Author Archives: Meghan Kelly Shiels

About Meghan Kelly Shiels

Meghan is a PSU junior majoring in Public Relations and Telecommunications.

Is Singing Good for Your Mood?

In my own anecdotal experience, singing always helps me to relax and de-stress. Although it can be hard to find time to do it with my busy schedule, I noticed that I’m always more positive and productive after I’ve practiced. From that I began to wonder, does singing improve your mood? The research I was able to find on the topic only looked at group singing, but it was sing-songs-and-be-happyinteresting nevertheless.

Group Singing in Healthy Communities

If group singing can improve mood, then it should be able to do so in typical communities. “The Effects of Group Singing on Mood” sought to explore whether that statement would hold up to an experiment. In the experiment,t 3 groups of people in 3 different locations were randomly allocated to singing session groups and listening groups. Before and after they sang or listened, the participants were given the Profile of Mood States Questionnaire. One week later the test was re-administered. The singing session itself lasted a half an hour and consisted of some up tempo, non-English songs, sung in a group. The study had 2 hypotheses to look at.

Null 1: Singing would not affect mood

Alternative 1: Singing would significantly affect mood

Null 2: Singing would have the same effect as listening

Alternative 2: Singing would have statistically significant improvements in mood change

The study was able to reject the Null 1 hypothesis, but was unable to reject Null 2. Basically, they found that singing did improve mood, but listening did too. The study is careful to point out that the reaction to the singing was more positive than listening, but the difference wasn’t big enough to be statistically significant.


Here’s the issue with the study in my eyes, there was no true control group. How can the researchers clearly conclude anything without a control group? Without the baseline comparison of someone just relaxing for 30 minutes, it is unclear how significant the differences are from someone just given some free time. This left room for all sorts of confounding variables over the period of time after the singing session and before the third administration of the mood test. The other potential problem in the study could be found through the method of recruitment. There may be a little bit of voluntary bias because the participants answered an advertisement for the study. Perhaps only those who enjoy singing decided to go, which may muddle the results.

Group Singing and Pain Relief

Now that we’ve seen that singing and listening to music has an effect on healthy patients, we need to ask if it is still beneficial for those who aren’t as healthy? “The Impact of Group Singing on Mood, Coping, and Perceived Pain in Chronic Pain Patients Attending a Multidisciplinary Pain Clinic” takes a look at one group of 77 such people. This study is more extensive than the first on in terms of its length. Rather than participating in just one session, subjects were exposed to 9 separate half an hour sessions. This group’s control was a group of people who listened to music while exercising. In an interesting twist, there were a group of people selected to sing who would not, and were thus treated as an unrandomized second control group. Much like the first study, scientists were testing to see if there was a significant difference in listening to singing and actively participating in singing. This second study had another leg up on the previous one, because it looked at several types of mood improvement measured by the results 5 questionnaires (including POMS) before, after, and 6 months after treatment was completed.

The study found that both singing and listening to music while exercising created short term mood improvements, but that there was no statistically significant difference between the two. Singers were better at dealing with some of their pain, but the amount failed the statistical significance mark. Furthermore, at the 6 month mark, the difference was no longer there. So while there may have been a benefit to participating in the singing sessions, it was not a large one.


Patients were suitably randomized and both control and experimental groups participated in the same baseline pain-management program to prevent third variables. The sample size was relatively small, 77 participants, but that was due to the specific criteria needed to participate. The other main problem is that the pain-management program was happening at the same time as the singing program, meaning that statically significant result from singing could be masked by the overall improvement of all who participated in the study.

Why it Matters:

There are two reasons that these studies are important to look at. The first is the benefit of music. If group singing or listening to music is in fact able to improve mood, as shown in the first study, it might be useful to utilize this information for people who need a spirit lift. For example, I would love to see the application of this to the problem of depression. Could group singing or listening benefit those who are depressed or is depression just too severe? It would be interesting to see more types of musical experiments conducted, and if they yield positive results, incorporated into clinical practice. Singing and music playing are both  extremely cost-effective therapeutic methods, particularly because one instructor can teach many students simultaneously. Right now there is an indication that there may be something to singing for health, but not enough research to support it.

The second reason I think these studies are important is their application to everyday life. If music can improve mood, it might be beneficial to use this information in atypical settings such as the workplace. If your employees are all in a good mood, they are less likely to cause conflict and problems with each other. These studies also seem to support the idea of music in schools. People often fight over the importance of music and its relevance to the school curriculum. If music is providing a clinical benefit in a way that talking about biochemistry can’t, who’s to say that it should be taken away?



Plus you could be the next Beyoncé.

More research on this topic should definitely be done, but the tentative conclusion is that group signing, or even listening to a lesser extent, can  have a positive effect on a person’s mood. If you feel yourself sinking down into a funk, it may be worth a shot to belt out a few tunes or turn up the Spotify. You may find yourself in a better mood because of it. Some of you might be saying “Meghan, you haven’t determined that there is a statistically significant benefit to doing this. Why should I?” The answer is simple. There’s really no harm that could come of it, and you might reap in some benefits at the cost of only a half an hour of your time. For me, it works. For some of the people in the study, it worked. If you find it doesn’t work for you, don’t do it, but it can’t hurt to try it out!

Do you agree with my conclusion? Do you think music can have a physical impact? Does music help or hurt your mood? Let me know in the comments below!

That’s all for now.






This Shrimp is Cooler Than You. (No, Really)


Notice anything unusual?

Andrew took the time the other day to point out the blog about the Glaucus atlanticus slug. While that creature is pretty cool, I’m here to argue the merits of the pistol shrimp as the best sea creature. You may be thinking “How could anything possibly beat a slug that eats poison for lunch?”  The answer to that is simple: a shrimp who can paralyze its pray with a bubble that flashes like the sun.

Alpheus Heterochaelis

The proper name for the pistol shrimp family is Alpheus heterochialis, but they also go by  the names snapping shrimp and alpheid shrimp. For the purposes of this article, I will be referring to the species as the pistol shrimp, simply because I like that name best. Despite its tough guy name, the shrimp is very small and  only grows to be about 2-3 inches long. Don’t judge a book by its cover though, because the pistol shrimp is more powerful than it looks.

Take a look at the picture above. Why on earth is one claw significantly bigger than the other? Maybe to scare off predators or attract a mate? Turns out this claw creates one of the loudest noises in the ocean.  That noise is the sign of something truly amazing happening.

