Author Archives: sdm5399

Caffeine Withdrawal and its Effect on Mood! Put Down the Coffee!

I can’t think of a single person in university that hasn’t at least once resorted to some outside means of sustaining extra energy to study for a big test or get some work done-whether it’s coffee, energy drinks or some kind of supplement. In turn with other research I’ve done before about the incidence of stress and changes in dietary habits among university students, it got me thinking: can caffeine become a crutch of dependence for students? Where’s the line between the late-night kick of energy that can save a term paper, and something that can make you less productive and more dependent on the drug just to get through a day of class? Caffeine can produce physiological effects that hinder performance in all aspects like headaches and a chronic feeling of fatigue that is separate from things like lack of sleep, but can it produce symptoms of legitimate withdrawal if use of caffeine is even moderate?

First of all, it’s important to note that caffeine, is, in fact, a drug and a stimulant. Stimulants are psychoactive substances that, well, stimulate the brain and the nervous system and increase their functions respectively. Caffeine is a substance that’s available for use in medical forms without prescription and in illicit use for recreation or simply abusing the substance for performance. 1 in 7 college students admit to using ADHD medication for an edge on exam prep according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and seeing as ADHD meds are harder to obtain than a simple cup of high-caffeine coffee or a can of Monster, the need to look into what these kinds of products are doing to students is paramount.

Typical withdrawal symptoms of a drug include/ aren’t limited to:

Headache – (often described as being gradual in development and diffuse, and sometimes throbbing and severe)

Fatigue

Sleepiness or grogginess

Difficulty concentrating on simple tasks

Problems with work and staying on task throughout the day

Irritability i.e. “being pissy”

Depression/ some kind of negative malaise

Anxiety

Flu-like symptoms, nausea, sickness, cold sweats, etc.

Impairment in in modalities like spatial definition and hand-eye coordination

Coffee is such a staple for college students that even the idea of decaffeinated coffee could still perk someone up by placebo! This effect should definitely be looked into more in comparison to coffees with 200+mg of caffeine!

Coffee is such a staple for college students that even the idea of decaffeinated coffee could still perk someone up by placebo! This effect should definitely be looked into more in comparison to coffees with 200+mg of caffeine!

In meta-analyses of studies conducted on the effect of caffeine in adults, the studies had reported similarly that doses of caffeine in amounts of 200mg or more can increase tolerance and beginnings of anxiety in subjects, and sustained daily consumption of amounts around 700-1200mg can achieve complete tolerance on caffeine. Doses as low as 200 can interrupt natural sleep schedules as well! Now, here’s the important part: if dependence is a problem doses as low as 25mg of caffeine can reduce the effects of withdrawal in a subject, and the average caffeine content in a small cup (8 fl oz.) of coffee is at least 100-200mg, and even decaf of the same size is 2-12mg, half of what is necessary to curb withdrawal! The average caffeine content of a Redbull? one 8.4 oz. can is 80mg, and a 16 oz. is 154 mg. The average content in a 20 fl, oz. cup of Starbucks? 415mgWhoah, Nelly. 

What’s more is that in studies conducted (ahem) on the minimum effects of caffeine on consistent users and drinkers of these kinds of products. 52% of subjects had a daily intake of at least 260mg of caffeine, with 11% reporting abnormally high counts past 700mg, while 50% of all subjects report consistent headaches if they skip the latte for a day. Such a widely ranging demographic of usage can be seen amongst the different sizes and dosages of caffeine different drink products offer, and since these products are both popular and widely available, it’s a bit alarming to see how the drug can have consistent effects on a daily mood!

I think that further research in the future could focus on any potential links between substances being used together in any habits, such as coffee going with cigarette breaks, etc., because these variables could significantly impact the way caffeine’s effect on the body is understood. With energy drinks there are far more ingredients inside the can than simply caffeine, so varying combinations could have different implications for what a certain substance could change about caffeine’s properties once ingested and over time if use is consistent enough in an individual. I would think twice about getting that second cappuccino!

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/press_releases/2004/09_29_04.html

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/psychiatry/research/bpru/docs/caffeine_dependence_fact_sheet.pdf

http://www.medicaldaily.com/1-7-college-students-abuse-smart-drugs-improve-concentration-grades-262850

http://www.cspinet.org/new/cafchart.htm

http://caffeinetheenergyblog.blogspot.com/2011/05/review-for-red-bull.html

The Effect of Showers on Circadian Rhythm and Sleep!

It’s safe to assume that everyone has a morning ritual of sorts to get ready for the day. Shaving, showering, maybe a little homework and some breakfast to get ready for the day are pretty much staples of university life no matter what year you’re studying. However, I’ve noticed with my routine that I find it extremely difficult to feel awake and ready for my classes. How can this be? I got eight-plus hours of sleep last night, why do I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck full of pillows? As I climb out of the warm shower I just took- same as every morning- I realized my skin felt very warm, similar to the feeling of being wrapped in blankets, and the feeling of sleep was still there, even though I’d been awake for almost an hour and a half now. I took to researching this feeling, and as it turns out, the time of day humans take showers has more to do with our sleep cycles than we might have expected.

