Author Archives: Shannon Bridget Obrien

Video Games are Improving Vision

If you’re like me, you’re probably not an avid video game player. The last time I played a video game I was probably in fifth grade and using a game cube. However, I might just pick the activity up again. National Geographic reports on a study done by a pair of researchers at the University of Rochester in New York. In the study, the researchers found that action video games train the brain to process visual information better. The research suggests that gamers are more attuned to their surroundings and playing video game could be useful in rehabilitating the visually impaired.

The study was done by Daphne Raveler and Shawn Green. Their process started with the flanker compatibility effect. The flanker compatibility effect measures the response time followed by a stimuli and is then labeled compatible or incompatible. They used this because if video game users have a greater attention span, they should be able to release their visual attention resources more slowly as the task gets harder. They called the first experiment a measure of attentional resources. During the flanker test, participants were asked whether or not a square or a diamond appeared in one of the six circles while there were other shapes around the six circles. Their findings concluded that they video game players had a better compatibility effect than the non gamers.

In another experiment, they used an enumeration task. The participants were asked how many squares are presented in a flashed display of the shapes. The results showed the video game players were able to identify more squares than non gamers (4.9 versus 3.3) and they were more accurate (78% versus 65%).

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(Picture: nvgp-non video game player, vgp- video game player.)

They tested a third experiment of testing attention over space. In this experiment, participants were asked to discover on which of the lines did a small target appear. Once again, gamers showed large enhancements compared to non gamers. This trend continued into a fourth experiment testing attention over time.

Another study was published in 1994 by Patricia Greenfield. In which two experiments studied the divided visual attention in college students. Experiment 1 established that video game experts were similar to novices in maintaining an attention span. Experiment 2 established that video game experience was a casual factor in improving strategies of divided attention. They concluded that both experiment shows that video game players (expert or novice) have better skills for monitoring two locations on a screen.

So, next time you’re playing a video game and your mom or dad tell you to put it away you can tell them that you’re actually improving your visual learning. How would’ve thought?

Screens are Hurting our Eyesight

When staring at your phone or computer for a long amount of time (maybe bingewatching netflix) do you ever realize the sting in your eyes? No matter how many times you blink you can’t fix the uncomfortable scratchy feeling?

Yuichi Uchino wanted to determine the relationship between the MUC5AC concentration in tears of VDT users based off of a DED diagnosis and frequency of eye problems. VDT is basically a computer display. DED is dry eye disease which is a disorder in the tear film over your eye that causes discomfort, trouble seeing and eye damage. MUC5AC is a gel forming protein, so in the case it would be the gel that covers your eye.



Unchio’s study included 96, 60 men and 36 women, young and middle-aged Japanese office workers. The workers completed questionnares about their working hours and their eye problems and then tear fluid was collected after using saline to generate tearsThe results concluded that DED was definite in 9% and 55%. The average MUC5AC concentration in tears was lower in the group that worked longer hours compared to shorter hours.

So, staring at computer screens does affect our eyesight and here are some of the affects. People who are frequent technology users may and can experience eye discomfort, headaches, itchy eyes, dry or watering eyes, burning sensation, or blurred vision. It can also cause eyestrain and dry eye syndrome which means your eyes can become inflamed due to a lack of tears.

So, in conclusion, its good to just put your phone down. I know we’re all struggling to get these blogs done and my eyes are burning a little too because of the amount of time I have spent staring and reading articles, but it’s best for all of us to take some time and turn off the electronics.

Why’d We Ever Stop Napping?

Everyone loves a good nap. I love a nap at any time of the day. However, are these naps hurting my sleep schedule?

Harvard Medical Journal breaks it down for us. There is a part of our brain in the hypothalamus that controls a lot about our daily schedule, it is called the circadian-rythm. The circadian rhythm is strong and weak at different times of the day, the most popular time adults’ crave sleep is between 2am and 4am with another dip between 1 and 3 pm.Harvard points to a 2008 study that tests the best way to get rid of mid-day sleepiness.

Sarah Mednick compared the benefits of caffeine, naps and placebo on memory in her 2008 study. She compared caffeine with napping and the placebo with three memory processes. These processes were the declarative verbal memory, procedural motor skills and perceptual learning. In the verbal task, recall and recognition if words were tested after a 7 hour break with a nap or a drug. A different word list was administered after interfering and memory was tested after a 20 min break period. The non-declarative test were taught before the intervention and then retested after. Naps improved recognition of words relative to caffeine and placebo. Caffeine, however, impaired motor learning. Napping produced robust perceptual learning compared with placebo; however, naps and caffeine were not significantly different. Mednick found that napping worked best for all processes.

