Author Archives: Hannah Marie Helmes

How much do we really need sleep?

A lot. Sleep is very important. During a final review week, I will get an average of 3 hours a day. I know the personal struggles of trying to get through a day. During that week, I become very sleep deprived. I found the sleep unit of my Psychology 101 class very interesting. We learned that sleep is important because it’s a time for the brain and the body to be restored and repaired. It also helps to strengthen our memories as well as helps with creative problem solving. That’s why sleep deprivation becomes so detrimental to our health.

There are many health issues that are associated with sleep deprivation. Sleep affects the brain, immune system, fat cells, joints, heart, stomach, and muscles. Lack of sleep cause a decrease in focus and memory capacity. The immune system also stops produces immune cells while fat cells increase its production, your joints become inflamed, your blood pressure rises, your stomach becomes hungrier, and your muscles become weaker. Studies have been done to understand the kinds of health issues that arise. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation increases the risk of stroke, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, depression. A 14 year study showed a correlation between mortality rates and sleeping less than 6 hours a night. The subjects in the study that slept less than 6 hours of sleep were 4 times more likely die within that 14 years. 

The average American gets less than 7 hours of sleep a night even though scientists suggest that adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Even though sleep has shown to be extremely important for our bodies, it seems like almost half of Americans don’t get the recommended amount.


According to Forbes, the most common reasons why we don’t get enough sleep is because of light, exercise, alcohol, caffeine, late night tv shows, late night snacks, and smoking. Luckily, all of these problems seem to have an easy fix. Light stops the production of melatonin which is the chemical in our brain that tells us to go to sleep. Exercise is important and can be beneficial to our sleeping, just not when the exercise is right before bed. Alcohol and caffeine is obviously not helping your sleeping habits. Though alcohol is a depressant (which makes people think that it can help you sleep) it actually messes with your REM sleep. Caffeine is an stimulant which obviously should be avoided if you’re having trouble sleeping. Television is also stimulating which creates a problem when you’re brain is trying to shut down for sleep. It’s important to make sure stimulants are removed when falling asleep is a problem. The National Sleep Foundation suggests to stick to a schedule when it comes to getting enough sleep. The most important thing to take away is that all of us need to prioritize sleep! It’s a lot more important than we think.


Why do we procrastinate?

I spent an entire night procrastinating this blog post. Is it because we’re lazy? I don’t think so because a lazy person wouldn’t be willing to pull 2 all nighters in a row to finish my studio project. Is it because we’re too confident in ourselves? Probably not. I know that I constantly stress about doing well on my work. We know that procrastination is bad for us because it causes stress and we know that procrastination doesn’t always turn out. So then why is procrastination so prevalent in high school, college, and beyond in our careers?

Read my previous blog to learn about the reasons why cramming (by default, procrastination) is bad for you. There has been studies done to measure the costs and benefits of procrastination. The overall consensus is that procrastination is not good for you or your work. One reason that procrastination is bad is that it affects your mental health. A study done in 1984  showed that there was a between procrastination and mental health issues like depression or anxiety. Procrastination inhibits how much time we can put into a certain task. We can run out of time before the deadline and we end up with less quality work that what we could have produced with more time. Andrew demonstrated that by showing us a blog post that was submitted only minutes before the deadline. A observational study done on this subject found that there was a correlation between procrastinators and their scores as well as their stress levels. Overall, it doesn’t seem to make sense to procrastinate.

One of the reasons why we procrastinate, according to Psychology Today, is because of the adrenaline rush that procrastination gives us. When you have a deadline, the only thing your brain knows it needs to focus on is the task at hand. They claim that the idea of achieving the seemingly impossible gives us this rush. According to Forbes, there are 2 reasons why we procrastinate: we don’t have the motivation for the task at hand or focus on our present feelings without regarding our futures selves feelings.

Tim Urban gave a Ted Talk that perfectly and simply demonstrates that mind of a procrastinator and why procrastination is so prevalent. Tim turns the concept of a present-only moment of thinking into what he call the “instant gratification monkey” that controls the actions of the rational thinker in all of us. He calls the mechanism that actually creates the mind shift that happens when we become instantly focused the “Panic monster”.  The “panic monster” becomes triggered by fast approaching deadlines. This is one of the reasons why procrastination can be a source of unhappiness when you have hard tasks that you want to complete that does not have a deadline. A reason why I keep telling myself that I want to go to the gym but I have yet to go this semester. That is why it is so important to understand procrastination and knowing ways that you can avoid it.   np-brainp-brain

One of the best ways to defeat procrastination is to prioritize! Dwight D Eisenhower created a system called the Eisenhower Matrix  which is helpful for knowing when to do something, when not do something, when to schedule, and when to delegate. Other ways to prevent procrastination is being aware of some bad habits that you may do. If you can’t help surfing the internet or texting your friends while you study, turning your phone off will prevent you from continuing the behavior. If the task is urgent AND important, it must be done asap (Studying for an exam that is 40% of your grade). If it’s important but not as urgent, make a schedule so you give yourself time to space out the task (Essay due next month). If the task isn’t important but it is urgent, delegate to others (planning an activity with friends). If the task is neither urgent or important, why even do it (surfing Facebook for the 10th time). Keeping these 4 categories in mind, you can prioritize your tasks easier. Remember to ask yourself: Is it Urgent? Is it Important?


