Author Archives: Bernarda Jarrin Alvear

What makes some people more empathetic than others?

While reading the news, I found an article from CNN that said that Ecuador (the country where I was born and raised in) is the country that has the most empathy. I found this very interesting and wanted to find some sort of explanation about why some countries (people) can have more empathy than others. I actually found a study that explained it and was also mentioned in the article.

According to a study published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, there is a correlation between culture and empathy. They discuss how social and psychological behaviors may make alterations to the empathy of a person, or in this case, of a nation. Scientists recruited 104, 365 participants between the ages of 18 to 90 from 63 different countries via internet. 955 participants had to be excluded from the study because there were not many participants from the same country. Ratios had to be equal from people of the countries that were evaluated so that the results are not altered. The amount of people from a certain country would be a controlled confounding variable.

All participants were asked to complete a survey that measured their level of empathy. Scientists used Empathetic Concern sub-scales that gathered data for collectivism, pro-sociality, and psychological variables. The null hypothesis in this case was that collectivism does not have any effect of the empathy of a nation. The alternative hypothesis was that collectivism alters the empathy a nation has. The results are below:

Table 1  showed an existent correlation between collectivism, pro-sociality, and psychological variables with empathy. The people from nations who scored high on their empathy scores demonstrated high levels of empathy from the survey. The countries that were categorized as the ones who had the most empathy were Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, and Peru due to their scores.

I believe that this study proves that there is a correlation between psychological and social behavior of the inhabitants of a nation with the amount of empathy they have. Still, there are several exogenous factors that they should have taken in consideration. For instance, Ecuador suffered from many small tremors this past years and had a huge earthquake in 2016 which was the year of publication of the study. The entire coastal zone of our country was destroyed and many people showed acts of empathy through collectivism and volunteering that would suggest that the experiment is right, but I think that empathy is a soft endpoint. I think it is hard to say whether a country has more or less empathy than others since it depends on the unfortunate events that each country goes through.

To conclude, the study shows that collectivism is causal for empathetic behaviors but there is the need for replication and metanalyses since participants were gathered through internet ( it may not be a reliable source to depend on) and did not control certain factors or confounding variables that could alter the results such as the unfortunate events that those nations suffered.

Why pets make us happier and healthier

As some people say, pets are life companions. No matter what, they will be there for you even when you are sad, mad, or sick. Every time I’m sad I hug my dog and she definitely makes me feel better. My best friend has a cat and she does the same. Overall, every one I know has an special attachment to their pets no matter if these are fish, cats, turtles, or dogs. In general I believe that they make you feel better and happier since they give a sense of companionship and make us feel understood.

I did some research about the extent in which our pets can help us. I found a study published on the American Geriatrics Society Journal that determined whether pet company can cause us any physical or psychological effects.

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My dog

Scientists decided to make a longitudinal study for a year, that included 995 participants who were 65 years or older. The study started with 1500 participants randomly taken from the Ontario Ministry of Health data base. Only 995 participants were followed up during the period of time of the study. Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire about the type of pet they had or if they didn’t had any, their sex, education, income, leaving arrangement, health status (physically and psychologically) and asked them about any major event that has occurred in their life on the past 12 months (since this may affect them emotionally). Researchers controlled the confounding variables that could affect the results in any way. The null hypothesis in this case would be that the ownership of pets does not affect physical and emotional health. The alternate hypothesis is that the ownership of pets prevents the physical and emotional health deterioration of an older person.

Since many of the participants could not be followed up due to death or other situations, scientists ruled out those who were no longer part of the study. Later they compared the data recorded in 1995 with the one recorded a year after. Reverse causation had to be ruled out because of the time factor, meaning that it is impossible to compare the data collected a year after the baseline data and get results. The study had to be either causal or affected by a third variable. Chance on the other hand, can never be ruled out.

Scientists wanted to see if the ADL’s (Activities of Daily Life) of the people with pets indicated different results than the ones who did not have pets.  They found out that the physical condition of people who did not have pets had decayed more than those who did. The table below shows the results:

Scientists said it is likely that old people deteriorate at a lower rate when having pets due to the fact they need to be active in order to take care of them. After this, they compared the data for those who had cats and dogs with the data of those who had other animals as pets. The found out a correlation between cat and dog owners and high ADL score (physical).