Another study was conducted in 2006 studying the affect of a post lunch nap. After a thirty minute nap, the males’s alertness, short term memory, intra-aural temperature, heart rate, choice of reaction time, grip strength, and times of sprints were recorded. The nap improved all of these things besides grip strength and reaction times.

This makes me question why we ever stopped taking naps in the first place. In preschool nap time was required (and taken for granted) so why not now? I think that if we all take a 30-45 minute nap a day our overall performance would improve. There would be two groups: nap takers and non-nap takers. The nap takers’ school performance would be measured over the semester in comparison to the non-nap takers. It would be an interesting experiment to show people the benefits behind napping, it’s not just waisting time.




Can Your Clothing Affect Your Performance?

The Washington Post reported on a new study that could show that clothing affects performances in the workplace.

In the study, Adam Galinsky states that if someone is wearing a lab coat, their ability to concentrate increases. He state this after studying enclothed cognition which is defined as the influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes. One of the experiments consisted of testing enclothed cognition by letting the participants wear lab coats while completing the Stroop test. The Stroop test is when the participant says the color of the word rather than what the word says. They found that the participants wearing the lab coats made less mistakes but did not approve above average.


stroop test

A similar study by Joy V. Peluchette and Katherine Karl found that the different style of clothing affected self-perception rather than performances. Most felt authoritative, trust worthy, and competent when wearing business attire but friendliest when wearing casual attire. The results were calculated through asking the participants questions based off of how they feel while wearing specific clothing.

The two studies show different statistics but statistics that work together. Although more studies have to be done on this topic, I think it is safe to say that when you are dressed properly, whether it is in a labcoat or business attire, your work ethic changes from a relaxed state to a business state. I went to a private school where uniforms were enforced, and I always felt more productive with the attire on rather than when I was wearing jeans. I also feel like when people are wearing nice clothing they are less likely to act out and be irrational. I agree with both findings. I am interested to see more studies on this topic and whether or not enclothed cognition ever becomes an accepted term.


Can Animals Communicate with Humans?

There have been so many species of animals that have been trained by humans. Through this they follow commands and actions that sometimes can replicate those of human’s. I was wondering, are they learning from example? Or can these animals actually learning human communication?

Adriano Lameira observed an orangutan named Tilda. When observing her, Lameira noticed Tilda clap her hands together and let out human like sounds from her throat. when researching this topic, I saw that Lameira took audio recordings of Tilda. Tilda only make these noises when she was in the presence of her caretakers. Although the dialogue is not completely recognizable, Lameira  describes them as clicks and faux speech. I was very excited to hear the audio recording but was disappointed when I finally did. Listening here. Can you make out a distinction of human noises?


Irene Pepperberg also worked with animals famous for mimicking human sounds, parrots! Pepperberg worked with Alex, an African grey parrot. Pepperberg says that parrots are able to mimic human speech so well is because of their tongue, as it is thicker than some animal’s. Pepperberg would teach the parrots by allowing them to see an interaction between two children, the parrot could then learn and produce the sounds.

11parrot-600 alex

Sam Ridgway studied speech mimicry in whales. A whale named Noc began to spontaneously make sounds and they were recorded to compare to human speech. Noc had contact with humans, and one day Ridgway noticed the vocal outbursts of Noc. After recording his voice and comparing it to human speech sounds, he found that the humanlike sounds resulted from the pulse rate of his nasal. I listened to the recording and once again I did not hear any similarities. Listen here.

noc Noc

A similarity between all these studies that the animals are mimicking human sounds. So they aren’t really learning and applying the language. They are, however, vocal learners.There are five animals that can produce new sounds, bats, elephants, seals, dolphins and whales. Although these animals are communicating, they’re not really communicating with us, more or less at us.

Is Moisturizer Harmful to the Skin?

No one likes having dry, cracked skin. It can make someone feel unattractive, sad and uncomfortable. The idea behind moisturizer is to cure this problem. However, is moisturizer actually good for your skin or are is it taking the place of your skin’s natural oils.

Moisturizers come in two forms, humectants and emollients. Humectants draw water into the outer layer of the skin. Emollients are moisturizes that leave the skin feeling smooth and soft while sealing in moisture. Both of these are part of the epidermis. Moisturizes work to coat the skin to trap moisture. Dermatologist Dr. Zein Obagi says that when cells notice that an outside source has already hydrated the skin, there is no need for the cells to hydrate. However, this is not good. The cells then become inactive and stop the moisture process which leads to dry skin.


Studies show that after a period of time, moisturizers influence the skin barrier function of normal skin. So, the solution may be not to overuse the moisturizer if it is needed. It is recommended for older individuals but younger people have no real use for the product unless they’re using other products such as heavy makeup, acne medication or facial toner. Let your skin breathe!