Stun Gun-How it Works

The pistol shrimp is a little different from your typical shrimp in its claw design.  The bigger claw isn’t used for pinching or claw-to-claw combat, but instead is a sophisticated biological weapon. The claw is able to lock, much like the hammer of a gun, and release extremely quickly creating a bang and a stun gun effect. The snap of the claw actually creates a jet of water that moves up to 62 miles an hour. This action creates a bubble that ends up imploding on itself creating a very loud crack and briefly creating sonoluminescence. Essentially, the temperature inside the collapsing bubble is around 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit for less than 300 microseconds.

Pistol shrimp are named very aptly, not only for the way they stun, with the “water bullet” we looked at above,  but also the sound they produce while doing so. The bubble collapsing on itself  creates a 218 decibel sound. To give you some comparison, a real gunshot comes in at about 140 decibels. That’s right, the shrimp can actually be louder than a gun. And that ladies and gentlemen, is how a 2 inch shrimp competes with whales for the title “Loudest in the Ocean.” This can create a few problems for humans in the ocean, which will be discussed later in the blog.

What it Does for the Shrimp

Why does a little shrimp need such a powerful weapon? It’s is for the same reason most animals need a weapon: Food. The pistol shrimp is able to use its unique biological talents to stun its prey, or even in the case of a small fish, kill it. The shrimp then comes out from its hiding spot, drags its prey back to safety to eat in peace. In this way, the shrimp is able to kill its prey and eat it while still staying close to its predator-proof burrow. No claw-to-claw combat for this little guy!


I’m jealous of this friendship between the Goby and the pistol shrimp.

Symbiotic Relationship with the Goby

As if the pistol shrimp weren’t cool enough, it even has a best friend in the Goby fish. The Goby fish has excellent eyesight and will keep an eye out for predators for the pistol shrimp. In return, the pistol shrimp will make the Goby a home and kill food for it. Together these two live in a nice symbiotic relationship.

Shrimp-The Cloaking Device You Never Thought Of

Pistol shrimp can be both a benefit and a distraction to ocean going humans. For divers and people trying to record underwater noises, the din from the shrimp can be extremely annoying, especially when a whole colony is there. Even more interesting (at least for me) is the fact that submarines have been known to hide among beds of pistol shrimp to avoid sonar detection. The sound interference prevents the sonar from being able to find the submarine. It’s certainly a unique way of avoiding detection!

Where Can I Find a Pistol Shrimp?

You can find pistol shrimp in many different places in the ocean, but the one place you can’t find them is in your standard aquarium. Pistol shrimp are too difficult to keep in an enthusiast’s aquarium because they have a nasty habit of using their bubble bullets to shatter the tank glass. Obviously that is a major problem for everyone involved. If you are desperate to find a pistol shrimp, take a look in the shallow waters of some of the world’s tropical and subtropical waters. Coral reefs, seagrass, and oyster reefs all provide excellent habitat for the little gunslingers.

Why Does this Matter?

You may be asking yourself “What on earth does a shrimp have to do with me?” and the short answer is that it probably won’t ever affect your life directly. But the shrimp still presents some important challenges to think about. First is that as smart as we think we are, humans are not the first animals to use the gun as a weapon. This little innocuous shrimp has been doing it long before we have. Second, it’s interesting to look at because it shows the power of implosion. One little shrimp can briefly make a flash of light as hot as the sun just by using the natural pressures released from the claw snap. Imagine if something like this were to happen on a larger scale and how devasting to our way of life it has the potential to be. Still not convinced this shrimp is relevant? Think about the submarine issue. What if we could hide our submarines from enemy detection by using colonies of pistol shrimp? It may sound far fetched, but if it could be made feasible, sonor detection could become seriously impaired. Quite simply, the pistol shrimp matters because we can learn from it and the research done on it. While it’s a stretch to say something learned from the pistol shrimp might make a significant difference in your life, its not impossible.

I tried my very best to explain the pistol shrimp, but I highly recommend this video to really get a feel for what they do.


What do you think of the pistol shrimp? Does it beat the poisonous slug in your eyes? Do you prefer the shrimp’s other names? Are you convinced this shrimp is cooler than you? Let me know in the comments below.

That’s all for now.


One last fact- If for some reason the shrimp loses its pistol claw, the other smaller claw will grow into a pistol claw to replace it. The former pistol claw will regrow as the smaller claw.



Are Selfies Making Us Narcissistic?

Instagram. Twitter. Snapchat. Facebook. Chances are that most of you reading this blog are probably on a least one of these social media sites, if not all of them. Each of these sites provides the perfect forum for the selfie generation. We are constanly inundated with pictures of people doing everything you can imagine, many of them taken from an arm’s (or selfie stick) length away. Just in the time you’ve been reading this, a few of your friends have probably sent or posted some new selfies. As I watched people constantly photograph their life, I began to wonder, are selfies making us more narcissistic?


Narcissism (put in easy terms) is basically an egotistical love for yourself or your body. It stems from the Greek tale of Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection and turned into a flower. To find out exactly how that managed to occur click here. 


Her book is literally called “Selfish.” See my point?

Selfies and Narcissim

After observing people around campus, particularly during football games, it seems as though the need to constantly photgraph oneself is strong in our generation. Sometimes, so many pictures are taken that the experience itself is entirely missed or only half-enjoyed. From this, I began to wonder if selfies were like Narcissus’s reflecting pool. Are we in love with ourselves just a little too much?

Here’s a challenge for you. Think about all the content you post on social networking sites. How much of it is solely focused on you? Your thoughts, your comments, your photos? If you are anything like me, then most of your content is probably concerning your own things. Look closely and you will find that social networks are a cauldron for narcissism. A person is judged by the content they post about themselves and then, in the case of Facebook, are given quantifiableSelfie-Syndrome1 values to assign to their status an popularity. The more ‘likes’  you get, the more popular you are.

In the observational study “Narcissism and Social Networking Sites: The Act of Taking Selfie,” the scientists looked at the responses of 93 sorority women of Elon College to an anonymous 12 question survey regarding selfie use. Over 90% of the participants answered that they post photos solely for the reason of receiving ‘likes’ and comments. In the survey, the women had to argue whether or not selfies promoted narcissism. The interesting data didn’t stem from those who said yes, but from the reasons people gave for saying no. It turns out that the top three reasons the women said for keeping social media updated on their lives, also had underlying narcissism. The study goes on to conclude that narcissim tends to be present even where we think we are being unselfish.

