Author Archives: Celine Degachi

The Effect Music Has On You

I love music. I put my headphones in any chance I get and in fact, I would even say that my least favorite parts of my day include when I have to take my headphones out for a class or any other reason. There’s just something about music that relaxes me and the stories that artists are able to tell through music are empowering. There’s a song for your every mood, for every different taste, and for different types of people. It’s a universal language that everyone can relate to and even when it’s in a different language, you can enjoy it. So, what is it about music that compels lovers of music to feel the way they do?


In trying to satisfy my interest in why music effects people so much, I came across research done that concluded through a meta-analysis that experiments that seek to find a link between people’s responses and music, always fail to understand why music had the effect it had (fail to find a mechanism) (see x). To avoid this failure, this experiment tackles the question with a different approach. The scientists took a song and manipulated it so that it would evoke 4 different mechanisms from people; brain stem reflex, emotional contagion, episodic memory, and musical expectancy (see x). They then made 20 people (half men, half women) listen to it and rate how it made them feel on a scale of 12. (x)

To understand the study, you have to understand the mechanisms being measured. Brain stem reflex in this experiment refers to the acoustic part of the music that shows something important, that needs consideration has occurred (see x). Emotional contagion concerns when the participant feels like the music they heard is how they actually feel inside (see x). Episodic memory occurs when the person listening feels as though the music reflects something that has happened in their life (see x). Lastly, musical expectancy happens when the music either meets or contradicts the listener’s expectations of the rest of the song as they’re listening. (x)


screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-6-59-17-pmThe results are shown by the graphs to the left. Just as the scientists had predicted each mechanism evoked the emotions they thought it would (brain stem evoked surprise, emotional contagion evoked sadness, episodic memory evoked happiness, and musical expectancy evoked irritation) (see x). By measuring third variables, the researchers were also able to conclude that the participants were actually experiencing screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-6-59-30-pmemotions rather than just mimicking the emotions they heard in the music (see x). This means that when listening to music, people don’t just listen but they feel. Music actually evokes emotions out of people that they may not have felt before listening to the song. (x)



All in all, the results that the experiment produced reflected what I thought it would. When hearing slower parts of the song people were more likely to be sad and when listening to more upbeat parts of the song they were happier. It is these beats and tempos that cause us to feel the way we feel. These are things you would normally expect. Although, one flaw would be that only 20 people were used in the experiment, all of which had some type of experience with music.


How do dreams work?

When it’s time for bed, you lay down and eventually fall asleep (normally at least), but what exactly happens during the time that you’re lying there that allows you to fall into a deep sleep? Since I once heard that people usually spend about six years of their lives dreaming, I’ve been curious about dreams and sleep so I decided to take this blog post as an opportunity to satisfy my curiosity and find out what exactly happens to us when we fall asleep that causes us to dream. So, how exactly do dreams work?


The article that I found breaks down the sleeping process into 5 different stages (see x). The first stage is considered the lightest and easiest to wake up from and it is the stage where our muscles begin to relax (see x). The second stage is where our sleep begins to get somewhat deeper and particularly, our breathing and heart rate slow down as we fall into the third stage (see x). The third stage is where our deepest sleep is considered to begin (see x). This is also where our brain starts releasing “delta waves” which, of all our brain waves, are considered the slowest (see x). The fourth stage is generally the same as the body continues to produce delta waves and the movement in our muscles continues to be nonexistent to limited (see x). This is also considered the deepest stage of sleep (see x). The fifth stage was the most interesting to me (see x). This is characterized by rapid eye movement, and is where heart rate increases, breathing escalates, and blood pressure rises (see x). Rapid eye movement is when our eyes move in our sleep and it is what allows us to dream (see x). The most interesting part about this stage is that during it, the whole rest of our body is paralyzed until we fall out of rapid eye movement sleep (see x). Interestingly enough, this is our body’s way of ensuring that we don’t sleep walk and physically imitate the things we are seeing in our dreams (see x). To be more scientific, the paralysis specifically beings when glycine is released onto motoneurons (see x). Glycine being an amino acid and motoneurons being the neurons that carry impulses out from our brain and spine and turn them into actions (see x). These stages occur several times throughout the night but every time the stages are repeated we experience more of stages one, two and five (hence experiencing less deep sleep and more dreams). This probably explains the reason why after my first alarm goes off, I almost always fall right into a “dreaming sleep” or stage five, the rapid eye movement sleep. (x)




