Author Archives: Kendall Nicole Higgins

Flirting & Sexual Attraction

We’ve all been friend zoned before.  If you haven’t then keep reading and move on to the next blog because you clearly don’t need any help.  For girls, guys, and transgenders relationships can be tricky especially in college, so today I ask the question is there a formula?  Is there a science to flirting?  A science behind sexual attraction?

As I began my research I found it surprising how much information there is about sexual attraction, but when you actually think about it it makes sense.  Sexual attraction, love, and romance are huge parts of our lives.  I think I found it surprising at first because initially it seems mundane, but what’s more important to people than love?

The laws of sexual attraction explain smell, voice pitch, and face symmetry are “unconscious detectors of attractiveness.”  When women ovulate they produce copulins and the scent attracts men causing their testosterone levels to rise.  Sex therapist Dr. Laura Berman discusses a recent study where women smelled men’s t-shirts.  The women were most attracted to the men who had different major histocompatability complex (MHC) from them.  MHC are genes that indicate our type of immune system, and Berman says “we unconsciously want to mate with someone who has a different immune system than ours because that helps with the survival of our offspring.”

The CNN article above and HealthlineNews both report that men typically prefer women with high-pitched voices as it indicates the woman has a smaller body size while women prefer the opposite.  Women prefer men with low-pitched voices as it indicates larger body size.  The CNN article mentions that women with higher voices typically have higher estrogen levels as well which “makes them more desirable to men.”  A study at the University College London researched this correlation and asked participants to judge the attractiveness of prerecorded statements from males and females.  Researches manipulated “median pitch, formant dispersion, and pitch slope of the voices to reflect different body sizes.”  Females preferred the lower pitched voices that in nature resemble a low, deep growl which “typically indicates a large animal and signals dominance.”  The men preferred the opposite.

There is plenty of research available that concludes face symmetry is directly related to attractiveness, but researchers are still not entirely sure why. says the most common way to research the effect of face symmetry is through computer manipulations where pictures of the same face are manipulated and participants indicate which one they find the most attractive.  The findings consistently show that people prefer face symmetry, but like I mentioned previously researchers are not sure why.  There are two possible explanations.

  1. Evolutionary Advantage- “proposes that symmetric faces are attractive because symmetry indicates how healthy an individual is.”
  2. Perceptual Bias- this view has to do with our visual system and says that it is simply easier for humans to process symmetric stimuli

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There is clearly a serious biological component to sexual attractiveness, but what about flirting?  This BBC article says it “can take between 90 seconds and four minutes to decide if we fancy someone.”  The article says that only 7% of flirting has to do with what we actually say while 55% is through our body language and 38% is the tone and speed of our voice.  So that’s definitely refreshing to hear considering most of the time I say some pretty dumb stuff.

The article discussed a psychologist in New York who studies what happens when people fall in love.  He found that the “simple act of staring into each other’s eyes has a profound impact.”  He brought in participants and asked two complete strangers to sit with each other for an hour and a half and reveal intimate details about their lives.  Afterwards, he asked them to stare into each others eyes without speaking for four minutes.  The couples admitted “to feeling deeply attracted to their opposite and two of his subjects even married afterward.”

Another thing I found interesting in the BBC article is that when people are attracted to each other they mirror each other.  One will copy the other’s physical gestures.  Mirroring “marks good communication and shows us our interest is being reciprocated.”

What I find so interesting about all of this is that humans are more animalistic than we’d like to think.  We like to think we are so civilized yet we just can’t say no to some good smelling major histocompatability complex genes.  It’s crazy to think that men can subconsciously tell when women are ovulating and that subconsciously raises their testosterone levels.  It all relates back to Andrew’s lecture on natural selection.  For example, the idea that we subconsciously pick our mates based on their MHC scent to produce healthier babies or the evolutionary advantage theory that says we prefer symmetrical faces because it indicates how healthy a person is are both ways in which we pick our mates in order to have the best chance at reproduction.



It seems like almost everyone today is making a conscious effort to eat healthier if it’s in their price range.  Healthy food costs more while the dollar menu at McDonalds still persists, and  America is the only nation with an over weight poor.  So what is organic food and what does it have to do with our class?

What is organic food?  

organic-farmIn 2002, the USDA introduced new regulations that allowed products to be labeled organic.  The food must contain 95-100% certified organic ingredients to use the USDA’s organic label.  The regulations were meant to minimize consumers exposure to toxins and support sustainable agricultural practices, so citizens could be better informed as to what they are actually putting into our bodies.  Organic Valley offers the following six reasons one should eat organic food:

  1.  Nutrient density
  2. No persistent pesticides or synthetic fertilizers
  3. No synthetic growth or breathing hormones
  4. No antibiotics
  5. No GMOs
  6. Animal care

Why is it more expensive?

The purpose of organic farming is to farm the natural way without the influence of modern day chemicals and toxins, but it costs more.  Fox News lists ten reasons why organic food is more expensive and below I have listed a few:

  •  No chemicals=more labor
  • Hire cost of fertilizer for organic crops
  • Better living conditions for livestock
  • Organic food grows slower
  • Government subsidies- In 2008, $7.5 billion in subsidies for non-organic food and $15 million for organic

So, what’s this have to do with our class?

The organic food market interests me, and I wonder how does it relate to the tobacco industry back in the 50s or what’s going on today with climate change and sugary drinks?  Non-organic, unnatural, processed food is obviously unhealthy and makes people gain weight which contributes to a plethora of other health issues, but the “conventional, processed, unnatural” food industry is a multi-billion dollar industry.  I highly doubt they initiated the organic trend, so who did?