Furthermore, scientists found out through statistical analysis that there was not a direct cause between the emotional well being of an individual with a pet or the absence of it. However, they did find that people had a tendency to give social support when having pets. Figure 1 below shows the results.

This results demonstrate how the psychological well being of the participants influence on their ability to react on crisis situations. Scientists found out that people who have pets will have a much better reaction towards bad situations than those who do not.

According to the National Center for Health Research there could be two possibilities, either people who are healthy will be prone to have pets or people who have pets are healthy. Also a German study indicates that having a pet can deteriorate health since they will not have enough time to take care of themselves because they are taking care of their pets.

Even though, many scientists and journalists do not find a clear correlation between health and pets, they believe there is one. To conclude, the study indicates that the alternate hypothesis that pets can make an impact on the physical and emotional health of a person is true. However, this can be due to chance and only relies in a group of people that belongs to the same region (Ontario). I think that there should be replication and meta-analyses in order to know if the results are accurate or can be due to a fluke.

Does your cellphone disrupt your sleep?

Ever since I came to Penn State I have been sleeping next to my phone. I need to charge it next to me and I’ve been wondering if this is something that affects my sleep in any way. I have noticed that easily distracts my roommate and me prior to going to sleep. It has become a reason for us to stay up late. For this reason I wanted to do some research and see if it actually has an effect on my hours of sleep or the quality of my sleep.

I found a study by the National Sleep Foundation, about how sleep and other disturbances may affect the quality of sleep of a person. So the question here is: Does technology affect the quality of sleep of a person? Reverse causation needs to be ruled out because this is a longitudinal study meaning that scientists needed to wait and follow up the participants in order to see the effects that technology had on their sleep. On the other hand, this can be causal, also due by chance or have a third confounding variable that affects the x and y variables in some way.

According to a study conducted, technology has an effect on the sleep  of an individual. There were 420 participants involved in the study who where randomly chosen but needed to be eligible for them to be on it. Scientists determined eligibility through a questionnaire that asked for personal data such as education, employment, age and gender, caffeine usage. They decided these factors or confounding variables needed to be controlled as they could affect the sleep of an individual. This is the reason why they determined a certain standard for the participants who could be involved in the study and the ones who couldn’t. The 420 participants where divided into four different groups depending on their age:

Eleven questions were given to them asking about how the lack of sleep affected their daily activities. Depending on their group age it involved questions about how their lack of sleep affected their academic performance, intimate relations, or other activities that may be influenced by age. The results are shown in the data below.

Scientists later decided to conduct research about how the quality of sleep of a person may be affected by technology through beta waves. Confounding variables such as the amount of caffeine used by the participants were controlled. Table 1 (seen below) is a linear progression that suggests a correlation between the use of technology prior to sleep and difficulty falling sleep, maintaining sleep or having un-refreshing sleep. Scientists compared both passive and interactive technological devices. These were the two arms of study that later on were analyzed to determine which of them had a greater impact on sleep. The passive devices were TV, music players and others that did not require too much cognitive abilities of the participant. On the other hand, interactive devices involved cell phones, computers, and games.

The results indicated that passive devices did not significantly affect the quality of sleep of the participants. However, interactive devices demonstrated a negative effect on sleep. Scientists found that cell phones, video games and computers were the technological devices that most affected the participants. The probability that it was due to chance was .03, .0001, .049 respectively. It is unlikely that the results were due to chance but it can never be ruled out, there is always a possibility.

Furthermore, this is an observational study. Scientists had to wait and see the effects technology had during and after the participants slept. They believe that interactive technology had a negative effect on sleep. They also determined that most people use their technological devices an hour before going to sleep. This was one of the main causes of them not having a good night sleep. However, meta-analysis would be the best thing to figure this out and know what is going on. Science can always prove things, but scientists cannot be totally confident about the results they find. Even though, this is a reliable study and may change the cellphone habits of many people it would need replication to make sure the conclusion is accurate.