Why isn’t Astrology a Science?


Astrology is defined as the study that assumes and attempts to interpret the influence of the heavenly bodies on human affairs. That sounds a little crazy, but we all know a part of astrology called your horoscope. I have a lot of friends who read their horoscope daily but what you don’t know is there are a lot of different aspects that go into a horoscope, which sometimes isn’t all that acurate. The one you’re reading from an app may not be accurate or it can be just a small bit of what actually is going on in your life. I am arguing that astrology is a science because it is the study of our bodies on human affairs. The key word is study.

Astrology used to be paired with astronomy, the study of planets, argues that astrology is not a science because your zodiac sign corresponds to the position of the sun relative to constellations from 2,200 years ago. However, if you study astrology you would know

that everyone has three signs. Your sun sign, or zodiac sign, is based off of your birthday. The moon sign is your emotional sign and judges how you deal with situations. The ascendant sign  depends on the exact time you were born. This sign is perhaps the most important because it judges how you are perceived by other people. To get an accurate read for your horoscope, you need all three components. Not the “Daily Horoscope” from the back of a newspaper.


Astrology is widely debated as to whether or not it fits the criteria of a science but as you can see above it’s a lot more involved than it seems. There are people who spend years studying this art just like scientist research years for a particular study. However, no research exists on astrology being a science so it is not considered one. I think there is a chance that astrology could be considered a science if we can do the research.


Is There an Afterlife?

I went to a private catholic school for six years. During my high school classes I began learning more about theology from my teacher, Mr. McGrath. Mr. McGrath was adamant about the fact that science and religion should never cross paths when discussing how life forms came about. Was it an act of God, did one thing lead to a giant bang and we all appeared or did we evolve from primates? All of these questions puzzled me but something I always wondered was, is there a heaven, an afterlife? As a Roman Catholic, I have faith that it does but I wanted proof.

I am a big fan of Grey’s Anatomy and during the course of the show many patients die, get revived, and then recount seeing loved ones greeting them towards the light. What is this light? Does it happen when we die or only when we have a near death experience? Medical science has explained near-death experiences as the result of a gradual shutting down of the brain. This
is predominately shutting down the neocortext which controls cognitive functions like hearing, memory, emotional responses and our thoughts. So it could be a possibility that when we are dying, our brain is just giving us one more surge of life by showing memories, and our loved ones before we shut down. However, I still cannot believe that we can live so many years and then one day it is gone.

This is challenged by an article on which states a very important law in science: Energy cannot be created or destroyed- it can only change form. This article then states that it is possible that some humans continue to live on quantum energy, coalescing and regenerating throughout the Cosmos. Quantum energy  is the smallest amount of a physical quantity that can exist independently. There is no way to prove this, though. So I believe that is why so many people are skeptical about an afterlife. No one can conduct an experiment about the afterlife because you cannot take an anecdote as evidence.

There is a difference between fact and faith. Although some researchers say an afterlife is impossible or inconceivable this does not make it true, they can’t know that until they experience it and once they do, they can’t come back to report it. It looks like we will all just have to wait and see.

Do Sports Make You Aggressive?

On Saturday September 12, 2015 Penn State had its first home football game against Buffalo. Although this wasn’t my first time sitting in the student section, it was my first home football game as a Penn State student. Saturday was when I really got to experience the student section. It was something I could not explain with any other word but wild. People were cheering and yelling and I am 90% sure my eardrum is blown. I have experienced a variation of this kind of behavior before as my father is a passionate football viewer who was often screaming at the TV on Sundays while I was growing up.

I am no football expert, however, I do know two very important things that you need when viewing football: passion and beer. So, while I was sitting in the student section listening to the slurred screams of my classmates, both of anger and praise, I was wondering, do sports make you agressive?

One of the many things our brain does is control our actions. However, when people drink alcohol, a common commodity during football games, that function becomes impaired. Once someone drinks alcohol, said alcohol travels through the bloodstream which will affect the brain. Neurotransmitters carry the messages to your brain to determine what action you should take next. So, when you consume alcohol the speed of the messages decreases. Alcohol also attacks different parts of your brain such as the cerebral cortex and the limbic system. The cerebral cortex processes your movements, senses and thoughts and all of this is affected when under the influence of alcohol. Because alcohol affects the cortex, it affects the judgments that a person is going to make. So when guests are enjoying a game, they have less control over the way they’re acting and what they’re saying which can cause problems for them and those around them. The limbic system controls emotions and memories, so when under the influence a person will be over dramatic and can trigger emotions such as anger. While watching the game, the opposing team may score and your reaction can be heightened because of the alcohol consumption. Instead of reacting in an appropriate matter, you could be more inclined to be angry and rash.