Before the beginning of “industrial agriculture” all food was organic.  According to Eco Tipping Points, the idea of organic food came into play in the early 20th century as an alternative to the “advances in various technologies such as biochemistry (the creation of nitrogen fertilizer), creation of the internal combustion engine, and development of hybrid seeds.”

Experienced, knowledgable, and morally sound farmers were always skeptical of the toxins.  Scientists and researchers spoke out and advocated for natural/organic food, but it wasn’t until 1989 that the public truly heard them.

Whole Foods describes February 25, 1989 as “Alar Sunday.” Researchers finally were able to broadcast to the public and announce that Alar, a synthetic growth toxin commonly used on apples, caused tumors in lab animals and could potentially cause cancer.  It was then the organic food industry really took off.

As it was with tobacco and sugary drinks, knowledgeable people had a gut feeling something was up with “industrial agriculture”, but the public didn’t get behind them until it science proved they were in harms way.  What does that say about us as a public?  Are we unable to listen to others unless it is proven and told to us that we are being directly affected?

It makes me think of climate change. 99% of the scientists who study climate change say that it is happening and is due to human behavior, but the thing about climate change is that no scientists can prove it for sure, without a reasonable doubt.  They can’t inject a monkey with copious amounts of tobacco or feed pesticide to mice to show people that they actually do cause cancer.  All the computer simulations in the world can’t physically and experimentally prove that climate change is happening.  We only have one earth.

DORITOS_BAKED_46934It worries me to think that corporations have such little genuine interest for the public good.  The tobacco industry hid their evidence that smoking caused cancer and unhealthy food companies don’t want you to get healthier unless you’re buying their “reduced fat” product.  The corporations who benefit from the fossil fuel industry will do anything to create doubt within the public to convince them that climate change isn’t happening so we keep buying their cars and pumping gas.

Scientists need to become better communicators…or we, as a public, need to become better listeners and learn how to critically think.


Poor mice

This class emphasizes the importance of double-blind experiments in scientific discoveries, and many of the studies discussed involve animal research.

4148585For example, Andrew mentioned in class that when scientists studied tobacco they did tests on monkeys to study the effects.  The tests found that tobacco was indeed harmful.  It saved humans, but what about the monkeys?

The Humane Society lists the following definitions of animal testing:

  • “Forced chemical exposure in toxicity testing, which can include oral force-feeding, forced inhalation, skin or injection into the abdomen, muscle, etc.
  • Exposure to drugs, chemicals or infectious disease at levels that cause illness, pain and distress, or death
  • Genetic manipulation, e.g., addition or “knocking out” of one or more genes
  • Infliction of wounds, burns and other injuries to study healing
  • Infliction of pain to study its physiology and treatment”

This article about animal testing from reports that millions of animals are used for scientific and commercial testing every year in the United States.  Research on living animals has been around since 500 BC, and “proponents of animal testing say that it has enabled the development of many life-saving treatments for both humans and animals.”  They say there is no better alternative.

Those against animal testing call it “cruel and inhumane.”  Animal testing does not always yield accurate results, and they believe it is time scientists find an alternative.

I found it interesting that at the top of the ProCon website they had a message to readers that read “DEAR PROCON.ORG READERS: We’re being outspent by biased organizations that use millions of dollars to misinform you.”  They’re asking for donations in order to maintain and provide “unbiased information on important issues.”

Vegan Peace refers to “animal testing” as “animal cruelty.”  They are completely against it as it causes “horrific suffering to animals.”  The article shows some pretty horrific pictures of animals who have been tested on and explains how animal testing is inefficient and unreliable.  The article lists better and more accurate alternatives to animal research such as “computer simulators and imaging techniques, epidemiological studies (studies of human populations), clinical research, in vitro research (in a test tube) and replacing animals with human cells in safety tests.”

The Science Action Network lists forty reasons that explain how animal research is beneficial, almost necessary, and really not that bad.  It lists multiple different medical discoveries that animal research made possible.  It says “household cats kill approximately 5 million animals every week” which is “more than the total number of animals used in medical research every year.”

It seems almost everyone has an agenda.  Vegans don’t even drink milk, so it makes sense that they are entirely against any harm to animals.  Scientists want to continue to make scientific discoveries, so of course they’re pro animal testing.

The Animal Welfare Act is the only Federal law in the United States “that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers.”  The law excludes birds, rats, and mice that have been bred for research.

So it’s not like all scientists are ruthlessly harming animals on purpose and nothing is being done to protect them, but it seems the research will continue and the poor mice will continue to suffer.

I don’t have the answer to whether or not animal testing is right or wrong because I can see both sides of the argument.  Animal research is controversial and has been for quite sometime.  What I find interesting about the situation is the different organizations who present biased information in an attempt to convince the public either way.


Fossil Fuels

The other day my friend and I went to see Bill Nye speak at the Eisenhower Auditorium.  It was legendary.  He talked about climate change and it made me realize how little I actually know about the science behind it.  I “believe” that it’s happening and I hope our generation can eventually go all green, but it made me question a few things.  What are fossil fuels, why are they so bad, and what are they actually doing to the earth?

Science Daily defines fossil fuels as “hydrocarbons, primarily coal, fuel oil or natural gas, formed from the remains of dead plants and animals.”  Okay so that makes sense.  I’m not quite sure how it took me this long to realize that FOSSIL fuels come from FOSSILS, but it did.

FossilFuelEmissionsAccording to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, fossil fuels release nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere when they are burned via human activities such as cars, trucks, coal-fired power plants, large industrial operations, ships, and airplanes.