Showers are pleasant enough a place to relax and unwind before or after a long day, and it has more to do with your natural sleep cycle than just a good feeling!

Showers are pleasant enough a place to relax and unwind before or after a long day, and it has more to do with your natural sleep cycle than just a good feeling!

The important thing to understand about the human sleep cycle is that it is not simply an on/off switch that happens when we decide to go to sleep. Our sleep schedule is based of a set of day-based endogenous (meaning self-sustained and built-in to our biological framework) cycles called circadian rhythm, that affects our sleep cycles as well as our metabolism. Insomnia has been heavily linked to problems with individual circadian rhythm patterns, as there are two main types of circadian rhythm cycles: transient (jet lag or recent changes in a sleep schedule) and chronic (such as various syndromes like insomnia, advanced sleep-phase disorder or a chronically irregular sleep cycle). Our individual circadian rhythms tend to govern a natural sense of balance in our day, and the body begins a process of preparing itself for sleep, whether or not we adhere to that process. It’s a natural step in this biological “ritual” for the brain and body to cool itself, and a rise in external skin temperature is a result of heat escaping through the skin. However, human beings don’t always respond to this cooling effect, and it can result in problems with sleeping, as it interrupts that particular circadian aspect of our sleep schedule. In a fascinating study consisting of 12 insomniac women compared against 12 without insomnia, a brain-cooling cap was utilized to monitor the effects of each test subject in a controlled environment as they tried to go to sleep. The cooling of the brain with the help of the cap was so beneficial that the women with insomnia fell asleep on average of 13 minutes, where the non-insomniac subjects took on average of 16, and each test population was able to sleep for the same amount of time uninterrupted by 89% of the insomniac population! It turns out that body and room temperature have very much to do with different sleep cycles, and showering with different temperatures of water at different times of the day can have predictable effects on the brain!  The important thing to note here is that both cold and hot showers can aid in sleep, but other factors such as room temperature, the point of the sleep cycle you are in, etc. can affect the way the body responds to a change in external and internal body temperature.

shower

The human body regulates its temperature during different parts of the day in tune with circadian rhythm and its metabolism, so it’s no surprise that changes in temperature can have such significant effects on sleep!

I think these studies were decently done, but I would have liked to see a more close attention on different controls that could have affected the results of the insomnia study more profoundly, such as health habits, dietary changes such as vegetarianism, room temperature, and whether or not the person was a smoker, etc. Moreover, different cultures and countries express habits of bathing differently than the U.S., where it is more common to take a warm shower at night-which relaxes the muscles and prolongs the cycle of the body’s cooling process after leaving the shower- whereas cold showers in the morning can make someone more alert and ready for a workday. I think I’ll be experimenting a little more on my own with this idea, and I’d like to see more research done in this area to see the effects of body heat more clearly on changes in sleep schedules and uninterrupted patterns in circadian rhythm. Next time you wanna head to bed, try an extra hot or cold shower, and see how it affects you!

http://blog.lunasleep.com/showering-what-water-temperature-will-help-you-sleep-better/

http://valleysleepcenter.com/coldshower/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8033241

http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1188944-overview

http://www.chronobiology.ch/wp-content/uploads/publications/Gompper2010skin%20temp%20WVD%20ambulatory.pdf

Increase in Marijuana Use and Loss of Memory: The ‘Blunt’ Truth

Marijuana has been a hot subject of debate in many forums and studio apartments for many, many decades, and recent research developments have shown that the trend of medical and recreational use is on the rise. Based on analysis of adults that admit to using in the past year, marijuana use has risen to 9.5 percent. 23 states have made grass legal for medical use, and 4 for recreational purposes. It goes without saying that drug use is on the rise in college campuses across America, and with stress levels in college students also heading for the roof, university life is conducive to student s experimenting with ways to reduce stress. However, do the benefits outweigh the costs? Can partying or consistent use of marijuana- even with medical intentions-affect performance and memory?

Cannabis has an effect on the human brain that conjoins with the way the mind learns naturally, thereby affecting declarative memory.

Cannabis has an effect on the human brain that conjoins with the way the mind learns naturally, thereby affecting declarative memory.

In a study that monitored the effects of heavy smokers that displayed signs of schizophrenia, 90 percent of them had heavily used before being diagnosed. Marijuana tends to have both a detrimental affect on the hippocampus (or a part of the brain that deals with long-term memory and spatial navigation), deforming it and/or affecting memory if consistent and heavy use of cannabis begins early enough in life. In a study conducted for the purpose of analyzing long-term memory performance by teenagers that use cannabis, the subjects in the test population had begun to use marijuana around 16 years of age, and at the time of the study,as per requirement of the procedure, each subject had been grass-free for two years, so as to further limit the amount of variables with each user. 97 subjects in total were asked to listen to a series of stories for a minute, then to recall as much as possible 30 minutes later. The findings of the study revealed that the test subjects who had begun use at 16-17 did 18 percent worse than the percentage of the test population that had not used at all. In addition to the variable of user vs. non-, subjects diagnosed with schizophrenia had also performed 26 percent worse than those who had schizophrenia and not used the drug at all in their lifetime. The effect of early use has not yet been linked between a deformed hippocampus and memory loss, which is important to note because it highlights the difference between early use exclusively causing both the deformation and the memory loss, or one causing the other, etc.

