Daily Archives: November 26, 2016

How to Overcome A Phobia

scared Picture Link

Ever since I was little I have always been scared of various things. Although I had many fears, none of them seemed to legitimately tamper with my well-being. Unfortunately, that changed once I got to around ten years old. Sometime around this time, I began to gain an irrational fear of fish. I am not quite sure how this came to be, but this fear became extremely prevalent in my life. From not going to certain restaurants because they served a lot of fish there, to not wanting to go to the beach, to not even going downstairs for dinner if my family was eating fish that night, everyday occurrences were becoming problems for me. This fear still even tampers with my life today. For example, I try my best to avoid the right side of the HUB where the fish tank is. Since this fear has significantly influenced my decisions over the past six or seven years, I decided to write my blog on how exactly to overcome a phobia.

Overall, a phobia is a fear that presents no actual danger, and causes a considerable amount of anxiety. The anxiety can range from mild anxiety, to even panic attacks. Physical symptoms can even include difficulty breathing, a racing heart, and shaking (Smith, Segal, Segal, 2016). Although symptoms of rational fears and irrational fears (phobias), can sometimes be the same, there are a few major differences. For example, with phobias, you realize that the fear is senseless, but you’re still scared anyways. This is unlike a rational fear, where once you realize the fear is absurd, you’re not scared anymore (Smith, Segal, Segal, 2016). Going back to my fear of fish, I am completely aware that a fish in a fish tank will cause no harm towards me, but I am nevertheless scared, so it qualifies as a a phobia. Another difference is that one will go to great lengths to avoid something if they have an irrational fear, unlike if they have a rational fear (Smith, Segal, Segal, 2016). For example, say someone has a rational fear of spiders, they may scream or jump if they see one. Now, if that person had phobia of spiders, he or she may avoid playing outside altogether merely to avoid seeing a spider. Overall, the major difference between a rational fear or a phobia of something is if the fear notably impedes on your daily decisions (Pomfrey).

Apparently, phobias are one of the most common mental disorders, effecting 11% of the population. With this being said, people should realize there is no shame in seeking help to overcome your phobia. It is even said that for adults, if a phobia has been existent for over a year, it will most likely not go away without professional help (NHS 2014). Fortunately, there are various ways to overcome phobias. Among the many ways, the most effective is being exposed to whatever is causing the phobia (Smith, Segal, Segal, 2016). There are two different therapies used to expose patients, systematic desensitization, and exposure-based therapy. Systematic desensitization, a class of cognitive-behavioral therapy, is when patients are put in a relaxed state, and then exposed to the object in a way that will only cause a small amount of fear/anxiety. When the anxiety begins to increase, the patient will go back his/her relaxed state, then back to being exposed in a different way, and so on and so forth, until he/she is desensitized (Pomfrey). In other words, if I tried doing this with my fish phobia, I would first learn a relaxation method until I was in a relaxed state. I would then be exposed to a picture of a fish. Then once my anxiety got too .high, the picture would be taken away and I would go back to my relaxed state. Next, I would look at a fish from a distance, then go back to my relaxed state. This would keep going on until I would ultimately be desensitized from fish. This process works due to the patient replacing anxiety with relaxation (Pomfrey). On the other hand, exposure-based therapy is the same as systematic desensitization, just without the relaxation part. Besides therapy, antidepressants are also helpful. The most common antidepressants used are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Prozac or Zoloft, but Valium and Xanax are also common (NHS 2014).

Overall, phobias can consume a part of a person’s life and everyday decisions. From simple avoidances to anxiety attacks, the consequences of having a phobia can run high. Fortunately, no phobia can’t go away with professional help.

Cardio vs. Lifting

Marathon, black silhouettes of runners on the sunset Picture Link

liftingPicture Link

Ever since I was little, I have always enjoyed exercising. Although I enjoy it, and do various exercises primarily for my own enjoyment, wondering which exercises I do or don’t do are better for me never seems to not cross my mind. I played various sports growing up, so cardio was my primary source of exercise, but the occasional lifting session with my teammates always seemed to make me more tired than cardio. Was that because it was working my better more? Or merely due to the fact I didn’t lift very often, so my body just wasn’t used to such strenuous activity? Due to these questions, I decided to research more about the benefits of both cardio and lifting, to ultimately decide which is the better form of exercise.