Nitrogen is essential to plant and animal life, but it is all the excess nitrogen in our atmosphere that is so harmful.  The pollution affects our air, water, and land.  The nitrogen excess contributes to the “formation of smog and acid rain.”  The EPA states the following:

“The presence of excess nitrogen in the atmosphere in the form of nitrogen oxides or ammonia is deposited back onto land, where it washes into nearby water bodies. These excess nutrients contribute to pollution, harmful algal blooms and oxygen-deprived aquatic zones. Excess ammonia and low pH in these areas are toxic to aquatic organisms and affect their survival.”

So, if the United States government and everyone knows that fossil fuels are so harmful to our environment in such a way, why are we still using them?

Energy Informative discusses fossil fuels pros and cons.

Fossil Fuels are well developed, cheap, and reliable.  We have been using fossil fuels to power our world for decades.  The technology works, it’s cheap, and it is more reliable than other new energy sources such as wind and solar power.

On the flip side,  fossil fuels contribute to global warming.  They are non renewable, unsustainable, and incentivized.  They produce high amounts of carbon that contribute to global warming.  Fossil fuels take millions of years to form which makes it a finite resource in today’s world.  They are unsustainable yet subsidized.  “Coal, natural gas and petroleum received $4.22 billion” in government subsides while solar only got $1.13 billion.

So, the problem with fossil fuels is that we are used to them.  They power our every day lives which makes getting rid of them seem unfathomable.  Climate change is inconvenient for all of us.  I’d rather not give up my car or traveling the world via airplanes, but what’s the alternative?

The documentary Merchants of Doubt explains that 100% of the scientists who research and focus on climate change found that it is happening and it is enhanced by human activities.  The people who say it is not happening are the ones who have a vested interest in the fossil fuel industry.  The documentary compares it to the tobacco industry.

wethecorporationsAndrew discussed in class the relationship between cigarettes and cancer and the way the tobacco industry did everything they could to hide that truth from the public.  From what I understand, the same thing is happening with climate change today.  The industry bias doesn’t want climate change to be real because it will hurt them economically.  Scientists are usually bad communicators and they can’t say anything is definitely, without a doubt for sure happening.  This makes their fight against corporations who benefit from cheap and reliable fossil fuels quite difficult.  The corporations, and even the military, can hire communications people to create doubt and convince the public that the science isn’t perfect.

It seems that climate change is much bigger than you and me.  Most human activities that are associated with burning fossil fuels are a result of transportation and industry, and it is the people the people who benefit from that industry who don’t want anything to change.  But, what can we do as individuals to limit our burning of fossil fuels?

The EPA says the two biggest ways we can help individually is to conserve energy and minimize the miles.  Turn off your lights, computers, and TV when you’re not using them.  Buy equipment that uses less energy and limit your use of air conditioning.  To minimize your miles carpool or utilize public transportation.


Hoe does disease start?

Disease.  Disease is quite a gloomy word.  No one wants to be infected yet so many people in our world are.

On our first day of class, Andrew said he studies infectious diseases.  I texted in to the comment wall and asked “how do diseases start”, but I didn’t get a response, so after four months of wondering I think it is time I figure it out.

Put simply, Merriam Webster  defines disease as a change in a living body that prevents it from functioning normally.  There are many more specific definitions and there are many different types of diseases.

med22-germsAccording to Medline Plus infectious diseases are caused by germs and “kill more people worldwide than any other single cause.  They can be spread through touching, eating, kissing, sexual contact, insect/animal bites, and even breathing.

So how do these diseases start?  What caused the AIDS outbreak in the 80s?  How did herpes start?  What caused ebola?  How do these diseases seem to just come out of nowhere?

Infectious diseases are caused by pathogenic microorganisms that spread indirectly from person to person.  The World Health Organization explains that zoonotic diseases are diseases in animals that can infect humans.

A disease is a living organism.  It wants to survive just like you and me, but the only way the disease can survive is through a host cell.  This CBC article discusses the swine flu virus, but it does a good job of explaining the mutation process.  The virus wants to survive but it can only do so by attaching itself and reproducing through a host cell.  The disease “injects its genetic material into the cell” and that DNA or RNA “carries with it instructions” for the cell to make more viruses.  The virus than spreads “to other parts of the host organism.”

But the host organisms don’t just let it happen.  They do their best to fight it off, and eventually host organisms learn how to protect themselves and become immune to the virus.  So in order to survive the virus must mutate.

It reminds me of the fruit flies Andrew talked about in class.  The male fruit flies would inject their toxic sperm into the female so she couldn’t have anyone else’s offspring, but it would also kill her.  Evolution and natural selection are not concerned about health, happiness, or longevity; there is no long term goal.  As we learned in class:

“Adaptive evolution is about genetic representation in the next generation.”

Diseases are living organisms very similar to the fruit flies.  “They” are not concerned about the happiness and wellbeing of their hosts, the disease is simply trying to maximize its offspring and survive.

The Guardian explains that 60% of the infectious diseases since 1940 have been zoonotic.

“HIV originated in monkeys, ebola in bats, influenza in pigs and birds.”

The Bubonic Plague, or Black Death, took over Europe in the middle ages.  The disease was transmitted to humans through fleas on rats and killed over one-third of Europe’s entire population.  The Spanish influenza in the early 1900s killed 50 million people, and more than 30 million people have died from AIDS.

In our modern world people are constantly traveling and in contact with foreign species and people.  According to the World Health Organization the Ebola outbreak occurred in West Africa a year ago.  It left the world terrified as “many feared that the Ebola virus was the pathogen that would overwhelm humanity.”  Since then, the virus has been controlled and people are not as worried, but the question remains what’s next?

