of Vitamin C. When a person experiences an infection, phagocytic leukocytes (white blood cells that engulf dangerous and foreign substances) produce oxidants. When Vitamin C reacts to these oxidants, it could possibly “decrease inflammatory effects caused by them.”

Makes sense, right?

Well, on the other hand, studies like the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition’s concluded the exact opposite by stating that Vitamin C reduces the frequency of the common cold but has no effect on its duration or frequency. However, they relied entirely on the reactions of their patients. Therefore, if I had to make a hypothesis as to why this situation occurred, I would infer that it was the result of a confounding variable. For example, this study took place in one specific region in Japan that contains the “highest morality of gastric cancer” which could have something to do with the why the study ensued as it did.

For now, I just want to sum up what all of this means, and the shortest way to do that is by saying this: the studies and corresponding results between Vitamin C and its ability to prevent, shorten, and lessen symptom severity of the common cold are completely and utterly inconclusive. So until somebody tries a different dosage, pool of patients, or study entirely and vitamin c tabletsmakes a breakthrough, we’ll never know if Vitamin C truly helps or not. It’s easy to say there may be a small connection between Vitamin C and the common cold but until we know for sure the studies observed might as well be chance. So what does that mean for victims of the common cold like you and I? Well, that’s entirely up to you. I know I am going to continue taking my Vitamin C tablets and drinking my orange juice whenever need be. However, if you’re a skeptic–unlike me–go ahead and try for yourself. You just might be one of the lucky ones that feels better.

Initial Blog Post

Hi all!

My name is Jenna Campbell, and I am from a small town in Western Pennsylvania which is located about forty minutes outside Pittsburgh. I think that, from the moment I stepped on campus, I knew that Penn State was the right school for me, and I feel the same way about this class now.

I am actually a Journalism major, and that’s pretty much the main reason why I decided to take this course. I really do enjoy learning about and discussing scientific things, and I think it is a vital and intriguing aspect of our society. However, I could not spend the rest of my life in a science field. I love biology, anatomy and physiology but not enough to pursue it. And there was not a time in my life where I have been able to understand chemistry or physics. So in order to sum things up, I am not a science major because it doesn’t come to me naturally and it never will.

Now, before I continue any further, I must first explain that I didn’t stay in this class strictly because science and I don’t like one another. I stayed in this class because I can not wait to discuss science in a way I never have before AND because I love to blog. I not only have my own personal blog, but I also wrote for a local newspaper through a youth program back home. We actually ran a blog that you can see here. That youth program is pretty much the whole reason why I’m a Journalism (and not science) major here at PSU so I have to represent and give them a little shout out.

Well, that’s pretty much all I can think to say right now, but I will leave you all with one little fun fact before I end this post. I took a road trip across California over the summer, and I made a lot of very interesting and amazing discoveries that I may like to write about in the future. Until then though, here are two pictures of a Sequoia tree in Sequoia National Park and an amazing sunset in Santa Monica.

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