According to a study at Duke University, the answer is clear. In this study, 119 overweight/obese adults were split into three different groups; a cardio-only group, a resistance training (lifting) only group, and a group of a combination of cardio and resistance training. How this study worked was that the researchers would give each group an exercise regimen for a set amount of time, with the combination group having to exercise the longest amount of time, lifting the second longest, and cardio the shortest. To get data on the change of each person, the researchers would test every participant’s body composition before and after each activity. At the end of the study, it was found that the cardio-only group lost the most weight altogether. The group who lost the second most weight was the combination group. Notably, the lifting group actually gained mass, due to them gaining lean body mass. Although it is clear that the group who lost the most weight was the cardio-only group, it should be noted that the combination group decreased their waist lengths the most, on average.

In another study, done by Penn State, participants were again split into groups. One group being a cardio-only group, the other being a lifting-only group. In this study, the participants, no matter which group, lost the same amount of weight, but the people in the cardio group lost six pounds from muscle, while the lifting group lost purely fat (Fetters 2013). According to personal trainer, Mike Donavanik, this is due to cardio not working your muscles very much, while lifting is the most efficient way to gain muscle, and for every 3 pounds of muscle gained, you lose an extra 120 calories per day (Fetters 2013). According to Wayne Westcott, an exercise-science professor at Quincy College, this extra calorie loss is due to your metabolism staying elevated by about 10 percent for days after you lift as the body recovers the  micro trauma in your muscles that were damaged during lifting (Mackenzie 2015).

Although it is clear that both lifting and cardio both have their effects on weight loss, what about the effects internally? According to a study done by the Journal of Experimental Biology, running on a treadmill increased participant’s endocannabinoid levels, a chemical that makes you feel good and is a pain reliever. This chemical is increased during cardio due to an increased heart rate, thus lifting will not have the same effect, unless you are lifting weights vigorously (Mackenzie 2015). 

In conclusion, both cardio and lifting have different effects on the body, and depending on what your goal is, one of these forms of exercise may be better for you than the other. If you wish to decrease your weight, cardio will be more efficient. If you are less concerned about your actual weight, and more concerned about how you physically look, lifting will be more helpful. Finally, if your goal exercising is to become happier, cardio is the way to go. 

Go to Bed!

I am the sort of person who can more easily stay awake until eight in the morning than wake up at eight in the morning. I go to bed late, and wake up late (at least when I don’t have any where to be). However, one of my roommates likes to go to bed before 10:30 and wakes up at 9:00 nearly every morning. Putting aside the fact that I don’t understand why anyone would willingly get themselves out of bed early in the morning when they could be asleep or how they manage to be friendly, productive people before noon hits, I do wonder how sleeping times affect people’s overall health. Now, my roommate is a very fit, healthy person anyway because she eats well and works out, however I wonder if her sleeping habits have positively affected her as well.

So the null hypothesis is that sleeping times do not have any real, significant affect on people’s health, and so it does not actually matter what time you may decide to go to bed. The alternative hypothesis, on the other hand, is that sleeping times do in fact affect health in some way, and it does matter when we go to sleep. See, I’ll get nine hours of sleep a night and yet still feel exhausted the next day. I’m almost convinced this is because I went to bed at two in the morning and woke up at eleven. I had read things about this before, and I knew it had something to do with circadian rhythms and the like, however I did not know enough to fully understand. Circadian rhythms determine if we prefer to stay up late or wake up early. This is called our chronotype.

