Daily Archives: October 12, 2016

Mirroring: Unconscious Influence on Our Every Move?

Your friend is in tears over a recent breakup, so you too become sad in attempting to comfort her.  You’re going on a run around campus with a classmate, and you can’t help but fall in sync with each others’ steps.  You are in the library studying, but then you look up for a moment and see someone across the room check their phone, so you have the urge to pull your phone out and check it as well.

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Mirroring: it happens in dozens of different ways to each of us every single day.  Most of the time, we fail to even notice it.  The people around us can be hugely influential over us in this respect, but why does mirroring occur in the first place?  Why don’t we catch ourselves doing it?  And why can an action so subconscious be so prevalent in our day-to-day life?

The scientific term for what we know as mirroring or mimicking is called embodied cognition.  Whether it be a facial expression, a gesture, or some other form of body language, the most simple reason that embodied cognition exists is because we, as humans, are empathetic beings.  We are far from being robotic, and we are able to experience hundreds of emotions.

We are also relational beings, by which I mean that in order for us to remain in a healthy social state, we have to be in contact with other people.  Studies have even shown that infants and young children who are not in contact with other people from the start can develop serious social problems as they continue to develop.  Think about it, whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you need to interact with other people at some point during a day.  Otherwise, you are left feeling alone and potentially depressed.  We are empathetic, relational human beings.

So what role does embodied cognition, or mirroring play in our daily lives?  Why is it important?

Embodied cognition wouldn’t matter if it didn’t play such a huge role in our daily lives.  Mimicking is important because it demonstrates that we understand the people around us.  For example, repeating words back to somebody, helps you and the other person to come to a mutual understanding.  Embodied cognition is also a very important skill to us because it helps aid communication between people.  In a study I found, researchers tried to better understand what is called the mirror neuron system (or MNS) in children.  This system has been suggested to play a critical role in social cognition of children.  In this study, 16 children (between the ages of nine and ten) were neurologically scanned to discover this neural mechanism by which others’ intentions, emotions, and actions could be explained.

What was found, was that there did exist a strong neurological connection between empathy and activity in the mirror neuron system.  Despite the fact that the sample in this study was incredibly narrow and not very diverse, I think that it answers my own question.  This neurological link is critical to our very existence.  Without empathy, our daily activities would be limited, and vice versa.

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So is mirroring ultimately a good thing?  I would argue that it absolutely is.  Don’t be freaked out the next time someone yawns and you find yourself yawning as well, or if you realize that you’re making the same exact facial expression as the person that your’re talking to.  Rather, be encouraged– because you are obviously doing something right.  You are being empathetic and relational, or human for that matter.



Handel, S. (2013, February 17). The Unconscious Influence of Mirroring. Retrieved October 12,
2016, from http://www.theemotionmachine.com/the-unconscious-influence-of-mirroring/
Pfeifer, J. H. (2008, February 15). Mirroring others’ emotions relates to empathy and
interpersonal competence in children. NeuroImage, 39(4), 2076-85. Retrieved October 12, 2016,
from ScienceDirect.
Wilson, M. (2002, December). Six views of embodied cognition. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review,
9(4), 625-36. Retrieved October 12, 2016, from Springer Link.

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Can The State of Nature Be Tested?

Throughout middle and high school I always found the concept of the state of nature fascinating. The state of nature is a concept used in various topics such as religion and philosophy used to try to explain how life would’ve been before society. I support the theory that humans are naturally evil, and every action is only to benefit themselves. Since I started taking this class, I wondered if there is a scientific way to actually prove the state of nature.  I’ve researched and have found no studies conducted to actually test the hypothesis of humans are naturally evil or not. Maybe it is not possible for science to explain an idea such as this. The idea has been around for centuries, I find it very surprising that there is no scientific material brushing this question.

I hope the following information helps you understand more of the subject. Above depicts Thomas Hobbs (left) and John Locke (right). According to this chart, Thomas Hobbs believed that men were evil. He believed that men needed a monarchy so that law and order may be kept. He also believed that men could not be trusted to rule themselves, and needed a monarch to protect every man from themselves. john Locke’s ideas were on the opposite end of the spectrum. he believed that all men were good, and they could learn from their experience. He believed the government existed to protect an individuals rights and liberties. He also believed that people could be trusted to govern themselves, and revolt against the government if it was unjust.

An experiment conducted on this topic would be extremely difficult, and would have to be repeated many times to actually provide evidence that humans were naturally evil. Actually now that i think about it. it’d be next to impossible to recreate the world before civilization occurred. Perhaps it would have to be a much smaller scale experiment. It would be experimental, because the independent variable would be manipulated.The study would have two classrooms with the same amount of students. One classroom would have a teacher and the other would not. The independent variable would be the teacher being present to maintain order. The dependent variable would be the children’s behavior, with or without the teacher. I’m aware this idea is very crude, however from what I’ve learned in class, science can explain anything.

The idea of the state of nature intrigues me very much. I hope I raised some eyebrows by introducing this idea, and I’d really appreciate feedback from my fellow classmates and what their ideas are for the state of nature.

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Hobbes vs Locke: State of Nature



Injuries vs. Rain

My whole entire life I’d been playing competitive sports, whether it was soccer or lacrosse, I never once got seriously injured. Sure, I had gotten bruises and definitely felt sore after games, but never once broke a bone from a sport until a dumb, little flag football game. During a flag football game my junior year I had been hit and broke my hand, which resulted in having to undergo surgery in order to place two permanent screws in my hand. Obviously I was angered and annoyed that it would take a while for my hand to feel back to normal; however, it was not until someone had told me I’d still feel pain in my hand when it rains is when I became even more paranoid. Would this really happen to me and is it true that rain causes our bones to feel pain? And is there a possibility that this pain could cause me to have arthritis in years to come? I was determined to figure this out by testing hypothesis and researching data in order to discover which hypothesis was correct. The null hypothesis would be rain does not cause joint pain, while the alternative hypothesis would be rain does cause joint pain.

According to Annie Hausser, barometric pressure may have something to do with why one could feel pain in their joints when it is about to rain.  Barometric pressure is the weight in the air in the atmosphere. When barometric pressure is low, the weather tends to be worse which can result in rain, ice, or possibly snow. But what does this have to do with our joints? According to Dr. James Gladstone, joint linings and the ligaments have nerve linings which when the weather pressure changes one will feel stiffness in the joint. Robert Jamison, PhD and a Professor at Harvard Medical School, conducted a study with people who had severe chronic pain to see if when the barometric pressure dropped would the people feel more pain. The results concluded that 67.9% of the people who had severe chronic pain felt more pain when the barometric pressure dropped!  This information concludes that the alternative hypothesis stands and rain does cause joint pain because of the change in barometric pressure.


So would I be feeling this pain now? According to the Arthritis Foundation, if I were to be feeling this pain I’d already have arthritis. Lucky for me, I have not yet to feel pain in my hand; yet since my fracture was considered a ‘traumatic injury’ (usually an injury caused in sports or accidents) I am more likely to develop osteoarthritis. According to the U.S Center for Sports Medicine, this type of arthritis occurs when cartilage is damaged, resulting in it not being able to be replaced. That is why this type of arthritis is so common in people who have shoulder or knee replacements or in my case screws implanted in my hand. Treatment for this type of arthritis varies by the severity of it and is best to be consulted by an orthopedic doctor. Another possible way to lower your pain when the weather gets worse, is to bundle up. According to the Arthritis and Osteoporosis in Western Australia,  by keeping heat in your body, you are less likely to feel the pain. For example, it’d be smart to wear gloves or mittens if you get the arthritis pains in your hand.  So, even though I don’t feel pain now, my chances are very high because of my type of injury.imgres


All in all, it is proven that rain and weather can cause pain to one’s joints. By having a traumatic injury to bones and joints, the chances of one feeling pain on gloomy days is much higher than a person who never injured a bone or joint. I definitely consider being more careful next time you play a sport because you do not want to feel pain just from a rainy day!

Here is a link to help those who already have arthritis pain to see how the barometric pressure is dropping near you.

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Approach to Hand XRays











An Empire State Penny of Mind

When I was ten years old, my family took a trip to New York City where I got to see one of the city’s most famous tourist traps: the Empire State Building. The view at the top of the skyscraper was incredible, spanning lengths of city for miles. I remember thinking that it’d be an awfully long drop from the top of the building to the pavement below. Since that trip, I’ve become aware of the circulated legend that a penny dropped off tho-empire-state-building-facebooke top of the Empire State Building would kill a person if it hit them. It always seemed strange to me that such a tiny object could deliver a killing blow just because it’s dropped from a staggering height. However, I decided to put my intuition to the test and use science to determine whether or not my skepticism was warranted. So, will a penny dropped off the top of Empire State Building kill a person if it hits them?

Now that I had my question, I decided to form a hypothesis: If a penny is dropped off the Empire State Building, it will reach a velocity high enough to kill a person upon impact. This is the alternative hypothesis, while the null hypothesis proposes that nothing is going on, and a penny dropped at the height of the Empire State Building will not reach a velocity high enough to kill someone.

