Author Archives: Connor Edward Opalisky

Mental Benefits of Exercise

Exercise is defined as any activity requiring physical effort carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness.  Throughout our lives, people have been preaching the importance of exercise in order to maintain a healthy body.  One aspect of physical activity that is rarely discussed is its effect on a persons brain.  I feel that exercise of any type makes me more mentally alert than then when I am sitting around being lazy.  Is it possible that exercise can improve a persons mental awareness?  It turns out that scientists have been asking this for quite some time.

workout-benefit-for-brain-healthAn article written in the Physical & Health Education Journal focuses on the possible mental benefits of exercise.  Scientist Atkinson Russell makes it clear that he believes exercise can improve a persons mood, concentration and memory.  A team of scientists lead by Russell conducted an experiment to support his claim.  In 2012 they evaluated children from various schools around the United States on their mental abilities.  Once sufficient data was collected, the scientists introduced a new physical engagement program to the school that involved several fun activities.  Teachers were encouraged to let their students participate in the program at least once a day before a lesson.  After a year, what the team found was that the students mental ability had improved faster than the normal rate for kids their age.  They were more engaged in school work and more involved within the classroom. This study provides decent evidence to suggest that exercise can have mental benefits.  However, factors such as limited sample size and possible confounding variables cause speculation about its legitimacy.  While this may show that casual exercise improves young children’s ability to learn, it does not prove that physical activity can directly benefits someones brain.

The New York Times published various studies done by a team from the University of Illinois that all give convincing evidence to support my claim.  In their first trial, 21 students were randomly selected and given a test that evaluated their memory.  The students were then randomly instructed to either sit, run, or lift weights for about thirty minutes.  When the team tested the students again, they found that ones who ran performed signifexercise-mental-health-1icantly better than the other two groups. In a similar study, the team assigned exercise programs to a group elderly people.  One group was instructed to exercise by walking, the others were told to stretch.  After six months of daily exercise, the team found that the group of walkers were more mentally active and improved noticeably on tests of memory.  Both studies provide decent evidence to support my conclusion.  They are done professionally and carefully.  Although reverse causation can be ruled out, there could be a confounding variable causing the mental improvements.  Despite the small sample sizes, the findings from both of the University of Illinois studies strengthen my claim that exercise can make a person smarter.

None of the three studies that I looked at provided enough evidence to conclude that exercise makes a person smarter.  However, they present valid results that can persuade a person who is skeptical about my claim.  To a reasonable person, there is enough evidence from these studies to make it obvious that exercise definitely has some mental health benefits.  Although it may not make you a genius, it definitely gives your brain a boost.


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Are Younger Generations Smarter?

Every year it seems like people are getting smarter than they were before.  In high school my grade was always enrolled in more challenging classes than the year before us, while at the same time, the year below us was progressing even faster than we did.  I always assumed that this was due to improved teaching abilities and better learning methods, thinking that it had nothing to do with actual intelligence.  However, is it possible that the younger generations are actually evolving to become smarter than their predecessors?  Or is it a phenomenon resulting from other confounding variables?

An article published in The Telegraph explains a phenomenon known as the “Flynn Effect” which has been being studied for more than thirty years.  The Flynn effect was started by American scientist James Flynn in the 1980’s.  He noticed that companies who routinely gave out IQ tests had to increase their difficulty every year in order to maintain their average score at 100.  Does this mean that people arsocial-iq-main-imagee getting smarter every year?  Or is the changing world making the outdated questions too easy?  The Better Angels of our Nature, written by Steven Pinker, claims that this effect has been observed in more than thirty countries.  IQ scores improve by an average of 3 points a decade, meaning an average teenager today would have an IQ score of 118 i the 1950’s.  Clearly, the intelligence of generations is steadily increasing as time goes on.