Morningness Map 23andMe

First off, according to this study, whether we are “morning” or “night” people, so to speak, has in part to do with our DNA. The study, called a genome-wide association study (or GWAS), was done by 23andMe, a consumer genetics company. A sample of nearly 90,000 people submitted their DNA through spit samples, making  this one of the largest studies about circadian rhythms done using human subjects. The people in the sample were narrowed down from about 135,00 who had taken a survey asking simply if they thought of themselves as night people or morning people. Those who answered neutrally were removed from the experiment. The study’s intention was to find links between various versions of genes and traits specific to being a “morning” or “night” person. It found connections between fifteen different versions of genes, of which seven were close to genes already known to be linked to circadian rhythms. The nearness of the genes indicates that they have similar functions. What I took from this is that, with more research and more studies, scientists could eventually prove with near certainty that being a morning or night person has a direct causation with our DNA. Unfortunately, however, this topic does seem to suffer from the file drawer problem. I believe only the studies that got the desired results have been published.

Now, this study did indicate that what I had previously stated in my alternative hypothesis is correct. Sleeping times do in fact affect our bodies and our health. People who described themselves as “night” people were close to two times as likely to suffer from insomnia, and nearly two-thirds as likely to be diagnosed with sleep apnoea. “Morning” people were less likely to need more than eight hours of sleep, to sleep walk, or even to sweat while they are asleep.

It also showed that “morning people” usually had a lower body mass index than “night people”, and that they were less likely to have depression as well. However, though the two things are correlated, scientists could not find a causation between BMI or depression and being a morning person. Basically, we can’t say that being a night person causes depression, or causes a person to be overweight.

Another study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, was done by Korean researchers with a sample group of 1,620 middle-aged men and women and showed very similar results. As in the above study, they asked their participants to answer a survey to indicate if they thought of themselves as night or morning people. Variables like smoking habits, exercise frequency, alcohol consumption, hypertension, blood pressure, BMI, and other such things were measured beforehand and taken into consideration. The results of this study showed that men who were classified as night people were more likely to have diabetes. And women classified as night people high blood sugar levels and excess body fat around the mid-section. The scientists were unable to find a sure mechanism, however they did state that it was likely these metabolic affects were quite likely related to the consumption of calories after eight at night and being exposed to more artificial light.

Based on the research done by these two groups of scientists, I think we can safely say that sleep times do affect our health; specifically, going to bed later at night affects it negatively. I, personally, would love to do what is best for my health and go to bed earlier. However, being an over-worked college student does not really allow for that.


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Does carrot improve your vision?

A lot of you may have heard many times from your parents that carrot can improve your eyesight. When I was young, I sometimes refused to eat carrot, and in order to encourage me to eat carrot, my parents used to tell me that carrot will improve my eyesight. I did not question if this correlation (eating carrots leads to a better eyesight) is true when I was young, but now because I learned that I need to be more skeptical and question any causation relationships that we think are true, especially those that are with no science behind them. Furthermore, now that I have a better understanding on how correlations like these can be false even if they a big number of people acknowledge it, I decided to do a research about the causation (eating carrots improves vision).

 Null Hypothesis: Carrots do not improve eyesight.

Alternative Hypothesis: Carrots do improve eyesight.


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According to an article in American Scientific website, carrots have a component called beta-carotene that is very useful for your eyesight. When you eat carrot, your body processes the beta-carotene in the carrot and use it to make vitamin A, which, the article claims, is proven to help your “eye convert light into a signal that can be transmitted to the brain,” which helps you see at night, but when your body does not make enough vitamin A, your vision eyesight becomes weak and will not be able to see at night.

The article mentions that a randomized control study in 2005 was done to test what is the best amount of carrots to eat to have maintain a good eyesight and whether or not carrot is the best way to improve eyesight. The study gave its participants 4.5 ounces of cooked carrots each day and for six days a week. The study has also used other food that had vitamin A components and used vitamin A supplement in the experiment. The study results found that female participants eyesight has improved to the normal level. The study has also noticed that vitamin A supplements did a better job than carrots in improving these women eyesight to the normal level. while it is true that a randomized control study provides strong evidence, the study did not mention many detail such as the results of the study when done on males nor did it mention the number of participants in the study. The study also did not mention if there were any soft points measured so that we know if the study could suffer from the Texas Shooter Problem. And in order to know if the results are correct we still need to do further research into the topic and also look for meta-analysis studies.