I would say these studies are well done, because they analyzed performance in individuals with more than one variable that the use of marijuana was able to manipulate in a way through analyzing the data compared to subjects without a history of use or signs of schizophrenia. This study is applicable to the university environment because stress levels can fluctuate in all students independent of majors and years of study. Mental health is just as important as performance in school, but perhaps drugs like marijuana could have harmful repercussions that don’t justify a way to relax for students willing to take the risk. The United States still has much to make up its mind about in terms of the effects of this drug, and there is more testing that needs to be done to more precisely analyze how cannabis affects the way human memory functions, especially if use begins in the still formative years of the brain. Students need to reduce stress, but maybe this isn’t the most effective idea.

http://ns.umich.edu/new/releases/22362-college-students-use-of-marijuana-on-the-rise-some-drugs-declining

http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2013/12/marijuana-users-have-abnormal-brain-structure–poor-memory.html

http://media.jamanetwork.com/news-item/marijuana-use-more-than-doubles-from-2001-to-2013-increase-in-use-disorders-too/

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150312082906.htm

Music While Studying: Does it Help?

In the typical university environment, students are bombarded with noise all day, in almost all places of the campus, asking them to join clubs or get excited for events or buy tickets for concerts. With the exception of libraries and designated studying areas, these students become so accustomed to their attention spans being diluted between studying and background noise-from the cell phone to Netflix droning amidst their attempts to skim through textbook chapters- that studying with music is a common practice among undergraduates. However, is the pleasurable and agitating effect of listening to music effective in lifting mood only and not aiding students in being productive and on-task? There is a difference between simply being in a better mood while studying and actually accomplishing what needs done in a studying routine, as the number of college freshmen positively identifying with their academic abilities has plummeted in the last few years. In order for students to overcome the need to engage distractions while studying, music seems like a logical accompaniment to keep positive and on-track at the same time, but the variables involved with the millions of songs out there, in conjunction with individual study habits, can show that it may be adding just one too many voices in your head.

In a study conducted at Miami University, five types of music were analyzed in composition with three types of timed, memory-based tasks-math equations, memorizing a list of words, and recreating small illustrations. Each group was exposed to the five different types of music one at a time with each task, with each genre being picked because of a unique component that could set it apart in terms of how it affects typical studying tasks, such as rap’s unique stylization and intricate use of language, as opposed to the repetition and consistency of pop. On the last night of the experiment, the same subjects performed task with no music as a form of control. In the results of the test shown below, the overall variance between the groups in all three tasks was significant. Music that included repetitive or overly varied words tended to have a negative effect on the literary and mathematical portions of the study, whereas folk and jazz did not have as significant an effect in either direction.

bar

Music varies in mood as well as its effect on different types of tasks- the people conducting this study had that in mind as they chose different styles that would affect different capacities of learning!

 

In another study conducted at South Wales University, 25 undergraduates between 18-30 years were exposed to different sets of interfering noise through headphones while being asked to memorize 25 sets of 8 letters in each set. The difference in this test is that the subjects were told to actively ignore each sound, whether it was speech, noise, quiet, liked or disliked music, which addresses a point the Miami study had not. At the end of the study, the results had shown that the subjects rated a preferred music type higher in likeability and pleasantness than steady and changing speech, as well as disliked music. However, quiet was rated less than half as distracting as all other types of sound. The results were not important in this test, just the sheer physiological effect of which sound had which effect on different users was the effective end of this study. I very much liked this philosophy behind the test because different students perform differently under their own respective conditions, but the state of stress or pleasure they derive can ultimately affect their performance without leading a test to assume each subject was an equal performer with different tasks.

Work to make your music a helpful point, rather than a crutch to trick yourself into thinking you're getting more done by getting pleasure from the music!

Work to make your music a helpful point, rather than a crutch to trick yourself into thinking you’re getting more done by getting pleasure from the music!

The average 3-hour study session by a student in university is composed of about 73 minutes of listening to music and 25 minutes of not paying attention to the task, but rather a text, social media, or some other distraction. I believe that music can help students feel “in the mood” to get some studying done, but it’s a dangerous method that can lead to more distraction if it is used the wrong way. It’s useful to keep a playlist of songs that keep your mind calm, not too hyped nor too solemn, and to maintain momentum when studying rather than adding the music to the list of things that drone on while trying to get things done. Studying habits can be creative, but nothing beats the quiet if you can stand it! One thing’s for sure from these studies: this is definitely worse than this.

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/dont-listen-music-while-studying-david-cutler

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131514000384

http://marineecology.wcp.muohio.edu/ns1fall02/cummins/afternoon/music/web/musicfinal.html

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/acp.1731/full

 

 

 

Texting While Driving and Reaction Speed: Worth the Danger?