There are a few issues with this study to keep in mind though. First is the realitvely small number of participants. The size of the study may limit its applicability to the general population. The study is even more limited by its decision to select only sorority girls, on the basis that they prioritize social interaction, and the undercoverage of the male and non-sorority populations. Furthermore, because this survey was volunatary and sent in an email, it is quite possible that response bias is present here too.

Empirical Evidence

The study above clearly leaves some things to be desired especially in proving a casual relationship between selfie quantity and narcissistic tendencies. “Let Me Take a Selfie”: Associations Between Self-Photography, Narcissism, and Self-Esteem” uses a more scientific approach to look at the correlation between selfies and narcissim. This study took 128 undergraduate students from an American public university (Sounds like us!) that were enrolled in a psychology class and studied their presence on Instagram for one month. Each participant took several evaluations that measured narcissistic tendencies and continued their Instagram use as normal. In the interest of keeping the participants from changing their standard Instagram use, they were not informed of what the study was measured, in this case, selfie use. The scientists then coded the photos into categories based on their content and compared the statistics with the self-narcissim measurements. For more detail on the catagories and coding process, take a look at the study linked above. The study’s findings showed that while narcissi and frequency of selfies weren’t statistically significantly correlated in overall categories, specific categories indicated higher narcissism levels. This was particularly found in selfies focused on the physical features of the person posting. Different types of selfies provided different results.

Potential Issues

As with the observational study, the results of this study are based on a small, predominately female sample size. Furthermore, the people participating in the study were not randomized or put into control groups. The study merely observes people in their natural activity and compares it with scientific evaluations. Without an experiment, it is impossible to avoid confounding variables or in this case, rule out reverse causation.

To really understand if selfies cause narcisscism, the experimenters should randomly divide subjects into two groups. The control group would post non-selfie pictures and the experimental group would be required to post a certain amount of selfie pictures per day or week. Evaluations of narcissim would be taken at the beginning, middle, and end of the experimental phase which should take place over a large chunk of time. Depending on the sample size, subcategories like the ones coded in the study above, could be created and observed.Then, and only then, could we really look at a casual relationship between taking selfies and narcissim.


While there is not a enough correlational evidence to fully support an acceptance of the alternative hypothesis that selfies cause narcissim, the stage has been set for experimental research to be conducted. All we can really say right now is that there is an association between posting selfies frequently and narcissitic tendencies in everyday life. It is my hypothesis that as more research is conducted on this topic, a casual relationship will be found. This is based both of the results mentioned above and my own anecdotal observations regarding frequent selfie taking.

Why Does it Matter?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want to live in a world where every person is concerned only about his or herself and how he or she appears in photographs. Narcissism is the enemy of empathy and humility, both of which are things the world needs a little more of. To put it simply, consider that the universe doesn’t revolve around you, and try to post about yourself in moderation. Remember to live your life for you, not for Instagram.

And don’t be selfieish. (Sorry couldn’t resist)

How do you feel about selfies? Are they a reflection of personality or merely a tool to communicate? Do you agree or disagree with my conclusion? Let me know in the comments below.

That’s all for now.


Tanning: Is it worth it?



An image of melanoma.

Why Write About This?

At first this topic may seem a little strange for the Science 200 blog. After all, it is not particularly controversial and the data all seems to support one easy conclusion. So why write it all? The answer to that for me is simple. Because people need to know. As you all cruise along the course website looking for things to comment on, this blog might catch your attention. Maybe you learn something new about tanning, maybe it finally convinces you to stop an unhealthy cycle of damage. Whatever may happen, at least you are now a well-informed consumer.

There are many reasons that people give for tanning. “I want to look good.” “Vitamin D is important.” “It keeps me from getting sunburned.” Clearly there are reasons that tanning is so popular. So I decided to so a little research about the benefits and harms of tanning.

Why is it Popular?

Tanning wasn’t always as popular as it is today. In fact, legend has it that tanning really came into style when well-known fashion designer Coco Chanel came back from a Mediterranean vacation with a newly golden skin tone.   That glow was unattainable to the average person for many years until the invention of the tanning bed. As each year passed, tanning became more and more in vogue until the image of the perfect American girl had changed. No longer was your average teenager paler in the winter than the summer. Peer pressure and changing beauty standards urged girls to go the tanning bed as quickly as possible. Today, 1 out of 3 white high school girls has reported using indoor tanning. This could stem from misconceptions about the benefits of tanning which is partially encouraged by the tanning industry itself.

Vitamin D

Many people argue that the benefit of Vitamin D received by tanning outweigh the possible negative effects. According to “Indoor Ultraviolet Tanning and Skin Cancer: Health Risks and Opportunities,” Vitamin D from tanning is beneficial to the body. So what’s the catch? While it is true that tanning gives your body Vitamin D, it also causes DNA damage. It’s also important to note that tanning is not the only source of Vitamin D, but is a dangerous one. If you feel as though you’re lacking in Vitamin D, take a supplement or drink some milk.tanning_diagram

Base Tans and “Healthy” Glow

Tan skin = damaged skin. Actually, the way tanning works is that if you have a tan, you have DNA damage.  No ifs, ands, or, buts about it. The process of tanning begins with damaged DNA. While you can have DNA damage without a tan, the process does not work in reverse. Many people think that a “base tan,”  can protect you from further sunburn and damage to the skin. Unfortunately that statement is only partially true. “Does a Base Tan Protect From Future Burns or Give a False Sense of Security?” says that having a base tan can give you protection equivalent to about 4 SPF, but that in on order to get a base tan, you are increasing your risk of skin cancer. The same study point out that those people who tan before age 35 have a 75% greater chance of getting melanoma than those who do not. People can feel pressured to be tan, but with every tan you are putting yourself deeper into a hole that you can’t get back out of. According to this study conducted by the U.S National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health, for every use of a tanning bed, the risk of melanoma goes up 1.8%. Perhaps a more important fact for tanners is

Tanning: The Cigarette Problem of Today’s Girls

Think back to the cigarette problem we discussed in class at the beginning of the year. Remember how people weren’t aware of the harmful effects of smoking? The delay in the amount of time it took from the actual event to the negative aftermath made it hard to prove a casual relationship. With tanning, the relationship has already been found and supported by several meta-analyses. So why is it still legal and relatively unregulated? The answer can once again be found in  money. Billions of dollars are spent every year on tanning and according to this examination of tanning literature, in 166 large cities in the United States, tanning facilities are more common than Starbucks or McDonalds. Every year more and more people begin tanning, especially adolescents. Here’s what makes tanning even more dangerous than cigarettes: The amount of times it takes to do damage. While I don’t recommend doing it, you’re probably not going to get lung cancer from smoking one cigarette a year, but with only a few tanning sessions, you can drastically increase your risk of melanoma. The other thing that makes tanning so dangerous is its innocent appearing nature. More girls have done indoor tanning than have smoked cigarettes according to this New York Times article. Quite simply put, that means that tanning is a problem.