In addition, a study done by researchers at the University of Helsinki has conducted an experiment on whether or not beta-carotene helps improve eyesight and if yes, what amount of beta-carotene the body needs to be able to process in order to improve the eyesight of people. The experiment results showed that 20 mg. of beta-carotene given on daily basis has improved the visual acuity of 1,200 males and has also reduced cataract formation.

This study’s results are consistent with the alternative hypothesis and serve as strong evidence because of the big number of subjects being tested and also because it was a control trial (participants were given the same amount of beta-carotene). However, the study did not mention any other detail on how the experiment was done, for example, if it is a randomized double-blind placebo trial, number of participants, or what other variables were blocked out when doing the experiment. Furthermore, the study did not mention if the results were the same when it tested females, which suggests that the study results may suffer from the File Drawer Problem. However, it is highly unlikely that the results will differ when the experiment is done on females because there is no evidence or mechanism that says that women have a different eyesight system or that the results were due to chance or due to third variables because of the large number of people tested and the other meta-analysis studies that showed similar results. Additionally, the study does not seem to suffer from the Texas Shooter Problem because the study has only studied few things.

The article claims that giving vitamin A or beta-carotene to people in countries, such as Nepal or India where people suffer from vitamin A deficiencies has resulted in an improvement in their night vision, which some may argue that this could serve as an evidence for the hypothesis do improve eyesight. However, this improvement was only noticed in people who suffered from vitamin A deficiencies and has only helped them have normal vision and not a strong vision, which suggests that eating carrots could only help maintain a normal vision by providing you with vitamin A, but cannot improve your vision if your vision is normal.

Another article suggests that eating carrots can improve your night vision only if you suffer from vitamin A deficiencies, but if your vision is already normal, then carrot or any other vitamin A sources will do nothing to your eye. Furthermore, eating a lot of carrot, can dangerous as an article claims that a lot of Vitamin A can be dangerous to your body if you are already eating a balanced diet.


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Additionally, an article written by By Karl S. Kruszelnicki claims that the “myth” that carrots improve eyesight came from a rumor that was invented by the UK Royal Air Force ( RAF) to mislead the public and other countries from the truth about their RAF pilots ability to fly at night. They attributed their ability to clearly see at night to eating lots of carrots. However, the RAF has actually wanted to hide their use of what was considered a new technology back then called radar. However, this was discovered decades later, so the false truth about carrots ability to improve eyesight has spread all over the world and mane have believed it. This single anecdote shows how anecdotes are powerful in convincing big numbers of people without even having any science to prove if they were correct, false positive, or false negative.

Another study in the 1990s that was also done in Australia studied the deteriorating night vision in older people who took a lot of vitamin A. the results of the study for the participants who claimed that they ate more carrots, showed no improvement in their eyesight, which is also consistent with the other studies results that stated that if your eyesight is normal, then eating a lot of carrots will not improve your them. While it is right that the study did not mention more detail on how the study was done, we will believe the results because of their consistency with other results from the other studies.

Here is an article for ANOTHER meta-analysis studies that also say that carrot do help maintain eyesight, but do not improve them. The article talked about two experiments each studies thousands of people and suggest similar results to the other studies in the post, however, the article did not mention many detail on how the studies were done.

Here is a video that gives a similar explanation to why carrots do not improve your eyesight.

In addition, it is highly unlikely that these studies would have suffered from the Confirmation Bias problem, because of the big number of meta-analysis studies that were done and the strong evidence and mechanism suggested in the study. Not to mention that there could be more studies done on the hypothesis being tested and found out results that were consistent with the null hypothesis but did not publish them due to the File Drawer Problem.