Now the question is what has caused this change in intelligence.  Could it be that as time progresses, humans brains evolve to become more intelligent?  Or is there another confounding variable that improves mental health that didn’t exist decades ago.  According to a study conducted by the University of Aberdeen, this increase in intelligence is most likely due to improved diets, health and modernization of society.  The team looked at two groups of children; those who grew up before World War Two and those who were children during the war.  What they found was that the children who grew up during the war were on average more intelligence than those born before it.  What was different between these two groups?  The more intelligent kids grew up eating more nutritious meals, less junk food and experienced more social change than those before them.  After the war, their towns were modernized with improved schools and more political awareness.  The team believes that their upbringing is what caused them to become more intelligent than the older generation.  Instead of evolution, it was their improved lifestyles that ultimately led to their increased mental ability.  Although this study only looks at one group ofon-the-fast-track-do-the-evolution-1090x614 children there is clearly a trend occurring.  What makes this study so convincing is that it cannot be due to reverse causation, and there is so much evidence than it is hard to say it is coincidence.  Similar trends have been observed among societies for the past century.


The IQ gains experienced by the children of World War Two are not unique to their experience.  Situations like these are believed to be what causes generations to become smarter every year.  It is not due to evolution, instead, confounding variables such as improved diets and health, modernization of communities, and social awareness all lead to more intelligent generations.  Data presented in these articles is enough to conclude that children are becoming smarter than older generations, not due to evolution, but as a result of a more intelligent society.


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Are Trees Benefitting From Global Warming?

Christmas has always been my favorite time of year.  Over winter break while shopping for a christmas tree I was surprised by the size and health of the evergreen trees.  Almost 500 massive, thick, green trees soared into the air waiting to be put in someones living room.  This got me thinking about the evolution of trees as global warming increases.  It is obvious that our environment is not as healthy as it used to be.  Pollutants fill the air and heat up the earth more and more each year.  I asked myself, what effect has this had on trees over the past decades?  I concluded that the increase of pollutants in our atmosphere, such as CO2, most likely deter the growth of trees.  However, what I found was quite surprising.



An article posted in The Telegraph claims that plants and trees are actually growing faster as a result of the increased carbon dioxide levels in the air.  Since plants survive by converting CO2 into protein through photosynthesis, more CO2 in the air should mean healthier plants.  Professor Martin Perry, head of plant science  at Rothamsted research, believes that “There is no doubt that the enrichment of air with CO2 is increasing plant growth rates in many ares.”


The Telegraph article also includes a study done by the University of Leeds on tree growth over time.  The team measured the girth of 70,000 trees across Africa and compared them to similar data collected four decades ago.  What they found was that trees had been getting bigger and growing faster as time progressed, all while being in an environment that gained .6 tons of CO2 per year.  This correlational study does not prove that increased CO2 causes tree growth, but it shows that greenhouse gases have not negatively effected trees.  This study was only done on one specific area, however the sample size is large enough to convince me that220px-photosynthesis it is no coincidence.  We can rule out reverse causation, however it is possible that a confounding variable causes CO2 increase and improves tree growth.


According to the Food and Agriculture Organization there are actually more trees today than there were 100 years ago.  The FAO explains that tree growth has exceeded harvest almost every year since the 1920’s, our current forest volume is 380% greater than it was at this time.  What makes this important in contradicting my claim is the fact that CO2 levels (       have increased by 600 billion metric tons since 1920, the same year this study was conducted. CO2 levels directly correlate with the increase in tree population, providing a reason to believe that they are causal. Like the first study, this correlation could be caused by a confounding variable such as rainfall, sunlight, or human activity.  However, it is enough to prove that my original claim was false.


Both studies give sufficient evidence to conclude that CO2 levels do not negatively effect tree growth.  In fact, it is more likely that they actually improve the health and size of trees.  With so much focus on the negative impact of increased green house gases, it is interesting that they have some benefits too.


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Is Brainwashing Actually Possible

About a week ago while browsing through shows to watch on HBO I stumbled across a mini series titled “The Pacific.”  The show follows a group of World War II soldiers as they fight on numerous islands throughout the Pacific ocean.  One aspect of the show that I became curious about was the Japanese and German militaries ability to brainwash their soldiers and civilians. I did not think that brainwashing was actually possible, however watching the show caused me to second guess this thought. Intrigued, I decided to look into the science behind brainwashing to figure out how it works and to what extent it can impact a persons actions.