In this case, the causal variable (independent x) is the height at which the penny is dropped. The Empire State Building is 103 stories tall, making it 1,250 feet, or 381 meters in the rest of the world, to the top floor where the penny would be launched. The response variable (dependent y) is the velocity the penny reaches, as the velocity depends on the x variable of height. This makes the y variable a soft endpoint, and it is more easily measured. Ultimately, we are more concerned with the hard endpoint, which would be death if the penny reaches a velocity high enough to kill someone. However, an experiment designed to test the death of a person as the response variable would be pretty unethical, as it would be putting the test subjects at immense risk. Therefore, scientists can really only perform more theoretical tests that look at the physics behind a penny in free fall.

The response variable in this scenario is the basis for how this myth even began. In theory, a penny traveling in free fall from that kind of height would reach a deadly velocity. This is assumed to be because of the force of gravity. A kinematic equation, or an equation measuring the motion of an object, can describe this particular situation:


The equation that applies to this free fall theory is the one on the bottom left, which translates to final velocity = initial velocity + acceleration * time. To solve for this equation, the same site that gave me the formula notes that the initial velocity will be 0 meters per second, 0 m/s, because it is not moving at first. The acceleration of an object in free fall is always, in theory, -9.8 m/s. This accounts for the impact of gravity on the object. According to this article, it would take around 9 seconds for a penny dropped from the Empire State Building to hit the ground. So, according to my calculation using the formula, a penny would reach around 88 m/s, which is about 196 mph. While that is a pretty fast velocity, it’s still not enough to kill someone.

My calculation is also only accurate if we lived in a vacuum and any air resistance was removed. That is obviously not the case, and we must take the impact of drag and air resistance into account. At a certain point, an object reaches its terminal velocity, which occurs when air resistance is equivalent to the force of gravity. At terminal velocity, a penny would reach its maximum velocity, and the velocity would not go any higher. According to this paper compiled by members of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester, their calculations indicate that a penny would reach its terminal velocity at 40.1 m/s, which is 89.7 mph. This is significantly lower than the original calculation that only took gravity into account, and this velocity certainly isn’t enough to kill someone.

u-s_penniesAn experiment done by Louis Bloomfield, a physics professor at the University of Virginia, comes to a similar conclusion the theoretical calculations show. In his experiment, Bloomfield used a large weather balloon full of helium to launch pennies from a dispenser at varying heights. In this study, Bloomfield is manipulating the x variable, height, to determine the terminal velocity of a falling penny, which is the y variable. What he found from this study was that despite the balloon being placed at different heights, the pennies reached their full speed around 50 feet, then never got any faster. At that height, the penny reaches its terminal velocity and simply floats to the ground from there.

A famous show on the Discovery Channel, Mythbusters, also conducted an experiment on this topic. The stars of the show, Jamie and Adam, created a gun that would launch a penny at a speed of around 64.4 m/s, which is what some other studies have suggested the terminal velocity of a penny in free fall is; it is a bit high compared to some calculations. Jamie and Adam then tested their penny gun by firing it at a skull made of gel to see if it would have an impact. Even at 64.4 m/s, or 144 mph, the penny broke through the gel layer, but didn’t even make a dent in the actual makeshift skull. This evidence is compelling when considering the possibility of death by penny, and in light of this test, it seems not likely.

Based on my research into this myth, the superstitious can rest easy. While a penny falling from a skyscraper like the Empire State Building would reach a velocity that may be enough to feel painful, it won’t be the cause of your death. Taking air resistance into account, a penny physically cannot reach a high enough velocity to deliver a fatal blow. Even though scientists can’t ethically conduct studies where they drop pennies to see if people die from it, the physics here seems sound enough to allow me to fail to reject my null hypothesis. So next time you walk through New York City, don’t be afraid of falling pennies—they won’t bite.

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Can Eating Breakfast Benefit You?

Waking up every morning promptly at 6:30 a.m to go to school, I never had the motivation to do anything. I never wanted to wear a nice outfit, put my makeup on, but the one thing I hated the most was eating breakfast. Even at a young age, eating breakfast too early in the morning would make me extremely nauseous. I’d often complain to my teachers and ask to go to the nurse, which then aggravated my parents when they constantly would get the call. However, my mother would not give up. She was convinced breakfast was the most important meal of the day and would make me at least snack on a small granola bar before enduring a seven hour school day. After hundreds of fights and middle school finally beginning, my mother lost her battle and I never ate breakfast before school again. Was my decision a good idea though? Earlier in the week during my Penn State Freshman business seminar class, we were visited by someone who could help people cope with stress. She soon began to explain that eating can help with stress and that studies show students who eat breakfast tend to be better students. Could this be true? I had figured I had been doing fine in school, but could I have been doing better? Are people who eat breakfast better students?121218_kids_pickyeaters_border-jpg-crop-original-original


Here are the possibilities I concluded which could help prove the mechanism between the relationship of breakfast and good students. Either the Null Hypothesis being that eating breakfast does not influence positive school behavior or the Alternative Hypothesis being that breakfast does influence positive school behavior. I was determined to discover the answer in order to change my morning habits.

According to Livestrong, students who eat breakfast in the morning have a better concentration and are able to understand topics more clearly because of their alertness. According to an article written in The Guardian, a study performed by Cardiff University evaluated a total of 5000 students from ages 9 to 11. The University was determined to discover any link between breakfast and the students academic performance. According to the The Telegraph, the children were observed from about 6 to 18 months and were asked to report what they had for breakfast every morning. When the study was finished, the results proved that students that were doing better in school. The study linked between earlier test scores to newer test scores and discovered it was much higher than before. By eating breakfast, some students were able to reach twice the amount above average scores on assessments. According to Hannah Littlecott, the leader of the study, before this experiment it was very unclear if breakfast does indeed cause a positive school behavior. Obviously, from this study school performance is influenced by eating breakfast. Therefor, this would mean the Alternative Hypothesis is correct.imgres

Even though it is now proven that eating breakfast causes one to be a better student, why is breakfast causing them to better students rather than a meal later in the day? According to a study conducted by The University of Bath in the United Kingdom, they asked a group of people to eat 700 calories before 11 a.m. and every five minutes their blood pressure would be tested. The chart shown on the below explains how those who did eat breakfast, the orange, had a more stable blood sugar flow throughout the day than those who did not eat breakfast, the blue, who had a more sporadic blood sugar flow throughout the day.crm_body_on_breakfast_chart_10-14By eating breakfast one will be able to maintain their blood sugar which allows you to be able to maintain your energy which will allow you to be more alert in school throughout the day.

So, after understanding the results and this study it does seem like a good idea to eat breakfast before school. As long as you are eating something as simple as a bowl of cereal, the study confirms that it’ll help you become a much better student. I know that I will definitely be eating breakfast before my classes to ensure I can get at least a little boost on my academic performance!


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Centralia Bacteria

A few weeks ago in SC200, we talked about the bacteria growing in Centralia, Pennsylvania. For anyone who does not know what Centralia is, it is a small abandoned town in Mid-Eastern Pennsylvania. Centralia is known for its coal mines that caught on fire in 1962 and has been burning since. The fires spread through tunnels that miners dug in the years before the fire occurred making them nearly impossible to extinguish. The government evacuated the town and it has since been abandoned except for a handful of residents, but after their deaths their homes will become the government’s property and they will be destroyed.  This topic stuck out to me when we discussed it in class because I live about an hour north of Centralia and I have been there multiple times with my friends from home. When I visited with my friends, we did not see smoke. Residents believe this is because the fire is getting smaller or even moving somewhere else underground.

Image result for centraliaAmong teenagers and tourists, scientists have also shown an interest in Centralia. They are studying the bacteria and how it is evolving. This article talks about Ashley Shade , and the studies she is conducting at Centralia. She has been studying the temperature of the soil. She took samples from soil that was touched by the fire and soil that wasn’t. They also took soil samples from 8-inches underground. They then began running tests to see what microbes were  currently in the soil.

Ashley Shade was still confused about where the different microbes originated from. Her hypothesis is that some of the microbes she discovered like heat. Meaning they are in a way “asleep” until their surroundings become hot. Soil microbiologist, Peter Hartel, talks about what happens when a banana peel is put into a compost pile. When the compost becomes hot, thermophiles begin to break down molecules that certain bacteria types can not(specifically the types of bacteria that like a colder atmosphere). He then states that this explains why colder compost piles are not as sufficient as warmer ones.

Image result for centraliaBiochemist Madan Kharel visited a similar coal mine in Kentucky that has also caught fire. She went there to conduct similar study to that of Ashley Shade. She searched for bacteria to create new antibiotics and drugs for cancer research.