Does cramming actually help you learn?

Most classes that I’ve taken, the tests that are memory-based. If you cram for a test, you can generally do well. I took an Art History class freshmen year. For the exams, we had to memorize over 40 buildings, their architects, when they were built, and why they were significant. On every exam, I crammed the night before every test, and I ended up with an A- in the class. Do you think I remember any of those architects or dates? No, of course not!  I have found that cramming is not an option in this class. Either you understand the material or you don’t, There are no random dates your have to name off, just concepts to understand.  Cramming may help you get through a test but is it beneficial to your learning? NO. Cramming is not beneficial because it affects our sleeping habits, it does not utilize our long  term memory, and it promotes a habit of procrastination.

Exhausted Student Falling Asleep While Cramming — Image by © Randy Faris/Corbis

Sleep seems to be just a suggestion when it comes to college students. Before my final reviews, I will go 3 days straight with only 8 hours of sleep total. I know this is very unhealthy for me, but also expected with demanding major such as Architecture. My professor even tells us to pull all-nighters even when I’ve already been working in studio for 8 hours. Cramming before an exam often means that you choose studying over sleep. There are studies that show sleep is actually more important to your academic success than extra studying. UCLA did an observational study on with 500 high school students. They asked the students to keep track of their sleep and their academic performance for a short 2 weeks.  The results of the study showed the students that chose to studying over sleep did worse academically than those that did not.

Memory is also very important when it comes to learning. I learned a lot about memory in my Psychology 101 class my freshmen year. The memory process consists of  your initial sensory memory. You encode information from there into your working memory (also known as the short-term memory). From there, you encode important information into your long term memory. Your long term memory is where you can store and retrieve memories. According to that class Forgetting is when you can’t retrieve information because of encoding failures or retrieval failures. Our working memory can only hold 5-9 things at a time. This does not leave room for all the information that you try to fit in your head in one night. This often leads to retrieval failures during the exam and definitely does not help with the encoding process into your long term memory. This is we are told by our professors to review our notes every week instead of waiting until the exam comes. Study habits like chunking and mnemonics devices are also good study habits because they help our brain encode and retrieve better.  

We’ve all be told (by Andrew) that procrastination is bad. I am ashamed to admit that I’m really bad when it comes to procrastinating. I plan out everything that I do, but I plan it to the last minute. If you are cramming for a test the night before, you have been procrastinating. Cramming is bad because it promotes the habit of procrastination. An observational study done on over 700 students showed that the closer the deadline was when the students turned their assignment in, the worse their grade was. The study also showed that there was no significant difference in the grading before the 24 hour mark. Since this was an observational study, we can argument that the findings could be do to a third variable such as, smarter people turn in their stuff earlier. Even if that is the case, handing your work in earlier may not be that hard to manage but the outcome seems to be very beneficial.

These observations and information about how the brain works supports my claim that cramming is bad for your learning. Sleep is more important than cramming, our memory system doesn’t support cramming, and our procrastinating tendencies promotes cramming, yet affects us negatively in the end. So how come so many college students do it? That is a question for another blog post.

Is Sexual Assault Education Effective?

Everyone should be fully aware that sexual assault is a huge issue that’s even prevalent in Happy Valley. Every student receives a timely warning almost once a week. Those timely warnings just inform us about the the sexual assault that happens that’s actually reported.. Can you imagine how many happen that go unreported? According to the National Assault Hotline, only 34.4% of females actually report sexual assault to the police. For everyone timely warning that you receive, imagine 2 more of the same report that you will not receive. One of the biggest reasons why sexual assault isn’t reported is because in the majority of reported sexual assault, the perpetrator will not be prosecuted. And when they are prosecuted, the public sees trials like the one with Brock Turner where he was sent to jail for a mere 3 months for being caught raping an unconscious girl outside of a dumpster.


This is a pretty heavy subject, but it’s something that needs to be addressed. The biggest question today is “How do we prevent sexual assault from happening?” The easy way to answer that question is to blame the victim. It’s easy to tell women that they need to watch what they wear and watch how they act because that someone is related to another person’s active decision to be a horrible person. This is easy to do and that is why victim blaming is so prevalent in society.

In multiple studies, scientists studied the effectiveness of sexual assault prevention. Through control groups, and random and placebo techniques, the scientists accounted for third variables that may effect the outcomes of the studies. A third variable could be for example, race or sex. In the studies, out of the 102 treatment intervention for sexual assault awareness there were 262 effect sizes based on a sexual assault education program. These different effects that were found in the study show that there were differences in attitudes towards rape, empathy for victims, and increased knowledge on the issues. The results of the studies is that yes, there was an change in attitude with sexual assault education programs in place. But what needs to be further studied is if these programs have a lasting impact impact on the behaviors of the subject.