The graph shows the accuracy of the information given to potential customers about tanning.

Another similarity between cigarettes and tanning can be found in the amount of misinformation that is communicated. Take a look at the chart to the right from “Indoor Tanning, Skin Cancer and the Young Female Patient: A Review of the Literature” about information given by tanning salons to agents posing as young, fair, females. 90% of the tanning salons contacted said there was no risk to tanning. The evidence supporeted by multiple meta-analyses has shown that this is simply not true. Everytime you tan you are damaging your DNA and increasing your risk of skin cancer. Like cigarettes, an extremely dangerous pastime is being sugarcoated and misinformed young ladies are sacrificing their skin for it.

What Should be Done?

In my opinion, the reprecussions from indoor tanning are severe enough that the practice should be outlawed. Brazil has done it and so has most of Australia. Many states have laws preventing minors from tanning, but why not ban it all together? When you tan, you are literally baking yourself in an oven, increasing your risk of deadly skin cancer dramatically, and paying for the privilege of doing so. I know that this is not a popular opinion to have, and that many risk takers will read this and ignore it, but ask yourself this, “Do I want to be around when my kids are growing up? Am I willing to potentially sacrifice my future for a tan that will fade in a month anyway?” Some of you may argue that not everyone who tans will get skin cancer, and that is a true statement. But are you willing to play those odds?


Tanning simply isn’t worth the risk. That’s not to say that there aren’t some benefits, like production of Vitamin D, but the benefit isn’t worth the risk. In my opinion, stronger legislation or an outright ban is necessary to stop thousands of preventable deaths from occurring. Tanning is not a need, merely a cosmetic device that should be stopped immediately, before more people die.


How do you feel about tanning and its legality? Should the CDC ban it for the general public health? Is it a good method for population control? Do you adamantly disagree with my conclusion? Let me know in the comments below. If you are still looking for some more blogs to comment on, then check out my blog series on the moon.

That’s all for now.




Does the Moon Really Make You Crazy? Part 2


Sketch by Adan M. Garcia

This blog is a continuation of a topic discussed in Does the Moon Really Make You Crazy? Part 1. Make sure to pop on over to that blog first to set the scene and get some interesting statistics regarding the moon and crime rates.  If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, at least take a look at the last few paragraphs. Today’s blog is looking at a few other aspects of the lunar effect on behavior.


In my previous blog on this topic two studies showed a correlation between the frequency of certain types of crime and the phase of the moon. In this blog I will be looking at other ways the moon might influence behaviors like investment decisions and aggression. If market behavior is based more on emotion during the full moon, and aggressive impulses are also increased, it may be a sign that there is something to this moon theory.

The Moon and the Stock Market

“Moon Phase Effect on Investor Psychology and Stock Trading Performance” explores the connection between the full moon and investor performance. Basically the scientists were asking “Does a full moon mean less money and more aggressive behavior?” The short answer to that question in this study is yes. But before we take that data at face value, lets look a little bit at the methods. The study’s conclusion is based off of 202 Malyasian investors. This seems like a reasonable number to look at though, although it is important to note that some of the original subjects were dropped from the study for dissimilarities or failure to complete both periods of observation. This may create a bias towards responsible investors and ruin any randomization. This study was a prospective observational study that used surveys and investor data to observe any potential relationships. In order to assess chance, the scientists also did linear regression model simulations to look at trends there. The simulations, much like those done on the prayer problem in class, were used to see how many simulations resulted in similar results simply through chance.

The study found that there was a significant statiscal difference between the return made on investment during the regular moon phases and those made during the full moon phase. Behavior during the full moon tended to be more antagoinistic and less intellectual. In other words, smart financial men were ruled more by instinct during the full moon than otherwise. As always, this could be due to chance, a Type 1 error, or it could be correct. Confounding variables could also be involved here, but for the same reason we ruled out reverse causation in the previous blog, we must also do so here.

A Contrasting Study

“Does Full or New Moon Influence Stock Markets? : A Methodological Approach” looks at the same topic but finds a very different result. There are some benefits to this retrospective observational study, particularly its longevity. The study was conducted from 1962-1986. In my opinion, that makes the data a little stronger because it is supported over a long period rather than the two sessions examined in the previous study.  Over this length of time rises and falls of the stock market were compared to when they occurred in the lunar cycle. The researchers used multiple indices to compare and found that p>.05 and the correlations were not statistically significant. Of course since it is a study and not an experiment, the data may not indicate a correlation (or lack thereof). Reverse causation can be ruled out, but chance cannot, leaving the results susceptible to a Type 2 error.

Quite simply the decision I had to make here was personal. Which data holds more weight in my opinion based on the study methodology and results? Is there even a mechanism that could conceivably link the moon and strange behavior?

A Possible Mechanism

So we have evidence both from my first blog and this one that show a correlation between the moon and strange behavior (with the exception of the last study mentioned above). We also have years of anecdotal evidence that points to a possible relationship between the two. The word lunatic literally means “moon sick.” What mechanism could possibly create this body of evidence? Over several sources I have noticed a common theme between papers. Particularly this one. Scientists seem to think that the same gravitational pull the moon has on the ocean also pulls on the water in the human body. Since we are over 50% water, scientists hypothesize that the body has mini tidal waves that throw our systems out of whack. This could be the cause of behavioral changes.

What to Take Away

After looking at all the evidence in this blog series, I have come to the conclusion that there is some evidence that the moon affects behavior. There are studies out there, like the one above, that say the moon has no effect on certain things, but they are only a small proportion of all the studies looking for correlations. In my eyes that indicates that those are Type 2 errors, although we shouldn’t discount the idea that the file drawer problem may be affecting these results. The presence of multiple studies showing a correlation between the moon and strange behavior leads me to think that the idea has a solid base.  Although the mechanism is disputed, the section on tidal waves provides one possible explanation.