Susquehanna University also collected samples of bacteria from Centralia. They separated the bacteria from the area where the fire occurred and analyzed it to determine the different types of bacteria and their performance in the environment they were discovered in.  The students discovered evidence that proposes the possibility of thermophilic, thermotolerant nitrifying, and sulfur metabolizing bacteria living in the area. The students plan to continue to check on the bacteria at Centralia and monitor their changes as time goes on and as the fire spreads.

I think it is really interesting how a fire in an underground mine could influence the growth of new bacteria that could create new antibiotics and even anti-cancer medications. The fire is expected to burn for at least another 200 years which could result in even more different types of bacteria growth.

Is laughter the best medicine?

Like my previous post, which questioned the importance of breakfast, there is a lot of questioning in regards to the common sayings our society has. For instance, “is laughter really the best medicine?” This saying dates back thousands of years ago, and has been said to originate in the Bible within Proverbs 17:22, which states that “A joyful heart is good medicine.” Although I do believe that I feel both better and relieved of stress after a good laugh, this anecdote holds no scientific power. It is this personal correlation that peaks my interest, and leads me to delve further into the science behind laughter and mirth.


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So, is laughter the best medicine? If so, in what ways?

When attempting to find information on laughter’s effects, we must first ask if laughter can cure or prevent disease, if we can rule out reverse causation, and if reported experiments can be due to chance or a confounding variable.

Laughter has been seen to positively affect cardiovascular indexes. In a study done by University of Maryland Medical Center, humor responses were studied in a group of 300 participants. Half the participants had previous heart conditions (heart attacks, or coronary artery bypass surgery) and the other were completely healthy, and were similar in age. The study was done to see if the healthy people, with less fat and cholesterol levels within their cardiovascular system, had different laughter patterns compared to the unhealthy group. Within the study, they each were asked how they would respond to seemingly humorous situations with various multiple choice and true and false questions. According to the results, those with heart conditions appeared to laugh less compared to the other group in up to 40 percent of the given scenarios and questions. Because this experiment was conducted as such a large test, with 300 participants, it is given credibility. So… laughing helps the heart?

Laughing, as I personally feel, is believed to have a positive effect on stress levels. But I always wondered why would it effect my stress level… shouldn’t my stress be low when I am already in a positive mood since I am laughing? We look to natural killer cells, which are cells linked to the immune system. Given previous research, low natural killer cell activity is correlated with low disease resistance and has been known to worsen symptoms in patients with cancer and HIV. Laughter and mirth are thought to be beneficial to natural killer cell activity, assisting our cognitive behavior.

In another study completed at the Indiana State University Sycamore Nursing Center, two groups of women were divided into a treatment group and control group. The participants in each group were given questionnaires to assess their stress levels, both before and after the test. They were then compared in terms of blood tests regarding their natural killer cell levels based on the answers. The experiment was relatively small, as only 33 women participants were subject to the experiment. The tested treatment group watched a comical video, since the belief that laughter is based off of our sense of humor and comedy is accepted, while the other control group viewed a general video displaying tourism, which had no accepted comedic components. In result, the treatment group with the humorous video had self-reported that they had less stress after watching the video, which correlated to their higher scores on the questionnaire and higher number of natural kill cells compared to the control group. Out of this study, it was concluded that laughter may actually reduce stress!

However, there may be many confounding variables, such as a person’s given different sense of humor or ability to find humor out of given questions. The studies also do not rule out reverse causation, as a person whom has disease/disability may, as a result of illness, have a negative mood and could therefore be less open to laughter.

However, assuming that the studies’ methods are acceptable, their conclusions show that medicine does help positively affect one’s health, and could possibly help in more ways than these! We cannot conclude that laughter is the “best” medicine, as it has no mechanism for answering a problem (disease), for example it is no vaccine. We can, however, conclude that is good for you. I for one, love to laugh, and now knowing that it is even beneficial to my health to enjoy and find humor in situations, I am more motivated to live life to the fullest.


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Tattoos vs. Your Immune System

Tattoos are becoming more and more prevalent in today’s society. An article on The Huffington Post declares that tattoos have become extremely mainstream and more widely acceptable. Let’s be honest, if you think tattoos are socially unacceptable, you need to be pop cultured. Tattoos in my opinion have become a way of expressing yourself. It is a way of art. Now according to author and phD, Christopher Lynn, it is a way to strengthen your immune system as well.

A study in the American Journal of Human Biology concluded that getting tattoos can actually build up your immune system, helping it to fight against sickness. Notice that tattoos is plural. Getting one tattoo is not sufficient enough to correlate with this data. In actuality, getting one tattoo can break down your immune system instead of building it up. This happens due to the amount of stress released when getting a tattoo. And we all know that stress takes a toll on our wellness. Being “tatted” more than once is what does the trick.

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This study broken down on Epoch Times, was conducted by Christopher Lynn, Johnna Dominguez (former UA graduate student), and Dr. Jason DeCaro (professor at UA). The group of volunteers being studied were 24 women and 5 men ranging between the ages of 18 to 47. They were then asked questions like, how many tattoos have they gotten? A confounding variable was the timespan in which these volunteers got their tattoos. The researchers were looking for the level of immunoglobulin A in each volunteer. Immunoglobulin A is an antibody in our immune system. To receive these levels, they took a sample of each volunteers saliva. The results found that people who got their first tattoo had a large decrease in immunoglobulin A levels. The opposite was found for people who were getting their second tattoo. For them getting another tattoo still had a slight decrease in immunoglobulin A, but the drop was not as significant compared to people who just got their first tattoo.

Why is this? Well, it is like when your body isn’t used to a different time zone. The longer you are submersed in the time zone, the more adaptive you will become to the changes. The stress you cultivate from getting a tattoo eventually finds an equilibrium. This stress equilibrium is always adapting as you keep getting tattoos. So who knew getting more than one tattoo had other effects on your body other than just making it look cool.

I do admit that this study is not very large, so their findings may not be as accurate as a larger study. Also they studied a lot more women than men. The study could have been more diverse gender wise. Confounding variables could have played a part in this study as well. How strong were the contestants immune systems before the tattooing? Were they dealing with stressful situations in their life at the time? All of these outside variables could play a role.

Given the statistics of this study and the credibility of the researchers, I am convinced that getting more than one tattoo can strengthen your immune system. I suppose this gives me another reason to convince my parents in letting me get a tattoo. I am a tattoo virgin now, but hopefully not for long. And once you get one, they say you can’t stop. Ending on that note, any suggestions for a good tattoo parlor in State College?

tattoo image source


Veganism: good for our health?

taken from here

taken from here

U.S. News & World Report that the popular vegan lifestyle is ranked as number 19 on their list of best diets overall. But what makes something a “best diet”?  We are currently in a vegan craze, and I have met more Vegans in college than I ever have before; the lifestyle is curious to me. It takes insane discipline, dedication, and seems incredibly challenging to find suitable meal options- especially at Penn State! I have read the magazines praising the diet as the end all be all of health, and honestly, there seems to be no reason to disagree. What could be wrong with eating loads of veggies and no animal products? Apparently, while many are quick to praise the diet, there have actually been little to no research done on its long term health benefits compared to a typical diet, meaning that veganism can be no different than a normal diet from a health standpoint. So, is being a vegan really better for our health?

There have been no studies that can confidently conclude that the vegan diet outshines other diets from a health stand point because there have been  no controlled trials that have been able to prove veganism superior. It is often claimed that a low-carb and high fat diet is unhealthy for our bodies, and to some point, we should disagree. This study, Efficacy and Safety of a High Protein, Low Carbohydrate Diet for Weight Loss in Severely Obese Adolescents, was the first of many studies that found that a low-carb high fat diet might be most beneficial for humans, contrary to what was originally thought. This experiment was randomized, but not blind; two randomized groups of individuals were placed on either a high protein diet, or a low carbohydrate diet and were monitored for 13 weeks.  This is another example of how science “updates” itself. Physicians thought blood letting was healthy, and until there was a deeper understanding of how the body operated, blood letting was an extremely common practice throughout America. We once thought that a low carb diet was bad for our health, and are now in recent years realizing that a high-carb diet is the unhealthy life style that can lead to obesity and diabetes.

from here

from here

This is low-carb revelation led me to the  A to Z Study, a study that compared the Atkins diet to what is known as the Ornish diet, a diet extremely similar to veganism. The Atkins diet preaches low carbs while the Ornish diet (veganism with occasional yogurt and cheese) preaches high carbs and low fat. The A to Z study was conducted with the objective of comparing diets with various levels of  carbohydrates, and their effects on weight loss, cholesterol levels, and more. This idea to me was really interesting, and I was able to find a YouTube video of the research’s presentation that was much easier to digest than the research paper itself. The A to Z study was a randomized control trial that lasted about three years and was conducted in the United States. The 311 participants, all obese, post menopausal women,  were randomly assigned diets (Atkins, vegan/ornish, control) and were expected to follow them for the entirety of the experiment. Although we can rule out reverse causation (due to the laws of time), we should realize that this experiment was not conducted on what would be considered the average person. Does this conclusion still apply to men? To women that are not obese? To women that are not post-menopausal?