Bottom Line: Many studies have showed strong evidence that carrots do not improve eyesight or vision if your eyesight is normal; however, studies showed that carrots do help maintain your vision indirectly, due to the beta-carotene component, which helps your body produce more vitamin A to help you see at night. Additionally, the studies results could be due to chance or due to other third variables, but because of  the many well-done meta-analysis studies done on the hypothesis, the results were most likely to be correct.

In addition, if you are looking for the best way to maintain good eyes, then carrots are not the best choice, as there are many studies that confirmed that carrots are good for eyes only because of vitamin A, which, According to this article, can be found by bigger amounts in other fruit or vegetables such as sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens and, lettuce. Furthermore, vitamin A can also be found in fish




chocOLATE    Picture found here

I was looking at Science Illustrated (an amazing magazine by the way) the other day. I found an article called, “Snails improved their memory after eating chocolate”. I thought it was interesting so I looked further into it. Apparently chocolate can actually help with memory!

So it’s not actually chocolate but there is something in cocoa and green tea that can further the amount of time and strength of a snail’s memory. It is a type of antioxidant and also a natural phenol that goes by the name of epicatechin (epi for short). It is a type of flavonoid. The epicatechin in the chocolate is what is supposedly helping people (and snails) with their memory.

Hypothesis: Chocolate improves memory

Null Hypothesis: Chocolate does not improve memory

Alternative Hypothesis: Chocolate does improve memory

So in this study Snails improved memory after eating Chocolate Professor Kenneth Lukowiak and researchers from the University of Calgary tested this hypothesis on snails. Yes, snails! This experiment randomized the snails into two groups, a control group and a treatment group. So the control group was 1 group of pond snails in standard pond water. The next group of pond snails were in pond water with an epi solution. This is equivalent to how much humans consume so it didn’t affect the snail in any other behaviors.

So here the x-variable is the snails being exposed to epi.

The y-variable is an improvement in their memory abilities.

Some 3rd variables could be: type of water, temperature of water. This isn’t a well conducted experiment because it was only done using 30 snails. There is also no replication to this experiment.

Chance could be possible.

Getting back to the study, they did a 30-minute session where they trained the snails to, “keep their breathing tubes closed in deoxygenated water”, stated by Shirley Chau in a Science Illustrated online article. The control group remembered this for less than 3 hours. The other group had this memorized for up to 72 hours. Due to these results the scientists rejected the null hypothesis. So does chocolate improve memory? Yes, yes it does on snails. We still don’t know how well it would work on humans though.

The next study used the concept of extinction to see the strength of the memory. This is process in which they, “override old memory with new memory”, Shirley Chou states. They teach the snails how to open their breathing tubes. The epi-group kept their snorkels shut. It took 3 training session for the epi-group for the extinction to go through. It took the control group 1. This means that the epi-group remembered it so well, it wasn’t that easy to forget, or override their old memory. The control group on the other hand, forgot the memory pretty fast, and overrode it with a new one, in one training session.

I read another article pointing that chocolate is an antioxidant that can help with one’s memory skills. This article had done studies on human beings.

Hypothesis: Eating chocolate gives one better memory

Null hypothesis: Eating chocolate will not give one better memory

Alternative Hypothesis: Eating chocolate will give one better memory

There was a study, To Improve a Memory, Consider Chocolate, done by Dr. Scott A. Small and the study’s senior author at Columbia University Medical. People from the ages from about 50-69 drank a mixture containing high amounts of cocoa flavanols. After 3 months, this group did 25% better on a memory test than the group who got lower amount of flavanols. The experiment I used here did not mention whether this was a randomized or control experiment in the original study.

So here the x-variable is the cocoa flavanols that are being manipulated for the two groups.

The y-variable is improvement in one’s memory.

Some 3rd variables could be: hardness of test, diet

Chance could be possible.

For this article I really wish they would have given exact measurements of how much the high amount of cocoa flavanols mixture had compared to the lower amount. How do we compare those 2? We would have seen the type of effects the cocoa flavanols had if there was a double-blind placebo trial done in this experiment. This control group would be a group of people who would receive a mixture of a mixture that really had no cocoa flavanols at all.