I was really intrigued by this process and so I decided to dig deeper by looking at a longitudinal observational study done to examine dreams that repeat within adolescents and what they might mean. I made a table to show the amount of children/adolescents that were found within 1,000 families in Canada to participate in the study (see x). These children were given questionnaires that asked if they had experienced a dream more than once within the past 12 months and they were then asked specific details about their reoccurring dream (such as themes, what happened in the dream, who was the target of attack [if there was any], and who was doing the attacking) (see x). The following table shows the themes found. (x)



Compared to adult’s dreams, children were more likely to dream about unrealistic things such as monsters, as that is usually what kids are afraid of at those ages (the table shows the results) (see x). Moreover, the researchers claimed that as we age, our dreams become more personalized and relate more to our experiences (see x). Taking the results into account, scientists claim that while the reoccurring dreams we experience at a young age might follow us through to our adult years, these dreams are likely to also change and be affected by our everyday life experiences, so they therefore aren’t likely to remain uniform from childhood to adulthood (see x). I concluded since this trial is longitudinal and seemed randomly allocated efficiently (as they made sure to reach out for children from different type of backgrounds), it is safe to say that the results are accurate and are not likely to be due to chance. The conclusion also seems correct because as we learn more and experience more, it is only right that the things we dream become more complex and revolve more around our knowledge. (x)

While my initial intention was to understand the way our bodies work that allows us to dream, it is so interesting to understand the dreaming process and then to take that to the next level to compare it to the different stages of our lives and how our dreams may be altered by the things that we experience. I now know that our subconscious mind modifies the things that happen to us and creates scenarios within the fifth stage.

Can skipping class affect your school performance?

Everyone has experienced that extremely conflicting moment where you can’t get out of bed, or just don’t want to get out of bed, but you have an important class coming up… so what do you do? While for some of us the answer is simple, to others this decision is so hard to make. I think we all know the answer to this question but I wanted to see just how much of a toll this can take on your grade. My hypothesis is that it’s relative. If you skip class but put in the work outside of class to make up for what you missed, then you should be fine. But, if you skip a class where the material taught you can’t easily teach yourself or find in a textbook, then you’re screwed (a.k.a SC 200). So, can skipping class affect your school performance?


To understand the extent to which missing class can affect your grades, I searched for an experiment that tested this question. That is how I stumbled across an experiment in which three large economic classes were told that attendance was not mandatory until the day of their midterm exam and that after the midterm, the students that scored below the class’ average grade would have to attend class (see x). In addition, many third variables were measured, such as number of tutoring sessions attended, homework grades, gender, grade level, and more. (x)


screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-9-43-25-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-19-at-9-43-04-pmIn this study done on these courses, the average rate of attendance before the midterm exams was 78% (see x). The article claims that the attendance varied according to whether it was recorded before or after midterms (see x). As what can be observed from the graph, before midterms, 12% of students had a rate of attendance that was less than 50% and 35% had a rate of at least 90% (see x). As you can predict, the students that attended class more did better on their exams (see x). The study also concluded that students forced to attend class after taking the midterm significantly improved their grades (as can be seen on the second graph). Hence, this led to the idea that making attendance mandatory in a class can help students ensure that they do better on tests since they are forced to learn the class material. It only makes sense that student’s grades improved after the attendance became mandatory as those that did well before the midterm most likely continued to do well, and those that didn’t had room to do better. (x)

A correlation between attendance and class performance was found as a result of this experiment. There is no actual mechanism to say that causation equals correlation but, since the study was done on such a large group of people, it is safe to say that it is likely this conclusion is true. Furthermore, with a meta-analysis that show the same results as this study, then we would be able to decrease the possibility of chance being the case and the possibility that this might be a false positive.

So, what can you take home from this study? Next time you’re not feeling like getting out of bed for an important class, take a deep breath, think of the things you might miss by not going and the tuition money you’re wasting, and get up. The hardest part is always getting up. Going back to my hypothesis, while I still think this concept is relative, you can’t always guarantee that you will be able to teach yourself the material as well as your professor can, especially after knowing the results of this experiment, it is not worth the risk. Get up and go. You’ll be okay.

Is marijuana bad for your health?

Ahhhh, my favorite plant. But in all seriousness, after thinking about the tobacco studies we did in class, I started to think about the same concept, but with cannabis. Just as in the 1950’s people refused to believe anything negative about tobacco, this era may reflect the same thing about marijuana. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the issue of marijuana, so my question is simple; is marijuana bad for your health?