In a nutshell, the individuals on the Atkins diet lost nearly double the amount of weight than the Ornish diet group, losing an average of 10.4 pounds. On top of that, the Atkins group experienced a decreased blood pressure,  triglycerides levels, and an increase in “good” cholesterol, known as HDL.  It was deemed that the Atkins diet was more successful than the ornish-vegan look a like. In this situation, the scientists were able to reject the null hypothesis; that a vegan-ornish diet was healthier for weight loss. The alternative hypothesis was that the atkins diet would help participants lose more weight, and this was proved with a high p-value. Although we can never be sure the probability of a false positive in science, we for now, we have convincing  evidence that this experiment wasn’t just a fluke.  The possibility of third variables could be at large, however. Perhaps some participants strayed from their diet, or others starved themselves or exercised more.

Now, one study can’t prove it all, and studies such as the  Seventh-Day Adventist Studies have found that there are lower mortality rates correlated with people who are vegan, but studies like this one are observational and we learned in class that observational studies can only show correlation, NOT causation. It is important to think about how third variables could effect the conclusions on studies like this. In class we talked about what third variables could adversely be affecting the “wormy kids”, such as their intelligence or affluence. We could theorize that the children who were stupid were stupid because they didn’t go to class and would play in the dirt all day, increasing their exposure to worms,  or that the children were stupid because their worms caused them to be uncomfortable and distracted during class. In this situation, we can hypothesize that maybe vegans have lower mortality rates because they are more health conscious. Perhaps they are more likely to exercise, and less likely to smoke or participate in unhealthy activities.

Fortunately, the vegan life style doesn’t seem to be going out of style, and we can be confident that more studies will be done in the future to really hammer out a conclusion. If I was to conduct my own experiment, I would shape it similarly to the Efficacy and Safety of a High Protein, Low Carbohydrate Diet for Weight Loss in Severely Obese Adolescents study, although I would use a randomized double blind experiment with a control group. This study did not utilize a control group, and I personally believe that results might have been different if the two test groups were compared to a group of unaffected participants. I would also use non-obese, healthy American Male and Females. These participants would be randomized to a control group, a group of Atkin’s dieting, and a group of vegan dieting. The A to Z study was not conducted with 100% vegans, and this could have made a compelling difference.

Ultimately, there is no increased health benefit to being vegan, at least as far as today’s research can show. There is a correlation between a lower mortality rate and the vegan diet, but to me, that isn’t persuasive enough to give up cheese and steak for a couple extra hypothetical years on my life. What I found most interesting while writing this blog was the scientific explanation for why there hasn’t been more conclusive evidence on the vegan diet. Apparently, the swift rise and fall of fad diets creates very little incentive to for scientists to study because it will quickly be replaced by another diet. By the time a study is completed and published, the findings are no longer relevant to the public. If veganism sticks around, then I’m sure there will be more research, and I’ll be waiting!

from here

from here



Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer?

Being a typical teenager, I am on my phone A LOT. Between texting, calling, social media, and checking my email, I always find some reason to go on my phone. I realized just how much I use it during a sorority meeting last night when our phones were collected to make sure that we would pay attention. I subconsciously reached into my empty pocket multiple times to check the time or my messages, only to come up empty handed. It felt weird being detached from it for more than 5 minutes. As soon as they were given back to us, I knew I was not alone in this feeling as everyone else immediately put their head down and began texting and “snapping” away. Society’s frequent cell phone use has many people worried it may hinder social skills and relationship development, but were you also aware that many people believe frequent cell phone use could have potentially more dangerous effects such as cancer?

Image result for cell phone memes

Image found here.

Where does this concern come from? The amount of cell phone users has increased rapidly. As of 2014, there are 327.5 million cell phone subscribers just within the United States alone. Globally, this number is estimated to be 5 billion subscribers. Cell phones use radiofrequency (RF) energy that could potentially be absorbed by the body tissue closest to where the cell phone frequently sits.  This type of energy is is seen as dangerous because it is a type of electromagnetic radiation , found in x- rays and radon. However, energy used to power devices such as cell phones, televisions and radios is non-ionizing radiation meaning it is low frequency and therefore, low energy while x- rays use ionizing radiation which is high energy. While significant exposure to ionizing radiation increases the risk of cancer, studies have found no increased risk of cancer from non- ionizing radiation (Cancer.gov).  Many different factors play a part in how much energy a person is exposed to when using a cell phone. These factors can include length of time on phone, whether it is close to the head or on speaker phone, distance to nearest cell tower, and type of phone being used. Cell phone producers are required to list the energy absorption rate of their models however, these numbers can many times be misleading. At extremely high levels radiofrequency waves can heat up body tissues however, researchers found that the levels found within cell phones are not high enough to cause any significant heating to body tissue. (American Cancer Society).

Image result for cell phone causing cancer memes


Due to the frequency of people talking on the phone, meaning the phone is up to one’s head, many studies have been done to test whether this could possibly cause brain tumors. Since 2010, there have been 3 case-control studies which all came back positive in groups with the highest exposure. In 2/3 of those studies, the tumors were located on the same side the cell phone was frequently used however, this study could have been affected by “recall bias” meaning the patients exaggerated the amount of cell phone use. There have also been “Cohort” studies which follow people without tumors to test whether cell phones really do create a potential risk. All results in this study were found to be negative. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has ruled that the data shows no real risk of cancer/ tumors presented by frequent cell phone use. There is still a correlation between the two, but no evidence suggests that cell phone use is the cause meaning a confounding variable plays a role (Scientific American).

Should you throw away your cell phone? Probably not. Should you pay attention to the amount of time per day you use it? Maybe. Aside from there being a correlation to significant cellphone use and cancer, going on your cellphone all the time hinders social skills and relationship growth. Maybe once in a while, put your phone down and talk to someone in person. It could potentially save your life.


Does Second Hand Smoke Kill?

secondhand-smoke-small  Does second hand smoke exposure really kill? Since 1999, the national government along with local governments have implemented many regulations on public areas restricting smoking. Researchers have linked second hand smoking to asthma, pulmonary defects, and even cardiovascular disease. The Americans for Nonsmoker’s Rights reported 53,800 deaths per year due to extreme exposure.

A cigarette contains up to 7,000 chemicals and 69 of those are carcinogenic. Second hand smoke includes the smoke emanating from the butt of the cigarette and the smoke exhaled by the smoker. Both types are just as detrimental to the respiratory system if inhaled.  According to the U.S. Surgeon General, living with a smoker increases a nonsmoker’s chance of lung cancer approximately 30%.

With all signs pointing to danger, the National Cancer Institute conducted a large prospective study of the correlation between lung cancer and smoking. The study tracked 76,000 women over multiple decades. At its culmination, 901 participants contracted cancer. Surprisingly, no statistically significant evidence linking passive smoking to cancer was found. Researchers do not deny the obvious relation; however, this large randomized population showed no significant signs of side effects of smoke exposure.  The conclusion of this particular study was that undeniably smoking causes lung cancer. The result regarding second hand smoke involvement may have been a false negative, since other similar studies have generated positive results.

Another study conducted over ten years by the International Agency for Research in Cancer (IARC) uncovered more substantial results against second hand smoking. The researchers exposed the tobacco industry’s disproportionate funds invested in experiments designed to disprove the results. The tobacco industry was essentially attempting to undermine the IARC’s work in order to maintain its extremely profitable marsmokeket in European countries. So there arises the possibility of misconstrued results in previous studies that claimed to have no link between passive smoking and lung cancer.

Despite the restrictions set in place to curb second hand smoking effects, 1 in every 4 nonsmokers will be exposed. 2 of every 5 children will be exposed during the vital development years, which could lead to respiratory defects later in life. Cities and poorer neighborhoods show the greatest numbers affected. Smoking is just plain bad-whether you are the one doing it, or coughing in the cloud of someone else. (National Cancer Institute)



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Can Coffee Consumption Affect Coronary Heart Disease Risk?



Constantly I hear people telling me about the dangers of coffee, only to turn around and discuss the benefits that coffee has on our bodies. I have heard conflicting views from multiple people regarding whether coffee is healthy for one’s heart or not. Trying to figure out whether coffee can have any possible negative effects on one’s health would call for an extended synopsis on the topic that would involve a lot of moving parts and different possibilities. In the case of this blog, it is more practical to study one possible effect of coffee rather than attempt to decipher whether the beverage is beneficial to one’s health overall. I wanted to look at the relationship between coffee, caffeine, and coronary heart disease, since that seems to be the most disputed topic in this case. I wanted to look at multiple studies and, in the case that they do not concur, I wanted to attempt to figure out why.