So at this point you should probably get a bag full of Halloween candy and bring it to class. If the teacher has something to say, just say that you want to get an A in the class. JUST KIDDING. So most of the milk chocolate we eat is really processed and that results in most of the epicatechin being taken out of the chocolate. The Nature Journal talked about how dark chocolate is what you need. To get your daily dose of high-flavanol you have to eat 300 grams of dark chocolate a day. That is 7 bars worth! Looking at the studies, I still don’t see a strong correlation. Yes, it worked on the snails, but the humans didn’t really show an effect because we couldn’t compare to a control group. We really don’t know the effect of one group with and without chocolate because in the second study, both groups got the chocolate mixture. I am personally really interested in this whole study so I thought my own study to try on my peers.

My study

For my study I really wanted to focus on college students the most. I mean hell, we need it to ace those tests. I would conduct a double-blind randomized placebo trial. They would be randomized from major, gender, and year. It would need to be randomized because college is full of diverse students. Also for example, if we got all Pre-Med majors, a lot of what they do is memorization. This would not help out study.  The control group consisting of 10 people would be given 4 fake bars of chocolate for 2 weeks. The other group (10 people) would eat about 4 bars of dark chocolate a day, for 2 weeks. No one would know what chocolate bars they were getting. Overall this study should be replicated and more studies done on this topic so 3rd variables can get ruled out. It would be easy to find students on this campus because there are so many students. Once there are more studies on this experiment and this topic on general we can also get peer reviewed by others.

Hypothesis: Dark chocolate improves memory skills

Null Hypothesis: Dark chocolate does not improve memory skills

Alternative Hypothesis: Dark chocolate does improve memory skills.

So here the x-variable is the dark chocolate.

The y-variable is improvement in memory skills

Some 3rd variables could be: diet, workload,

Chance– yes, it is a possibility

So after 2 weeks I would give the 20 students a memory test and see how they did.The funny thing is I hate dark chocolate it, but am willing to eat if it helps me with my memory skills! So my question to you is how could I test this on myself? I have a couple of ideas like making myself take 2 tests. 1 without eat dark chocolate and one with. Please, I would love to hear your ideas, and YES, I am seriously going to do this.

raw  Picture found here


Belluck, P. (2014) To improve a memory consider chocolate. New York Times.



Chou, S. (2012) Snails improved their memory after “eating chocolate”. Science Illustrated.


Self-driving cars? How about brain-driven cars?

Cars that operate without the explicit control of a driver have generated massive amounts of press in the recent years. Driver-less cars, or the proper term, autonomous cars have actually existed for years before Google or Tesla began to shock the world with their ideas. The first credited autonomous car is actually Leonardo da Vinci’s self-propelled cart, a small cart that operated on the basis of spring energy and any steering would be set before the course. This idea has long evolved past its humble beginnings and for some, has moved past autonomous.



da Vinci’s self-propelled cart (History-Computer)

A recent hackathon (basically, a more technology based science fair) at UC Berkeley called CalHacks has spurred some amazing new innovations, including an interesting implication for the future of driving. A team of four calling themselves, “Teslapathic” have fitted a 2015 Tesla Model S 85D to be controlled through brain activity. In 36 hours, the team designed a wooden mechanism attached to an RC radio and actuators on the pedals for acceleration, stopping, and steering.


Teslapathic member, Casey Spencer, poses in his Tesla

The radio receives and translates the brain waves through an EEG (Electroencephalography) headset. These are the same devices used by medical professionals to detect anomalies in the brain. Small electronic signals are sent to and from the brain and a computer translates the results. Steering was not controlled exactly the same, but instead used a device that tracked the head movements of the test driver. Looking to the left and right would slowly ease the car in that respective direction. Below is a video showing the car in action and the operator can be seen in the passenger seat of the car.