What is marijuana?

To investigate the effects of marijuana, I wanted to start off by clarifying what the drug actually is. Marijuana is a green, leafy substance that is usually smoked out of cigars, joint papers, or other glass pipes (see x). One of the main ingredients in cannabis is THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol which essentially gives its users the “high” that they seek when smoking it (see x). While it is usually smoked, marijuana can be made into tea or can even be drained of its oil to be made into edibles that people can simply eat. (x)

Marijuana use and its effects

According to an article by Daniel Cressey, the only thing that scientists are sure about when it comes to marijuana use is its short-term effects (see x). The drug can impair your memory and coordination while also causing you to feel paranoid (see x). When smoked, cannabis can also increase your chances of respiratory problems and lung cancer (see x). While scientists have found many correlations surrounding the use of cannabis and health problems, they have no concrete evidence of the drug negatively effecting anyone’s body in the long-run. In other words, there is no evidence that correlation equals causation as they have been unable to find any evidence of a mechanism. (see x)

A study done in New Zealand in 2008 found that smoking marijuana can increase your chances of having lung cancer by 8% (see x). But after a meta-analysis, Cressey concluded that no other studies have found similar results, so this study stands alone (see x). This hence means that the study’s conclusion is wrong since other scientists failed to replicate the results (just like Leibovici’s study in his British Medical Journal paper regarding the fact that prayer shortens hospital stays that we studied in class).

The article goes on to say that researchers have found correlations between the use of marijuana and doing poorly in school or having altered brain development, but these are soft endpoints and it is therefore hard to blame marijuana for these things (see x). After reading this article I was able to conclude that there is no way to tell that these studies haven’t suffered the Texas sharpshooter problem since these scientists are so desperate to find any links between marijuana and negative health outcomes. There can be any third variables that contribute to these negative results. (x)


As marijuana becomes legal in more and more states, scientists will be able to conduct more experiments and produce more accurate results surrounding this controversial topic but for now it is safe to say that marijuana doesn’t have any detrimental effects on anyone’s health. The only thing we are sure about, is that it can impair your memory and coordination while also causing you to feel paranoid, as these are known effects of smoking weed. Ultimately, it is your decision whether you want to participate in using the drug and one thing is clear; even though scientists found concrete evidence that tobacco is bad for you and can have detrimental long-term effects, some people continue to smoke it and the same may be true for cannabis, even though it is not nearly as detrimental (yet anyway).


Can your X-Box be the reason for your aggression?

There are many causes of crime and/or violence. Taking a criminology course here at Penn State made me realize that whether it be one’s social economic status or one’s environment, the things we do and the people around us influence us in ways we may not recognize. Growing up with a brother four years older than me led to me always be exposed to violent video games and eventually joining in on the “fun”. He was always playing versions of Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty; both of which involve many forms of brutality and destructiveness. While these extremely popular video games are considered to be “fun” and nothing more, I started to consider that since we don’t recognize the things that influence us as easily as we may think, what if the violence we see in video games unknowingly leads us to exhibit such negative actions and attitudes in our everyday lives (crime and violence)?


Upon contemplating this question, I came across a scholarly article that discusses this issue through the use of observations on whether playing video games correlates with the use of violence away from the TV screen.

Through research done by Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman, who spent over 25 years trying to discover a way to teach soldiers how to kill, I discovered that he concluded that the techniques used to get soldiers to come to peace with killing, are similar to the techniques used in video games (see x). Hence, naturally, video games do cause violence. Yet, a game designer, Greg Costikyan, countered that video games aren’t real enough to have such a heavy impact on anyone that plays them. Essentially Costikyan is implying that there is not enough evidence to draw the conclusion that correlation equals causation in this case (see x). When observing younger children however, the author of the article concluded that they are more likely to be negatively affected by violent video games since their minds are just developing and are hence more vulnerable and likely to pick up the bad manners of video games and reciprocate them to their everyday lives. (x)

I also looked into an experiment done that observes whether those that play video games are less likely to be affected by real-life violence.