While searching through multiple databases, I came upon a study conducted by the American Heart Association (AHA). The study, which ran for a span of twenty years and included more than 44,000 women and 84,000 men seems to be one of the most extensive studies in the field (American Heart Association).  The goals of the study were to decipher whether or not coffee consumption could have an effect on coronary heart disease in men and women. Confounding variables such as age, BMI, smoking status, alcohol consumption, physical activity, history with type II diabetes, and many more were taken into consideration (pg. 2046).  One thing that should be noted about this study is that it measures a wide variety of possible outcomes of coffee consumption. With this being the case, one should always be aware of what is commonly known as the Texas sharpshooter problem. Looking at the published study, there are dozens of P-values for different instances. There is no proof that the Texas sharpshooter problem exists in this study, however it’s always important to keep it in mind. Regardless of whether an individual consumed caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee, the study found no link between the drink and the risk of coronary heart disease. In the conclusion of the study, a meta-analysis with the similar results was referenced to prove the point of the AHA study.

A meta-analysis on the topic published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) came to a similar conclusion as the American Heart Association. There seems to be very little if any relationship between coffee consumption and coronary heart disease. The researchers at BMJ included 15 cohort studies and eight case-control studies in their evaluation.

The results of these two studies fail to reject the null hypothesis which is that there is no substantial correlation between coffee and CHD. If the conclusion was in fact a false negative, we would not know the true probability of it being a false negative. For myself, these studies are reassuring considering that I am an avid coffee drinker. Although there does not seem to be a correlation between coffee consumption and CHD, I still recommend that you drink coffee in moderation. Like many other foods, excessive coffee consumption could possibly lead to both short and long term issues.

Works Cited:

“Coffee Consumption and Coronary Heart Disease in Men and Women A Prospective Cohort Study.” American Heart Association.Esther Lopez-Garcia, Rob M. van Dam, Walter C. Willett, Eric B. Rimm, JoAnn E. Manson, Meir J. Stampfer, Kathryn M. Rexrode and Frank B. Hu  American Heart Association, circ.ahajournals.org/content/113/17/2045.full.

“Does coffee drinking increase the risk of coronary heart disease? Results from a meta-analysis.”  Ichiro Kawachi, Graham A Colditz, Catherine B StoneBritish Medical Journal. SIRS Discoverer, heart.bmj.com/content/72/3/269.full.pdf+html. Accessed 13 Oct. 2016.

Eat Your Fruits and Veggies

A topic that is often discussed when kids begin college is the “Freshman 15”. This term is used to describe to the sudden gain in weight that many students experience when they first enter college. Beginning college is an exciting, but also somewhat stressful time in a teenager’s life. Students have to deal with adjusting to a whole new lifestyle while also remembering to take care of themselves. Many college freshman struggle with maintaining a healthy diet, and this, along with a lack of exercise, is the cause for the dreaded Freshman 15. So, what causes the Freshman 15, and why does it occur when kids start college?

One study, conducted by researchers at Oregon State University, examined the eating habits of 582 students in college. The overwhelming majority of these students were freshman. The results of the study showed that most college students are not including enough fruits and vegetables in their daily diet. The study also compared the average intake of fruits and vegetables of males versus females. The study found that males, on average, eat about one more serving of fruit each week than females. An interesting observation noted by the researchers discussed the possibilities for the drop in the intake of fruits and vegetables. It was found that students are more likely to skip meals in college than they were before, while still living at home. Students in college are much less likely to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. The researchers were able to conclude that skipping meals is likely to contribute to students eating less fruits and veggies, since students are eating a smaller number of meals overall.


However, skipping out on fruit and vegetables is not the only cause of the weight gain that many students experience when the go off to college. The study conducted also found that students were getting far more than 30% of their calories from fat. The American Dietetic Association recommends that no more than 30% of daily calories are from fat. In college, students are likely to eat whatever is convenient for them. It is usually more convenient to run to the dining hall for a slice of pizza than it is to prepare a meal with the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. So for college kids, a combination of not enough fruit and too much junk food leads to substantial weight gain in a short period of time.

Furthermore, a study done by researchers at the Manheim Institute of Public Health found that there is a significant decrease in students’ exercise habits from the time that they finish high school to the time when they begin. The largest decrease in exercise is likely to occur during a the first through third semesters of college, as opposed to the later semesters of college. The first semester of college is the time when a student is experiencing lots of adjustment, and he or she is likely not to make exercise a top priority.

Now, like all hypotheses, it it true that this could all just be due to chance. But time and time again, college freshman have experienced a significant weight gain after their first few months in college. Speaking from personal experience, I can relate to the struggles that students face when adjusting to college. It is often difficult to balance schoolwork, a social life, exercise, and healthy eating all at once, especially since it is my first time living away from home. However, it’s important to take care of yourself first, and then worry about everything else. Eating properly and getting enough exercise are important factors of becoming a successful college student.


Penn State Creates 3D Printed Cartilage

When I was in high school, I took a 3D art class where we would make and then print 3D figures and models. I never thought that I would hear that one day human cartilage could be 3D printed to help humans and that my school, Penn State would be the ones to break the barrier. The purpose behind this new technology is to  help replace damaged tissue with new 3D printed tissue that is from the same person. An article on news.psu.edu explains the history and the significance of 3D printing and how it will change the medical community.

Penn State scientists 3D printed cartilage by creating large scale scaffold less tissues which are tiny tubes of algae that are between .003 – .005 inches in diameter. Then the tubes are inserted with the cartilage cells. These cells take approximately a week to grow. After they are grown, they are taken and removed from the tubes and the only thing that remains are thin strands of cartilage. Instead of ink, those strands are then used to 3D print almost anything.

This new 3D printed cartilage gives a lot of opportunity for medical advances. Eventually this technology is going to be applied to human cartilage. The fact that it is from the same person allows patients to not have to worry about finding a match. This technology allows patients to be their own source of tissue regeneration. Stem cells could then be developed into cartilage cells.


*The video above is from a scientist who summarizes how the 3D cartilage is made.







Intermittent Fasting

Image result for intermittent fasting

image via vitals.lifehacker.com

Skip meals. Normally that is not something someone who is trying to gain muscle mass would do, but according to intermittent fasting it will help you build muscle while burning fat without adding in extra cardio workouts. Rather than being a diet plan, intermittent fasting is cycle of eating. During certain parts of the day you eat, and others you fast. The fasting period goes for 16 hours; most people fast from the time they go to bed until 16 hours later as it is the most convenient time to do so. During the sectioned time that you eat, there is really no rule on what you should eat. Obviously you should stay within reason and eat healthy but it is the period when you consume all your calories for the day. Meaning that lots of food is consumed during this time period. (Gunnars, Kris)

According to Kris Gunnars, your bodies hormones go through changes when you intermittent fast. One of the biggest changes with chemicals within the body is the level of human growth hormone (HGH). The more HGH that you have in your body, the easier it is to gain muscle and shed fat- people take HGH to unnaturally boost muscle growth. Another major hormonal change occurs with insulin levels. Insulin levels are shown to decline due to intermittent fasting but insulin sensitivity is increased. This is helpful because lower levels of insulin make it easier for the body to access stored fat and use it- decreasing levels of fat in the body.

Many people believe this is an effective way to build muscle and cut fat, but is it actually proven to work?

Intermittent fasting is a relatively new practice and there is not an abundance of studies that have been performed on it. Some studies were done on athletes who follow Ramadan– a month when Muslims do not eat or drink from when the sun rises to when it sets (Gani, Aisha 2015). However, these studies were just observational and did not lead to much of a conclusion. Finally, an actual study was conducted on intermittent fasting and published on August 22, 2016. The published study named, “Time-restricted feeding in young men performing resistance training: A randomized control trial”, can be found here.

I was able to find a more descriptive outline of the study here. The study being a randomized control trial, meant that the men being studied were split into two groups; a normal diet group and intermittent fasting group. Subjects were tracked over a period of 8 weeks during which they had their caloric intake monitored and alternated upper and lower body workouts 3 times per week. The normal diet group ate whatever they wanted every single day while the fasting group only ate during a 4-hour period on their off days but was allowed to eat normally on the workout days. At the conclusion of the study, body weight, fat mass, lean body mass, bench press for 1 rep, and hip sled for 1 rep were all measured and compared to the individual’s initial measurements. This was the data published.

Intermittent Fasting Normal Diet
Body Weight -5.5% to +2.6% -1.4% to +2.1%
Fat Mass -22.1% to +4.5% -13.5% to +12.6%
Lean Body Mass -4.0% to +4.6% -2.5% to +3.9%
Bench Press- 1 rep +4.4% to +22.7% +4.7% to +12.2%
Hip Sled- 1 rep +13.7% to +48.1% +13.6% to +31.5%

Instead of having an overall average or every value, these are the minimum and maximums of the value set. Without seeing all the data, it is hard to tell if any of these numbers are outliers that could skew the data in the next chart. I thought it was very hard to compare these data sets of ranges so I created a chart with the median values from the data sets above. I used median values because it only gave the maximum and minimum (because there are only two numbers it is the same as their average).

