Monthly Archives: October 2016

Do video games cause violence?

I do not play video games often. When I do, it is often a sporting game such as NBA 2K or Madden NFL with a couple of buddies after a late night. However, back in my adolescent years I would spend my days and nights playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 with my fellow immature youngsters.


For those who are not familiar with Call of Duty, it is a video game where you are equipped with a gun in a war simulation and try to shoot as many people as possible. While this video game is rated M for mature, many teenagers, and even children around the age of nine, get their hands on a copy of this game through Amazon or simply by asking their parents to buy it for them.

There seems to be a rising consensus that video games such as Call of Duty enhance violence in teenagers. As somebody who used to play these types of games religiously, I am confused by this hypothesis. I didn’t have any urge for violence after playing Call of Duty, nor do I now. So am I an outlier or do violent video games simply do nothing? Luckily the internet is available to research these things, and this article from The Telegraph seems to give an answer to this question.

Research from Canada’s Brock University tried to answer this question by conducting a study with 1,492 kids in their pre-teen years (Telegraph 2012). These kids were picked from eight different schools (Telegraph 2012). These children (aged 14 to 15) were then asked survey questions every year for four years in an observational study and their answers were then calculated into what could be called an aggressive level (Telegraph 2012). maxresdefaultThe questions asked by the researchers included the number of times they pushed or shoved another student or whether they punched or kicked another student due to a feeling of anger (Telegraph 2012). They found that the students’s aggressive scores rose over the years as they played violent video games.

But what about confounding variables from this experiments? Well they took this into account. Gender, divorcing of parents, and use of marijuana were all taken into account in this study yet the results remained the same (Telegraph 2012).

However, a conflicting study revealed a different result. This study was conducted by Oxford University and found that kids do not get more violent by playing video games. 200 children aged 10-11 were asked about how often they played video game (Bingham 2015). While this study did find kids who played video games were more aggressive, they found that it was due to number of hours played and not the amount of violence in the game (Bingham 2015). kids-playing-a-video-gameThe leader of this study said previous studies did not compare violent video games with games that involve the same feeling of competition you find in other games (Bingham 2015).

So could this be a case of the Texas Sharpshooter problem? Could the wrong similarities have been stressed while ignoring key pieces of data? It is quite possible. 

But maybe this study by Oxford was a false negative. We will have to wait and see as more studies on this topic are conducted.

A meta-analysis must be done! If there were many, many more studies done on this topic and the studies were complied, it will be a much stronger evidence than a single study or two. For example, in the “does prayer help cure patients” research we learned about a while ago in class, while one well conducted study was done and found prayer did help, it was disproven because the meta-analysis was so convincing. When more and more studies were done, the study that said praying does help was revealed to be a case of chance. Once there are many studies to base a conclusion on, chance starts to decrease as you get the same result by repeating or compiling different studies with the same objective. If a meta-analysis is done for this video-game conundrum, we will surely get a definitive answer on whether video games truly do cause violence.

Canning and why it works

What is it?

As Penn State students, THON is something most of us are very familiar with. For the few that might not be, THON is a 46 hour dance marathon that students fundraise all year for until the big weekend in February where all the work over the year comes together and the total amount has been raised is revealed. Canning is a fundraising technique that raises millions of dollars for THON each year. Students will stay at a family’s home where they can have a home cooked meal and relax at night, then wake up early and stand in front of store fronts in fun Penn State gear and receive donations from people of the community. Canning is one of the most effective ways of fundraising and brings in a lot of donations for the cause.

What makes it so effective? 

What sets canning apart from the other fundraising aspects of THON is that it is more personal. Sharing a link on facebook, setting up donation boxes, or sending out THONvelopes, are all useful and important ways of fundraising, but do not have the same effect has canning. A main part of why canning works so well is because there is some societal pressure. As a person in the community, you pull up to a bagel shop, a Target, a diner, or any other local business and are confronted with college students standing there with signs and cans. Olivia Mitchell writes here about Robert Cialdini’s six weapons of influence and talks about the power of being affected by the people around you. If someone is walking passed a bunch of students canning and he or she sees other passer-by’s donating, this increases the pressure and makes this person more inclined to donate. People are afraid of looking like bad person in front of their peers and will especially try to fit in to what is normal in society.

canning_2The main reason I believe canning is more effective than other forms of fundraising is because you are able to make personal connections with people of the community and while not everything is about the money, this does make people want to donate more when they feel a more personal connection to the cause. Here is an article where Ian Altman talks about after talking to someone with a personal connection to ALS made him want to get more involved in the Ice Bucket Challenge. While canning, you have the opportunity to talk to many different people who have stories to share while you can share your similar experiences. We talk about THON weekend and what it meant to us while people in the community will often share stories that have a connection. For example, I went canning this weekend and had a man walk up to my group and show us a picture of a boy who was clearly ill. He explained that this boy was his son and that the picture was taken two years ago while he was undergoing chemotherapy. Unfortunately, this man lost his son in August and explained to us how important fundraising for this cause was. For us, it boosted morale to keep pushing on for a few more hours and then for those who heard the story it gave them a personal outlook on the situation that they might not have had before.


The personal and face to face contact that comes with canning makes it an essential and effective of our fundraising techniques for THON.



Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has plagued human beings since the beginning of time. Whether it being referred to as shell shock, combat exhaustion, battle fatigue, or PTSD it has been a problem that effects the lives of combat veterans, first responders, and anyone else involved in a traumatic experience.  Although physicians and the rest of society are more informed of the problems PTSD causes for those suffering from it, there are still many questions on how to best treat it.

People suffering from PTSD show a variety of signs and symptoms. These include but are not limited to trouble sleeping, nightmares, depression, feeling isolated from the rest of society, among other things. There is no long term cure  for PTSD that is fully accepted by Doctors around the country. Doctors have been experimenting with the use of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) treatment in hopes of relieving stress in their patients. EMDR’s workImage result for edmr treatment by patients and therapists discussing negative memories and linking them to specific eye movements, usually by moving a finger or small object back and forth in front of the patients face. Afterwards these eye movements are linked to positive thoughts in hopes that the same eye movements made when thinking of a traumatic event will translate into something positive.

