Daily Archives: November 8, 2016

Why Cramming is Bad

I’m sure most of you have had to deal with being able to remember the lyrics to a song you haven’t listened to for five years, but as soon as you have to memorize some flashcards for an exam you’re mind goes blank. Why is that? Why can’t my brain just memorize what I want it to memorize?!


One reason as to why when you are studying you cannot seem to remember anything is because the amount of stress you are feeling. There is actually a principle that was named after two scientists, Yerkes and Dodson, stating just that. The two performed a randomized control trial on a set of mice to see how long it took them to learn to travel down a white pathway as opposed to a black one. The independent variable in this scenario is the intensity of the electric shocks given if they travel down the black pathway, and the dependent variable is the amount of time it takes to avoid the black pathway. The scientists came to see that a stronger shock would cause the mice to move faster away from the passage they were intended to avoid, and a smaller shock would take longer for the mice to learn to avoid it. I think that most people can agree that this scenario would make sense seeing as I would also try to avoid being electrically shocked.


However, as other scientists began to perform meta analysis on Yerkes’ and Dodson’s work, they came to realize that there is more than just the two outcomes of performance. With too little motivation (ex. a test really far away), you have little incentive to act, therefore your performance is also at a low level. As the test moves closer, you have a higher incentive to act, and your performance level is also high because stress has not conquered your ability to study effectively. And lastly, when it is an hour before the exam, you have lots of motivation to study, but your performance is shot because your stress levels are off the charts.


The image above depicts the three separate scenarios. Originally, the hypotheses that had existed explained that arousal and performance were positively correlated, forming a positively sloped line.

The field of arousal and performance does not suffer from the file drawer problem, in fact, there have been many experiments completed and documented. Another example is a study done by Broadhurst in 1957. His population for his randomized control trial was rats as opposed to mice, and his motivation tactic was oxygen level. His experiment concluded a curving correlation between arousal and ability to function as well.

However, scientists are unable to say that there is a direct causal relationship between stress and productivity. Backs, who in 2001 evaluated the signs of a heavy workload by measuring individuals’ heart rates and breathing rates, believes that he found a causal relationship between the two components. However, he explains that many scientists use physical measurements to make causal conclusions about the mental health of a person or population. He warns that the assumption used in this technique should not be trusted because within a relationship that seems obvious, there could be many hidden causes that the scientists are unable to identify, also known as confounding variables.

Overall, it is evident that it is better to start studying early before the exam in order to keep productivity high and stress levels low. Not only will it help you score better, but may be beneficial to your physical health in keeping the levels of your cardiac and respiratory system balanced.


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Source: Staal, Mark A. “Stress, Cognition, and Human Performance: A Literature Review and Conceptual Framework.” (n.d.): n. pag. Nasa. Nasa, Aug. 2004. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.


Peanut Problems

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-7-20-25-pm image found Here


Almost daily I find myself twisting the lid off of my Skippy peanut butter jar. Peanut butter, one of my favorite foods, is such a common food and ingredient in a variety of things. My mother always says, “I never knew anyone with peanut allergies when I was a kid. Now, it’s like everyone has them.” (An anecdote). I know of many cafeterias where peanuts/peanut butter are banned altogether.

Peanut allergies are, it seems, an extremely common problem. As many people know, peanut allergies could be fatal or extremely serious. There are a variety of symptoms from hives to swelling and closing of the tongue/throat.

So what really is the cause of peanut allergies? Are they actually rising in prevalence?

According to a journal article in The Lancet, by Professor A Wesley Burks, the peanut allergy is, in fact, an increasing problem. There was an approximate 3.2% rise in peanut allergy prevalence between the years of 1989 and 1995 according to a study conducted in the UK, the article states. Over 3 million Americans are allergic to peanuts.

The article suggests that there is an increase in peanut allergies for multiple reasons. One theory is that when children are not exposed to potential allergens enough when they’re young, they’re likely to develop allergies. Interestingly, the article goes on to suggest that allergies are developed to foods that children eat more frequently during their childhoods. Another theory is that the preparation of peanuts before they are consumed could cause different chemical and metabolic reactions that might cause allergies. A third theory the article discusses is that skin-exposure to peanuts when children or babies are very young could cause peanut allergies.

The article discussed a multitude of studies to which the results were extremely hard to come out the same again. So, it is very hard to determine why peanut allergies are on the rise. But, they definitely are.

Interestingly, in contrast, The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, a random survey was conducted (observational study) and an increase in peanut allergy prevalence among children was detected between the years of 2002 and 2008. However, the increase was not determined as statistically significant.