According to an article from Science, most psychologists agree that brain washing is possible.  They claim that it can impact a majority of human minds if done correctly.  The article explains that the process behind brainwashing is mainly psychological, caused when a subject becomes completely dependent on their superior.  Brainwashing can be done by withholding food, water and sleep from a person until they break down.  Relying on someone else to survive can alter a persons brain, causing complete devotion toward capturers and their beliefs.  The article explains the process behind brainwashing and gives anecdotal evidence of its success in situation of war.  This evidence is intriguing but it was not strong enough to conclude that brainwashing is scientifically possible.  Could their change of beliefs be caused by the torture of captivity? Or do they actually lose control of their own thoughts?  Curious to get to the bottom of this I continued to research.


Since the concept of brainwashing is immoral, there are no recent studies that I could find focusing on brainwashing.  An article published in Psychologists World cites a study done by Robert Lifton and Edgar Schein in the 1950’s.  The team evaluated American POWs who were “brainwashed” by their captures during the Korean War.  They reached the conclusion that the anti-american statements made by the soldiers were not a result of actual braaid4828890-728px-brainwash-people-step-13inwashing.  Instead they claimed that their change in beliefs  were a defense mechanism from within the brain.  In order to survive the ruthless torture, they subconsciously began agreeing with the Korean beliefs.   The prisoners were not actually “brainwashed.”  Although they appeared to be different people, it was simply a mechanism of survival.  Their core beliefs began to reemerge once they were in a safe environment.


This study is old and was only done on a select few people from the same war with similar backgrounds.  It isn’t the most credible source to form an opinion from, but it does provide solid evidence that complete brainwashing is not actually possible.  While psychologists might claim that it is possible, there are no confirmed victims of complete brainwashing.  I believe that most cases of “brianwashing” are a defense mechanism from the brain to protect from torture.  After researching the topic, I don’t believe that total brainwashing is possible.


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Are Headphones Unhealthy?

Technology its constantly improving.  TVs are becoming clearer, cars are more eco friendly and food is grown more efficiently.  With so much change occurring, there has to be some technology that can have negative impact the human body.  A big health question mark are newly developed noise cancelling head phones such as Beats and Bose.  They are bigger, louder and clearer than ever before.  Wearing headphones that produce more noise are bound to have negative impacts on a persons hearing.  With this thought in mind, I researched more to determine if there was any evidence to actually prove that using headphones can have a negative impact female-radio-listener-headphones-smiling-eyes-closed-01on someones hearing.

This claim is very straight forward; wearing headphones more frequently can have a negative impact on a persons l
ong/ short term hearing.  Since it is occurring over time, reverse causation can be ruled out as a possible explanation.  Also, it is hard to think of a confounding variable that would cause a person to wear headphones more often, as well as negatively impact their hearing.  For these reasons, it is easy to say that direct causation is the most likely explanation behind the claim. This makes it easier to research and determine whether it is true.

A 2016 study posted in the International Tinnitus Journal aimed to find a correlation between teen listening habits and hearing loss.  A team studied 131 high school students and asked them questions regarding headphone usage, average volume, and average listening time.  The study found that 79% of the population used headphones on a daily basis, with 37% claiming they listen at a high volume.  The team also asked them questions related to their hearing ability.  What they found was that teens who reported listening to music at
higher volumes with headphones were more likely to report difficulty concentrating, the need to ask people to repeat themselves and various other symptoms relating to degraded hearing.  The team concluded that teens in this study were using personal headphones at rates higher than recommended.  Of those polled, the team would recommend Hearing Health Promotion Programs for a majority of the population.