The title is a bit facetious, of course not. The lack of responsibility and common sense involved in multi-tasking while driving is too big a risk for anyone, especially since the effects can rip someone’s world apart. But for those that continue to text and drive, the effects of having to keep on such keen alert in compensation for having split attention capacities on the road could train and sharpen reaction time based on time. However, the accuracy and consistency of reaction times for text-drivers has been supported by data to be simply abysmal. In a world where 77% of adults age 16-20 admit confidence in their ability to text and drive and 1 in 5 of them admit to surfing the web while driving, where does the risk outweigh the leisure? 2,700 teens each year die from reckless driving with alcohol, and another 3,000 from texting while driving.  Does faster reaction time mean more safety? On paper this idea makes sense, but is it anything practical besides a side-effect of being irresponsible while driving?

In a study conducted by students at Texas A&M, forty-two drivers from 16-54 were chosen to take part in exercises that would accurately monitor their abilities to react safely and efficiently to road traffic. In one portion of the test, subjects were asked to write a somewhat lengthy text message on their smartphones at their leisure within a few minutes, with no real time limit. The second portion of the test involved a realistic mock-road test that monitored each subject’s reaction time responding to traffic lights in appropriate manners (stopping at red, turning, slowing at yellow etc.) while both driving normally and while attempting to read and respond to a random text message. On average, the texting portion of the driving test displayed data that cut the time of texters by almost a whole second compared to the average time it took them in the safe driving portion (which was 1.5-2 seconds). However, the texting portion supported that their inconsistency in safely responding- in many cases completely missing the lights or responding too late- meant nothing for the supposedly better reaction time. Also, this timed exercise does not fully describe the safety involved in driving. Stopping on a dime does not make a safe stop, and the extra second could mean many things in the perspective of the road with allowing other drivers to have an idea of what you’re doing so as to avoid accidents.

 

Sure, some people may be better at getting away with texting while driving, and may never have anything bad happen to it- but the numbers don't show good odds.

Sure, some people may be better at getting away with texting while driving, and may never have anything bad happen to them- but the numbers don’t show good odds.

One problem I noticed with the results of this study were the amount of variables that could play into affecting the reaction time. For example, a 16-year-old driver simply does not have as much driving experience as a 40-year-old, and different drivers could have slower or faster texting times that could affect their ability to text and quickly look back to the road. Luckily, the model of smartphone used was standardized so as to not further confound the data by comparing a 45 year old with a Razr punch-pad flip phone to a 17 year old with an iPhone 6. There were open sections of the roadway and barreled sections to simulate obstacles. By average, the characters-per-minute rate was 59.3 in the obstacles and 63.6 in the open sections, and the reading rate was 639 characters per minute in the obstacles and 709 on the open sections, literally half of the 1192 recorded as the control taken off the roads. The ~1 second off reaction time has no practical benefit behind the wheel of a car, and the inconsistency involved could cost someone their life, let alone an embarrassing fender-bender.

I think this test could be taken farther to monitor if there are types of cars of driving situations that most leave people the most susceptible to the temptation to text while they drive, or if there’s any correlation between amount of time spent on the road and the likelihood of texting at least once while driving. A cross-section survey could be helpful to support the data from the Texas A&M study, especially if it could follow the developments of younger drivers and their habits as they gain experience behind the wheel. Reaction time might be slightly faster, but its full attention that the road requires from everyone that we owe each other while we drive.

http://safety.trw.com/texting-while-driving-now-leading-cause-of-us-teen-deaths/0710/

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2010/0923/Texting-caused-total-distracted-driving-deaths-to-rise-study-finds

http://tti.tamu.edu/group/cts/files/2011/10/textingdriving-study-100511.pdf

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000145751400178X

Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain? Pretty Mind-Blowing

There’s a very popular myth amongst pop-psychology communities of understanding that there are types of people who use different sides of their brain more often and in a more apt capacity than the other side. This understanding of the human brain is a fundamental misconception of developments in psychology and neuroscience, and is little more than an over-simplified construction that has turned into not much more than a gimmick on Facebook. The concept of being someone who is more accustomed to “creative” forms of thinking as opposed to “objective” ones has little basis in the scientific method, especially as Studies support the idea of all areas of the brain working in coordination to achieve a task regardless of what the task asked of the human brain. Though different areas of the brain may show higher or more intense activity with different areas of thinking, the idea of having a dominant side of the brain like a dominant hand is not exactly a no-brainer.