EMDR was first discovered in 1980 by Dr. Francine Shapiro. One day Dr. Shapiro took a hike through the woods and noticed her stress had nearly disappeared as she moved her eyes back and forth to observe her surroundings. After realizing the relief she felt from this, she asked her patients to try, and it was met with great success. There are two explanations as to why patients feel relief after EDMR treatment. The first, is the belief that EDMR effects the patients Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is the stage of the sleep cycle closely associated with dreams. During the REM cycle a persons eyes are still active, often moving back in forth. When patients feel relief during EDMR therapy it is believed that this relief translates into a more relaxed REM cycle, therefore the patient receives a more restful sleep. The second, is the belief that the patient uses both the left and right side of the brain in order to follow the object being waved in front of their face. The benefits of synchronizing both sides of the brain are having a better perception  of reality, self awareness, and feelings of optimism.

EDMR’s growing popularity has sparked debate within the science community. The first controlled study was conducted in 1989, by Dr. Shapario. In this study of twenty- two people one group underwent EDMR treatment, while the other under went group therapy sessions, another common treatment from those suffering from PTSD. Her studies concluded that the first group who went through EDMR felt relief after the first session, while those in group therapy felt little to no relief at all. Scientists within the community challenged Shapario saying that she was biased to the group who underwent EDMR, because she had developed the therapy. Other arguments were that the trial was too small, and that there was no way of measuring who suffered from worse cases of PTSD. A number of both controlled and uncontrolled studies have taken place since Shapario’s study. The general consensus is that EDMR often does offer relief to patients, but there’s no way to measure the results or tell if this is due to other variables. Scientists opposing the effectiveness of EDMR make the argument that it could be due to the placebo effect, third variables, and negative results not being published (file drawer effect).

Debates over EDMR’s effectiveness are still going on today. There are no solid explanations or results linking EDMR to relief but many organizations around the country have adopted the practice, based off the fact that many patients feel better after receiving the treatment.  Since its formal introduction in 1989, more than 20,000 psychologists have studied EDMR. As the practice continues to grow it looks like EDMR will be a preferred treatment method for patients who suffer from PTSD.

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Do predators eat each other?

Do predators eat each other? Do they only eat herbivores? These questions have been in my mind for a while. Whenever we hear or read the word “lions” we immediately connect it to savagery toward people or fierceness and sometimes to Penn State which is, of course, because of Penn State Logo. However, writing about Penn State’s connection with Lions is not what made me write this post. What brought lions, predators in general, to my attention is that we often hear stories or watch videos that are only about predators attacking or predating on humans or herbivores. So I asked myself if predators do really eat other predators and if yes, why is it not common and what are the reasons we do not hear about cases where predators eat each other, and finally whether there are any correlations or causation relationships. So I decided to write about this topic and do some research on the internet.

The null hypothesis being tested: Predators do not predate on other predators.

The Alternative hypothesis being tested: Predators do predate on other predators.


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According to a post written by Darren Naish, cases where predators predate upon other have been noticed by biologists and ecologists many times. This phenomenon was called intraguild predation by Polis et al (1989). An observational study on intraguild predation was conducted by Palomares & Caro (1999). They recorded 27 cases that were reported as intraguild predation cases and studied them. They noticed that the most common case among the other cases was the one in which adults predated on babies of the same species. However, that the study did not include an analysis of why predators would do that nor did it mention any information about the animals themselves, the atmosphere (i.e. if they are in a typical condition), or whether or notthey are starving at that time and had no other option but to predate on the younger one, as it known and natural for a starving animal to eat another animal from the same species in order to survive. In addition, I think that the number of cases recorded was very small. Furthermore, because the study did not say a lot about the what was measured, I cannot say if it suffers from the Texas Shooter Problem, however, the study got published, therefore the results do not suffer from the File Drawer Problem. In my opinion, I think that the findings of the study did not help me make a decision on whether or not I should reject the null hypothesis. So I decided to do more research about this matter.


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I found another article in an academic website called Wiley Online Library written by FABRIZIO SERGIO and FERNANDO HIRALDO, two scientists who decided to do a meta- analysis study on previous studies that focused on intraguild predation. The data they found was “for 39 experimental studies on 63 populations belonging to 11 killer species and 15 victim species.” After analyzing these studies, they found out that the results were almost consistent with the results of the study done by Palomares & Caro even.

The study results suggested that intraguild predation is very common in their natural habitants whenever external factors that might make predators predate on other predators are present, such as predation pressure which includes the habitant size in the experiment, the risk of predating the prey, and the number of predators and non-predators’ species in the experiment. Individuals of the prey species responded to predation pressure through direct spatial avoidance, risk-sensitive habitat. The study also suggests that there is a correlation between the number of killer (predators) and victim (herbivores) species in the provided space or habitant in an experiment. They noticed that the higher the number of herbivories in the experiment, the lower the number of intraguild predation cases recorded and vice versa.

While the study results can be due to chance, I think that the study was well- conducted and that it is highly unlikely that these study results are false negative, in other words, were due to chance or due to another confounding variable such as an odd biological variable in the animals being tested in the study that made them eat each other and that predators do not in fact predate on other predators, as the study is a controlled trial experiment, which is, as we learned in class, more reliable than an observational study. Also, not only did the researchers study use a big number of animals in the experiments, but they also done the experiments in different locations, which, as Andrew mentioned in class can eliminate any third variables that could appear in small or observational studies. And of course the study does not suffer the File Drawer Problem because it got published nor the Texas Shooter Problem, because the study is experimental and not observational.

I also think that the study should have focused on only one species so that they can more accurate and precise results, as it is known that an animal behavior significantly differs from one to another. In addition, studying one species can help them examine the effects that could results from the intraguild predation phenomenon among animals in that species. Other than this change in the study, I think that everything else was well-done.

Finally, the meta-analysis study results are consistent with the alternative hypothesis and show that predators do hunt each other; however, this phenomenon often happens because of predation pressure such as lack of food or the population size in their habitat and seldom happens in identical conditions, where the number of herbivories is significantly higher than the number of predators in a certain habitant. Furthermore, many well conducted meta-analysis studies were done by researchers that also showed consistency with the alternative hypothesis such as in an article named as the biological control: theory and practice, which supported the hypothesis and even provided evidence of why it happens and how it is actually a good thing!!