Infectious disease outbreaks are confusing, and it is nearly impossible to predict what is coming, but scientists are keeping a close eye on bats and birds.

hepatitis-c-vaccineAs we learned in class, humans can get vaccinations.  According to The Medical Dictionary  vaccinations for any specific disease are medicine that contain a very small amount of the virus’ bacteria to get the body to produce antibodies.  If that person is ever exposed to the disease later in life the antibodies will keep them healthy.

It’s scary because diseases can mutate to protect themselves from vaccinations.  As Andrew mentioned in class, this is what he is currently working on with malaria.  Disease is scary because it is a part of life and there is only so much humans and science can do to stop it.  We try to protect ourselves from disease so that we don’t die, while the infectious pathogenic microorganisms try to protect themselves from us so that they don’t die.

Disease is a part of life because it is trying to live one.


The science behind bass music

I studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic last spring, and one of my professors posed a very interesting question.  The class focused on the subcultures of Eastern Europe, so we studied hippies, the punk movement, graffiti, drugs, and a few other funky stuff.  On the day we learned about drugs we examined their relationship with music.  Our professor asked “do people do drugs to enhance the music or go to concerts to enhance the drugs?”

tiesto_s345x230If you listen to EDM music, you know when the bass drops.  It is that moment in time when the whole song changes.  At shows, it makes people go crazy and everyone moves at the same time.  This article explains a study done by researchers at the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind that monitored the brain activity of 35 people.  The scientists “played them a series of low and high-pitched piano notes at the same time.”  Participants positively recognized when the notes went off beat into a lower tone.  Next, they asked participants to tap their finger to the beat, and when they changed the beat the participants “were more likely to modify their tapping to fall in line with the low-pitched tones.”  Finally, the scientists used the same tests on a digital model of the human ear.  The computer analysis found that it is the ear that has a natural liking for lower notes not the brain.

What can we deduce from this study?  The study found that human ears naturally prefer low-frequency, “bassier” pitches.  So, scientifically it makes sense that we like it when the bass drops.

Beethoven_03But that could be said for almost every other type of music.  The study tested piano notes; I’m sure people went wild when Beethoven dropped the beat in his 9th symphony.  So, what is it that draws our generation to this EDM culture?

MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy or Molly, is a huge part of the EDM culture.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, MDMA is a stimulant amphetamine and a hallucinogenic and the effects last from three to six hours but users usually take a second dose.

“It produces feelings of increased energy, euphoria, emotional warmth and empathy toward others, and distortions in sensory and time perception.”

MDMA enhances one’s experience and the sound of the music and lights at an EDM show.  I wonder if there is a science to it?  Do DJs simply make their song to sound good or do they make their songs to sound good on drugs?  Would every song sound better if you listened to it on MDMA?

a2a5a25d2999da339d36741faa3dabbaPeople have been going to pubs for hundreds of years to drink alcohol and listen to music.  In the 1960s people took LSD with rock and roll.  Hip hop and rap music are associated with crack/cocaine.   And today, it’s MDMA and EDM concerts.

Drugs and music are most definitely correlated, but I wonder what causes what.  Do drugs cause someone to like the music more or does music cause someone to like the drugs more?

I recognize that this is a difficult question to answer, and it is possible the answer depends on each individual person.  I also recognize it wouldn’t be ethical to do a double-blind experiment in this situation.

tomorrowland-heaven-400x267I found this interesting article titled “Music Therapy: The Science Behind the Life Changing Effects of EDM.”  It explains the allure of the EDM community and what it can do for people.  Music and shows are a way for people to escape their anxiety, depression, suffering, and pain in everyday life.  It discusses four different aspects of the EDM community that are directly connected to human happiness.  The shows promote peace and less stress.  They promote induce love and acceptance, and EDM unites people from all walks of life.  The environment creates a general understanding of respect.

This article introduces a few third confounding variables to my original question.  Environment, community and life style have a strong impact on one’s relationship with music, so it seems there is more to all of this than just a correlation between drugs and music.

No one can deny the relationship between drugs and music, but my research tells me it is more complicated than I originally thought.  If I could talk with Bassnectar or Pretty Lights I would ask them if they use science to create their music specifically to enhance the effects of drugs.  Besides that, I can’t think of a way I could continue to research this relationship without considering the lifestyle and culture surrounding it.  Music and drugs are not new.  EDM and MDMA are simply our generation’s version of it.

It’s a revolution”~ Diplo







Birth Control

Today in class Andrew mentioned controversy over the risk of certain birth controls, and it got me thinking how effective is the pill?

Health-Birth-ControlThe pill is a type of birth control to prevent pregnancy in the form of hormonal contraception.  According to WebMD “hormonal contraceptives “stop the body from ovulating” and “change the cervical mucus to make it difficult for the sperm to go through the cervix and find an egg.”  Basically, the pill stops ovulation and makes it less likely the sperm will fertilize an egg.

I found quite a lot of websites claiming some birth controls are better than others.  Obviously, if you are reading a certain brands website and it claims their birth controls website “is the new super pill”, one must beware of the possible industry bias.  Every birth control has pros and cons, and it is important for each individual to find one that works best with her unique body type.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention explains the effectiveness of the pill is critical as it is what protects people from unwanted pregnancy.

“The best way to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy among women who are sexually active is to use effective birth control correctly and consistently.”


Planned Parenthood stated the following:

“Less than 1 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year if they always take the pill each day as directed. About 9 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year if they don’t always take the pill each day as directed.”

So if you don’t take the pill as specifically as directed you have a higher risk of unwanted pregnancy.  I’m wondering just how correct and consistent must we be to assure the least possible risk?

Most sources I found said something similar to the Center for Women’s Health.

“If you take the Pill at the same time every day (perfect use), it’s more than 99% effective. This means that if 100 women take the combination pill every day, less than 1 woman will become pregnant in a year.