Although this study provides some convincing evidence, an article written by two doctors in Health Scope claims that there are enough studies done to determine whether or not headphones can negatively effect a persons health.  Despite the lack of studies, the doctors believe that it is more likely than not that headphones effect a persons hearing.  The article provides evidence to support their claim.  Decibel levels of headphones (around 85 deci
bels) usually cause complications in a person hearing if they are exposed for more than 15 minutes.  This level of sound has been shown to numb ears and impact a listeners hearing over a long period of time.  Another reason the doctors believe that headphones are harmful is due to the abundance of electromagnetic rays emitted by the speakers.  These waves are believed to negatively effect the brain, however there is no solid evidence to prove this.  500px-anatomy_of_the_human_ear_svg-cropped

The study provides evidence to support my original claim that headphones are bad for a persons health.  However, it only samples 130 kids of similar age.  With such a small sample size, it is hard to claim that this study provides enough evidence to confirm the claim.  Although

the authors of the Health Scope article are convinced that headphones are not good for health, they admit that there are not enough studies to prove this.  They provide evidence from various experiments done about noise, but none of these studies directly link headphones to hearing loss.  Although the general consensus among the science community is that headphones effect hearing, there are no studies that can directly prove this.  Despite this lack of evidence, there is enough medical data to convince a reasonable person to turn their music down a little in an attempt to preserve their hearing.

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You Are What You Eat… Or Are You?

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

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

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

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

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

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Placebo Effect: The Magic of Belief

The placebo effect is an idea that has always fascinated me. I struggled at first to wrap my head around the concept of it. Basically, it is when someone reports feeling better after receiving a drug that has no active medicine in it. Recently in class, we expanded on this topic to observe how placebos are commonly used in experiments involving new treatments to determine their effectiveness. The general idea of a placebo trial is where two groups of people are given a different drug. One groups drug contains no active medicine while the other one does. After receiving the treatment for a certain period of time, the two groups report on how it made them feel. This can help scientists determine what effects an active drnif_you_believe_it_willug can have on an individual suffering from a specific illness. Now, the placebo effect is defined as “a beneficial effect, produced by a placebo drug or treatment, that cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, and must therefore be due to the patient’s belief in that treatment” Basically, it is when an individual is given drug that has no active medicine, but they are told it does. As a result the patient feels better despite the fact that he wasn’t actually given medicine. Now, I wanted to figure out if the placebo effect actually has an effect on a persons health, or is it a simple way to trick the body into healing.


A study done in 2013 by Ted Kaptchuk perfectly depicts how the placebo effect works. In this experiment, he gathered a group of 270 subjects who all suffered from severe arm pain. He then randomly assigned patients to receive either a pill or an acupuncture treatment to relieve their pain. The catch of this experiment? The pills contained no medicine and the acupuncture needles were retractable shams. Basically the experiment provided no real medical treatment to patients, only two placebos. This type of experiment could be considered a placebo trial as neither of the two groups knew that their treatment was a fluke. The ull hypothesis would be that phony treatments do nothing, which would make the most sense. However, Dr Kaptchuk made a discovery that could slightly alter how we practice medicine.

After two weeks of receiving phony treatment nearly a third of his patients claimed they were experiencing awful side effects from the drugs. Even more surprising, the other patients reported feeling real pain relief as a result of the treatment. The fake pills and acupuncture treatments had tricked patients into feeling better or worse, even though nothing was changing. So is this simply our mind playing tricks, or does the placebo effect really alter our symptoms?
According to an article written in The Globe And Mall recent studies have shown that pain relieving opioids are released in the brains of patients receiving placebo treatment. This suggests that it could be a true biological phenomenon instead of a mplacebo-effectsedical fluke. Another theory suggests that the body remembers feeling better after taking previous pills, as a result it speeds up the healing process when a placebo is consumed.

Although it is still unclear exactly how the placebo effect work, recent studies make it apparent that it is a real phenomenon. The placebo effect can lead to medical alterations of a persons body despite how sick they actually are. While we don’t know the mechanism behind the placebo effect, it is clear that this is a technique that can be applied to medical fields across the board.

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Does Adderall Actually Make You Smarter?

Adderall is becoming a staple of the college education system. The amphetamine based prescription drug has altered the college landscape by providing students with an easy mental boost. Adderall intrigued me first when I was in high school. The night beforAdderallXR8e my SAT exam, one of my friends had a prescription and suggested I take a pill to improve b
my score. After doing some research, I agreed. The next day it seemed as though I could do anything. My brain was working on overdrive and my thoughts were all so clear and intellectually pleasing. It was a wonder drug. Now that I am at college I notice that drugs such as these are being relied on by students to pass. This got me wondering what exactly is Adderall? How does it effect the brain? Also, does it actually make a person smarter?  According to Adderall is a stimulant that alters chemical activity in the brain. It changes areas in the brain related to hyperactivity and impulse control. The change in brain activity usually leads to increased focus, an elevated pulse and a oost of positive energy. Adderrall is prescribed to people with ADD and narcolepsy. It can be habit forming if it is taken more frequently than recommended. A majority of prescribed users are given dosages that suit their medical needs.