Intraguild Predation


SERGIO, F. and HIRALDO, F. (2008), Intraguild predation in raptor assemblages: a review. Ibis, 150: 132–145. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.2008.00786.x


Pictures Sources

Lion vs Cheetahs

Lion vs Lion

biological control: theory and practice

Kindlmann, P. & Houdková, K. Popul Ecol (2006) 48: 317. doi:10.1007/s10144-006-0006-4


Annie Dookhan and why her undisputed “science” imprisoned thousands

Who is Annie Dookhan you may ask? She was a government chemist for the state of Massachusetts who worked with the government in the criminal justice system. As many of us know, in this day and age forensic evidence is one of the strongest pieces of evidence we can utilize to track people down or place people at the scene of a crime; but if that power an privilege is abused or used for the wrong reasons…what could happen then?

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Dookhan has now been found guilty on 27 counts of misleading investigations, falsely executing reports and tampering with evidence during an ongoing investigation. She has also been sentenced to serve two years of probation and to undergo mental health counseling, but only if needed. At this moment, Dookhan is out on bail. The courts are now scrambling to go through all of her former cases and deciphering which pieces of evidence she and her colleagues may have contaminated. Because of this catastrophe, the state has currently expunged 600 people’s convictions, released over 300 people from prison, and is pushing to complete thousands of others. A representative from the District Attorney’s Office stated the lab scandal has burdened not only the district attorneys, but also the courts. Due to the scandal, the courts have had to free or grant prisoners new trials to fulfill fair and impartial justice. The representative went on to say that it is something that will have to be corrected for a very long time.

Image result for jail I personally think the real burden that should be focused on is that of those wrongfully convicted because of this woman, those that have lost precious moments with loved ones or missed important milestones in family members’ lives. Thinking about this huge load to bear, I think the next question that may come up in someone’s mind is “why?”. Why would Dookhan do something like this? According to evidence through e-mails and conversations between Dookhan and prosecutors, she had a very close relationship with them and was very willing to assist them with different cases. A prosecutor communicating with Dookhan stated not only that he needed an evidence sample of marijuana to weigh 50 pounds at the minimum, but also the reason why. This prosecutor actually explained to a lab worker that his goal was to place a trafficking charge on the defendants and that this was the only way, The prosecutor concluded his e-mail by saying that any assistance she could give him was extremely helpful and made sure to add an abundant amount of exclamation points and thank you’s. Dookhan later responded with a simple OK and a sample measurement of over 70 pounds; well over what the prosecutor needed. Other prosecutors have been seen begging for her testimony at trial even after she explained she was not qualified enough to provide it because they felt they could not win without it. It could have been a combination of wanting to be accepted, a heavy and stressful workload, and maybe other factors that caused Dookhan to commit these crimes.

I think this is a perfect example of what science with no scientific process can cause. Because of this was a state-run facility that looked like it was doing a good and productive job, nobody questioned it. It was fulfilling a societal role and pushing a political agenda which is keeping “bad” people in jail. In reality, Annie Dookhan was putting innocent men and women in prison on the whim of the prosecution by falsifying evidence and tampering with data. She is in such a serious and important position I would have hoped that she had people checking over her work not affiliated with the cases or the department overall that could approve the amount of data she goes through or compare it to other labs her size, or even the variability of the results she was producing. Unfortunately though, when you look like you’re doing a “good job”, people don’t seem to question that. I think it’s important to remember who the real victims of this tragic crime are; not the labs or the reputation of the courts, but the people who were put in prison or jail off of this terrible forensic work that was unjust and incorrect. Do I think 3-5 years is enough for falsely imprisoning 40,000 people? Absolutely not, but I would typically leave that up to the discretion of the courts…but after researching about this, I think I will respectively not feel as comfortable with trusting our justice system.


Government Chemist Tampered With 40,000 Cases, Locking Countless Innocent Americans in Prison

Annie Dookhan pleads guilty in drug lab scandal

Annie Dookhan Photo

Jail Photo

Grocery Store Hunger

We have all had that feeling of browsing the grocery aisles on an empty stomach. Suddenly, everything in the store looks like the tastiest thing that we have ever seen and we can not wait to eat everything that we are purchasing. Not only have I been in this situation as a grocery shopper, I have also been on the other side of the counter as a cashier. I worked at a local grocery store for a year and a half and on a regular basis customers would admit that they bought more than they should have, because they were hungry. A lot of times that was their justification for buying cakes, donuts, ice cream, cookies or a whole pizza. Now that I buy my own groceries for my apartment I find myself justifying the purchase of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, because it looked good at the store and I had not eaten yet that morning. After my own experiences and hearing the experiences of many shoppers, I have developed the hypothesis that we buy more food at the grocery store when we are hungry than if we have recently consumed food.

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I found a study done by Cornell University which brings data from an experiment to my hypothesis. The information that Cornell had before their own study was that a person eats and buys an increased amount of food after fasting (USC Study). The reason for this is not explicitly stated in the article, but I think that the body is in survival mode and will eat a lot to make up for the fact that it has been deprived. It reminds me of the Snicker’s commercials where they say “You’re not you when you’re hungry”, because maybe we act more animal-like and impulsive to ensure that we have a full stomach once again. Another study presented at a conference for The Society for the Study of Ingestion Behavior explains why our primal instincts come out when we are hungry. There are higher levels of a hormone called Ghrelin which was found to cause participants to pay more for food than if they had lower levels of the hormone. Ghrelin levels rise when we are hungry and could potentially cause us to make irrational decisions to satisfy our appetite. Knowing this information already, Cornell took things a step further.

Cornell’s study took into account how healthy the foods were that a person chooses to eat after being hungry. Participants were asked to fast for five hours prior to the experiment and then they were split into two groups. One group was not given any food while the other was told to eat from a plate of crackers until they felt satisfied. Next, they were told to shop in a fake online grocery store. The results showed that shoppers who were given the crackers before shopping chose less high-calorie foods than shoppers who were left hungry. In conclusion, food deprivation, even short-term, could lead to higher calorie food purchases.