In conclusion:

The moon might very well alter your behavior, making you seem just a little crazy.

Let me know what you think of these findings. During the next full moon, pay attention to your

Vampire's Kiss (1989) Directed by Robert Bierman Shown: Nicolas Cage

Some people during the full moon.

behavior and those around you. Are they acting differently? Do you agree with my conclusions? Let me know in the comments below. If you haven’t already, check out and comment on my previous blog by clicking here.

That’s all for now.


Does the Moon Really Make You Crazy? Part 1

jw_full_moonAs I sat outside on Sunday, September 27th staring at the lunar eclipse, I began to wonder about that old ‘fact’ that says when there is a full moon you act differently. (Origin of the word lunacy anyone?) Could the movements of an object so far away from us influence our day-to-day activities?  We already know from Sir Isaac Newton that the moon can affect our tides, so is it possible it can affect our behavior as well?

What Constitutes Behavior?

Behavior, like many human attributes, can be difficult to measure. That being said, I had to narrow elements of behavior down into measurable variables. Even after doing that, there was simply too much information about different parts of behavior affected by the moon to process. I soon realized how impossible it would be to tackle more than one question about the lunar effect at a time. Because of this I have made the executive decision to divide this blog into two parts. The first part will look at the moon’s influence on criminal behavior.

The Moon and Crime

If human behavior is drastically influenced by the lunar cycle, it makes sense that there could be a notable increase or decrease in the amount of crime that occurs during a full moon. After some research it becomes clear that there are several studies examining this question.

Screenshot (18)

Image from study “Full Moons and Crime.” Graph belongs to C P Thakur and D Sharma.

“Full Moons and Crime” is an observational study exploring crime rates in relation with full moon days. As with any observational study, the data must be looked at through a skeptical lens because correlation need not equal causation. . The study did incorporate some elements of experiment by randomly selecting 3 towns to observe. Assuming the randomization was done properly, those three towns should give a fairly accurate depiction of the population as a whole. The study took place over 4 years, which contained 133 full moon days, which seems to be a good sample size. The null hypothesis in this case is that the moon has no effect on crime rate and the alternative is that it does. After careful analysis of all the crime records and what phase the moon was in when it happened, the researchers found a statistically significant difference in crime rates on nights when there was a full moon compared to nights in the rest of the lunar cycle. This evidence was strong enough that they rejected the null hypothesis in favor of a conclusion that the moon was influencing behavior.

What does all that data mean?
Basically, it means that there was significant statistical evidence that tied the full moon to increased crime rate. Unfortunately, this is an observational study that is extremely susceptible to confounding variables. For example, it may be easier to commit crimes when there is light provided by the full moon. In that case, the moon isn’t causing bad behavior, but is instead acting as a resource that inadvertently aids bad behavior. The good news is that reverse causation can be ruled out of this scenario due to nature’s laws. Regardless of what crimes humans do or don’t commit, the moon will still go through its natural phase shifts.

Now the really big issue. Can this data be generalized to more than just the population of these small towns? Since the study took place in India, are Indian and American people statiscally similar enough to generalize this information?

Why an Experiment Won’t Work

As we know from class, experiments are really the only way to prove that something causes something else. Unfortunately for us, there is no feasible way to perform an experiment on humans judging behavior when the full moon is out. Why? Because we can’t remove people from moon exposure to form a control group. It simply isn’t feasible to create an experiment without disrupting people’s lives completely. There are just too many variables that would require control. Because of this, we are stuck with looking only at observational studies.

If We Can’t Do an Experiment, Where Does That Leave Us?

Well we know that without an experiment, we can’t determine  a casual relationship, so what happens next? The answer is simple. Multiple observational studies can help to support a correlation by reducing the possibility of chance correlations. We still aren’t able to rule out third variables, but at least we would know that the statistics hold up in other parts of the world.

For example, in “Effects of the Full Moon on Human Behavior” (Click download PDF for the full text), researchers found that over a 1 year period of study in a large metropolitan area, 7 out of 8 types of crime, occurred at a statistically significant higher rate during full moon days than on a standard day. Homicide, the most serious crime included, was the only exception to this. Although this study doesn’t eliminate many of the problems discussed above, it does show that this phenomenon isn’t limited to just India. We still haven’t made in progress in determining if the relationship is casual because this study is also observational, but the evidence for some sort of relationship is piling up.

Why is Any of This Important?

So here’s the thing. Much like the depression and lights at night example talked about in class, it doesn’t matter why there is a correlation between the moon and increased crime rate, but rather that there is one. Even if the moon does not affect behavior, the truth is that two separate studies have shown increased crime rates during  full moon periods. In my opinion, it costs more to ignore the correlation than it does to acknowledge it. Regardless of the reason, crime is happening more frequently on nights with full moons. This information should be put to use as quickly as possible when discussing ways to reduce crime. If putting a few more police officers out on full moon nights can prevent increased crime, then what is the harm in doing it? The potential benefits outweigh the consequences.

What to Take Away

It looks like there is no conclusive proof that the moon makes you act differently, but the data in the two studies above are consistent with that hypothesis. In both studies, statistically significant differences, with p<.01, were found in crime rates on full moon nights compared with regular nights. This leads me to believe that regardless of whether the behavior is caused by the full moon, appropriate precautions should be taken by law enforcement on those nights. Does the moon alter your behavior? Possibly. Do we have irrefutable evidence? Not even close.


What do you think about the moon? Do you agree with my conclusion? Let me know in the comments below and keep an eye out for Part 2 of this blog series.

UPDATE: Part 2 is now posted. Click here to read about the moon and investing.

That’s all for now.


Can Speaking a Language Give You a Musical Advantage?


We all know that some people have more natural musical ability than othersthJGLZCIGH. Everyone has heard of the composers like Mozart who composed complicated musical pieces at amazingly young ages. Today we are going to focus on a different talent: perfect pitch. Some people seem to be born with the ability to constantly sing at perfect pitch. Perfect pitch is the ability to sing a note or tone with extreme accuracy to the true tone. For example, if you told someone with perfect pitch to sing a C note, they could do so without hearing it on any instrument. Most people and musicians have what is called relative pitch meaning that they can find the other notes in a scale if they are given a reference pitch. It is important to note that perfect pitch is a rare ability. Only about 1 in 10,000 people in America and Europe have this ability.