A diagram showing how Adderall works inside the brain

A diagram showing how Adderall works inside the brain


But what about people who take Adderall without a prescription? What effects does it have on them compared to those who are prescribed? explains that those who take the drug without a prescription experience a strong feeling of euphoria that boosts focus. This feel good sensation is what causes a lot of users to crave the drug even if it is not necessary for them to succeed. Dr Lawrence Diller M.D. explains that the drug “…makes you feel like you’re king of the world.”
Anecdotal experiences and numerous studies have lead to strong evidence that drugs like Adderall work. However a recent study posted in Time magazine argues that the drug might actually not make a person smarter. The study was done by Dr. Maria Farah and a team from the University of Pennsylvania. It revealed that individuals who took Adderall didn’t perform any better than those who didn’t. Instead, they merely thought they did. The study tested 47 participants on their cognitive performance after taking an Adderall or a placebo drug. They were then asked questions that ranged from raw intelligence to long term memory. The subjects did not know which pill they were taking, which made this study a blind placebo trial. If Adderall did increase intelligence, the results should have been that the placebo group performed worse than the group that received Adderall. What the study found was that the two groups performed virtually the same. Another discovery was that the group who took the Adderall was more likely to report that the pill had given them a cognitive advantage. The team explained that the drugs effect could merely be a mind trick. They suggest that it could be possible that Adderall gives students an inflated sense of productivity. inwhy-do-successful-students-use-adderallstead of actually making an individual smarter, it causes them to think they are. The team reached the conclusion that while Adderall could be improving cognitive performance, it is very possible that the drug simply makes studying more enjoyable as a result of the euphoric feeling. This means the the drug has no direct effect on a persons intelligence.

This conclusion is very mind boggling as it completely alters how I view the drug. Although the study was only done on 47 participants, the logic behind the conclusion makes practical sense. Without solid evidence to pinpoint the exact effects of the drug it is difficult to determine wether it actually increases a persons intelligence. Despite the grey area surrounding how it works, it is certain that Adderall improves a students study habits.

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Iced vs Hot Coffee: Whats The Difference?

My daily routine is the same as a majority of students. Everyday i wake up, get a shower, get dressed and most importantly, drink a cup of coffee. Without a strong cup of joe I can barely think. I’m less alert and my whole body feels groggy. Up until college I preferred iced coffee. I had a tendencunknowny to burn my tongue when it was hot and I simply didn’t enjoy the taste. However, over the past couple of months I have made the switch to drinking fresh brewed, piping hot coffee. It is simply less expensive and it is easier to make. Personally I feel as if iced coffee makes me feel better and more energized than hot coffee. Although this is simply an anecdotal opinion, I became curious to see wether or not there is actually a difference between iced and hot coffee.

To understand which type of coffee is superior, I first had to understand exactly how coffee works. According to Medical News coffee contains around 100 mg of caffeine per cup. The caffeine is absorbed throughout the body in about 45 minutes and it reaches its peak around 15 minutes after consumption. Caffeine binds to the bodies adenosine receptors and speeds up cell activity. As a result the body feels more awake and alert. Caffeine also increases heart rate, opens up breathing tubes and releases sugar into the blood stream. All of these effects lead to increased energy and promote a positive mood.