In this experiment, 257 college student subjects were asked to give their input on their video game preferences and then their levels of aggression were measured. Then, they were given a video game to play; nonviolent or violent. From there, every subject was forced to watch a 10-minute video of real-life violence and their reactions were measured through heart rate and galvanic skin response (this is a change in resistance of the skin). Lastly, they had to rate the video game they played. (x)




Researchers found that, as expected, those that played the violent video games were less triggered by the real-life violence. In respect to heart rate, the participants that played the violent game had a lower heart rate when watching the 10-minute video than immediately after they stopped playing the video game; hence, they were less reactive to the video than they were to the game. Those that played the nonviolent video game’s heart rate went up. The same response was true for galvanic skin response. (x)


The researchers concluded that this experiment demonstrates how playing a violent video game for just 20 minutes can lower one’s response to real-life violence. If a 20-minute video game had this outcome, what about those that play video games for many years of their lives? While this question can’t be answered, it is safe to conclude that video game violence can desensitize people from legitimate violence. The fact that it only can, although, means that correlation does not equal causation and that there is no actual mechanism behind this experiment. Also, since the study was done on college students they may suffer from things like anxiety that may have contributed to their reactions to the video, rather than whether they played a violent or nonviolent video game before. (x)

Are genetically modified organisms dangerous?

I sparked an interest in this topic after Andrew brought it up in class. Honestly, I didn’t know what genetically modified organisms were and I was therefore curious as to what I would find. After researching I realized how unaware I am of the things I am consuming. Hence, I think everyone should give this a good read so that you know what you’re actually putting into your body.


Genetically modified organisms are organisms whose genes are altered through the transfer of genes from one organism to another plant or animal (see x). The debate that goes on surrounding GMOs is how safe consuming these foods actually may be and whether they will benefit our long-term wellbeing (see x). According to a survey done by Pew Research Center, nearly 90% of scientists claim that GMOs are completely safe to ingest and that they may actually even be beneficial to our diets (see x). Furthermore, another study done over 10 years showed that there is no definite harm bound to the process and outcome of genetic modification. (x) Despite these facts, most people believe that you shouldn’t eat them. So, which is the right side?


According to this article, genetically modified organisms are designed to benefit us by having more nutrients and vitamins and by helping crops be more sustainable (see x). Also, with our population growing rapidly, GMOs allow us to grow more crops to feed everyone. Realistically, with our limited amount of resources, these GMOs are helping us survive. The thing that turns people off about GMOs and makes them suspicious, is the way they are made. Since these foods are genetically modified in a lab, people are more likely to believe there is something wrong with this seemingly questionable process. Solely due to the fact that these GMOs are altered in a lab, people do not trust that they may be healthier or more nutritious; even though genetically modified organisms aren’t allowed to be put on shelves in stores unless they are inspected to be safe to consume by the Food and Drug Administration (see x). The word “lab” has a more negative connotation when it comes to cuisine since it is usually tied to chemicals and experiments, things we usually want to keep away from our bodies. As opposed to the word “natural,” which has a more positive connotation in that we are always told the more natural the better, especially in terms of foods. A naturally grown food product is typically, and logically, more appealing to the general public than something that has to be taken into a lab and be adjusted. (x)


After reading the article, I was able to conclude that most of the research done by scientists shows that genetically modified organisms cannot damage our bodies. Consequently, it is a fact that most of the food processed in the United States contain GMOs (x). The only way to stay away from them, is to only consume fresh, naturally grow foods (also known as expensive goods). For many, that may not even be choice depending on your social economic status. So, those that can afford to avoid GMOs can purchase the more expensive produce and those that can’t… well, they’re stuck with genetically modified foods.

In conclusion, all the data scientists currently have supports the production of GMOs since we have no evidence of the harm it may cause to our bodies. That is not to say that there is no potential harm that may occur. As far as we know, GMOs are safe. For now.

Can caffeine restrain your creativity?

Every morning before making my way to my first class, an essential part of my daily routine is heading to Findlay commons for a cup of coffee if I want to get through my morning. Why? Caffeine. I have found that without caffeine it’s very hard for me to stay awake and alert in my early morning classes. The fact that I rely so heavily on this substance got me to researching which eventually led me to find an interesting link between caffeine and creativity.


Just thinking about it, I didn’t think there could be an actual link between caffeine and creativity since they seem completely unrelated. But, if there’s anything I’ve learned in this class, it’s that two seemingly unconnected things can correlate. And then I thought about how if there were to be a connection, that caffeine would stimulate creativity since people, like me, usually can’t get through the day without having some caffeine to spark some energy and maybe even trigger creativity. My goal was to find out how.