What Does That Have to Do with Language?

Okay, native English speakers, I’m about to throw a little monkey-wrench into your world view. It turns out that there are other languages than English. For example, languages like Mandarin Chinese, Vietnamase, Thai, and several African language dialects are tonal. Tonal languages require the speaker to use a tone to clarify the meaning of a word. For example, the word ‘da’ in Mandarin Chinese can mean many different things depending on the tones it uses. It can mean “To hang over something,” “to answer,” “to hit” and “big” according to this website discussing accents and tones.  From a very young age, speakers of tonal languages need to be able to understand pitch in order to avoid miscommunication.  In a study done by Dr. Diana Deutsch, Vietnamese speakers were given a list of tonal words to say into a recording device. Several days later the exercise was repeated to astounding results. The speakers were able to repeat the words with the same tone. In a linguistic sense, these people had perfect pitch. This study was repeated with Mandarin Chinese speakers and revealed an even truer understanding of tone. To hear examples of this, check out the video at the bottom of this post.


Graph of Diana Deutsch’s Findings. All information belongs to her.

In a different study consisting of Cantonese speakers, it became clear that Cantonese speakers were able to identify different tones and scales much better than English speaking participants. This second set of data seems to support the hypothesis that people who speak tonal languages are more easily able to distinguish individual tones than those who do not.

Dr. Diana Deutsch’s research turns up again in 2009 with a study prompted by her previous findings. This new study sought to find differences between tonal language speakers and non-tonal language speakers in the University of Southern California’s school of music. The students were given random notes in a three octave span and asked to identify the notes. Regardless of race, people who spoke tonal languages fluently (the blue line in the image)  had better scores on the test than those who did not. Students who spoke a tonal language fairly fluently still had consistently better scores than nontone (English) speakers. In this study there is a significant correlation between speaking a tonal language and the ability to distinguish correct pitc It is important to also point out the correlation between age of first musical and ability to correctly choose between tones.

It is also of interest to note the apparent correlation between age of the first music lesson and the ability to identify notes. While this correlation is interesting, it requires its own thorough examination which will not be satisfied with this post.

Why Does it Matter?

Knowing the way the mind works in reference to pitch can be a very important learning tool. Tonal languages are incredibly difficult for native English speakers to learn, so perhaps music training could be a good tool for the transition between English and a tonal language. In the same way, there may be a benefit to using natural tonal language ability to teach music. It might also be possible to try and retain the perfect pitch young children are clearly able to pick up in order to speak tonal languages. If a child can learn 6 tone Cantonese, why couldn’t an American child learn perfect pitch as though it were a tonal language?


There is definitely a musical advantage to knowing a specific language if it is tonal. Children that know a tonal language are more likely to have perfect pitch than those who do not.

This bears the question of which methods of learning are transferrable from music to language and vice-versa. If scientists can unlock the secret to perfect pitch, the research could have an astounding effect on the musical community. It would soon be easier to sing in groups, perform an impromptu solo (in the right key), and sight-read pieces without hesitation. Music might become easier to learn and teach in the classroom if a scientific method to learning it can be devised.



If you have any questions, comments, experiences, or thoughts on this topic that you would like to share, please comment below.

For those of you who are extremely interested in this relationship between music and language, I suggest checking out this video lecture starting at minute 37 and 37 seconds.

Fat Phobia: Is it a problem?

Most people have heard about racism or sexism, but what about fat phobia? Are there really people out there who discriminate against a person for their weight?

I began thinking about this subject after recently reading The Devil Wears Prada where the magazine staff are constantly being reminded to stay thin. It made me realize that fat phobia could be a very real thing so I decided to do a little research on the subject. The first thing to fatknow is that there is fat phobia scale. Yes, you read that correctly, and no, it is not a pun. The fear of fat is so prevalent in our society that they had to develop a scale to measure it. On the fat phobic scale of 1-5, a score of 4.4 or above indicates a high level of fat phobia, while a score of 3.6 or below indicates an average level of fat phobia.

What is Fat Phobia?

Fat phobia, as the name implies, is the fear of being fat or of fat around you. Another name for this phenomenon is ‘weight bias.’ Quite simply it is judging the personality of someone or their intrinsic characteristics based solely on their body weight and outward appearance.  Over recent years many people have argued that this situation is limited to the United States, but this comprehensive study about fat phobia shows that the problem is a global one. Fat phobia is even starting to occur in Fiji, a country normally pleased with a plump figure, possibly as a result of American T.V. shows according to this news article titled “Fat-phobia in the Fijis: TV-thin is in.”


Now that we know that fat phobia is a real issue with enough research to have a standardized scale, how prevalent is it?

According to the information provided in the study “Fat Phobia of University Students: Attitudes Toward Obesity,” women are more likely to experience fat phobia then men. Women were also more likely to give fat phobic scores to certain adjectives such as “overeats,” “no will power,” and “shapeless.” It is intriguing to consider the statistically significant differences between men and women on this matter. Why are women so much more averse to fat than men? Even more interesting is the idea that weight bias is often accompanied by thinking that weight is purely a willpower or choice matter. The less people are aware of the factors influencing weight loss, the more likely they are to have an internal weight bias.

According to this fact sheet from the National Eating Disorders Organization gives somebdd(1) alarming statistics about how soon fat phobia starts. By age 6, girls begin to worry about their weight and body shape. To be honest I had to read that statistic twice to make sure I was seeing the number correctly.  From age 6 to 12, 40-60% of all girls are concerned about their weight or are fearful of becoming fat. This type of attitude doesn’t stop when a girl turns 13, but can continue into a life of body image issues and low self-esteem.

But I’m Not Fat phobic, Why does it matter?

It is incredibly important to be aware of problems facing society to keep from continuing harmful practices such as stigmatizing fat.  Society needs to begin to educate itself on the difference between fat and unhealthy. In the same way, positive body image needs to be reinforced starting very early in life. Teaching young children that being fat is negative or makes you less than someone skinny is a poor investment in our children.  After all, how can you tell a 6 year old that looks aren’t the most important thing in life when all she experiences is the harmful repercussion of fat phobia? No person should be denied or discriminated against because of their weight.