The idea of this dominance stems from the theory of lateralization of brain-function, with the left side of the brain predisposed to objective analysis, language, and more “solid-state” information that is adaptable, whereas the right-brain is more conceptually based for comprehension and spatial information. Scientist and Nobel laureate Roger W. Sperry discovered more about the conjunction of the brain’s hemispheres by attempting to eliminate seizures in patients. The corpus callosum is the segment of the brain that joins the two hemispheres, and that cutting this section would eliminate these seizures. However, the misunderstanding occurred from the observation that Sperry wrongly associated his patients’ lack of ability to name objects as the “severed connection” of information between the hemispheres. In a study consisting of 60 right-handed males of varying age from 14-20, they asked the subjects to complete a variety of tasks that challenged left-and-right visual comprehension, which showed that the “mathematically gifted” students had completed the laterally-concerned tests slower than the “average” students, yet when the tasks became more comprehensive and “asked” both sides of the brain, comprehension was much quicker. However, I believe this study suffers from generalization, as exclusively males were picked from the premise that males are more adept at math based on findings from other studies, which leaves variables unaccounted for in gender, age and level of ability. One thing is clear, however, that the idea of the brain being exclusively dichotomous is rather unfounded.

So, in short, the brain works together to accomplish all tasks it is presented with. Though studies can attempt to evaluate and confirm biases about how the brain is assumed to work, varying levels of activity can be seen depending on the task, and understandably so. However, the face-value assessment of how well a math student can solve problems based on SAT scores is only an incomplete concept of how brain activity works in conjunction with both objective and creative areas of processing information and learning.

 

right-brain-left-brain-fnl-598x441

This is a rather simple yet inaccurate understanding of the brain, and it limits the human understanding of how people can learn!

http://rense.com/general2/rb.htm

http://www.livescience.com/39373-left-brain-right-brain-myth.html

http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/neu-182371.pdf

http://psychology.about.com/od/cognitivepsychology/a/left-brain-right-brain.htm

http://healthcare.utah.edu/publicaffairs/news/current/08-14-2013_brain_personality_traits.php

Code Switching in the Minds of Children!

As a language major, I hold the power of speaking more than one language in very high esteem. However, it’s not simply the ability to speak in another way that provides people with the power of knowing other languages. Bilingualism allows an individual to view the world without a previously and singularly constructed set of ways to view the world, and the value of words and meaning further expand beyond something previously exclusive, and apart from the human capacity for reasoning without words! Have you ever been in a language class, or studying abroad, or simply speaking with friends that say something to you in your non-native language, and you understand them clearly without needing to translate each word to the letter for your mind to understand it? This is largely due to the fact that learning new languages can further separate your mind’s ability to think of things without the crutch of a ‘native’ aspect of thought.

 

The term “Code-Switching” describes a phenomenon that occurs in the mind of a bilingual individual. When speaking, they replace a segment of their active speech with a word that fulfills the syntax and grammatical requirements of the second language, resulting a “gap” in the first language that is filled by an unwitting reflex in the mind to fill this response with the first meaning that comes up. The fascinating part about code-switching, however, has been shown to have less to do with a speaker’s inability to continue speaking in a specific language, and more with “triggers” and active lexical loans from phrasings and thoughts that may be active toward another language they can willingly command, but in the case of code-switching, unwittingly do so. For example, if a native English speaker is speaking in Russian about a topic with mostly English-compatible cognates, the probability to code-switch is conducive, simply because there is an overlap between the parts of speech and structures of words. In contrast, there are certain topics that have a very shallow level of vocabulary to explain in a certain language, and in order for a bilingual person to successfully explain their point, their capacities rapidly scramble to put together the nearest approximation, which can result in switching languages briefly without realizing immediately.

 

The applications behind Code-Switching mainly deal with the neurological concept of meaning association. For example, common observances with children who grow up in a bilingual household- meaning one or more persons in the family speaks a language other than English, in this case- can become uncomfortable around a new person they meet that has the same name as one of their parents or siblings. At this stage in the mind’s development, meaning association becomes slightly fragmented, and the mind moves beyond this discovery behind a word that has an abstract purpose beyond letters and sounds. Here is an example of how code-switching affects the minds of children, and with more research on how Code-Switching takes effect in oral conversation and in thought, code-switching could demonstrate developments in how to learn second languages!

 

An example of code-switching and lexical loaning, whereas the languages the ad jumps between does not rely on the exclusive attempt to make the reader think in another language, but to fill meaning!

An example of code-switching and lexical loaning, whereas the languages the ad jumps between does not rely on the exclusive attempt to make the reader think in another language, but to fill meaning!

 

Reyes, Iliana. Functions of Code Switching in Schoolchidren´s Conversations. University of Arizona, 2004. Web. <http://www.u.arizona.edu/~ireyes/bibDoc/Reyes_BRJ_2004.pdf>.

Does Reading Braille Process Differently Than Visual Text?