In this experiment, the food given to participants was the control. The independent variable was the amount of food given to participants before shopping and the dependent variable was the amount of high-calorie items selected. In my opinion, there could be an argument for reverse causation. For example, if I knew that I was buying a high-calorie item to eat, maybe I would not eat prior to grocery shopping. I think that for the most part this experiment was done pretty well. They conducted this test over two days during two different times. Low-calorie alternatives were offered that were substitutes to high-calorie offerings which is similar to products in a typical grocery store. This gave participants the option to choose either one so that we could test which they would buy in real life. Some confounding variables could be differences in lifestyle, familiarity with food choices, preferences and age. There were 68 participants so I think that it would be a good idea to test more people on this and look for any patterns in gender, age, nationality, etc.


World of Warcraft: Online Education?

Video games are a touchy subject when it comes to their benefits to kids, vs. their many negative side effects. However, not all video games are made the same. It’s important to consider the different aspects that different games bring to the table, and a very good example of a game that involves everything from reading literature, to social interaction and cooperation, and even to some mental scientific processes and calculations, is World of Warcraft, the massively popular MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game).


The game, which has been around in a developing form since 2004, with a story that began in 1994, is set primarily in the world of “Azeroth.” It is home not only to the fictional residents, but also to over 11 million subscribers worldwide, as of 2008. That’s a bigger population than most U.S. cities. In a game that requires social interaction and a community investment, players are required to spend more time on the characters they create and play as in the world. For example, there is some content in the game that simply cannot be done alone with a single character’s toolkit. Instead, players must team up to take down the harder bosses within the game. For example, somebody who designs their character around being a “tank” would be the one holding the focus of the enemy and protecting their allies, including basic damage dealers that may sometimes put out more damage than they can take (thus, the benefit of having a tank), while someone designated as a “healer” would make sure the tank, or anyone else, doesn’t die. Additionally, each player in the encounter must sometimes follow mechanics such as avoiding “area of effect”, or “AoE,” damage, while also remaining in the line of sight of the healer in order to be saved from going to low on health. This sort of coordination must be done either by studying the fights yourself and applying the tactics, or by listening to and cooperating with a “raid leader” telling you what to do. Furthermore, as players become more experienced themselves, they’re able to pass on what they know to newer players. This sort of practice in leadership is also beneficial.


Aside from social benefits, studies that analyzed official World of Warcraft forum posts showed 85% of players demonstrating scientific literacy within the posts, evidenced by the interactions and discussions around endgame content. This included the use of statistics and hypotheses to make points about strategies and game mechanics. Many of these mechanics also get younger children thinking mathematically, as described by Jill Palmer, a mother who spends time with her kids playing games like World of Warcraft. In her example, she explains how her son Luke pondered the question of what would happen if a character in the game in a disease cloud could infect other characters. In other words, if a character walked into a room and infected four other characters, how quickly would the disease spread as each of those four characters infected characters that they encountered? It’s this kind of problem solving that is really not too far off from what scientists are doing in the real world, says Constance Steinkuehler, an educational researcher.


Plus, video games in general can be beneficial to us as well, as the results of another study consisting of 33 laparoscopic surgeons show that the surgeons who played video games performed their advanced procedures 27% faster than those who didn’t, and made 37% fewer errors. Additionally, more research using the WoW forums showed that, within the discussions, 86% of people utilized the community to share information in order to help figure out in-game problems, and 58% of them demonstrated the use of systematic and evaluative processes. Not only that, but World of Warcraft‘s expansive quest text and item names also contain advanced use of vocabulary that can help in school. Even if you don’t know exactly what a word means, you can make a fairly educated guess based on where you remember seeing the word. For me, off the top of my head, I remember knowing words from vocab units in high school English classes thanks to World of Warcraft, including words like malevolent, vindicator, maelstrom, and feint, among many other words.


As long as it’s regulated, gameplay and communication like that in World of Warcraft proves to be beneficial in many ways. Though, there are dangers to spending too much time in Azeroth, but it’s fair to say that many beneficial things become hazardous when done too much, with little other activity outside of the fact. That being said, when played a healthy amount in addition to regular exercise and other activities, the social and academic benefits to World of Warcraft can be a real “game changer” for some students that need the extra interactivity to focus and succeed.

World of Warcraft Video Game Succeeds in School
Can ‘World of Warcraft’ Make You Smarter?
World of Warcraft hits 11.5 million subscribers
Game Logo
Student playing World of Warcraft
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In-Game Screenshot #2

The Drug Culture in the United States

As the legalization of marijuana spreads across the country, there has been more evaluation into the drug culture within the United States, specifically that which is associated with partying. There are differing levels of drugs that affect the body in various ways. For example, nobody would say that smoking pot affects you the same way taking a hit of heroin does. There is a large taboo associated with any type of carnal pleasure in the United States, possibly stemming from the puritanical roots from which our nation was founded, but in the modern generation some stigmas associated with a more “risqué” type of life are being lifted.


This begs the question, what are the effects of different drugs on the body? In other words, is experimentation OK?


Let’s build from the ground up with more approachable vices: alcohol and marijuana. Alcohol is considered a depressant and effects the brain by causing sluggishness, a difficulty in speech, and an overall impairment of the brain’s activity, according to Alcohol is ingested and broken down by the liver; whatever can’t be broken down goes straight to the brain where it effects neurotransmitters, specifically GABA, which is where the sluggishness and slowed reaction time comes from ( On the other hand, cannabis (more commonly known as pot or marijuana) is considered a hallucinogen. Commonly ingested through smoking, pot can cause an altered state of mind, sluggish movement, and can affect memory ( According to LifeHacker, the active component is THC, which affects the dopamine levels in our brains and creates the sense of happiness associated with smoking pot. Both alcohol and marijuana can cause lasting effects if they are used recklessly, but in regards to recreational use in moderation they do not seem to bring about harmful results. These are the most common recreational drugs and can sometimes be considered gateways to other, riskier drugs.

maxresdefaultWithin the partying community, the next tier of drugs includes MDMA (commonly known as ecstasy), LSD, and cocaine. These are not as common as the aforementioned, but they make quite an appearance in the more hardcore nightlife scene. I’ll begin with LSD, as it’s one of the most notorious and mythical out of the three. LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is in the same class as pot, being a hallucinogen. The most common effects include a distorted sense of reality, specifically affecting the senses, and increases brain activity. There are not a lot of lasting effects associated with LSD, though taking it frequently will cause a buildup of the drug and therefore increase tolerance ( While it can’t be said that LSD is a “safe drug” due to how much it affects and distorts the senses (which can put the user in an unsafe situation), LSD has the possibility to be enjoyed in a safe situation.url

Now we’re going to shift to a drug not as many people are familiar with: MDMA. MDMA is a synthetic drug that combines some hallucinogenic and stimulant properties which primarily affects the serotonin levels in the brain, causing a great sense of happiness and euphoria by affecting the senses. The issue with this synthetic drug is its potential for damaging the serotonin production, which could impair cognitive function according to Mic Network. As opposed to some of the other drugs that have been mentioned, MDMA has the potential for lasting effects on the brain after one use and it usually takes a while to recover from.