Before researching, I thought that caffeine would give the body more energy thus allowing it to stay alert for a few hours. After researching, I discovered that caffeine actually hinders the receptors that activate when adenosine, the chemical that signals the brain when you need rest, is accepted (see x). This in turn doesn’t allow your brain to know when you actually need to sleep and to regain energy (see x). It convinces your body that you have the same amount of energy that you did when you first started drinking the caffeine (see x). Consequently, while for a while you may be motivated and empowered, you eventually end up drained and depleted once the caffeine wears off. (x)


As for creativity, since adenosine is being blocked, this allows for other chemicals, specifically dopamine and glutamate, to do additional work in your brain (x). According to this article, dopamine is a neurotransmitter in your body that passes information between neurons (x). According to another article, glutamate is also a neurotransmitter that helps with learning and memory and is responsible for sending signals throughout the body (x). Overall, caffeine allows these neurotransmitters to work beyond their normal potential, thus enhancing creativity as you are more likely to be more inventive. The problem with this is that as soon as the effects of caffeine wears off, the adenosine kicks in and leads you to feel more tired than you would’ve before drinking it. The article goes on to say that if you are an avid coffee drinker, this may not be true since you are constantly using energy that your body doesn’t actually carry. (x) Bummer.


In conclusion, caffeine may seem like a great way to revitalize and stay attentive when you need it but really, using it every day reduces the effectiveness of it stimulating your creativity. Thus, there is a correlation and causation between caffeine and creativity; the mechanism being that when adenosine is cut off, it allows dopamine and glutamate to do more work in your brain therefore heightening your ability to make connections. While rationally I should stop drinking coffee so that caffeine can be more effective for me when I do, I don’t see any other way I’ll be getting through my 9 a.m.’s…

Netflix: Can binge watching ruin your brain?


Personally, I love Netflix. There’s a very high possibility that if I’m not doing work or in class, I’m watching Netflix. To me, there’s nothing like being able to binge watch my favorite shows in the comfort of my own home… or dorm. Since its release, Netflix has been a very integral part of my life. Reflecting on how much I watch Netflix made me realize that there is rarely a day that passes where I don’t watch an episode. Since I know that many people share this love for Netflix and may watch it as much as I do, I decided to investigate. It is my very love for Netflix that led me to question the effects that it could be having on my body, or specifically, my brain.


After researching for a conclusion, I came across an article that elucidated a longitudinal observational study done by scientists in which they examined people who tend to binge watch Netflix, or TV, and scarcely participate in exercise then tested their neurological abilities with standardized tests. Immediately after reading this I recognized a potential fault in the study; standardized tests and their accuracy as an interpretation of how smart someone is. Nevertheless, the researchers conducted the study over 25 years where they watched 3,247 people from the ages of 18 to 30 (see x). Every five years they would have the participants answer questions about how much TV they watched and how much physical activity they engaged in and at the end of the 25 years, they would be given 3 cognitive tests (see x). The results showed that those that binge watched TV and barely participated in physical activity were twice as likely to do bad on the exams. (x)

What I concluded from the study is that although it shows a correlation with their hypothesis, there is no causation as there can be third or confounding variables that may contribute to the participant’s failure to perform well on the exams. Thus, with no causation there is no mechanism to explain the connection. My conclusion was further confirmed upon my discovery of another article reflecting the effects of binge watching TV and brain function (see x). The information in this article was provided by a researcher from the Northern California Institute for Research. The researcher claimed that through her research she was able to conclude, just like the other study, that there is a correlation between exercise, binge watching TV, and brain function. Despite this, she agreed that there is no concrete evidence that it could really effect one’s brain. (x)


I was personally very happy with the results. While a rational person may consider not binge watching Netflix or TV as much since it may actually damage your brain, I am going to take advantage of the lack of causation by continuing to express my love for Netflix and TV through binge watching.


Science is not my thing

Hello everyone! My name is Celine Degachi and I’m from Brooklyn, New York. I’m a freshman here at Penn State and I am very, very undecided. Nonetheless, I know that science is not for me. To be quite honest, I don’t completely hate science but it just has never been my thing. I think it can be very interesting but at the same time so painfully boring. I think this is strongly because of the teachers I had throughout all of my life. They were all awful and hence contributed to my dislike for science. The only type of science I can really tolerate/enjoy is anything about space since I actually find it pretty interesting.


I unfortunately Morty, am not breaking the cycle and rising above.

Anyways, I decided to take this course after talking to my advisor at orientation. She suggested it to me since I told her I didn’t want anything to do with science and after reading the course description I immediately signed up to take it and I must say, I’m glad I did.

Here’s a funny science article that I came across. The sarcasm in the article reflects the way I feel about science.

Here’s another meme just because I love The Office.