Reading is just one of the literal lists of ways that the human mind can take in information from the surrounding environment. Of all the senses that we take for granted and see as commonplace, our brains are able to commit, calculate, and process things in real time, with remarkable speed. In a study that examined the neurological implications of the mind’s associations of meanings with certain words, there was strong evidence shown in brain scans that demonstrated the brain’s instantaneous ability to respond in localized places! For example, if participants in the study read words about cookies, or dealing with a strong unpleasantness of smell like “pungent”, the olfactory sense area of the brain would light up on the scan in response, without the presence of any smells to trigger such a response. So what about reading Braille? Is there any real difference in the process as far as the brain is concerned? Interestingly enough, studies in Israel, Canada and France conducted tests within a population of both sighted and non-sighted people, asking them to read in their respective capacities. After brain scans and collecting data, the brain scans of non-sighted readers still showed brain activity in the area of the brain that receives stimuli visually! To further insure that there was no simple trend of memory or anticipation showing an anecdotal activation of these regions in the scans of non-sighted readers, the Braille texts included randomizations of characters that, speaking on language and meaning of the text, were nonsensensical, stuctureless combinations that don’t make any sense. For example, it’s easy to make predictions about what word could come next in a sentence, even if an individual doesn’t specifically read the word, because the brain tends to fill in gaps of meaning to make the process of information gathering easier when speaking, reading or listening.

 

Braille, named after its inventor, has demonstrated to activate the same regions of the brain as with sighted readers reading letters visually!

Braille, named after its inventor, has demonstrated to activate the same regions of the brain as with sighted readers reading letters visually!

 

In the studies, the magnetic resonance imaging showed that in these instances of the data being collected, the brain activity between sighted and non-sighted readers was indistinguishable! Imagine that, even without the need for sight to take in information to read, the brain still activates certain mechanisms that associate information. Fascinating! With more research, any consistency in brain activity can be useful to develop an understanding on the parts of the brain that deal with reading deficiencies and difficulties with memory! There are also factors such as the individual’s finger size that affect their speed and ease of reading Braille, and their tactile acuity, which is a term that describes the localization of specific skills that touch allows someone to do acutely, like reading Braille. To read Braille, readers have to still imagine the shapes they feel in their touch, and associate this shape somewhat visually with meaning in their memory! I wonder what other applications this visual-neural association could have in the future.

Sleep Paralysis and Nightmares: Lack of Sleep, or Am I Dreaming?

How many times has the movie industry taken advantage of the human capacity to conjure fears that are far more gruesome than reality can present? Movies that involve assailants like Freddy Kruger are still all the rage even in the modern film industry, demonstrating a specific demographic of our population that fear something that, in essence, is our own mechanism for conjuring things in our minds. Being afraid of something that we can’t control as a result of sleep (or lack thereof) is a terrible burden to bear in life, and many people experience, on average, at least one very mild episode of sleep paralysis during their lifetime! (“Sleep”) The interesting application behind sleep paralysis, especially for us university types, is that a wide array of studies imply a trend in the increased likelihood of experiencing sleep paralysis (SP) from a younger age.

First off, let’s get this out of the way: “What’s sleep paralysis?”, right? In its definition, it’s actually part of a natural process of sleeping that has nothing to do with the nightmarish hallucinations that it is known for. (Mandell) Rather, it describes the body’s mechanism of shutting down the modalities for movement during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep stages, which are known to cause sleepwalking. We experience REM cycles of sleep on an average of 25% of our total time we sleep, but we experience deeper cycles of REM for as much as 4-5 times a night, lasting maximum from 30-45 minutes. In a study conducted here (hey! look at that, State’s on the map, guys!), our own Brian Sharpless, clinical assistant professor of psychology, cross screened and pulled a concentration of data from 35 studies over 50 years, totaling 36,533 people ranging in frequency from one lifetime experience to nightly reoccurences of SP. In conjunction with his own study conducted at State, he reported that one-fifth of the cases reported just one experience, and 28% of the population that were students reported experiencing SP, with 35% of the total number of people experiencing the nightmarish effects with some regularity. It also appears from the data pulled, that non-Caucasians could be more prone to sleep paralysis. However, there are simply infinitesimal factors that could play into this idea, including diet, cultural customs, simple lifestyle differences, studies, sleep habits and so on. More research could be done to further delve into potential differences that leave individuals more susceptible to SP based on their habits before bed, their diet, amount of sleep on average each day of the school week, etc.

In addition, Sharpless’s study demonstrated a 32% composition of the population classified as suffering from mental disorders and also experiencing regular sleep paralysis! Organizations for developing helpful methods for counteracting the nightmares of SP suggest that abstaining from meat in late meals before bed and sleeping on your back seem to be helpful, and the chemicals in processed foods tend to lead to nerves before sleep. As a college student, I’ve experienced SP multiple times before, and I would hope to see more research in the future that could be tailored to adopting a healthy, informed habit on relaxing myself physiologically before I get my rest to take on the next day! Maybe I ought to stay away from the oreos at midnight.

 

John Henry Fuesli's "The Nightmare", a classic painting portraying an older understanding of Sleep Paralysis as possession.

John Henry Fuesli’s “The Nightmare”, a classic painting portraying an older understanding of Sleep Paralysis as possession.

 

Elyse’Messer, A´ndrea. “Sleep Paralysis More Common in Students – Futurity.” Futurity. N.p., 21 Oct. 2011. Web.

“How To Experience Sleep Paralysis – The Good the Bad and the Ugly.” The Lack Of. N.p., 12 Aug. 2013. Web.