To finish up this barrage of facts, I will be discussing cocaine, which is often lumped into the same class as heroine due to its monumental effects on the brain. It is a stimulant typically associated with the wealthy and is often snorted to achieve the desired effect. The danger is the highly addictive nature of the drug, which is higher than those previously mentioned. According to Medical Daily, cocaine typically affects the frontal cortex, specifically dopamine receptors. This creates a sense of happiness, but because cocaine is a short-lived high, the crash results in a depressive state. To achieve a similar high, more of the drug must be taken which is how overdoses occur. In fact, cocaine is one of the leading causes of non-prescription drug related overdose (


In the grand scheme of things, I could describe all the various drugs that are associated with a hardcore partying life, but nobody wants to read lists of facts for that long. But throughout constant research and interest in the subject material, any sort of drug that has an influence over the brain should be treated with caution. Some drugs are a lot more dangerous than others, but in a safe environment and with the right people and knowledge experimentation is not as devastating as many people make it out to be. It is key to be wary of signs of addiction and not to use any of the aforementioned substances as an outlet for inner turmoil on a frequent basis.


You Are What You Eat… Or Are You?

We have all heard the phrase “you are what you eat!” To me it was nothing more than a saying to get kids to eat healthy. However, I began to wonder whether or not there is some truth behind this saying. Is it true that who you are can influence what foods you like to eat? Or is it possible that the foods that a person enjoys effects their personality? Eager to find the truth behind this cliche saying, I did someimage research.
According to a recent study conducted by the University of Innssbruck, a persons appetite can directly correlate with their personality. In their experiment, 1000 people with an average age of 35 were studied to determine wether or not bitter taste preferences are associated with dark personality traits such as sadness and narcissism.

The first test took 500 participants and gave them a list of foods ranging in taste from bitter to sour to sweet. They then asked the subjects to rate the foods on a preference scale from “strongly like” to “strongly dislike”. After this the same participants took a personality test that asked them question relating to five different personality types. The second group of 500 participants took a similar test, however their food choices had only two tastes; bitter and sweet. After examining evidence from both of these experiments, the team concluded that there was a correlation between bitter taste preferences and negative personality traits.

Another study done in 2013 by Penn State professor Nadia Byrnes found that personality plays a role in a persons lust for spicy food. In this study, 184 participants ranging from 18-45 were asked questions to assess their tendency to engage in risky behavior. The participants were then separated into two groups, risk takers and non risk takers. After the test the subjects were given a spicy meal and told to rate how much they enjoyed the taste as time passed. The researchers discovered that the non risk takers tended to dislike the meal a vast majority of the time. In contrast, those who were more inclined to take risks enjoyed the spicy sensation. The team found that a persons personality can be a factor in their appetite. John E Hayes, a co author of the study, concluded that, “…It seems plausible that personabrand_voice_brand_personality_creative_imagineering1lity differences may be a major factor in this sort of (taste) exploration.”

Both of these studies examined if a persons personality has an effect on their eating preferences. They reached similar conclusions that were consistent with personality impacting appetite, however neither study provided a mechanism to explain their findings Both conclusions could be due to chance, but it is unlikely because the sample sizes are decently large. It is also entirely possible that what a person eats alters their personality. If this were the case it would be reverse causation. Another possibility is that a third variable plays a factor in shaping persons personality and taste buds. These traits could include a persons upbringing, age, background or race. Although there are some doubts surrounding these studies, I believe that it is entirely possible to say with confidence that personality correlates with a persons taste preferences. However, we learned that correlation does not always equal causation.

In summary, it is very possible that who you are can effect what you eat. Both of the studies were done well and there is a low chance that they are victim of the file drawer problem. While, “you are what you eat!” might be cliche parental advice, there could be some truth behind it.

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Concussions in Football


Much has changed across the landscape of football in the last 20 years. Take a look at the roster for each of the NFL’s 32 teams and you’ll be unable to find a single player drafted before 1995. More than 60% of the leagues teams have moved into new stadiums in that same time frame. Team practice and training facilities, weight rooms, offices, and planes have all gone digital, and even the players’ equipment is drastically more high tech than back in the 90’s. It’s seems that when a college or pro football teams notices something can be improved, whether it be their depth chart, playbook, jumbotron, or uniform color scheme, the upgrade happens quickly no matter the cost. So I ask, when nearly everything in football has been changing rapidly for decades, why are we just beginning to change the way we look at concussions?

In April of 1999, Mike Webster, a then 47 year old who played for 16 seasons in the NFL, claimed in his disability application to the NFL that his football career had caused him dementia. Two and a half years later, the NFL’s Retirement Board ruled that Webster’s football career had in fact caused him permanent brain damage, with Webster’s lawyer arguing that the ruling means the NFL should’ve known there was a clear link between football and brain damage. Just two months later the chairman of the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) committee, Dr. Elliot Pellman, claimed that studies by his committee had shown that brain injuries in the NFL are uncommon and minor. In 2003, the same Dr. Pellman (who also served as the team doctor for the New York Jets) sent a Jets player back into a game minutes after being knocked out cold and even authorized his committee’s publishing of a paper in Neurosurgery where they claimed that NFL players are actually LESS susceptible to brain injury. This pattern of negligence would continue for years (and some would say still continues); it wasn’t until Allegheny (Pa) County medical examiner Dr. Bennet Omalu examined former player Mike Webster’s brain and found a connection between head injuries sustained in football and the development chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) that a potential problem was discovered.