Perfect use can be difficult for both teens and adults. That’s why it’s often considered 92% effective. This means that if 100 women use the Pill, but don’t take it perfectly, 8 or more women will become pregnant in a year.”

So, for “perfect” birth control pill use, one must take it at the same time every day.  Multiple sources (two of which I have mentioned) report the absolute risk of unwanted pregnancy with “perfect use”  is 1%, but if you miss a day or take it late that absolute risk increases to 8%.

jane-the-virgin-series-dvdAs I am sure most of us already know, abstinence is the most effective form of birth control.  If you don’t have sex there is a zero percent chance you will get pregnant, unless of course you are Jane the Virgin or the Virgin Mary, but those are obviously both anecdotes.

The birth control pill helps to prevent unwanted pregnancy, but it does nothing to protect against sexually transmitted diseases.  Multiple sources reported condoms as the most effective way to prevent the spread of STDs.  This is what had to say:

“Studies done on heterosexual sero-discordant couples — where one partner is HIV-positive and the other HIV-negative — show that HIV was transmitted in zero to two percent of couples who correctly and consistently used male condoms for both vaginal and anal sex. With typical use, the HIV transmission rate increased to between 10 and 15 percent.”

So, what can we learn from this?  Perfect birth control use is extremely important in reducing the risk of unwanted pregnancy and unwanted sexually transmitted diseases.

Is junk food addicting?

Here I am eating spoonfuls of Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter and trying to write this blog after I just finished an entire box of mac and cheese.

Something obviously needs to change, but I can’t stop wondering what makes this food so tasty?

Merriam Webster defines junk food as the following:

“food that is not good for your health because it contains high amounts of fat or sugar

food that is high in calories but low in nutritional content

something that is appealing or enjoyable but of little or no real value’

How can something that is bad for us taste so good?  I guess you could say that about a lot of things, but today I want to focus on junk food and whether or not it’s addicting.

Today, in the 21st century, junk food is everywhere.  WebMD explains “junk food has gone global” as it is all over the world.  Junk food is sold in grocery stores, gas stations, schools, hospitals, and it “usually looks very appealing.”

It didn’t take long for me to find an overwhelming amount of research that is consistent with the alternative hypothesis.  Most studies conclude junk food is addicting.

This Bloomberg article is extremely informative.  The 2011 article references 28 scientific studies on food addiction that were published that year.  Below is a quote from the article:

“The data is so overwhelming the field has to accept it,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “We are finding tremendous overlap between drugs in the brain and food in the brain.”

Junk food gives us a fix.  It tastes delicious while we eat, but it doesn’t make us “full”, so we eat more.  The article explains junk food stimulates pleasure which leads “people to consume greater quantities to maintain a constant state of pleasure.”

TIME Magazine published an article in 2014 that examined food addiction in kids.  It states the following:

“Highly processed foods can lead to classic signs of addiction like loss of control, tolerance, and withdrawal… That’s especially concerning in children because an addiction forged in a child’s early years could put the child at more serious risk for chronically unhealthy eating into adulthood.”

Kids brains aren’t fully developed and advertisers market to that.  Most junk food companies target children to get them hooked while their young.

michelle-obama-lets-movejpg-b3d4cb99280622b2Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign has been instrumental in the fight against childhood obesity.  She explains in her New York Times that they used scientific research as their basis to “revamp” school lunches, add more fresh-food retailers, and get healthy food into child care centers.

A second New York Times article reports “a 43% drop in the obesity rate among 2-5 year old children over the past decade.”

“So we know that when we rely on sound science, we can actually begin to turn the tide on childhood obesity.” ~ Michelle Obama

The science tells us junk food is addictive, and I’m sure junk food companies aren’t too happy about that.  This junk food concept practically mirrors the smoking one.  Smoking felt good and people got addicted.  People didn’t know there were consequences until they eventually showed it caused cancer and cancer kills people.  Junk food tastes good and people can get addicted.  People didn’t think there were consequences, but now we know it causes obesity.  Obesity, or complications from obesity, kills people.

There is enough evidence for me to conclude that junk food is addicting.  So from now on I will limit myself to one spoonful of cookie butter and share my mac and cheese with my roommate.


Social Media


The internet is a huge part of our life, and for most of us it’s second nature.  Our generation grew up with it.  The world wide web was created in 1992, and I was born in 1993, so it’s got me by one year.

According to New Media Institute the United States Department of Defense funded a project in the 60s to develop a computer networking system.  They called it the ARPANET.  Fast forward to the 90s when the World Wide Web gets invented and the Internet replaced the ARPANET.

According to Google, Google launched in 1998.  Facebook launched in 2004, Twitter in 2006, and Instagram in 2010.  The Pew Research Center found that in 2005 8% of Internet users used social media sites. Today, Business Insider reports 71% of all Internet users use Facebook in 2015.

Think back to your development throughout childhood and consider how the internet grew with you.  In elementary school I had to enter the disk into my parents computer to play “Backyard Soccer” or “Zoo Tycoon” computer games.  Remember the chain emails we all use to send each other in 5th grade?  That was before instant messaging got cool in middle school, and everyone had usernames like laxboy625 or  I wasn’t cool enough to get a MySpace in 8th grade, but most of my friends had them, and then Facebook happened.  I got a Facebook when I was a freshman in High School, and my pictures still haunt me to this day.  Eventually I started tweeting than Instagraming, and now there are thousands of social media sites such as Tinder, Pinterest, and Venmo just to name a few.

Social Media is such a huge part of modern life, but it really is such a new thing.  It reminds me of what Andrew said in class about cigarettes, cell phones, and sugary drinks.  Could there be unforeseen consequences coming in our future?