Intermittent Fasting Median Normal Diet Median
Body Weight -1.45% +0.35%
Fat Mass -8.80% -0.45%
Lean Body Mass +0.30% +0.70%
Bench Press- 1 rep +13.55% +8.45%
Hip Sled- 1 rep +30.9% +22.5%


While this chart may not be the most accurate representation of the data from the study, it does give a fairly decent look at the differences between the intermittent fasting group and the normal diet group. When it came to fat mass, the intermittent fasting group lost a significant percentage more than the normal diet group. When it came to the workouts, the intermittent fasting group increased their maxes by a decent amount more than the normal diet group. Mechanisms for why these things occur were stated earlier in the article: intermittent fasting raises the bodies HGH levels and lowers insulin levels while also making the insulin more sensitive. This study seems to provide evidence that intermittent fasting is effective, but was the study itself accurate?

I have a few problems with this study. One, I was unable to find how many people participated in this study, this data over a large group would mean much more than a small group. If it was a large group, then the medians would be fairly accurate and the data would show for this study that intermittent was effective. Since we do not know the size of the groups or the specific data, it is hard to conclude that. Another issue with this study is that they did not control the diets of participants. Allowing people to freely eat in a study when they are working out makes absolutely no sense. The types of food people eat while they are working out is a huge factor in how much muscle and fat they gain/lose. The study would be much more accurate if they controlled the diets of the individuals. Another thing is that this study should have went on for much longer than it actually did. Significant muscle growth and fat loss is not seen effectively over a period of 8 weeks; a longer study should have been done. I am making this study out to seem like it failed in every way possible, there could have been improvements from my point of view but it is likely the researches did what they did for a reason.

At the end of the study the researchers concluded that intermittent fasting allows for a decrease in energy intake with no effect on muscle growth. This is an accurate conclusion for this study. So should you intermittent fast? Much more research needs to be done until someone can say that intermittent fasting is PROVEN to effectively cut fat and cause no stunt on muscle growth. But at this point there is nothing saying you shouldn’t try it, if it fits your lifestyle and you notice improvements than it may be for you.








Why Do We Conform?

Throughout high school we had seen how people feel the need to fit in and seek approvable from others; we may have even been one of them. Some may change their actions, behaviors, beliefs, interests, and opinions based on their peers and group pressure. In high school, I always noticed how certain cliques of friends all dressed the same or even acted the same. I think teenagers in particular conform a lot because they still don’t know who they are, so they think they should just be more like whoever they admire most. Conformity isn’t always a bad thing; almost everyone today conforms to society in some way. There are definitely social norms and things that are acceptable to do in public that everyone conforms to. I wanted to know, why as humans do we feel the need to conform? Do we have a natural tendency to conform?

The Asch Conformity Experiments done by Solomon Asch in the 1950s were some of the most significant studies that showed how present conformity was. During this experiment, one innocent student was included in a large group of people who were taking a vision test. The large group in the experiment was told by the scientists to say a specific answer for each line segment that was presented to them. The innocent student was not aware of this and just thought he was taking a vision test along with the rest of the group. There was a total of 50 students in the trial and they were all presented with a line. They then had to choose another line that matched the first one they were shown. Out of 12 of the 18 trials, the large group of people who were “in on the experiment” gave wrong responses. This showed how people (the innocent student) would say the wrong answer even when they knew it was wrong. In these conformity experiments, 75% of people agreed with the rest of the group at least once. They were first told to write down their answers on the measurements of the line segment before saying it out loud; this showed people wrote down the right answer 98% of the time. People actually knew the right answer, but they decided to go along with the majority of the group’s answer. In addition, the study included 37 participants in a control condition in which one participant had to give their response with only the scientist in the room and no large group. This experiment showed that people faced a lot of pressure when in a group situation, so they felt like they have to say the same thing that the group did even if it was wrong. They did not want to be judged for saying something different and didn’t think they were as smart as the other people. The experiment also found that when there was more people in the group, the student was more likely to conform. Here is a video of the Ash Conformity Experiments being carried out.

Through this monumental experiment, it can be shown that a person will act in a certain way to go along with a group of people in order to be right. I think that “right” is not just defined as having the correct answer, but the accepted answer among all of the peers. This type of conformity is called acceptance. I think that this particular set of experiments done by Asch was very well done because it was a random group of people and included many different trials. It was not a blind study though because the scientist manipulated certain groups on purpose and even some of the people included were given certain instructions. The Independent Variable was the number of actors who gave wrong answers (Asch controlled this) and the Dependent Variable was if the individual being tested conforms or not. It also does not suffer from the file-drawer problem because the results were published and well known to the public. Many other experiments were also done to show the impacts of conformity.

In an experiment done by Peter Reingen the question was whether or not conformity influenced people to agree to donations. People were asked to comply in five different experiments after shown a list of how many other people complied prior to them. It was concluded that with more false donors on the list that participants were shown, the more likely they were to donate.

Stanley Milgram a psychologist from Yale University conducted a conformity experiment as well. When reading about this, I remembered learning about this particular study in my psychology class in high school. It can be slightly had to describe, but here is a video of the experiment being carried out.

Milgram asked a randomized group of people to do what they were told by an authoritarian in the experiment. There were a total of 3 people in the experiment: the experimenter (authoritarian), the person who was obeying the orders, and the person who was receiving what the order was. Even though all of these people were critical, only one of the subject was being tested while the other two were only actors. This however was unknown to the subject being tested. One of the participants was given an electric shock by another participant when trying to learn certain words. The subject being tested was the one who had to administer the shocks. What they did not know though was there were no shocks actually being given and the learner was just acting like they were in pain as the voltage increased. Through this experiment, it was shown that most people would actually obey even if it was causing another person pain. Conformity is greatly shown through this because the subject felt he had to go along with whatever he was instructed to do. This ensured that he would not be wrong and could not be punished for not doing the order. Fortunately, this well-known experiment was not a file-drawer problem because Milgram published his findings in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 

Why do people need to conform? All of these experiments show how people conform because of social pressures and the need to fit in. Everyone can be guilty of wanting to feel accepted into society or a certain group of friends or peers.  As Cook (2011) states, compliance is a type of “normative social influence” in which a person wants to be accepted so he or she will agree with a group’s beliefs even though he or she may not share them. Another type of conformity is internalization which is when someone agrees with someone else because he or she trusts and values the other person’s opinions. These types of conformity can not only be shown through these experiments, but can be witnessed on a daily basis. When working with a partner in class on a worksheet, we might agree with their answer just because we are not confident enough in our own.  Through this research, I learned that it is important to stand up for your own ideas and not just agree with others because you are not confident enough in your own answers. Do not conform to others because you think you are wrong or you will get judged for being different. Being unique is important and one should not conform just to feel that he or she is good enough.








Mom, Your Intuition is Lousy!

You know what they say: “Mama knows best.” But, how many things did our moms tell us as children that weren’t true, yet we listened anyway?

No swimming an hour after you eat! Don’t swallow watermelon seeds, or a watermelon will grow in your tummy! Stop cracking your knuckles, you’ll get arthritis! Don’t shave your legs, or the hair will grow back thick and black!

You might see a pattern here. Throughout the SIOW blog, you’ll see that our classmates have disproven mostly all of these myths. We realized that the things we were told are outrageous and decided to research them ourselves.

I have a unique situation that I am sure no one on the blog has researched. While your moms are telling you the classic “mom myths,” my mom recently hit me with the craziest one yet:

“Rachel, if you were in the same room as a bat, you have rabies.”

You’re probably wondering why my mom would even tell me this. On the second week of school, I was studying in a lounge when suddenly a bat flew out of the fireplace. The bat flew all around the room, but didn’t touch me or come anywhere near me. The whole thing was so crazy that I just had to call my mom and tell her. Big mistake.

My mom called up her nurse friend, and her nurse friend insisted that I go get a rabies shot. Even though I told my mom that the bat didn’t touch me, she would not leave me alone until I promised that I’d at least call the advice nurse.

rabies<— (my mom harassing me via Facebook messenger)

The “Mom” Hypothesis is that I contracted rabies from being in the same room as a bat.

I will now disprove this:

Before all else, it is important to note the fact that rabies is almost always spread through a bite. In very rare occurrences, the virus can be spread through infected saliva travelling to open wounds, eyes, or our mouths. However, considering I was completely conscious during the bat incident, I am positive that neither of these things occurred. But, as always in science, I have to prove myself through strong data and research. So, here’s the overkill:

In an experiment conducted by Unidad de Investigación Medica en Inmunologia, fourteen bats injected with a variant of rabies were evaluated through their saliva. The experimenters evaluated surviving bats every other day for a month, then weekly for the next two months, once one year later, and once one year after that. They found that rabies was not found in any of the eleven bats that died early on from the experiments. In the three surviving bats, rabies was detected only once early on and further salivary excretions were impossible—therefore, they were not carriers. The study’s conclusions did not show that bats are asymptomatic carriers of rabies.

In addition to the study I found, I also came across some currently-held beliefs in today’s world regarding bats.

First, most bats don’t even have rabies. In fact, among the bats that were sent into testing for specific suspicion of rabies, only 6% actually had the disease. Less than half of 1% of all bats contract rabies.