Opposing Viewpoints

Some people may argue that fat phobia isn’t a real problem in society or that being fat means being unhealthy. While it is true that there is a correlation between weight and heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and specific types of cancer, it is important to note that much of weight is influenced by outside factors and conditions. Pushing society to be physically fit is good, pushing everyone to fit a size 2 is not. Discriminating against someone who doesn’t fit your proposed schema of ‘healthy’ is not okay. Judging someone’s characteristics by their weight is much like judging someone by the color of their hair. Useless and non-descriptive.

Something to Chew On

The more I researched this topic, I realized how big of an industry fat phobia provides our country. Just think of how many diet plans, gym memberships, healthy foods, weight loss videos, and TV shows permeate our lives everyday. Think about it for a second and you’ll realize just how huge this industry is. Every single one of these items is either fully or partially motivated by the desire to lose weight, implying once again that fat is bad and skinny is good. To me, this scenario sounded eerily similar to the cigarette issue discussed in class. Once again there is a significant problem with a large industry standing in the way.


Fat phobia is  real issue with real repercussions that could negatively impact the future of individuals and our society as a whole. The problem is there, but there aren’t any steps being taken to correct it for the future.


Do you think fat phobia is a problem? Have you experienced an event that you would like to share? Do you have an opposing viewpoint? Join the discussion by commenting below.


That’s all for now.



Can Sleep Deprivation Hurt Your Grades?


1280px-Effects_of_sleep_deprivation.svgIt’s no secret that being tired can make you cranky, but as a I lay in bed in my stifling hot dorm, I began to wonder what the effects of sleeplessness are on human beings.  To begin this journey down the twisted path of wakefullness, I started with two of the worst case scenarios.

Severe Sleep Deprivation

Some of you may have heard of radio DJ Peter Tripp who stayed awake for over 8 full days without sleeping. Clearly this is an extreme case and should not be extrapolated without supporting evidence to all human beings. That caveat aside, Tripp’s case is very interesting with regard to the reaction he experienced. After only two days Tripp began to experience hallucinations as well as a severe deterioration of cognitive ability. Simple tests began to cause a laborious effort by Tripp.

Despite this 8 day long marathon of sleep deprivation, Tripp doesn’t even hold the world record for longest time without sleep. That dubious honor resides with Randy Gardner who stayed awake for 11 days and 24 minutes. Gardner did this when he was only 17 in an experiment for a high school science fair. Once again, the longer he stayed awake, the more psychological deficiencies he experienced. Basic math began to elude him as the deprivation became more and more severe.

Sleep Deprivation in College Students

Sleep deprivation is no laughing matter. After just 17 hours of being awake consistently, a person’s functionality is reduced by the same amount as if they had 2 glasses of wine. It turns out that high school and college students are some of the most at-risk people for poor sleep habits. “Sleep Deprivation: Consequences for Students” discusses the issue of academic performance and grade and the effect that sleep deprivation has on students. The study found a correlation between poor sleep habits and poor academic performance. Now those of you reading this might be saying “Meghan, that’s a correlation and doesn’t necessarily mean that sleep deprivation causes worse grades.” Fortunately, sleep deprivation is something that is easy to perform experiments on. sleep-deprivationThis one performed on medical students found that the longer a student was awake, the longer it took them to complete simple tests and tasks. Even more concerning, their performance wasn’t nearly as good when they had been awake for a long period of time. It seems like how much sleep you get can directly impact how well you do in school.


The Most Interesting Part

As I was conducting my research for this post, I happened across plenty of interesting facts and pieces of information. The most interesting for me was…. Are you ready? Okay. Here’s the kicker. As illustrated above, sleep is key to maintain a normal, healthy, non-psychotic daily routine, but scientists still don’t know why it is important for humans. There are many theories that have been discussed, but no one really knows for sure why we need it. This is something we spend almost 1/3 of our lives doing and yet the mechanism is still unknown. We know skipping it is bad for you and can cause serious damage, but no one really understands why we need it in the first place.


Why does it matter?

As college students we will experience our fair share of sleepless nights as we finish up tests, essays, and for some of you, blogs, but the real takeaway message here is that sleeplessness can interfere with mental function. You many think that you can handle two all-nighters in a row, but that is really not healthy for you or your body. Sleep is essential to doing well in school so stop procrastinating, get off Yik Yak, and get to bed.

That’s all for now.



Is Society Putting too Much Stress on High-School Students?


All of you who are reading this have been through high school to get the great university that is Penn State. It took a lot of work to get here. Many students have had late nights and felt the pressure to ace the SATs, volunteer more than anyone else, get good grades, and somehow still be involved in clubs and activites after school. For some of you, that meant intense athletic practices or late night drama rehearsals. The more I thought about this topic, the more I realized how insane the college application process is, which lead me to wonder- is society putting too much pressure on high school students?

Although common sense told me that school is a significant source of stress in a young person’s life, as Andrew says, “Your intuition is lousy.” The first thing I needed to do was figure out if there was any evidence to support my assumption. According to this poll done by the Associated Press and MTV, school is the largest source of stress in kids. Although there may be some voluntary response bias, the data seems sound. After further investigation, I found this NBC new article confirming my suspicion that not only are teens stressed, they are more stressed than adults.

Now that we know that we know that school is a stressor in a young person’s life, we need to break that general topic into more specific catagories.

In order to most accurately determine the pressure on high school students, I decided to focus on three catagories that can be some of the most stressful in a students life.

  1. Taking the SATs
  2. Taking advanced classes
  3. College applications


Taking the SAT

Taking the SATS can be extremely stressful for a student, particularly if he or she is not a good test taker. Even though this subject is something that every many high schoolers experience, there is little to no research about how taking the SATs can affect the stress level of high school students. For something so prevalent in the college application process, there is very little scientific data discussing it. I was interested in reading the study mentioned in this NPR interview, but the link was broken and searching for the article specifically yielded no results. Without any data, I am unable to conclude whether or not the level of stress placed on a student while they are taking the SATs is too much. I am able to tell you that more students than ever before are taking the SATs and the prep classes associated with them.