This journal article defines social media to be “virtual communities where users can create individual public profiles, interact with real-life friends and meet other people based on shared interests.”  It explains there has been an exponential rise in social networking usage within the past few years and it “has changed the way people spend their time.”  This was their idea:

“Negative correlates of Social Networking Sites usage include the decrease in real life social community participation and academic achievement, as well as relationship problems, each of which may be indicative of potential addiction.”

Researchers tested 200 subjects to study the correlation between internet addiction and social networking sites.  The results were consistent with the alternative hypothesis as it showed the more time teenagers spent social networking the more prone they were to “get addicted to online social interaction.”

So what makes social media so addicting?  This recent Harvard study examined exactly that.

“Through a series of experiments, the researchers at Harvard University learned through the study that the act of disclosing information about oneself activates the same part of the brain that is associated with the sensation of pleasure, the same pleasure that we get from eating food, getting money or having even having sex.”

So people like being known.  We like telling others what we are doing and showing them how much fun we are having at frat parties.

Throughout my research I kept coming across studies linking social media and younger adolescents interest in sexuality.  The hypothesis and theories I stumbled across proposed pornography is easier for kids to access as well as kids today have more privacy from their parents.  I also found a few articles that referenced cyber bullying and how it is easier for kids/teenagers to say things behind a screen that they wouldn’t in person.

social-media-addictionThis Academic Research specifically studied sexual harassment and social media.  The study concluded this:

“The results of this study revealed that online sexual harassment has become a big challenge facing secondary schools in Kandara sub-county. Technological advancement which has helped students with course work material has on the other hand paved way for misuse of social sites by students falling into the trap of victims or perpetrators of sexual harassment mainly through sexual texting and sexual solicitation. This has impacted negatively on students’ performance pushing down the quality of education and consequently quality of life in the society due to under skilled human resources arising from poor grades. “

The researcher acknowledged that further research should be conducted.

There is not enough research on social media to study any meta-analyses and come to any definite conclusion.  Social media is so new and just like what happened with cigarettes, cell phones, and sugary drinks, I don’t think anyone will be coming to a conclusion anytime soon.

My hypothesis is that social media may not cause physical harm, but I think it harms us mentally.  We are constantly comparing ourselves to other people online.  Everyone else looks like they are having fun constantly, while I’m just sitting here, chilling in my pajamas, eating spoonfuls of cookie butter.  I read this quote on Pinterest one time that said “don’t compare you’re  behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight roll”……think about it.

What am I actually studying?

This afternoon I was talking with my professor about mission trips.  I went on a few in high school, and most of my friends did the same.  They’re awesome!  You get to help people, hold cute babies, build stuff, play soccer, and travel with a bunch of great kids your age.  When you return home you tell everyone what a great time you had, post pictures of all the great things you did, and sleep peacefully in your big comfy bed thinking about what a great person you are.

At least that is how it was for me, some people definitely had different experiences.  What I 2015-Short-Term-Mission-Tripswant to know is do short-term mission trips really help the people we think they do?  Or do they help us?

I typed the sentence “Do mission trips actually make a difference?” into Google, and all the results that came up were mission group travel companies saying “yes”.  Here is a the first quote on this website’s Find A Mission Trip page:

“We take great care in selecting mission trip locations that meet the physical and spiritual needs of the world’s poor. With trips in a variety of lengths, countries, sizes, price ranges, and work projects we are confident that you can find a short term mission trip that meets your needs.”

A trip that meets our needs?  Mmm interesting word choice.  All the websites I found through my initial search reflect industry bias.  Of course a mission trip company says mission trips are awesome.  It is time I find a neutral source.

Mission trips are usually associated with the Catholic church, and as I continue my research almost every source I can find is a Catholic organization promoting mission trips as Jesus Christ’s will.  Finally, I found what I was looking for on Christianity Today.  According to the article, priests and other professionals recently began to question short-term mission trips “ineffectiveness at creating change abroad.”

As I write this blog, I am realizing this is a tricky question to answer.  So I asked myself, what correlation am I actually studying here?  Turns out I am not studying any correlation.  When I sat down to write this blog I  wanted to prove short-term mission trips don’t work, and I was actively looking for ways to prove that.  I formally plead guilty to experimenter’s bias.

It is time I narrow my search.  And my new research question is (drum roll please)……

Do orphanages help people?

I found this National Geographic article.  It discusses a study that studied a group of 136 Romanian.  The study placed half of the kids in foster care and half of the kids and half stayed in an orphanage, and scientists tracked their physical, physiological, and neurological development for 14 years.  The scientists conclusion was consistent with the alternative hypothesis as they found the kids in foster care were better off than the kids in the orphanage.

african20children_water_basinsThis study was quite controversial because many believed it to be unethical.  There were plenty of studies already out there that proved it was obvious orphanages are worse for kids.

Organizations like UNESCO and UNICEF are working to find ways to get rid of orphanages and place kids into more family-like living situations.  JK Rowling works with the organization Lumos to do exactly that.  The organization’s goal is the following:

“No child should be denied a family life because they are poor, disabled or from an ethnic minority. Lumos works to support the 8 million children in institutions worldwide to regain their right to a family life and to end the institutionalisation of children.”

This New York Times article discusses a Duke University study that tested the correlation between orphanages and family care and failed to reject their null hypothesis.  The author reports “we are seeing children thriving in institutions.”  The study found there were “goods” and “bads” to both options.

Either the Romanian study or the Duke study is a false positive.  When you look at the meta-analysis it shows that most other studies are consistent with the Romanian one increasing the probability that the Duke study was a fluke.

So what can you learn from my rambling?  When you sit down to write a blog or conduct an experiment make sure you have a specific correlation in mind that you want two study.  You only get two variables.  Beware of industry/experimenter bias, and remember the more consistent studies there are that prove the same thing, the more reliable the results are.