In the years since Dr. Omalu’s discovery of CTE in Mike Webster’s brain, concussions have taken center stage amongst a laundry list of other problems in the NFL. In more than five cases of former NFL players who committed suicide since 2010, CTE was discovered in the brain of ALL of them. According to a September 2015 article published in the Atlantic [ ], researchers at Boston University studied the brains of 165 former football players, with experience ranging from high school, college, and the professional level. Of the studied players, an astounding 79% of them were found to traces of CTE in their brain, with 96% of the 91 former NFL players who were tested testing positive for evidence of CTE.

Despite the small test group from this study, I found it absolutely shocking to read that nearly all of the former NFL players tested had developed signs of CTE. Perhaps even more horrifying is the fact that many of these players, who had only played football up to the high school level, had evidence of CTE in their brain. 20 years ago, the NFL had no idea it had a concussion problem. 10 years later, the league was still trying to deny the same theory. Today, it’s clear that there is a significant link between playing football and developing permanent brain damage, an issue that’s no longer affecting strictly pro players. Yes, the NFL does have a concussion problem, but so does the entire sport of football, a sport that over 1,088,000 high school boys play each fall.




Should People Begin to Think About Colonizing Space?

This question has been around since space travel actually became a tangible concept in the mid-20th century. After John F. Kennedy proclaimed “We will go to the Moon”, the space race was in full swing. As time has passed, the depth of the space race has continued to increase, as the US and other countries have continued to push the “Final Frontier” and explore as much of outer space as possible. With inventions like the Mars Rover and the Hubble Telescope, exploring space has become a more realistic opportunity. But what happens in the event that Earth is no longer inhabitable? Should humans try to colonize space, and even if they tried, would they be able to?

The first place to find the answers to a question like this is NASA. The organization has already put out information for those who are looking to settle in outer space. While mostly mentioned in a joking manner, some of the information could seriously be useful if humanity were to find itself one day having to find real estate in outer space. Even if space colonization were to happen, would a different type of person have to exist to be able to survive?

Business Weekly decided to look into this issue for themselves. They remarked about how a number of scientists think human colonization will be inevitable. For this to occur without spacesuits and various other parameters that current humans would have to work around, some scientists think that humans will be forced to evolve. “These people will become an offshoot of the human tree, they will probably evolve into something else,” said Chris Impey, a professor at the University of Arizona quoted in the article. While his ideas might be a bit far-fetched, he has much more knowledge on this subject than most.

Between NASA, astronomy professors, and other speculators on the subject, the possibilities of the future are endless. Whether they involve NASA and other space travel associations across other countries, contingency planning is certainly underway. Between those who are merely speculative conspiracy theorists, and those who have extensive knowledge on the subject of Earth’s future, both might be on to something when it comes to space travel and potential space colonization.


A future Manhattan on a different planet? Link:


Dickerson, Kelly. “Moving to Mars Could Create a Whole New Breed of People.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 12 June 2015. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Globus, Al. “Space Settlement Basics.” NASA, 2016. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Can Traumatic Experiences Affect Future Generations?

Behavioral epigenetic expressions. I’m sure you’re thinking, epige-what? Just under 25 years ago, two scientists begin to realize the impact that certain events can have on specific races/ethnicities in each generation. Moshe Szyf and Michael Meaney, both of McGill University in Canada, began to realize the idea that events like the Holocaust, atomic bombings in Japan, the Vietnam War, and many other critical events of the 20th century could impact the next generation literally in terms of DNA. While obviously these events had effects in the lives of each affected group in terms of socio-economic and political factors, Szyf and Meaney started to develop the idea that it could literally change the .1% of DNA that can be altered.

To put behavioral epigenetics in simpler terms of nature vs. nurture, it is basically the idea that the nurturing affects the nature, rather than vice versa. According to the Oxford Journals, most of the research in the field focuses on early development of organisms. “Behavioral epigenetics refers to the study of how signals from the environment trigger molecular biological changes that modify what goes on in brain cells.” (Powledge, 2011). The hardest part of conducting research in a field as big as epigenetics is navigating the human genome.

The regulation of the structure of the genome is three-dimensional of course, adding an extra layer of difficulty as to mapping out where the discrepancies are inside the DNA itself. Regulating the physical structure and the chemical adjustments that are made, they are the two most frequently utilized processes. The most important development in epigenetics began with discovering where the changes came from with the parents (Oxford).

According to Oxford, the foundation for how epigenetics would be connected to parents and their children began with Meaney studying rats and how their parents could pass down responses to stress for their children. The journal cites that the scientists were able to study the brains of the rats, and following this discovery, continued to develop their ideas, eventually coming upon the process of imprinting as they discovered how different animals can become hybrids of one another through genomic imprinting. As for the future of epigenetics? Well, the hurdles to having meaningful research in the subject are numerous, according to the author, Powledge. But as far as cell biology goes, this could very well be the next big thing in the field, especially if hybrid traits continue to unravel with humans. While epigenetics still has a ways to go, it is heading in the right direction.


Mapping out the epigenetics. Link:


Hurley, Dan. “November 2016.” Discover Magazine. Discover Magazine, 25 June 2015. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Powledge, Tabitha M. “Behavioral Epigenetics: How Nurture Shapes Nature.” Behavioral Epigenetics: How Nurture Shapes Nature. Oxford University, 2011. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Does it really take 7 years to digest swallowed gum?

We’ve all heard the myth: Gum takes 7 years to pass through your body. Growing up, I’ve always been petrified of swallowing gum, having heard horror stories of kids who need to Image result for gumhave huge wads of swallowed gum surgically removed because it never digested. However, how accurate is this myth? I decided to investigate.

What is Gum, exactly?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, gum is a base that is a nonnutritive, masticatory substance made up of either synthetic or natural rubberlike materials, including plasticizing softeners, preservative antioxidizing agents, and resins. The components are often tree-derived, and gum can be traced to somewhere around 2,000 years ago in America, or a primitive form of it (FDA). Although this sounds complicated and worried, it ends up being a simple formula that is consistently delicious. However, is it dangerous for your digestive tract? Let’s investigate.