Now that we have established exactly how coffee effects the body, I decided to look into the specific differences in cold and hot brewed cups. According to Elite Daily there is no major difference in the caffeine content of either type of coffee. Both iced coffee and hot coffee have similar doses of caffeine and therefore effect the mind the same way. However, 635709361459128637-1195656316_4sthe website found that iced coffee is actually healthier for you than hot coffee. This is due to the fact that the acidity of cold brewed coffee is almost three times less than hot coffee. The less acidic a drink is, the better it is for a persons digestive system. This explains why iced coffee tends to cause less tension in a persons stomach than a hot cup. Another benefit found in cold brewed coffee is the taste. Although taste is a usually a matter of opinion, a study done by the UCLA Division of Life Sciences  found that the higher acidity in hot coffee leads to a more bitter taste. In contrast, the typically alkaline environment of an iced coffee has less acid and more flavor. The team sites evidence that the “oils in coffee (beans) can oxidize more quickly at elevated temperatures, causing coffee to taste sour” (Phung).

This study makes it clear that iced coffee is chemically superior to hot coffee. It makes perfect sense that the less acidic drinks causes less digestive problems and lead to a better taste. As an avid consumer of both hot and cold coffee, I think that the evidence presented in this article is accurate. It also supports my anecdotal claim that iced coffee is superior. Now I know that I have science to support my preference when it comes to choosing iced coffee over a hot cup.

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Is Fast Food Affecting More Than Your Weight?

Since coming to Penn State many things have changed regarding my everyday life. One aspect that has done a complete turn around is my frequency of consuming fast food. In roughly five weeks of college I have consumed more fast food meals than I had in the previous year. I associate this increase to the fact that I am staying up later and working with a smaller budget. Putting these excuses aside, I became curious about what exactly fast food does to a person. I don’t only mean physically, but also mentally and emotionally. I wanted to dive deep into the science of fast food and I came out with some pretty interesting results.

5851279-fastfoodIt is no secret that eating fast food is bad for your physical health. According to Health Line the high calorie, low protein meals contain massive amounts of sugar, carbohydrates and sodium. This can lead to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease and countless other physical problems. These diseases have all been directly linked to an unhealthy diet. In summary if you’re looking to lose weight, fast food restaurants are the last place you should go.

Fast food makes you fat, everyone knows that. Since I’m not too worried about my current weight, I wondered what other effects it has on people who are in shape. Live Healthy claims that an excess of fast food intake can lead to serious mental health issues. Fast food contains an excess of Omega-6 and trans fat that ultimately disrupt the chemical balance of the brain. This alteration can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental issues. stock-photo-illustration-of-a-fat-boy-eating-on-a-white-background-132814127

Harvard Health Publications has provided the public with some convincing research to support this claim. The team cites a study that found that individuals who eat a Western diet (full of greasy food) are 25-35% more likely to suffer from depression. The study simply separated two groups of people based on their eating habits. Then, the individuals were all given medical evaluations to determine their mental and physical health. The study concluded that individuals who indulged in unhealthy diets were simply less mentally healthy. The article explains that serotonin levels are altered by fast food intake. The western diet has an abundance of fatty acids that can alter the stommental-health-jerry-nelsonachs production of serotonin. Serotonin is produced in your gastrula intestine and can be responsible for a persons mood and behavior, which can have devastating effects on a persons mental and emotional health.

This study correlates with the claim that fast food leads to negative mental health.  However it is entirely possible that reverse causation plays a factor, meaning that people who are less mentally healthy tend to eat unhealthier diets.  It is possible that research on this topic suffer from the file drawer problem.  With fast food companies making so much profit, financial influencing of studies is likely.

Despite these doubts, It is still extremely likely that the findings of these studies are legitimate.  So next time you read the menu at a fast food restaurant don’t be only worried about which items all add inches to your waistline. Instead Keep in mind that eating this fatty food can have devastating effects on your mental health as well.

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What Makes A Psychopath

Recently I have been watching the show Narcos on Netflix. The show tells the story of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and his rise to power in the 1970’s-80’s. Pablo was a ruthless villain. He was responsible for thousands of deaths throughout his life ranging from police officers to rival gang members. Pablo eventually rose to become the seventh richest man in the world, simply by ruthlessly controlling the drug trade. I always knew who Pablo Escobar was, but I was extremely shocked by his lack of empathy. Throughout the shows he murders, steals and blackmails his way to power without ever showing signs of remorse. His behavior reminded me of other violent men such as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. These men all slaughtered people beneath them with no regret, these men were all psychopaths. There are a lot of notable people who are considered psychotic in our history. This made me curious about what actually classifies someone as a psychopath, and what exactly about them is different.