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Jane E. Brody of The New York Times discusses multiple studies that suggest that fetal exposure to peanuts during pregnancy might actually immunize them from peanut allergies, contrary to the ideas of the past in which people thought early exposure actually caused allergies to develop. A study conducted followed over 8,000 children. 140 of them were allergic to peanuts. Mothers who ate nuts at least 5 times per month were the ones who had the children that were least likely to develop the allergy. Dr. Rushi Gapta, referred to in the article, went on to suggest that a there were studies conducted where neglecting to eat nuts during pregnancy actually increased likelihood of the allergy, even further than suggesting that simply consuming nuts would decrease risk. Other studies tested the same thing, but with other allergens. Cow’s milk and eggs were both tested. It turns out that earlier exposure correlated with decreased risk of allergy for each. *Perhaps this comparison could suffer from the Texas-Sharpshooter Fallacy! 

In conclusion, scientists’ ideas about peanut allergies have changed. Where they used to think that early exposure caused allergies, they have conducted studies and done research that suggests otherwise: that early exposure increases tolerance to allergens and decreases likelihood of developing the allergy. The peanut allergy has been found to be on the rise.


screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-7-22-43-pm Image Found Here

To Spongebob or not to Spongebob

When I was growing up, my parents never obviously limited my TV time. I didn’t watch a whole lot of TV anyway, so it was never a big deal. Now, the only shows I enjoy watching on TV are Spongebob and SportsCenter. I’m very verbal about my love for Spongebob, and last year I had an interesting conversation with one of my teachers when she told me that she wasn’t going to let her child watch cartoons at all. She claimed that excessive cartoons, and Spongebob in particular, makes kids dumber. This got me thinking: how much of a factor is TV on brain development, and does excessive TV consumption cause negative impacts on a person’s life?

The first thing that’s important to consider is brain development in children and its stages. According to developmental biologist Jean Piaget, children go through three stages of brain development before they reach age 12. Stage one occurs between birth and age two; stage two occurs between age two and age seven, and stage three occurs between age seven and age twelve. The final stage is from age twelve onward. Generally speaking, it can be assumed that children will watch most TV between ages 2-12. The studies of Piaget state that during the intuitive phase (ages 4-7) of the pre-operational period (ages 2-7), children develop and begin to understand concepts in raw forms. In addition to that, many of those concepts become so engraved to a point where they are irreversible. It isn’t until the period of Concrete Operations (ages 7-12) that kids are able to use logic and reason more fluently. Obviously, different cartoons demonstrate and portray different messages, and some are more advanced than others. So, it can be said that depending on the cartoon, TV shows do potentially have an effect on the minds of children, and in some stages, those effects can be permanent.

Historically, it has been believed that excessive television consumption “rots the brain”. According to Kyla Boyse (2010), kids who watch TV excessively tend to have a higher chance of being obese, are more likely to drink and do drugs at a younger age, and are often misinformed about sexuality. She argues that television often promotes these things, and that that promotion can have a very negative impact on the minds and lives of children. Boyse touches on a study done that shows the effect of TV consumption on school life, stating that effects can last many years and even harm the average consumer as late as age 26. In addition to this, she states that TV consumption as a child leads to a decreased chance of college graduation and an increased chance of flunking or dropping out of school.


From a more concrete standpoint, there are obviously many opportunity costs of watching TV, including physical activity, reading, or even playing with friends and, as a result, developing communication and inter-personal skills. Another study done in early 2016 somewhat breaks down the previously stated idea, suggesting that heredity plays a huge and widely overlooked role in how children develop. Criminologists Joseph Schwartz of The University of Nebraska and Kevin Beaver of Florida State University (2016) studied the correlation between kids’ TV consumption at a young age and other variables like ethnicity, gender, and the rates of incarceration and violent crimes, as they got older. The difference of this study was that it actually tested multiple sibling pairs as well. In almost all results of the case, it was found that when blood relation was taken into consideration, almost all correlation between excessive TV consumption and negative impacts on life disappeared. So, all in all, Schwartz and Beaver are basically saying that TV consumption does not necessarily lead to bad behavior in the teenage or adult years. The claim is that those actions are already more likely influenced by heredity. Heredity is the one confounding variable that could lead to bad behavior, regardless of how much TV a person watched as a child.

To conclude, TV consumption may hinder brain development in children, but it is not the defining cause of delinquency. Granted, it can be concluded that excessive consumption does have negative impacts on one’s life, in that a child’s time is limited and while watching TV he or she is not playing with friends, reading, or engaging in physical activity. Despite Schwartz and Beaver’s conclusions, a logical parent would monitor both the type of shows their child watches and for how long they watch them and encourage them to spend more of their time at play, some thing I enjoyed daily, despite my adoration of Spongebob.