Source One

According to, this myth is false. Gum passes right through one’s digestive system just as any other food would, as your body has every capability to break down gum’s components over the course of a few days, including oil derivatives, sweeteners, and the Image result for chewed gum stuck in digestive systemrubber or latex base, which can take slightly longer. However, the author of this study, Joseph Castro, does not recommend swallowing gum, as in some cases, children have in fact needed gum surgically removed if enough is swallowed in a short enough amount of time, causing constipation. Scary stuff… let’s take a look at another study.

Source Two

In the next case, we look at John Matson’s research in his article for the Scientific American. According to Matson, this myth is still false, as it is impossible for anything to stay in the digestive system for so long unless it was too large to physically be removed, such as something larger than a quarter. He agrees that the majority of gum’s components are easily Image result for chewed gum stuck in digestive systembroken down. However, a few are a bit more difficult than others (Matson). Although gum most likely passes through the system slower than many other foods, it will usually pass through with ease. However, Matson agrees that this doesn’t mean it is a good idea to regularly swallow gum, for the same reasons, as it has historically needed the rare but possible surgical removal if too large of an amount is present.


In conclusion, it seems as though this old tale is rather innaccurate, and gum digests relatively easily, but perhaps slower. However, it remains in one’s best interest not to frequently swallow gum, as difficulties can occasionally arise, and why not just spit it out? It’s cleaner, quicker, and easier, anyways. Just don’t stick it underneath Andrew’s desk trays!

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Got Milk? Nope, Don’t Need It


My roommate and I got in a heated argument earlier this week whether or not a young adult still needs to be drinking milk in order to stay healthy. His argument was that milk still offers important nutrients, calcium specifically, that is still needed to support the bone structure of an adult. I argued that because we are no longer growing, it is not necessary.

When I Google searched “do adults need milk”, I was overwhelmed with the amount of articles claiming that the claim “milk is the key to healthy bones” is false. In fact, many of the articles argued that milk can be more harmful to your body rather than beneficial. In Vivian Goldschmidt’s article, Debunking The Milk Mythshe claims that “the calcium from milk pulls the milk from your bones in order to level out the calcium in your digestive system”. Obviously calcium being removed from your bones is not an ideal transaction to be taking place.


I didn’t stop there with my research on whether or not adult need milk in their diet. In another article that I discovered while trying to gather more information on this topic, I discovered milk harms your body in other ways other than pulling calcium from your bones. Milk is one of the biggest sources of saturated fats. Because there is so much saturated fat in dairy products and milk, there has been a link discovered connecting Type 1 Diabetes and dairy. Type 1 Diabetes is a disease where your immune system attacks its own pancreas.

Because of the overwhelming amount of data I found arguing against drinking milk, I think it is safe to say that I won the argument. Of course, my roommate, much like family doctors and the government, refuse to accept the arguments against milk even though they are in abundance


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Do seasonal changes affect students academic success?

Going to a school like Penn State, we suffer through a lot of winter. Gross, rainy, snowy, freezing days are the norm here for 80% of the year, and yet, it seems to be a fairly fun, loving place. However, one common myth is that seasonal changes affect students academic success. I decided to investigate this, because I’m already feeling less motivated and more inclined to stay in bed rather than get up for my daily 9 am. So, do seasonal changes affect students academic success?Image result for seasonal changes affect student performance

Study One

In one study, a group of 2479 college students were analyzed to investigate how their GPAs were affected across various seasons. In this study, the GPAs of the students were collected from the fall semester and the spring semester to investigate if there was any significant changes. According to the authors, sophomore, junior, and senior students retained higher GPAs in the spring when the weather is looking up and typically nicer. In addition, most students had higher scores on tests and assignments in the spring season, leading to one potential link between seasonal changes and academic success (Besoluk and Onder). However, let’s take a look at another study to find any other evidence.

Study Two

This study won a Special Achievement Award at this year’s Environmental Protection Agency symposium held in the nation’s capital. Three Oregon high school students, sophomore Josean Perez, junior Julio Montano, and senior Jose Perez, chose to investigate whether temperature, specifically room temperature, affects student performance. Their hypothesis stted that students would be more attentive at a neutral room temperature, and the test would be conducted among ninth graders. They begun by administering a standard test to six ninth grade classes in a controlled manner (Perez, Montano, and Perez). They kept each class for 10 minutes in the room to get them used to the temperature, and then had them take the initial test. They varied the temperatures by either placing hot plates around the room or Image result for seasonal changes affect student performanceopening windows and placing ice in the sinks (Perez, Montano, and Perez). The differences between scores were insignificant in their initial results. They decided to change methods, conducting some tests in portable classrooms with AC, to more significantly vary the temperatures. Following these changes, they found the average test scores were slightly more distinct, however, overall too similar to conclude that temperature has any effect on student performance (Perez, Montano, and Perez).

Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the studies were too varied to conclude anything for sure, one possible cause here is something called Seasonal Affective Disorder. This disorder Image result for seasonal changes affect moodis apparent in the fall and winter as exposure to sunlight is minimized, and it affects between five and 13 percent of the population ( Apparently, this is a result of a variety of causes, including an affect on serotonin and melanon levels as well as circadian rhythm.  The symptoms include increased stress and anxiety, lower moods, irratibility, feelings of guilt, decreased energy, increased sleep, and changes in school performance, according to the University of Dallas. This could very well be an additional contributor to this trend of worsened school performance in the cold months. However, it affects only a small portion of the population.


In conclusion, the results from the few studies that have been conducted on this are not consistent enough to point strongly enough to a link between seasonal changes and student academic performance. One possibility could definitely be Seasonal Affective Disorder, but again, this is too small of an affect to be the root cause. Perhaps with more studies, we will find a stronger link.

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What happens when you loss sleep?

We have all had those nights. Stayed up to late or had to wake up extremely early. Not getting enough sleep can change your mood for the rest of the day. Have you ever wondered what happens to your brain when you loose sleep?


A study was conducted at the University of Surrey about this topic, published in  the journal Science. Within this they studied the brains performance during the day, after not getting enough sleep at night. Also, they studied the symptoms of psychiatric and neurodegenerative conditions in the brain and wax and wane in the brain, to see if they leave an effect.

Researchers did this study on 33 people, who all had sleep deprivation over a two day period. They took brain scans of each brain and compared their brain activity levels and where the brain activity was happening in the brain. One place in the brain that a lot of activity was happening was the subcortical area, with a rhythmic period following after.