Autonomous cars are often demonized in the media over any accident or problem, but not many people know that they are actually much safer. This confirmation bias grows from the media influence and is often due to the nature of humans. As we learned from class, human intuition is lousy. And when a new invention comes along that completely flips everything we know about driving upside-down, there are going to be many who oppose change. These autonomous cars use advanced sensors and cameras to detect the environment around. If every car knew when and where the other cars where, accidents would be a thing of the past. This is a very interesting outcome for the future of self-driving cars.

Overall, this is an interesting project, but what does this mean for the car industry as a whole? As of right now, pretty much nothing. Brain driven cars will not take the market any time soon, and self-driving cars still have a long time to go. However, the Teslapathic group have opened up a whole can of interesting ideas for the future of self-driven cars. Without question, the largest cause of motor accidents is human error. What if you could sense an accident coming and react quickly enough with brainwaves? Or what if a driver drifted asleep and the brainwaves alerted the vehicle and shuts off the engine? This are just possibilities for the future of these autonomous cars, with new inventions being worked on daily.


Works Cited

“A Brief History of Autonomous Vehicle Technology.” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, n.d. Web.                           26 Nov. 2016.

Danigelis, Alyssa. “Hackers Turn Tesla Into a Brain-Controlled Car.” LiveScience. TechMedia                                 Network, 23 Nov. 2016. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.

Thompson, Cadie. “Why Driverless Cars Will Be Safer than Human Drivers.” Business Insider.                               Business Insider, Inc, 16 Nov. 2016. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.

Stressed? Read A Book!

Ever since I was a child I have loved getting wrapped up in a book and reading it for hours at a time. It didn’t have to be any specific kind of book, just as long as the story intrigued me and kept me occupied. Now that I am in college I find very little time to sit down and read a book unless it’s a textbook. I used to have all the time in the world to relax and read a book, but now that I need to relax, I can almost never find the time to do so. It’s all very frustrating.


When I do find the times to lay back and do nothing, I found out that I am not relaxing in the most effective way. There was a randomized control trial completed at the University of Sussex in 2009. By manipulating the subjects stress levels (tested by their muscle tension and heart rate), the scientists measured which tactic worked best to ease the individual into a relaxed state. The several relief methods evaluated were listening to music, drinking tea, playing video games, taking a walk, and reading. All methods had the ability to relieve some strain, but reading turned out to be the most efficient because it was both fast and effective.

All of the people in the sample used for the study had to go through a series of activities in order to increase their levels of muscle tension and heart rate. Not only did reading reduce stress levels after completing the exercises, but it reduced the individuals’ stress past what they started at prior to completing the exercises. Within six minutes of reading, both muscle tension and heart rate were decreased dramatically. Compared to the other techniques, reading dropped levels by 68%, listening to music was 61%, drinking tea was 54%, taking a walk was 42%, and playing video games was 21%. All of these methods are negatively correlated with stress levels, but the scientists cannot definitively prove that reading more will cause you to feel less stress. Additionally, it is hard to compare physical health directly with mental health, but that is all that the scientists are capable of measuring with today’s technology.


The scientists believe that the mechanism for reading’s strength in lessening anxiety is due to distraction. In my experience, reading has been able to do just that; divert my attention from what has been holding me down. I remember one instance during my senior year of high school when I was supposed to be hearing back from Penn State, and I couldn’t sleep or focus on anything except the fact that I might not get into my top school. My mom finally became fed up with my attitude and demanded I go occupy myself somehow. I explained to her that nothing could keep me engaged, and finally she suggested I re-read one of my favorite books. I took her advice, and miraculously I was hooked. In the science world, anecdotes are not something to use as evidence for a discovery because it could easily be a fluke. However, with the data from the randomized control trial and my personal experience, I highly recommend this method to take some of the weight off of your very tired shoulders.

College can be extremely difficult for all types of majors, and it’s smart to take some time for yourself to relax. Reading a book is a fun and effective way to do it. If you’re interested here is a link to the best reads of 2016. Or if you’re like me, you can just read Harry Potter for the 5th time in a row.

Source: Chiles, Andy. “Reading Can Help Reduce Stress, According to University of Sussex Research.” The Argus. IPSO, 2009. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.

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