Football is a violent game in itself, it’s a bunch of guys tackling one another in order to get the ball down the field. Most sports are highly competitive and many major league teams have a large following of fans. The physical strain these players endure is definitely something to worry about, and so is the actions of the fans of the game. Factors like noise and crowding are big causes of aggression and also include acts of vandalism and inappropriateness . Another contributing factor to aggression is anxiety . Sports games are almost always filled with anxiety because viewers are nervous that their team will lose. When you are anxious it can also cause you to become irritable which could result in strong reactions and aggression . There is also a social influence on the way someone acts. When spectators view the sport of football they have the inclination to act in a similar way, aggressiveness is contagious.

Penn State is famous for its athletics and its powerful fan base. After conducting this research I would say sports do cause aggressive fans, but there are outside factors that contribute to it. WE ARE!

photo from

Why Does Sunburn Happen to Good People?

I am Irish. My entire life I have never been told any differently and it’s unquestionable with a name like Shannon Bridget O’Brien. I am extremely pale and because of that, I get extremely sunburnt. I’ve never had a problem with getting sunburn and I’ve always had SPF 50 on standby for those sunny days, except for Saturday, September 5th. This sunny Labor Day weekend I went to the Temple vs. Penn State game, a tragedy in itself, and then after hours of tailgating and watching the game, I got terrible, purple, boiled sunburn. So now as I lay in my bed I’m wondering, why does sunburn happen and how can I heal it?

All skin types can get sunburn. It doesn’t matter if you are African American, Italian, Irish, Asian, Middle Eastern, if there is a sun, there is a burn. Gary Chuang, a dermatologist from Tufts University School of Medicine, says that melanin is a natural sunscreen for the body. He goes onto explain that everyone has the same number of melanocytes but some people have a stronger retention rate of the sun’s rays. You can read more about Dr. Chuang’s comments here.

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photo credit

Melanin is basically the pigment our skin holds and it is in charge of coloring our natural hair color. Although melanin does help protect our skin to an extent, it’s not something we should rely on. Sunscreen is important even if the sun isn’t shining. How often have you gone out on a cloudy summer day without sunscreen prompting to terrible burns at the end of the day? Exactly. Sunscreen might not even be that terrible cream your mom used to slather on you as a kid. Sometimes it is as simple as staying indoors during peak sun hours.

However, sunscreen is widely recommended by doctors everywhere. I also recommend sunscreen. Just wear it, okay? It really helps. The most important thing when finding the perfect sunscreen is a water-resistant, broad spectrum coverage with SPF 15 at the least. Personally, I recommend the Coppertone Sport brand, I usually use SPF 30 or SPF 50. I have never had a bad burn when wearing that specific brand, unlike other brands like Neutrogena and Banana Boat. If I had been wearing some on Saturday I am confident I would not have the issues I currently am. If you don’t wear sunscreen, you’ll know. Usually it strikes when you get in a nice warm shower only to be met by the feeling of a thousand knives being stabbed into your entire body.



Picture from Kim Kardashian’s 2009 Tweet.

Once the skin is burnt, it throws the cells all off. They undergo apoptosis  because the cells are damaged and stressed. Don’t worry, there are plenty of cells to replace the one’s that die during apoptosis. Another side affect of sunburn is the peeling and blisters if it is bad enough. Although the skin is peeling, this is a good sign. Dr. Chuang  says that the cells can send signals to the skin telling it to start rebuilding because it is at risk for mutation if it stays. The best way to cure your sunburn, is time, aloe vera and hydration. I have found in my years of experience and experimentation of different treatments, the best treatment is using a wet cloth and laying it on top of the burn. It will hurt at first but after about a half an hour you will barely be able to feel the burn.

After all is said and done, moisturize your new unburned skin and if you do decide to ever go outside again… WEAR THE SUNSCREEN!

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photo credit


Initial Blog Post

Hello everyone! My name is Shannon O’Brien and I am a freshman enrolled in the College of Communications. Once I graduate from Penn State, I want to be broadcasting in the sports, politics, or entertainment field. Since I am a Communications major, science is not something I will be using in my future education path. I am taking SC200 because it is a gen-ed that I wanted to get out of the way.

However, this doesn’t mean that I don’t like science. I did well in my high school science classes but I could never see myself deciding on a science major. I am a Communications major because I find it a lot easier to talk to people about problems rather than solve them with equations.

Some interesting facts about me is Spring 2015 I went to Paris, Normandy and London with my best friend. My favorite part of the tour was being in France, and having the opportunity to see the Palace of Versailles. If you ever find yourself planning a trip to France it is a MUST SEE. Or you see some of the rooms here.

Finally, here’s a picture I took of the gardens at Versailles.