Taking advanced classes (IB)

One of the most common advanced class options in high school is through the International Baccaluareate Program. This program challenges participants by having them take rigourous courses, do research, and complete community service. “Sources of Stress for Students in High School College Prepatory and General Education Programs…”, a study done in 2009, concludes that IB students and students in the general education program have different stressors and reactions to them. One very notable example is the difference in the most common types of stress. Students in the general population noted that most of their stress came from a variety of sources, while IB student specifically pointed out academics as their key stress point. Although both groups indicated academic stress, this was the only girl-studyingcategory out of the many in the study that IB students had significantly higher levels of than general education students. Yet, the more stress the IB students had, the worse they handled it, leading to poorer grades.

Another study done on three different schools found similar results with one notable exception: Students with elevated stress levels did not have damaged psychological functioning. “Changes in Stress and Psychological Adjustment During the Transition to High School Among Freshmen in an Accelerated Curriculum” states the IB students had normal or even superior psychological functioning compared to their general education counterparts.

College Applications

The first thing to note about my research involving the college application project is how little empirical data there is on stress levels of students applying to college.  There are plenty of tips and tricks to “de-stress” about the process, but no real data about it in the first place. What I was able to find was a study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine discussing how much more competitive college has gotten and the reaction of students to it. “Playing the Admissions Game…” describes how the number of students applying to college is growing, but the amount of students a school accepts is not growing at the same pace. This is causing the competition to increase so much that a student, who a decade earlier would have been accepted to a top school, is now fighting for the middle tier colleges. The study goes on to say that there is evidence to support the idea that pushing students to strive only for college admissions can be damaging to actual learning. However, some people believe that increased competition can be a motivation for students to work harder.


In Conclusion: Is society putting too much pressure on high school students?

After careful consideration of the studies and information above, I have decided that society is putting too much pressure on high school students. The collegiate system of admissions is becoming more and more difficult to enter as the decades pass. This is causing students to students to put more time, money, and other resources to work than is good or feasible long-term. It’s almost like you could be the best person in the world and still not be good enough. Taking upper level courses can be beneficial to your mental health, but the minute you get too many, things start to head south fast. The teen years are supposed to be some of the most carefree of your life as you learn to build healthy relationships and take on responsibility. Stressing out teens too early is building an unhealthy mentality that will accompany many young people into adulthood.

Now it’s your turn. Let me know about your applications experience and the stress it caused or didn’t cause you in the comments below. Did the pressure make you work harder and better? Did it cause you to put aside things you truly enjoy? I want to know how you feel!

That’s all for now.


Not exactly made to be functional.

Not exactly made to be functional.

As I was walking up Shortlidge road from Redifer Commons all the way to the Forum, I realized just how much my back was hurting from the strain of carrying all my books. I figured that I am probably not the only person with this problem, so I decided to do a little investigating. The first step was to figure out if backpacks have been shown to cause pain at all. For that I referenced this study about back pain in school age children.  The first thing I noticed is that girls are more likely to have backpack induced back pain than boys which 16514367_Alt02was corroborated by a second study.     In my experience though, the backpacks that are marketed to girls are more focused on style than practicality. For example, when searching backpacks on, the first result for backpacks and filtered by “Female” is this backpack.  The bag isn’t really made for carrying the heavy loads that many students have to endure. There is no strap padding or means of support for the spine. I can’t help but wonder whether or not the style of backpacks presented to girls is a factor in the higher prevalence of back pain.

Now if you took a look at the studies above, you may be asking yourself  “These studies were done on school-age children, how does it apply to me?” The answer is quite simple. The most common physical health complaint in college students is back pain. According to this study, theScreenshot (14) cause is a mixture of backpack design and the amount of weight that is put in it. That being said, most modern backpacks marketed specifically to young females don’t provide the support system needed to avoid back strain. While males also experience back pain, the incidence rate is significantly lower, perhaps because their first bag on Target looks like this.

Why does it matter?

Back pain can be a debilitating consequence of not using the correct support for you spine. Pain of any kind makes you less likely to do things you enjoy, like playing sports or lying down. Picking a backpack for the style only is like eating colorful cereal that tastes like cardboard, pretty but not worth it. It is high time for mass-market tycoons like Target to offer bags that are visually appealing and help to protect on of our most important assets; our backs.


So what kind of backpack should you wear? Here are some reccomendations I’ve compiled from the sources linked above.

Photo Courtesy of Oakmont Physical Therapy

Photo Courtesy of Oakmont Physical Therapy

1. Don’t wear your backpack asymmetrically because it increases your risk of back pain. Make sure the straps are even and try to avoid carrying your bag on one shoulder.

2. Pick a backpack that is functional and comfortable. If you are questioning whether or not you’ll want it after a few days, it is probably time to move on.

3. Keep your backpack light. Although, there is conflicting evidence on how much weight is enough to begin to curve your spine, try to keep your pack under 10% of your weight. If you are currently suffering back pain, be sure to take only the essentials. Most cases of pain will clear up in a few weeks.

4. Keep your backpack close to your back. The closer the weight is to your center of gravity, the less strain it puts on your back by pulling it the wrong direction.

5. Look for backpacks that transfer weight from your shoulders to your hips and pelvis. Transferring the load can keep you feeling a lot better. Backpacks with waist belts can be particularly helpful, even if they’re not the most attractive bag on the market.

As you continue to carry books to classes over the next couple of months, I hope you keep these recommendations in mind. You could be doing yourself and your back a big favor, both now and in the future.

That’s all for now.





Blogs are the New Pink

Why am I doing this course? Congratulations Science 200,  you finally asked me something that wasn’t my name or my major. The answer is simple. I like science that isn’t heavy in math or chemistry. After evaluating a few possibilities, Science 200 seemed like the best fit for the way I work and think. Although I enjoy the analytical thinking that accompanies science, I tend to get overwhelmed by large strings of numbers and data. Calculus and chemistry just never quite computed the way that they did for others in my classes so I started to steer clear.

But really.


I have always been a very literary person who found her niche in books, history, and the most verbal of maths, stats. Since my abilities tend to deviate away the from the skills needed  for science, it wasn’t the right major for me.

There are plenty of theories about the way people think and why some people are very literary and others very mathematical. If you’re interested in some information about extreme examples of both, click here. If you’re not interested, you can still appreciate the memes.

Now for a little more about me. I am from 30 minutes outside of State College so I have grown up around Penn State. That being said, I am still directionally challenged enough to have gotten a little lost on campus during the first few days. My favorite color is mint green, I love music and singing, and I hope to make a positive impact on the lives of those around me. I hope to meet a few of you!

That’s all for now.