To conclude, it is controversial whether the use of cellphones affects the quality of your sleep but people have reasons to believe it may. It would be recommendable and rational to check on your habits in order to take care of your health and sleep.

Can spicy things make you live longer?

There is a saying, that comes from ancient times and has been popularly held for decades. I come from Ecuador and have noticed that the old generation from my country has many beliefs about how certain foods will affect your health. So to start this post I wanted to share a common belief that I think South America and other cultures have in common. The question that I want to answer through this blog is: Do spicy things affect the mortality of a person?

According to a study conducted by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, spicy food may have an effect in mortality. They had data from 512,891 participants from diverse areas of China that had answered questionnaires about the types of chili peppers they ate and how many days a week they ate them. This was an observational study since participants were asked how much spicy things they ate during a period of time. They were also asked to give other information such as their measurements and their health status; these way confounding variables were controlled. Even though most were controlled, it would have worked better if participants were randomized and chilli peppers were given to one group and a placebo chilli would be given to another. This way it could have been an experiment that would provide more evidence of how spicy food has an effect on mortality.

All of the individuals in the study aged between 30 and 79 years old. After a seven-year follow up, 20224 people had passed away. Scientists compared the data from these participants depending on their health status and how often they consume spicy food. Here is a table showing the results:




As seen in the data above, when the participants of the study had spicy food several times a week, it lowered their risk of mortality.The null hypothesis has been rejected therefore, the study has an alternative hypothesis since something is going on. Furthermore, scientists separated the data from those who had Cancer, Ischemic heart disease and Diabetes and others who had infections or respiratory diseases. Individuals were categorized through models 1, 2 or 3 depending on their age, sex, education, physical activity, smoking and drinking status. When comparing the data from participants who ate spicy food less than once a week with those who ate it 6 to 7 times a week, scientists noticed a 14% lower risk of death for causes of death (hard endpoint).

Even though, this is a very big study there is the need of replication since there is always a probability of chance. In this case it is very unlikely, but life-changing discoveries need meta analyses in order to prove the hypothesis (in this case: the amount of spicy food consumed changes mortality). Scientists did not find a mechanism that can explain their finding that spicy food lowers the risk of mortality but they do have a reasonable speculation for them to believe it does. Therefore, the conclusion of the study could be a false positive or correct since something is going on.

To conclude, there is the need of meta analyses and replication since the research paper indicated that this is the first published study in which the amount of spicy food eaten and mortality rates are analyzed. Also, data collected is just from one area (China) and is therefore generalizing the discovery. It is similar to the Dutch study of sugary drinks discussed in class. There is not enough evidence to prove that spicy food lowers the risk of death of an individual but this study suggests that something is going on.

Ultimately, the belief that spicy food is healthy for you may be certain, and therefore some people may want to eat more spicy food but it needs to be eaten with moderation. This study does not allow people to make the conclusion that people who eat too much spicy food will live longer. I also found an article from NBC news that mentions the positive effects of spicy food and actually mentions the study I talk about above but also mentions some of the negative effects of eating too much spicy food such as making your blood thinner and provoking hemorrhoids.








Should we chew gum?

During high school, my best friend started to chew gum during class in order to eat less in breaks. Well, I never found out if what she was doing actually worked or not. However, she believed that with exercise and skipping some meals she will loose weight faster. I noticed that in a couple of months she did not loose weight, but I was intrigued about the effects of chewing gum and why do people think of it as a solution to overweight. So the question is, is chewing gum an effective method to loose appetite?

Does gum make people loose their appetite? Reverse causation needs to be eliminated due to the time factor. What I mean by this, is that the hypothesis could not be tested because time needs to pass in order to notice whether chewing gum has an effect on hunger or not. Furthermore, is there a third variable that influences both gum intake and food intake? But there is always a possibility that it is due to chance as well.