Mandell, Sean. “Is Sleep Paralysis Normal? Causes, Explanations, and Stories.” Is Sleep Paralysis Normal? Causes, Explanations, and Stories. N.p., 2010. Web.

“Sleep Paralysis Info – Symptoms, Causes & Solutions.” Sleep Paralysis Info: Symptoms Causes Solutions. N.p., 20 Nov. 2014. Web.

The Science of Laughter!

Laughing is as familiar to the human experience as breathing, yet its implications for why it happens and the ways it affects our minds and bodies is far more elusive to nail down than the biological mechanisms for keeping us alive. Imagine doing something that everyone else does, with every person doing it a slightly different way for varying reasons, yet not one of those means is seen as strange, and there isn´t a clear explanation for why it happens or how it affects us! Laughter is very similar to that description, yet it is basically common sense that humor positively affects the mood and releases stress. One professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder has only set out to achieve a broader academic grasp behind humor, and its amorphous hold on the human capacity for emotion and engaging in thought.

The logical premise behind approaching humor academically is all but fascinating. Peter McGraw, a professor of marketing and psychology at the university, found that there is no perfect explanation for why certain ideas can be almost universally humorous, yet certain jokes within a similar framework of ideas can go awry and offend, or just plain flop. In explaining his work, he uses a term that he calls ¨constructive reappraisal¨, which describes the use of irony to bring forth a new sense of reality or an idea that challenges a presently existing moment that the audience holds in their perception. This idea is heavily prevalent throughout all comedy, he argues, as a form of easily producible humor that is just as able to delight as to offend others. In his excellent TED Talk , he explains a lot about the principles of humor, and what makes people have a good feeling from this reaction of laughter. Quite frankly, there isn´t a comparatively overwhelming amount of academia nor scientific data behind clear theories on laughter nor why it happens so consistently with certain results from different ¨senses¨ of humor, but McGraw has undertaken the onus of breaking modern ground within spreading the importance of humor and its scientific applications for the brain.

A particularly interesting idea to examine behind a scientific lense, however its not exactly a no-brainer to approach academically!

A particularly interesting idea to examine behind a scientific lense, however its not exactly a no-brainer to approach academically!

Another humor-nerd, Tom Veatch, former professor of Linguistics at Stanford University, describes humor as Affective Absurdity, which is a multi-faceted principle that extrapolates upon the idea of an assumed  “certain psychological state which tends to produce laughter, which is the natural phenomenon or process of `humor’, or ‘humor perception'”(“Humor”).  In order to achieve this state, the principles of “N” and “V” must exist in the same plane of an individual’s perception with simultaneity. That’s all a fancy way of saying that the individual will both be within perception of an existing state of reality that challenges a preconceived notion of the way things “ought” to be according to their pre-established perception, and the current situation violates some facet of that normalcy. If all three conditions are met in some capacity, humor is produced! However, the outside factors of what produces humor are far less simple to structure,  e.g. what makes certain humor acceptable for an individual, when it’s acceptable to laugh, what one may find funny surrounded with certain friends but won’t display amusement around others due to embarrassment etc. and their applications are at the crux of McGraw’s main ideas about humor’s application to social interaction and the power behind humor in gathering support for a cause.

Both Veatch and McGraw agree, interestingly enough, that the key to furthering the human grasp on humor is to understand what is almost universally not funny. Unfortunately, the amount of research done on laughter is neigh but scarce and anecdotal, but frequent studies on the effects of laughter and stress have demonstrated considerable effects in blood vessel activity and vasodilation (relaxation) in contrast to sad or non-humerous ideas, with a 22% increase in blood flow after 15 minutes average time of laughter a day. Hopefully, with McGraw’s efforts to bring humor research into a modern light, the finer points of stress-relief research could take even more practical methods of therapy as simple as daily laughter and develop more effective programs to, say, raise workplace morale, or even university classes with heavy and complex material! Sounds like an exciting idea to get the “last laugh” on stress!

Bliwise, Robert J. ¨The Science of Laughter¨. The Chronicle. 14 July 2014. http://chronicle.com/article/The-Science-of-Laughter/147571/

Miller, Michael, and William F. Fry. “The Effect of Mirthful Laughter on the Human Cardiovascular System.” Medical Hypotheses. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Nov. 2010. Web.

Seiler, Bill. “School of Medicine Study Shows Laughter Helps Blood Vessels Function Better.” University of Maryland Medical Center. N.p., 7 Mar. 005. Web.

Veatch, Tom. “Humor Is Affective Absurdity.” Humor Is Affective Absurdity. N.p., n.d. http://www.tomveatch.com/else/humor/paper/node2.html

 

ASMR and Misophonia: Sounds-Crazy!