A psychopath is defined as a person who is mentally ill, lacks empathy, and is usually dangerous or violent. Science of People claims that psychopaths all share similar traits such as having shallow emotions, suspicious charm, a failure to control their actions and an inflated sense of their own self worth. They have high emotions and act on impulse, this makes them more susceptible to addiction and risky behavior. Early on in life psychopaths usually do not show any signs of fear towards situations that would normally cause children to tremor. Another trait of a young psychopath is an inclination to harm animals for the sole purpose of pleasure.
The brain of a psychopath is also very different than that of a normal person. Scientists believe that they have less activity in the region of their brain that generates fear. Also, their prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for rational thought, is usually underdeveloped or damaged (Edwards).

The CIA has a team of researchers who evaluate the mental health of historical figures. They classify Adolf Hitler, Sadam Hussein, Joseph Stalin and Pablo Escobar as having similar type of psychopathic tendencies. Although there is no cure for this mental condition, some people have actually found relief through therapy. Experts have discovered that the earlier that the disease is caught, the better chance they have to nurse the person back to health. Obviously this disease is extremely dangerous to the general public. There have been a lot of terrible things that have come from the minds of psychopaths. Many of which have changed the course of history forever. Although the mental disease provides an explanation for their actions, it certainly does not justify many of the atrocities committed by the hand of psychopaths.


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Nature Vs Nurture

The topic of nature vs nurture is as basic as it gets when it comes to studying human development. I specifically remember studying this topic in 8th grade science, it seems almost elementary. My thinking was always that a person is the way they are because of their own personal genetics, right? Why would the fact that I live in a different area than someone else change who I was. I never really gave the topic much thought after that. I was in an environment that i fit in very well with. My community was full of kids that all shared the same interests, passions, and humor as I did. My friends were all very similar to me, we all shared similar taste in music, TV, and sports.
This topic never crossed my mind again until college started. I have two roommates, both of which I have known for a while through mutual friends. My roommates live no more than ten minutes away from my house, and all three of us went to different high schools. We are all very similar, we all played lacrosse, we all love watching sports, we all like rap music, and we all like to socialize. However, the more we got to know each other the more i realized there were differences between us. They prefer more mainstream music while i prefer a “harder” genre of rap. Both of my roommates grew up playing action packed video games while I mainly stuck to football, basketball and baseball games. Even the food that they eat and the clothes they wear differ sightly than what I’m used to. There is a long line of slight differences in our interests, although they aren’t major, they still exist. I began to get curious as to why my group of friends had different preferences than two other very similar groups of kids that lived a township over. The reasoning lies in the argument of nature vs nurture.


A chart from Simply Psychology showing the spectrum of nature vs nurture

According to, Nature vs nurture is a very old debate. Those who side with nature believe that a person’s identity is predetermined in their DNA. They argue that a persons genetic identity doesn’t only determine their height and color, but their interests and personality as well. The nurture siders believe that a persons personality is determined by the environment they grow up in. They argue that life experiences and interactions are what ultimately determine who a person is.

The thought that I am who I am because of where I am from was kind of odd to think about. I knew that this mainly applied to groups of people from different states or countries, but could it apply to groups of kids living only five minutes away? The answer is almost certainly yes. While we were all male athletes living in suburban neighborhoods, our upbringings were different. I had a brother who exposed me to the harder genres of rap, football video games and different styles of clothing. At the same time my family showed me specific types of food, certain etiquettes, etc. In turn, since I was very young I had preferences slightly different than other kids my age. As I began to grow up, these interests passed on to my group of friends and were developed more completely as we became older. They weren’t just interests, they made us who we were. They gave us an identity unique to our environment. In contrast, both of my roommates had friend groups that shared a common interest in a different genre of music, or a different type of video game, or a different style of clothing. These examples are not very significant, but they perfectly illustrate the impact that an environment can have on a person. Now i realize that when my roommates don’t like a song that my friends and I enjoy, it’s not that my music taste is bad. Instead, it’s a matter of our preferences preprogrammed as a result of our upbringings.