I decided to do some research about the effects of gum and found out two studies conducted by the University of Buffalo. According to one of the studies, chewing gum affects the intake of food. The experiment conducted consisted in participants from the age of 18 to 50. Within these range there were 24 men and 30 women who were randomly chosen to be in either a non chewer or chewer group. This experiment was held during a two week period. The gum chewing group was given either Nutratrim gum (fruit) and Eclipse gum (mint). They were given a pill box to put the gums they chewed and a handbook that contained eating habits questionnaires to record what they ate. Results were given not by a specific gender but by the types of gum each individual ate or not. According to researchers men and women had a very similar reaction when it came to hunger, so they decided to disregard gender. I believe that scientists were right in basing their results on the different types of gum and not take gender into account since gender appears to be a factor that does not alter the results in any possible way.

The experiment had a control group, the no gum individuals, and two arms of study that were either fruit gum chewers or mint gum chewers. During two weeks there were two checkins, in which researchers held the data of the questionnaires and the weight of the participants. The results are demonstrated in the three figures below. Clearly there is a correlation between gum and appetite. There was a significant effect that indicated that neither fruit nor mint gum made people eat less, but the no gum control group demonstrated a more accurate nutrition. The food in their meals was more balanced than those who chewed gum (as you can see in Figure C). Furthermore, researchers did not find a major weight loss in the participants who chewed gum. But did find that the nutrition of an individual who chews gum frequently is very different from that of person who doesn’t. Also, the study was a random trial, since they had people from diverse races, gender, marital status, income, and education. However, they did control confounding variables through a survey that determined the participants eligibility. These variables were health, diet and prior chewing gum habits. Furthermore, the probability of chance for Figure C was 0.05, which indicates that it is very unlikely that the results are due to chance, meaning that chewing gum actually affects the nutrition of a person.



I decided to look more into it and found a study by the Ohio State University. The Atlantic mentions how a group of 44 participants in the study were told to choose between fruit or chocolate after a 45 minute period of time chewing gum. The participants that had chewed on mint gum were less likely to eat fruit than the ones who chewed fruit gum, but still all participants felt hungry after chewing. The results indicated that people who chew gum will later crave for unhealthy food that will influence on them to make unhealthy choices in their diet.

In my opinion chewing gum could indicate an unhealthy lifestyle. However, since many people chew gum it would be life changing to conclude that it is unhealthy. Therefore, replication of the study and meta analyses is needed. The experiment proves that there is not a meaningful change in the amount of calories consumed by an individual but the nutrition of a person does. So the conclusion would be a false positive, the hypothesis was rejected but there is definitely something going on. So the myth that eating more gum causes weight loss is not true. As said in class the lack of science affects the life and health of many people. There are alternate ways to loose weight that are certainly more effective than relying on gum since it actually makes the diet of a person become weaker and lack of nutrients. Here is an article from TIME Magazine that explains why some methods work better than others, and how fat cells react when a person stops eating regularly. Actually, strict diets will make cells have a drastic reaction and will make your body store calories that will later become fat. Exercise and nutritious meals are the best way in which a man or woman can stay in shape.





Is yawning contagious?

Who has not found him or herself yawning for no reason? Why does someone start yawning and then more than half of the class keeps on doing it? Yawning is intriguing to me since I am a person who does it a lot. There is a myth about how it is contagious and that is why I decided to do some research about it to find out if it actually is.


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Many believe, yawning is contagious. Why? There is not a clear answer but several experiments have been made to figure that out. Somehow scientists have arrived to the conclusion that yawning may be correlated with age, empathy, or other social factors.

According to Psychology Today (Bergland, 2014) The University of Connecticut and Duke University have conducted several research studies in which their purpose has been to find a factor that causes contagious yawning. However, both had different results.

The University of Connecticut discovered that contagious yawning is a sign of empathy. They thought this after studying a group of 30 children located within the autism spectrum. The results of the study were that children who had severe autism were not likely to yawn contagiously while the others did. This means that there is a social need for a person to yawn after watching someone doing it. However, there is not enough data that could support this hypothesis yet, as there many other factors that need to be taken in consideration.

On the other hand, Duke University suggested that empathy has no correlation to yawning but that it depends mostly of the age of a person. For instance, their findings demonstrated that children can be more susceptible to contagious yawning than aged people. These conclusion surged from the fact that from out of 328 test subjects, younger individuals were more likely to yawn with others while watching a video. This was the only factor that varied in the experiment. But this factor was only responsible for a low percent of variability which makes scientists believe that there is no current explanation as of why there is an increase of contagious yawning in some people more than in others.