The brains being studied where found a reduced amount of activity in the brain after the recovery of sleep. Also, some of the brains studied were found had a rhythmic pattern of activity. One this that researchers found was that the effects of sleep deprivation  were different to every brain being studied. This was made apparent when they were asked to preform a simple task, and all reacted different.

After looking at the brain scans taken, it showed melatonin rhythm in the brains. This acts as a circadian pacemaker, controlling sleep cycles. The responses to the circadian rhythm was different to most of the brains studied.

After this study was concluded, it can be seen that brain function is prominently influenced during its awake stages, and not when its sleep deprived. Because of the across the board, different responses to sleep deprivation in the brain, the brain mainly functions when its fully awake. Though this did not really show how the brain acts when sleep deprived, this showed researchers how the brain functions when awake. This also explained the activity of the brain and how certain symptoms effect that in the brain.

So what is the catch on this study. The brain responds differently when sleep deprived and the activity in the brain is different. So try to cuddle up, turn off the lights and get the amount of sleep recomended



Wearing socks to bed causes nightmares?

My roommate told me last night to take my socks off before bed. I looked at her and was like “What the heck? Why?” She said she read an article on twitter that said sleeping with your socks on gives you nightmares. I decided to take my socks off and went to bed, but should I have actually taken my socks off?

It has been said that warming your feet with socks can make you fall asleep faster. Wearing socks heats your cold feet and causes vasodilation, which is the dilation of the blood vessels. Researchers have found that the vasodilation tells your brain that it is ready for bedtime.

Researchers have indicated a correlation between the vasodilation and the speed of falling asleep. So why wouldn’t you want to wear socks to bed if it would make you get to bed quicker? Also, it has been found that wearing socks to bed helps regulate your body temperature while you sleep. This helps prevent night sweating and hot flashes. Wearing socks to bed can also help moisturize your feet, especially in the winter months when it gets cold and your feet get dry.


If you want to wear socks to bed, you must make sure they are the right kind of socks. An important factor in making sure your socks are benefiting your health and sleep, is ensuring that your socks are clean and fresh so that bacteria does not build up and lead to infections on your feet such as fungus. Another factor that can lead to an increase of bacteria build up is the material of the socks. Socks that are too thick, for example, can block sufficient airflow from the feet causing fungus conditions. Socks that are thin and made from natural fibers are good and can benefit your health and your sleep.

Nightmares occur during the REM sleep stage and are caused by experiences throughout your day or life. Theories have been found that other factors such as what you wear, such as socks, can cause nightmares as well. Biochemists of Australia’s University of Tasmania conducted a study where they added spicy sauces to a healthy male’s dinner plate. By adding the spicy condiments it elevated his body temperature during the first sleep cycle. It was also found that he fell asleep faster. This study is related to the idea of wearing socks to bed due to the increase in body temperature.

There are many personal anecdotes in cases where people where socks to bed and claim they have nightmares every time they do so. I personally like to sleep in socks when I am cold because it makes me warmer and feel more cozy. But after researching about this “myth” my roommate told me about, I am a bit hesitant on wearing socks to bed. Although after research, it has said it will make me fall asleep faster. I would like to see more research done on this issue.


Is laughter really the best medicine?

We’ve all seen those incredibly cheesy quotes on Facebook and Instagram that go something along the lines of “Life is better when you’re laughing” or “Laughter is the best medicine”. I remember scrolling through Twitter and seeing a fun fact that said that just smiling puts us in a good mood if we’re upset. I wanted to do some research to find out if any of this is true, especially since laughter is such an easy and free way to make ourselves feel better.


According to this article published in the Lancet Oncology Journal, laughter is a great form of therapy because it makes patients feel better, it releases endorphins in our brain, and it’s a proven, free way to recovery faster after surgery. Aaron van Dorn, the author of this study, uses laughter as a therapy for cancer patients. Cancer, something that is extremely devastating and affects millions of people, causes many people to become depressed, anxious, and even suicidal. Dorn plans on combatting this in his patients with laughter. He has a comedian come in to perform for the people in his hospital, and has noticed excellent results.

According to the Chopra Center, laughter has many great benefits to those who do it on a daily basis.

  1. Laughter reduces stress
  2. It increases resiliency in people
  3. It combats depression
  4. It decreases pain

There has even been a thing called laughter yoga, which is a practice that includes prolonged voluntary laughter!


Sources –

  1. Source 1 – Laughter study
  2. Source 2 – Chopra Center

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Health benefits and Dogs

guide-dogsEvery year around finals, Penn State brings dogs onto campus to help relax the students in stressful times. You not only see this growing trend on campus, but you also see more therapy animals in public. Now a days its common to have all kinds of illness being treated with animal therapy. Everything from PTSD to Seizures can now be treated or helped by your furry friend!

PTSD is a condition known as Post Traumatic Stress disorder that leaves you feeling alone, scared or losing control of yourself. It can be caused by numerous factors but one thing is for certain, dogs and other pets can help combat the painful symptoms one might have from PTSD.

Studies show that people who own pets report having lower stress levels on the whole. Not only did the study show longitudinal examples of lowered stress level with the individuals, but it also had no age range cap. Children to older adults with Alzheimer’s were taken into account in the study which made it more credible having such a large variety and population. Not only did the study give an array of illnesses that were impacted by owning a therapy pet, but there was also links to other studies that showed higher survival rates of particular illness that were more life threatening.


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Some confounding variable might play a role in the researchers results such as, likelihood that particular stressors are no longer in your life, or another variable could be the degree to which your illness effected you. You could get different results based on if you asked a child about reporting better health as opposed to someone who has had a stroke.  The study does suggest that it has looked at meta-analysis since it brings up other studies, but it doesn’t go into detail as to the study repeating another study.


Doggy Love!

So why is this so important to students? The answer, Oxytocin! Oxytocin is a chemical produced in the brain that can controls how the body heals itself! So the correlation between animals and our stress levels can be lowered if we play with our pups more! So pet therapy is not only a great way to heal people who have experienced trauma but it is also a great way for people who just need a little break from exams to relax and unwind! So next time you are stressed out, why not have some snuggle time with man’s best friend?!