Have you ever felt a sudden sense of calm when a friend whispers to you? Have you ever felt very put off or annoyed to the point of anger at the sound about the clicking of a pen, or someone chewing gum with pops and clicks of their teeth? What about bubble wrap? Writing on a chalkboard? Tapping on a wooden table? Why is it that so many varied sounds can have hit-and-miss effects on different people, from tranquility to sleep to rage? Recent trends in therapeutic forms of treating an acute sensitivity to soft sounds known as misophonia have brought on a popular means of relaxing the temper. However, the popularity of exploring the only recently named phenomenon is simply another facet of the physiological effects of an array of sounds that are known to the human brain in unique ways!

For starters, you may want ASMR fully fleshed-out. The acronym stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and it has recently been subject to exponentially expanding popularity with recreational and therapeutic purposes, from needing relaxing sounds to fall asleep after a long day, or a calming role-play session to tide over chronic anxiety or panic attacks. For starters, you may want ASMR fully fleshed-out. The acronym stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and it has recently been subject to exponentially expanding popularity with recreational and therapeutic purposes, from needing relaxing sounds to fall asleep after a long day, or a calming role-play session to tide over chronic anxiety or panic attacks. Millions of videos and electronic resources, such as the ASMR community’s own Ephemeral Rift, appeal to a wide variety of tastes and fancies for relaxation. Funny enough, this effect is an elusive, yet extremely pleasant, soft tingly feeling experienced in the back of the head and neck, which is observed to be produced by a prolonged and tranquil exposure to calming sounds that the individual takes pleasure in listening to. The feeling is just as arduous to describe as it is elusive to conjure on-demand: the main proponents of ASMR tend to be people that experience it regularly, even unintentionally, such as going through a carwash or typing up reports at work.

A localized display based on where individuals in the test explained the feeling to originate!

A localized display based on where individuals in the test explained the feeling to originate!

In a study conducted of 245 men and 222 women with 8 individuals listing as non-binary gender, 98% of the participants in the original questionnaire agreed that ASMR was a good opportunity to relax. In addition, 63% reported the sensation to originate primarily in the back of the head, while 50% additionally report observations of the tingling feeling spreading to the spine and back with a prolonged “session”, if they were intentionally trying to expose themselves to a relaxing environment. 70% responded that ASMR therapy actively lifts their mood and helps with their depression, whereas only 30% stated the intense tingling feeling was vital to relax, which means that even without the intense ASMR-tingly-feeling, the neurological effect of these sounds had a concurrent effect on the stress levels of the test population.

Misophonia, in a very similar slant, is a disorder that leaves individuals unable to concentrate, or even stay calm, in the presence of certain soft or persistent sounds that drive them quite literally crazy in an instant. It is described as an over-acute response to sounds that should otherwise produce no noteworthy emotional response, such as pen clicking or chewing, in a similar way the sounds of typing or whispering in Russian can make someone completely at ease. The importance of newer academic intentions behind ASMR and misophonia studies is that they could possibly be linked in their levels of synaesthesia, which is the neurological phenomenon of having a physiological connection and predisposition toward certain sounds that should otherwise not produce this response organically. In the previously mentioned study, the levels of synaesthesia observed (5.9%, above the usual 4.4% compared against individuals in the initial survey that did not actively experience any sensations regularly) were not statistically outside the realm of chance, but such changes were noticed between cases that more tests need to be conducted to further elucidate the change in synaesthesia levels! With more understanding of these two effects on the human brain, a more precise application of sound-interaction-based therapy could be developed to treat the more inhibiting aspects of the human emotional response to sound.

http://www.academia.edu/3817067/Misophonia_physiological_investigations_and_case_descriptions

http://asmruniversity.com/origin-theory-of-asmr/

Barratt EL, Davis NJ. (2015) Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a flow-like mental state. PeerJ 3:e851 https://dx.doi.org/10.7717/peerj.851

Novella, Steven. “ASMR” http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/asmr/

Hello, all! This is my initial blog post for SC200- off to a riveting start, aren’t I? Well, I’ll cut to the chase. I decided to take this course simply because it will help me fill a GN requirement for my major, and it seems to be the more interesting class amongst other options. I find that a challenge to my critical thinking skills will not only be healthy for me, but it will change the way I see my ability to relate my ideas with other people and expound upon them. I’m a junior here at Penn State, a double major in Spanish and Russian and a minor in Arabic. Quite frankly, I will not be majoring in science because I have completely fallen in love with the way my potential career is turning out for me, regarding languages and interpretation. However, I can definitely appreciate the more scientific aspects of cognitive language acquisition, and the applications of the effects that learning and developing proficiency in new languages can have on the human mind. The way we think as a people is a remarkable thing, and we have the ability to command intangibilities in our minds and manifest them into something we can share- be it words, music, dance, art, or even interpretations of raw data. Who knows, maybe someday I could be fortunate enough to aid someone in translating and properly spreading their findings from some grand expedition. Well, that about does it for now! But here’s a little something I’m leaving here for anyone curious/actively engaged in learning a new language: there are many misconceptions that lead people to believe the biological cards are stacked against them if they would like to learn a new language, but research supports the idea that the human mind is always just as capable! Hopefully this motivates some of you to give it the ol’ college try.

Just a little about the way the human brain processes language!

Just a little about the way the human brain processes language!