Medicinal Acid

2757649efdaca071dc6b8af57e2c3165[1]LSD was invented by Albert Hoffman in 1943.  It was not invented on purpose, and Hoffman “accidentally ingested” some than “told his colleagues he was not feeling quite right and got on his bicycle to go home.”  What followed was the first acid trip ever experienced.

The above information is according to an excerpt from the  Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol, and Addictive Behavior.  This past spring I studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic and one of my professors devoted a day to psychedelic drugs.  We did not actually take any, just learned about a few.

In the 1930s the Sandoz Pharmaceutical Company was working to synthesize and “develop useful medications that were derived from ergot.”  Here is what the  Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol, and Addictive Behavior has to say about the original experiments:

“Some of these compounds were found to be useful in medicine—such as methyser-gide, for the treatment of migraine headaches, and ergotamine, which is widely used in obstetrics to induce contractions of the uterus and stop bleeding after the delivery of a baby. These medications do not have hallucinogenic properties.”

LSD was discovered on accident.  How crazy is that?  A bunch of the smartest scientists in Switzerland wanted to make medicine and instead created an extremely powerful psychedelic drug.  Can you imagine how surprised Albert Hoffman must have felt on that bike ride?

It all makes me think about Andrew’s lecture in class.  Science is inefficient.  “Humans are very bad at discovery”.  Scientists work so hard because they so badly want to prove something, but what happens when they accidentally create something “unethical”.

LSD made its way to America in 1949, and psychiatrists were instantly interested in it.  Here is what the Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol, and Addictive Behavior has to say about that:

“Therapeutic research with LSD flourished, with psychiatrists using it to promote more effective psychotherapy, or exploring how the powerful mystical, or psychedelic, LSD experience could transform aspects of personality and behavior in patients, including leading to sobriety in alcoholics.”

Doctors were using LSD on patients!  That seems crazy now, but it was actually a thing.  Research studies were conducted to determine whether or not this drug could help people.

According to the Encyclopedia mentioned above, the media discovered LSD in the 60s.  It became a large part of the hippie-movement, and this is one factor that led to the drug’s demise:

“Because any drug can have bad effects, the unsupervised use of all of these compounds led to frequent “bad trips” (which fundamentally were panic reactions) that brought people to emergency rooms. This generated widespread concern that all American youth (and, later, those in Europe) would become dreamy and “way-out acid heads.” In 1966, the Sandoz Laboratories ceased distribution of the drug because of the often-exaggerated bad reactions and the public concern.”

tumblr_l3qax5dYkZ1qc01tho1_400[1]As I was doing me research this New Zealand newspaper article came up titled “LSD chemist says hippies hijacked his medicine“.  I thought it was pretty funny.

According to The Gale Encylopedia of Medicine LSD was experimentally used to treat “neuroses, narcotic addiction, autism, alcoholism, terminal cancer, and to study psychoses and schizophrenia.”  It wasn’t until 30 years after it’s invention in 1965 that LSD was restricted.

Think about all the medical trials we have discussed in class thus far.  What if the medicine being used to treat pediatric cancer turned out to exhibit similar characteristics as psychedelics, and there were a bunch of kids coming home from the hospital “tripping”.  I can’t imagine anything like that happening today, but it did.  In fact, most illegal drugs were used for medicinal purposes at some point in time before their criminalization.


We discussed in class that maybe 10% of ideas make it to randomized control trials.  Only 20% of those actually work which means 2% of ideas are right, but that number is more likely to be .02%.  I could imagine this would be so frustrating for scientists.  Can you imagine Andrew in his laboratory, trying to fight infectious diseases but accidentally creating “acid”?

Want to know a fun fact?  LSD trials are back in action.  Check out this article LSD, Reconsidered for Therapy discussing the “first controlled trial of LSD in more than 40 years.”



More Plants Less Problems

I’m not as tough as I used to be.  It has been almost a year and a half since I decided to become a vegetarian.  My dad said I had to be kidding, considering he is quite possible the most bbq eating/bird shooting/sports bar loving American you can get, and my siblings were less than supportive, but my mom helped me find recipes as I had know idea what I was doing.  All I knew was the mass producing meat industry grossed me out, and I didn’t want to eat animals anymore.

So what exactly has this done to my body?  Well, I can’t run.  That could be because I stopped going to the gym (possible confounding third variable?), or is it because my body simply has less muscle?  Everyone always asks if it has made me loose weight, but honestly I’m not sure.  I actually think I’ve gained weight, but again that could be because of the gym thing.  So the question I would like to explore today is how does my vegetarianism effect me?  And why did it take me this long to ask?

This article Vegetarianism: The Basic Facts from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explained quite a few health benefits to being a vegetarian.  These included reduced risk of obesity, reduced risk of heart disease, and lower blood pressure.  It also explained the different reasons people become vegetarians, some simply for preference or ethical regions or religious EatVegetarianbeliefs, but I want to know more.  Could lifestyle choice or the reason one becomes a vegetarian have something to do with the health benefits?  Are there negative side effects?

So I looked up the bad stuff.  I found a Scientific Letter that explains vegetarianism can cause “dietary B12 vitamin deficiency” in humans.  It examines a study in United States where researchers concluded the following:

“The breast-fed infant of a vitamin B12-deficient mother is at risk for severe developmental abnormalities, growth failure, and anemia. Elevated methylmalonic acid and/or total homocysteine are sensitive indicators of vitamin B12-deficient diets and correlate with clinical abnormalities.”

It recommended vegetarian woman take a B12 vitamin supplement while pregnant.  Helpful……but I’m not pregnant, so what else can I find?