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The article explains that there are two types of yawning: contagious and spontaneous yawning. Spontaneous yawning is believed to be caused by factors such as fatigue or sleepiness, while contagious yawning does not have concrete factors but is known to be existent.

Here is an interesting video that will measure how much time can you last without yawning while watching many people yawn. Hope you like it



Is biting your nails worth it?

An imperceptible habit that causes horrible harm to our body is present on the daily lives of every nail biter. Me and many more have this habit that proves to be very hard to stop. So the question is: Why do we do it? According to BBC (2014), biting our nails is uncontrollable and an obsessive habit. Since our body gets physically hurt, psychiatrists consider it to be as the effect of stress or anxiety. Its proven that 45% of teenagers bite their nails due to nervousness or pressure. Healthwise (2014), also specifies how individuals ranging from the ages of 10 to 30 are most likely to bite them. However, as a person ages, he or she will probably stop doing it.

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We know the cause, but now what are some of its effects. According to Dr. Mercola, bacteria and viruses accumulate underneath your nails causing the person who bites them to become ill more often than usual. It is common for nail bitters to get awful colds several times in a year. Also, severe infections can be caused on the skin around the nail. This may lead to redness in the fingers and if nail biting persists sever nail deformities can be caused. Your nails may become uneven and very unpleasant to

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In 1988, a study was conducted by the University of Pennsylvania in which their purpose was to figure out what type of bacteria lies underneath a typical fingernail. Their results were shocking. Each fingernail of 26 volunteers had approximately hundreds of thousands of different types of bacteria. Scientists figured that this part of our hands has much more bacteria than the actual hand because it is a small place that gives the perfect humid conditions that bacteria needs to survive.

Other nail biting consequences are mouth problems. For instance, the probability that warts appear in your lips are very high since your fingers have many bacteria that will allow them to spread further into your mouth. These are very uncomfortable to have and can become increasingly painful if they are not treated. Also nail biting can lead to teeth misplacement. Constant pressure in your teeth can cause them to inadvertently move out of place.

Furthermore, nail biting is considered a condition that needs to be treated by stress management methods such as listening to music and maintaining yourself active not only physically but also mentally. These methods of relaxation can ultimately prevent anxiousness.

Nail biting has been considered a type of OCD, others just think of it as a bad habit that some people hold with them since babies. This is because we put lots of things in our mouth when we are two are three months old and it can be considered a natural thing to do. However, scientists and health practicians have reached to the conclusion that nail biting is an impulsive habit that has horrible consequences as it affects your health in several aspects.

So before biting your nails remember every object that you have touched during the day and reconsider what you are about to do. Personally it is very difficult for me to stop biting my nails but there here are some useful tips: paint your nails, put a soury product in them, cover them with bandaids but most importantly have a strong power of will and think about all the horrible consequences of doing it.


Why do mosquitoes bite me?

My best friend and I have always noticed that I get devoured by mosquitoes while he does not even get one bite. This was very intriguing to me because even people from my family have a saying that goes like this: “A la gente de sangre enferma no le pican los mosquitos.” This means mosquitoes do not bite people who have unhealthy blood. They do not believe this but it is a popular saying. I just wondered why mosquitoes have a preference for a certain type of individual, so I made some research and found astounding results that makes it much clearer for me as of why they choose me.

2006 Paul I. Howell, MPH, Malaria Research and Reference Reagent Resource Cntr; Prof. Frank Hadley Collins, Dir., Cntr. for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, Univ. of Notre Dame This A. aegypti female was from a strain of mosquitos named LVP-IB12, an acronym representing the fact that these mosquitos were derived from the Liverpool strain (LVP), and that they were inbred 12 times (IB12), in order to create a more homogeneous genotype. Also, of great importance is the additional fact that this specie is being used in the A. aegypti genome sequencing project. Though the mosquito’s geographical origin is not known, it is believed to be somewhere in Africa. Dengue (DF) and dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) are primarily diseases of tropical and sub tropical areas, and the four different dengue serotypes are maintained in a cycle that involves humans and the domestic, day-biting mosquito, Aedes aegypti, which prefers to feed on humans, and is the most common Aedes species. Infections produce a spectrum of clinical illness ranging from a nonspecific viral syndrome to severe and fatal hemorrhagic disease. Important risk factors for DHF include the strain of the infecting virus, as well as the age, and especially the prior dengue infection history of the patient.DF and DHF are caused by one of four closely related, but antigenically distinct virus serotypes (DEN-1, DEN-2, DEN-3, and DEN-4) of the genus Flavivirus. Infection with one of these serotypes provides immunity to only that serotype for life, so persons living in a dengue-endemic area can have more than one dengue infection during their lifetime.