Second, there are typically only 1 or 2 cases of rabies in humans annually in the USA. Had my mom known this, she may have not assumed that I was ‘the chosen one.’

Worldwide, out of 300,000 rabies deaths per year, 99% of these deaths are contracted from rabid dogs, not rabid bats. I thought this fact was fascinating because of how comfortable our society is with dogs. Whether a dog is yours or not, your first instinct is to go pet it. That means you too, mom.

The most important message I found is that healthcare professionals and media personnel are often wrong about rabies and bats. Media distorts stories regarding cases of rabies, causing people like my mom to automatically assume that her daughter is rabid after she watches the news or reads an article online.

In conclusion, as we know, I do not have rabies from being in the same room as a bat. Even if the bat had bitten me, there would have been less than a one percent chance that I would’ve contracted rabies. Even in that case, I could get a rabies shot to take preventative measures. I decided to go in-depth on this topic to prove the point that we cannot trust eminent people in science. We also have lousy intuition. My mom thought I needed a rabies shot just because she confirmed her worries with a certified nurse. Had I not researched bats, I may have even gotten the shot because my mom told me to. Thanks for saving me from unnecessary mom drama, science.



Rabies info

Research explanation

Research primary source

” is alcohol killing my germs bc i get less sick every time i go out?”

Last week my friend texted me: “i’m convinced the alcohol is killing my germs bc i get less sick every time i go out.”  I “lol’d” but then started to seriously think, could my friend’s alcohol consumption actually being killing her germs and getting rid of her illness?

I did some research. Alcohol by itself or as the main concentration is not FDA approved to act as a disinfectant. In a medical situation ethyl and isopropyl alcohol are bactericidal water-soluble chemical compounds that can sterilize and kill bacteria. Because ethyl alcohol is also known as drinking alcohol, I figured I had found my answer, drinking alcohol disinfects. But I still considered to research. I found that absolute ethyl alcohol works to disinfect by breaking down proteins and lipids killing bacterial and viral germs, but in order for the ethyl to be affective and actually break down these germ cells, it has to be used at a concentration of 70%. Any concentration higher will dehydrate and any lower will not be strong enough to have any effect. Isopropyl alcohol functions in the same way.

My discovery that a 70% concentration of the alcohol is necessary to kill off any germs, made me question my initial instinct that yes drinking alcohol kills your germs. Concentration of alcohol in alcoholic beverages ranges from about 4%-40%. This means that the necessary 70% concentration is not there. An alcoholic beverage does not have the same effect as pure alcohols used for medical uses for this reason.

Another reason drinking alcohol does not kill your germs in the way that disinfectant alcohol does is based on your anatomy. When you are sick your respiratory system is infected. The alcohol that you drink goes straight to your your stomach through your esophagus, not passing through the location of the sickness. Germs are usually found in the trachea but they won’t be killed here because the alcohol consumed will not sit in your throat long enough and saliva from swallowing will wash the remaining alcohol away.

Germs from a cold or flu virus enter the patients bloodstream, but like the germs in the throat, they will not be killed by consumption of an alcoholic beverage either. Once the germs enter the bloodstream a concentration of about 60%-80% is needed to kill the germs. A concentration that high in a person’s bloodstream means more alcohol than blood. A person with a BAC of 60 to 80% will die.

The best treatment for a sick body is rest and hydration. Drinking alcohol interferes with both of these. Alcohol causes dehydration through excessive urination and vomiting, both affected by the production of the anti-diuretic hormone. Excessive urination means a higher concentration of salt and lower volume of water in the body and because alcohol decreases the production of the anti-diuretic hormone, the amount of urine is increased causing dehydration. Not only does it interfere with hormone production, alcohol also interrupts REM sleep. Drinking alcohol causes your body to skip over the first stages of REM sleep, going straight into a deep sleep.

So no, drinking a beer or taking a shot is not going to kill your germs. Alcohol masks any other feelings, which is why alcoholics never feel hungover because they keep drinking, covering up the symptoms of a hangover. If you are sick and drinking alcohol the only thing you’re doing is covering up your symptoms. The human body does not allow for high enough concentrations of alcohol needed to kill bacterial or viral germs causing a sickness.













Are egg yolks unhealthy?

My staple breakfast meal at a diner consists of bacon, rye toast, home fries, and two poached eggs with runny yolks. It may sound insanely weird, but my favorite part of breakfast is the moment I dip my rye toast into my runny egg yolks. However, I’ve always heard rumors that egg yolks are actually extremely unhealthy. Although eggs are a great source of iron, vitamins, and nutrients, they contain a large amount of dietary cholesterol. Excessive amounts of cholesterol can negatively affect heart health (Heid). So my question is, are egg yolks actually THAT unhealthy for me?

In 2012, a Canadian study was conducted to research this question. This observational study implemented an ultrasound test to observe the buildup of fat in the arteries of 1,231 adults. Every participant in this study was a regular at a vascular prevention clinic due to pre-existing signs of heart disease. The alternative hypothesis tested was the effect that a large consumptions of egg yolks had on heart disease. Although this is an observational study, reverse causation can be ruled out due to time, since heart disease cannot be the cause of food consumption that already occurred. As always, chance is an option in this experiment, and many third variables could affect the correlation, such as junk food consumption, lack of exercise, and hereditary risk of heart disease.


diagram of carotid artery found here!

Besides observing each participant’s carotid arteries via ultrasound, the researchers also asked every person to do the following:

  • Explain his/her personal history of smoking
  • List how many egg yolks he/she consumes in a week
  • Recall how long he/she had been eating this weekly amount of egg yolks

With this data and information, researchers concluded that the more a person smoked and the more egg yolks a person ate both increased a person’s risk for heart disease. However, there are quite a few faulty limitations that hold this study back. For starters, this is a single, small study, and is extremely exclusive considering the participants are already at risk for heart disease, and are all Canadian. Second, just as our intuition is lousy, so is our memory. Many participants could simply be generalizing their egg yolk consumption and cigarette smoking throughout the years. This study definitely highlights a correlation between smoking, egg yolk consumption, and increased risk for heart disease. However, it is not large enough or conducted strongly enough to prove any causation. Personally, I think the only way to conclude a strong correlation would be to conduct a meta-analysis of similar studies.

On the other side of the spectrum, this U.S. News article by Toby Amidor argues in favor of egg yolks. An important point brought up in Amidor’s article is the fact that other foods in our daily diets, such as meats and dairy, contain just as much fat as the average egg yolk. So, if we are told to avoid egg yolks for this reason, then shouldn’t we be avoiding chicken, beef, pork, yogurt, cheese, and milk as well? At that point, we would all basically be vegans! Amidor’s article also highlights the American Heart Association’s approval of the entire egg, not just the whites, and according to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi, other breakfast foods that complement morning eggs are the actual sources of bad cholesterol.


image found here!

What I’ve taken away from my time researching egg yolks is that the unhealthiness of an egg yolk probably exists, but not enough to cut yolks out of my diet completely, especially if I’m not at risk for heart disease. In reality, if my morning eggs are the fattiest foods I consume during the day, am I really doing that much harm to myself? Surely, people who are pre-disposed for heart disease may want to watch excessive egg yolk consumption, but observing a healthy diet as a whole instead of cheating oneself out of one specific food is a more well-rounded way of eating, and a happier one too!

When in Doubt, Write it Out

When I walked into the Apple Store this summer to choose a new laptop for college, I didn’t really know what to get.  The guy told me to get something small and compact, so I could use it to take notes in class. 151103-vqa4-image10-memegenerator-notes I looked at him and said that I would be handwriting my notes, and I already bought about seven notebooks.  I could tell he was judging me, but I didn’t care.  I have ALWAYS taken handwritten notes, and plan to for the rest of college.

The real question is whether or not handwriting notes affects the way we process and learn the information being taught.  One of the first arguments is that those who type their notes write down way to much, sometimes word for word what is being said.  It makes sense though, because typing is faster than handwriting.  Those who write out their notes, on the other hand, do not have as much time, therefore they process what is being said and are able to quickly paraphrase important information.



According to NPR, a study was conduction by Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer on the topic, and was published in Psychological Science.  A group of university students were to take notes on different TED Talks, and then be tested on the information afterwards.  The laptop students wrote down way more, as expected.  When asked about specific facts, both groups did well.  The main point of distinction was when the students were asked more conceptual questions.  The written notes students did much better.

Another point made about using a laptop for your notes goes along with what Andrew always says…It’s a distraction to those around you and to yourself.  We get it, lecture is boring college-laptops-meme-generator-boring-class-everyone-takes-notes-with-laptop-4d1800sometimes, but as soon as you click over to Netflix or Amazon, everyone around you suddenly “clicks over” too.