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Teen Smoking

Since I first arrived at State College one thing that surprised me was how many students smoke or use smokeless tobacco products. I’m from a small suburban town so rarely did I ever see individuals casually smoking in large public crowds, especially not teenagers. I have become so used to seeing people smoke cigarettes at State College that I’m starting to become numb to it, almost forgetting that it is an extremely dangerous habit. My whole life I have heard over and over not to smoke, and I’m sure everyone who does can say the same thing. We all know that it is dangerous, but just how dangerous is it for a growing teenager? Also, what other social, financial or psychological effects come along with it?
According to Smoke Free Teen,  teenagers are much more susceptible to nicotine addiction than older individuals. Since the brain is still developing, only small amounts of nicotine are required to produce an addiction. The harsh chemicals contained in cigarettes alter the growth of a teens prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for critical thinking and decision making. Along with the brain, many other parts of an adolescences’ body are still developing that become affected by cigarette smoking. Nerve damage is extremely common in young smokers which could cause loss of vision or hearing later on in life. Smoking can also lead to increased heart stress, blood clots, inflammation of the lungs, belly fat, erectile disfunction, weakened immune system, and disrupted bone growth. All of these dangers only increase in younger smokers. By picking up this habit at such an early age, the younger generation is setting themselves up for medical complications as they grow older.

It’s no secret that smoking is bad for your health. This is something we have learned our whole lives. However, i started wondering about the financial impact that smoking has on a Penn State student. From walking around town and observing the advertisements for tobacco brands I concluded that the average cost of a pack of cigarettes is around $6. I also think it’s fair to assume that someone who has been smoking for a while probably goes through roughly one pack every two days, or around 10-12 cigarettes a day. Given the average cost per pack and the average purchase rate for a smoker, it is fair to assume that they could end up spending around $1,100 a year on cigarettes. That is an absurd number, one that will only increase the more a person smokes. For someone on a college budget, $1,000 can make a huge difference in their quality of living. That amount of money could pay for someones books, feed them for a few months, or allow them to buy items necessary for a decent lifestyle.

No matter how you look at it smoking is awful for you. The health impacts are devastating. Smoking is constantly one of the main causes of death in the United States. For a college student, smoking at such a young age can have costly impacts on the development of your mind and body. The financial impacts are just as bad, the habit is not only costly for your health but also for your budget. It is shocking that so many students continue to smoke despite the extreme risks. One thing is for sure, the more educated we are as a generation the less lives smoking will claim.


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Science By Accident

My name is Connor Opalisky and I am a freshman here at Penn State. My major is… or was… architecture. In fact, i shouldn’t even be in this class to begin with, I’ll explain why. Growing up I always wanted to have a job that involved creativity and critical thinking. I was always in to designing and drawing and building. By sophomore year of high school i started reading about the field of architecture and became very interested by its unique required skill set and creative freedom. I took classes and read books that would allow me to pursue a degree in architecture, finally I was accepted into Penn States very prestigious program, the second most selective in all of Penn State. Then i started to have doubts. Everyone i discussed the major with warned me of the extremely long nights and minimal free time that came with it. Even the instructors talked about the rigorous work involved with the major, sometimes requiring students to stay in class until 2 am, it was too much. I’m not a lazy person, but I do like to socialize and have fun. I knew that if I sacrificed that aspect of my life for a major I would always regret it. So I dropped it. In the immediate scramble that followed to fill my schedule I stumbled across this science class. I was intrigued by the thought provoking subjects discussed in the course description so i enrolled with out second thought.  The picture I included depicts what I would look like if i had stayed with architecture.

I never wanted to pursue a science degree because of the lack of a solid outcome. When i work on things i like to know that it is for a good reason, with science, you can spend years on a problem and end up with absolutely nothing. I feel like a career of disappointment would be so frustrating that I wouldn’t enjoy it.   Don’t get me wrong, science fascinates me.  But i don’t think it is a subject in which i could base a career off of.  Here is a link to an article that discusses the relationship between architecture and science.