This research study compared urban to rural male subjects ages 18-30 in a region of Chad.  The study determined food consumption from a questionnaire and overall health status was assessed.  The research was pretty scientific and difficult to understand.  The results were this:

“The low dietary intake of protein and sulfur amino acids by a plant-eating population leads to subclinical protein malnutrition, explaining the origin of hyperhomocysteinemia and the increased vulnerability of these vegetarian subjects to cardiovascular diseases.”

The results also stated that this health status could be assumed for most African vegetarian populations, but the data is limited due to the small number of participants.

Again, this is interesting to know, but seeing that I am not pregnant or an African male I need to find another source.

Finally!  I found this article on the Brown University health page.  It says vegetarians are at lower risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and colorectal, ovarian, and breast cancers.  The article then discusses the health risks to vegetarianism as we “may be deficient in iron, vitamin B-12, vitamin D, calcium, zinc, and occasionally riboflavin.”  It continues to discuss ways in which vegetarians must actively go out of our way to consume protein, calcium, vitamin D, iron, and vitamin B-12 (hey, would ya look at that!).  The study also mentioned athletes and says “It can be difficult [for vegetarians] to eat a volume of food high enough to meet an athlete’s high caloric needs.”

What I can learn from this is that I am okay.  I can be a healthy vegetarian, but I must remember to actively consume the nutrients I need.

It makes sense why I struggle to run now because I am not eating a “volume of food high enough”, but this could still be a correlation.  I could have trouble running because I don’t go to the gym, or it could be some other third variable I have yet to consider.  This research reviewed report examines previous research that has been done on vegetarianism.  Here is what it says:

“The present article reviews the extant literature, exploring variants of and motivations for vegetarianism, differences in attitudes, values and worldviews between omnivores and vegetarians, as well as the pronounced gender differences in meat consumption and vegetarianism. Furthermore, the review highlights the extremely limited cultural scope of the present data, and calls for a broader investigation.”

So what is my final takeaway?  There needs to be more research done on the subject.  I can’t think of a way to do a double-blind experiment as it may not be ethical to tell someone who eats meat “okay you are a vegetarian now” and tell someone who doesn’t “okay eat this cheeseburger”.  It could be interesting to conduct an observational study with similar age/gender groups and observe how vegetarians health compares and contrasts to their carnivore counterparts.

What’s up with my Ice Cream?


On my walk home from class this evening, I stopped by Redifer Commons for a small cup of ice cream….don’t tell anyone.  Since I knew I had to write something for this blog I began to consider the science of ice cream.

Apparently there are quite a few legends surrounding the invention of ice cream.  According to The Food Timeline food historians credit the Chinese with the discovery.  As early as 3000 BC the Chinese enjoyed ancient flavor ices.  At the time there was no refrigeration, so people had to make do and create their own cold.  The Food Timeline explains that “a natural cave or the cool environment of a well-insulated underground pit or chamber worked as natural refrigerators”.

17th century Italy is said to have invented the type of ice cream we eat today.  The Science of Ice Cream says ice cream consists of five basic components: ice crystals, fats, sweeteners, air, and other solids.

The article lists the basic steps necessary to make ice cream and list them as follows:

  1.  Prepare the ice cream base
  2. Pasteurisation
  3. Homogenization
  4. Aging/ Maturing
  5. Freezing
  6. Hardening

I wonder how many trials it took to get this right.  It’s crazy to think the Chinese were freezing ice 3000 years ago, and now we have so many options like Cold Stone and Ben and Jerry’s.  It has take quite awhile and a multitude of experiments, but it is my belief Dairy Queen is the one who got it right.

Marijuana and Music

So I know a guy who grows cannabis in Colorado.  The plant’s name is George Bush Kush, and he is a Slightly Stoopid enthusiast.  I found it so interesting my friend played music for his plant, as he said Kush enjoys listening to jam bands such as Slightly Stoopid, String Cheese Incident, and others.  Apparently, the “good vibrations” encourage it to grow. 

I want to know is this really a thing?  Can music and “good vibes” impact plant growth?  According to the article How Music Can Help Plants Grow, they really do.  Dorothy Retallack studied the correlation in the 1970s.  She compared three cannabis plants; one playing no music, one playing some music, and the other playing constant music.  The study found that the plant listening to some music grew at a faster rate, and as they grow the plants tend to lean towards the speakers.

Effect of Music on Plant Growth discusses experiments in Canada and India asking the same questions.  The article explains “in the case of spring wheat treated to low frequency-music in a low temperature, the process of germination was three times faster than the normal rate”.  Honestly I had to look up what “germination” meant before I realized the study proved what I wanted to hear.  According to Dictionary Online, germination means the process by which a plant grows and develops.

I looked into a few other sources searching for truth in my friend’s hypothesis, but I couldn’t find many consistent and credible ones.  Some articles said music does help, some said it doesn’t, and some said they still don’t know.

The article Why Does Music Affect Plant Growth says it is not known whether or not music helps, but it does introduce an interesting.  Maybe the music affects the plant’s care takers putting them in a better mood, and therefore they take better care of their plants.

If I were to study this further I would experiment on multiple plants and control where they came from and the amount of attention they each receive.  The only difference in the plant’s lives would be the amount of music they each listen to and the genre of music.


Kendall’s First Post

Hi friends,

My name is Kendall Higgins, and I am starting my senior year here at Penn State.  I am not a science major because I have never had a very “science-minded” type brain.  I never understood it and, therefore, didn’t like it.  I decided to take this course to expand my knowledge on the subject before graduating.  I am excited to learn about science in a way I have not tried before.

This is me in Prague where I studied throughout this past spring semester.