I only found the one study mentioned above on this topic, so I have a few ideas of how this could be further tested.  First, I would study a larger group, like 500 students instead of only 67.  Unlike in the study Mueller and Oppenheimer did, I would control whether or not the randomized group of students had a laptop or a notebook.  That would be the independent variable and test results would be the dependent variable.  Since it is randomized, that would eliminate possible confounding variables such as typing capabilities and speed of writing.  After giving them a topic to take notes on, I would then give them the quiz similar to how the other study did.

Another option could be to purposely place students with laptops in a lecture hall and have them on different sites being a distraction.  After class, give a pop quiz and see how those around them did compared to those with no distraction around.  This is something very simple, but could still give a good insight into the power of distractions in the classroom.

Don’t get me wrong here, laptops are a great resource for college students, and I would never expect students to immediately switch over to handwriting notes after hearing about this study.  Everyone learns in different ways.  It is simply important to keep in mind that handwriting your notes, according to the study, could potentially benefit you on the next exam or quiz.










I have never been much of a napper… until I came to college. The constant running around to classes, meetings, tutoring, getting food, doing laundry, and finding time for the gym is a lot harder when your own your own without your parents help and I think it makes students very tired and much more in need of sleep than at home where half of the tasks are already done for us.

Most people are able to take a nap for thirty minutes and be up for the rest of the day… other people (like me) can nap for up to four hours and wake up STILL TIRED. Since I have began napping on a regular basis it got me wondering why this could happen. As I looked into the topic online I found information that there are different stages of sleep doing this to us. In this article it states the different stages: stage one, stage two, stage three, and REM sleep. The longer you sleep the deeper you get in the stages. As we begin to try and fall asleep we are in stage one, this stage lasts for about one to ten minutes depending on hour tired we are and how much we need sleep at that time. This is where you are technically sleeping but can easily wake up to being fully awake again. Within this stage is where your breathing begins to slow, your eyelids are shut but may open a bit, your eyeballs can roll around, and the feeling we receive every so often when we jump and it wakes us because we feel as if we are falling (fun fact: this usually happens mostly to people with bad sleep patterns.) The next stage is stage 2 following the first stage. This is where you begin to feel completely asleep leading to a deep sleep in the next stage. This occurs for around twenty minutes depending on the the person. It can be difficult to wake up during this, definitely not as easy as stage one. Most functions in your body start to slow down and we spend most of our time in this “light sleep” stage. Next comes stage three, which begins approximately thirty five- forty five minutes after initially passing out. If you are in this stage of sleep you usually will not wake up for any minor disturbances because you are so deeply sleeping. This is when you feel uncomfortable or confused if you wake up during this stage. Often times if you set an alarm early for work or school for example, you may wake up feeling as if you don’t know what day it is or why you are waking up. The final stage is called REM sleep, which is the point in our sleep where we dream most, about ninety minutes after being passed out. it stands for “Rapid Eye Movement” and lasts for about ten plus minutes. Like the name, our eyes move rapidly for this period of time and our functions that slowed down begin to pick up again.

Throughout these stages of sleep our brain waves flow differently as we get deeper into sleep and fall into light sleeps during the night. Each of the four stages are different depending on the person and the times can range immensely depending on how tired and how much sleep is needed every night.

What is Cuffing Season?

It’s that time of the year people!!! The air is getting chilly and people are switching their morning drink from Iced Caramel Lattes to Salted Caramel Hot Chocolates. I’ve seen my once “single-pringle” friends, who swear to be a die-heart single girl till they die. However, this time from early fall to winter is particularly interesting time when people who once loved going out and focusing on themselves, start to strive for something more romantic. All across magazines like Cosmo, E!, and Vougethere is an animalistic attribute to this idea of “cuffing”.

I have always wondered what makes people are more inclined to get into relationships in the fall. Maybe it’s for the Instagram photos in pumpkin patches. Maybe it’s for the companionship throughout the harsh winter. But what I do know is that this culture of getting into relationships has been sweeping the media for years around this time.

The science behind this idea of this season is that mammals go through Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” and that only the couples survive the winter. There is also a pressure of this for young adults

Another reason cuffing reason cuffing season is so prominent, especially in climates similar to Penn State, is due to the increased rates of the need for dates to holiday parties, formals, and hayride nights. The internal competition singles have to find love in a season when all the social settings are requiring a date.

So although a flip may not literally switch once it turns to October, and single people may not automatically jump into relationships, there is still the pressure for people from the media for monogamous relationships in the winter, along with the psychological reasoning.



Planet of the…..Chimps…..?

What would happen if humans went extinct? Would another species take over? How can we stop this? These are all questions that I am prepared to answer. Before proceeding with the logistics of the questions proposed, I would like to create my own hypothesis. I personally believe that chimps would be the first species to take over. Due to how similar they are to humans already, they would most likely be the next species to excel the most.

With this being said, we will first look at how intelligence is defined, then what species is most likely to obtain said intelligence. Furthermore, we will look at what species is predicated to take over and how this correlates to my hypothesis.


What is Intelligence?

The human race is not only massive, but also very powerful. The power that humans possess stems from a thing called intelligence. Although many other species are defined as intelligent, it doesn’t quite match up to the same level as human intelligence. Animals clearly live a very different way than humans do, they need to survive given their surroundings. Each individual animal is wired in a different way to accommodate the given climate, location, gene pool, and culture that the animal is living in. Therefore, their brains and instincts are the key tool to their survival.

Different from animals, the average human brain is wired with more logic and individual thought processes. Most humans don’t need to worry about camouflage as protection from other animals or finding food out in the wilderness. Humans also have a better grasp on the use of technology and tools. We use both in our everyday life, animals on the other hand don’t. Although, in 2007, a study found that chimps have been using “spears” as a way of hunting mammals. The chimps would break off a branch, sharpen it using his teeth, and then hunt bush babies with it.

Another thing to differentiate between human intelligence and animal intelligence is language and mathematical understanding. Yes, animals can communicate in many different ways, such as; bee dances, whale songs, and the actions of dogs, but none are considered a language. As for mathematical understanding, humans can claim ownership. To the extent of the human understanding, no animals have been able to compare.

This then proposes the question of, what conditions are necessary for a new species to gain this intelligence? First and foremost, human would need to be clear off the face of the planet. Otherwise, we would never allow this to happen, at least I don’t think.


What species are most likely to obtain any human like intelligence?

Plants may simply have no chance. The most likely candidate is the vertebrate species. Although some are too small to obtain said intelligence, evolution, whether you choose to believe or not, has showed us that it is possible for them to grow to eventually be of the adequate size. The process of this would take millions of years, as animals right now use their brains for two main reasons, to find food and to fight off predators. Once those two things are taken away, they have no capacity for anything else. If the brain is no longer being used for survival, animals won’t bother to provide food or energy to the brain.

Once the food and shelter gets taken away, the animals will be forced to obtain more intelligence as a way of survival, therefore causing the animals to need a more strategic way of thinking.

Overall, the changing factor will be the social aspect. Social interaction can force an animal’s intelligence to expand. For example, doing things in a group can create more safety to allow for a higher success rate. The best way to explain this is with hunting. When animals hunt together they are more likely to be successful. This causes them to use the cooperative part of their brain and the social part is used to allow them to divide up their food later on. This also ties into the social ranking of each pack of animals. A pack is less likely to be attacked by a predator than only a single roaming animal.


What species will take over?

I suppose it depends on what you define as “the end of the world.” The type of scenario I am talking about for my hypothesis is more like Earth being exactly as it is, just without human interference. However, some people could argue that the cockroach will be the only thing left on earth after a nuclear fall out. Some could say a nasty human killing virus is the end of the world, in which cows, crows, and octopi have the means of “taking over” due to their impeccable ability to use tools. Another example, according to “Light Speed Magazine,” is the possible take over of deer. It could be argued that with almost all of their natural predators gone, including us, their population could boom causing them to be in charge of our planet. Any of these animals or insects could potentially be defined as the species that can take over our planet. The type of scenario I am talking about is more like Earth being exactly as it is, just without human interference.

For the most part, any vertebrate land animal has the potential to take over. It will take millions of years, but it is feasible as long as evolution allows for it. Although, animals such as most birds, dolphins, rats, or other insects may be a bit more unrealistic because they don’t have the correct intellectual capacity required for the end of the world scenario I am proposing. These animals aren’t able to use tools and technology in the way that is necessary for world domination!

Here we find that my initial hypothesis is one of the many correct possibilities. With this being said, it is possible that chimps are most likely to take over if humans are to fall. Although chimps would need to undergo vast evolutional changes to obtain this human intelligence, without humans around there is no guarantee that chimps would evolve in a human like way, but it is more likely.

So in the end, I believe that chimps could potentially be the first in line to take our place, but technically any animal with the cognitive sophistication of human intelligence could.


Quora. Johnny Chertouh. April 2016. https://www.quora.com/Whats-the-basic-difference-between-human-intelligence-and-animal-intelligence

National Geographic News. John Roach. February 2007. “Chimps Use “Spears” to Hunt Mammals, Study Says”. Link

Light Speed Magazine. Jeremiah Tolbert. January 2011. Link