Univ. of Notre Dame 2006. Image taken from here.

According to The Smithsonian Magazine (Stromberg, 2013) there are several factors that may affect mosquitoes targeting an individual over another. I will discuss throughout the blog the ones that I personally found intriguing and that also apply to me.

For instance, the scent and clothing color of a person will influence in the amount of mosquito bites on your skin. According to Allergies Health Center (2016) acid scents such as uric acid, lactic acid, and other acids that are secreted through our skin are more likely to stand out among other people’s scents. This makes certain individuals more attractive for a mosquito. Furthermore, people who wear black, blue, red, dark green or dark purple tend to be bitten more times than those who don’t. Mosquitoes have a preference for dark colors and therefore if you wear these it will facilitate the process of targeting you.

Joseph Stromberg (2013) also claims in his Smithsonian Magazine article how exercise takes a huge part in mosquito targeting. When a person goes to the gym, the body temperature and amount of lactic acid in your body increases as a consequence of exercise. As this increases so is the probability of a mosquito to bite you. This occurs due to the fact that the person will have a high body temperature that will cause the excretion of several scents that lure mosquitoes into biting.


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In addition to this, the body weight and age of an individual is correlated with the amount of mosquitoes bites that the person will have. For example, a man who has a large body weight is more likely to attract mosquitoes than a little boy. This is because the amount of carbon dioxide released by a big man’s body is higher than that of a boy. Mosquitoes will scent co2 from miles away since they have qualities in their body that lead them to the source of the smell.

Furthermore, the blood type of an individual is influential to the amount of mosquito bites a person gets. A study done by the Institute of Pest Control Technology found that blood type O was significantly more susceptible by 83% to mosquito bites than any other type of blood. People who have blood types A and B are not prone to get too many mosquito bites, however, blood type B tended to get more than A.

Now I know why I get so many mosquito bites. I always prefer to wear dark colors, my blood type is O positive and I tend to exercise at night which leads me to be very attractive for a mosquito. So the myth was wrong, I do not have unhealthy blood, I just happen to do and have many traits that mosquitoes prefer in their targets.

Here is a video that portrays some examples as of why mosquitoes prefer some people over others. It contains some of the examples I talked about previously but there are others not mentioned above.

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I don’t hate it

Hello my name is Bernarda Jarrin and I’m from Ecuador. SC200 is one of my natural science GenEds. I am currently in the Smeal College of Business and planning to major in Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship. This course seemed interesting to me because I think its unlike any other science class. Most are based on many formulas and math that I don’t particularly like. I believe that I am not interested in any science major because I am a very subjective person and do not like just one straight-forward answer for a problem or situation. Due to the amount of critical thinking that will be needed in this class, I am sure that I will like it. During my senior year I had an Economics and Politics class in which our teacher showed us several science related news that made me interested in knowing more about it. I was particularly interested in this class because it was unlike the common science classes that everyone takes during high school.

I believe science is extremely important for our world. Over this last year my home country has suffered from many tremors and a huge earthquake that left thousands without a home and in need for food and water. If you are interested in knowing more about Ecuador’s earthquake, here is an article by the New York Times. Within some topics that were brought up in class one that particularly caught my attention was how natural disasters could be predicted. I would like to discuss more about it since I’ve seen the consequences of one of them.

I am very excited for this class. I believe that it will allow every student to share their experiences and questions with each other. Also, it will be interesting to discuss major topics as a group.

Here are some pictures I took this summer in Ecuador.

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