Prevention is important but until we find a very effective way to prevent such horrible acts to occur, we must be prepared for when something does happen. Luckily, Penn State has a lot of resources for victims of sexual assault. The 3 main services set in place to help victims is through the Title IX, UHS, and CAPS. Keep these services in mind so you can also be a support system for anyone who may go through sexual assault. One last thing that I want to leave you with is maybe some small form of education on the subject. Consent is pretty easy to understand.. It’s as easy as tea.

Does “Stop and Frisk” actually decrease crime?

I was watching the debate last Monday and one of the things that stuck out to me (besides Trump’s impeccable duck face) was the argument he made for resolving the racial tensions in America… Implementing ‘Stop and Frisk’. The segment of the debate Lester Holt asked bother candidates how they would fix the racial problems in the country. The entire segment is only about 15 minutes long.

Donald Trump states in the debate that America needs more law and order. The streets are dangerous and implementing the stop and frisk will decrease crime significantly like it did in NYC. Lester Holt goes on to say that ‘stop and frisk’ was ruled unconstitutional they way that New York did it because it was shown to have caused racial profiling. Trump denies that it is unconstitutional. Now, we can all agree that we need to improve the relationship between community and police. I am even trying to address the issue through my studio project (we are designing a police station/community center for the Hill District in Pittsburgh). I would like to use science to fact check Donald Trump in his argument that stop and frisk would actually reduce crime (or reduce the tensions between community and police).

First thing you need to know is what Stop and Frisk actually is. Stop and Frisk is the policing policy that was implemented by the New York Police Department which allows them the right to question and search a pedestrian if the police has “reasonable suspicion” that this person could be a potential danger.

Does ‘stop and frisk’ inherently promote racial profiling? YES

Does ‘stop and frisk’ decrease crime? NO

The idea of reasonable suspicion is not a new concept to police. The early 1980s, police were given the power to question someone if they had “reasonable suspicion” that there was a crime. Stop and Frisk was greatly implemented in 2002, with more than 97,000 stops. The stops increased even more in 2008. There were a lot of people that disagreed with this policy, saying that this program mostly targeted the African-American community. Mayor Bloomberg defended the program by calling out the African-American community as more violent (This is very untrue. Race has nothing to do with violent tendencies and only reinforces the idea that maybe this program does in fact cause racial profiling?). There were thousands of people that attended silent protests against ‘stop and frisk’ but it wasn’t until August 12, 2013, that the US Courts finally ruled that the way that NYPD was stopping specific pedestrians on the basis of “reasonable suspicion” was unconstitutional. 


So how does politics relate to science? Science is used to determine whether correlation equals causation. Does Stop and frisk lower crime rates? When Stop and frisk was implemented in NYC, the crime rates went down. Does this necessarily mean that this is a causation? If we were to do an experiment on this, we could take away stop and frisk and if the crime rises, we know that the correlation does equal causation. Luckily NYC found stop and frisk to be unconstitutional and we’re able to look at the statistics of crime and police stops. Let’s see what happened….


Even though the number of stops decreased substantially in 2015 from 2011 (by more than 650,000) the amount of total crime that year was lower in 2015. This is one “experiment” that shows that the correlation between the stop and frisks and crime was not a causation.

Trump may have told America in the debate that murder rates are up since they have ended ‘stop and frisk’ in New York but *Fact check* this is a lie. Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about, especially when it comes to race relations. Not only does this not work but it also has been proven to cause racial profiling. I do not wish that this posts will try to sway you to vote a certain way; I am simply here to keep everyone informed on what policies will work for the country and what policies will definitely not, regardless of which one of these people we put in the White House.


I hope you break a sweat

I absolutely hate sweating! I feel like I sweat an abnormal amount. The humidity here is a killer. I absolutely hate feeling of being overheated. Can you even imagine how it would feel to not sweat? You would have no way to cool yourself off. In my Architectural Engineering 211 class, my professor taught us about the different processes that our body goes through when it heats up. The body has certain mechanisms that help regulate the body’s temperature. When the body gets hot, the surface of the skin starts to dilate. The body then starts to sweat to cool down the body through evaporation. If the body can’t handle the heat, the final mechanism is to pass out (Moses AE 211). Sweating is an involuntary act that is a necessity when it comes to prevent heat exhaustion. The body goes through mechanisms to warm up as well. Instead of the skin dilating, the pores start to close, while the veins restrict (Moses AE 211). The involuntary response is shivering. Now if our bodies didn’t sweat, we would always pass out from heat exhaustion.

Anhidrosis means the inability to sweat.

Some people are born without sweat glands, while others have rare diseases that precent them from sweating.

Cystinosis is a disease that affects about 2,000 people and (along with many other complications) takes away their ability to cool themselves off.  You can read more about a girl and her struggles with this disease in the link above. Without the ability to sweat, someone must be limited in how long they can be outside without the risk of passing out. It’s safe to say that even though sweating is gross, it is quite necessary to live an active life in the long summer days.

you can learn more about Cystinosis.

You can also learn about the research that is continuously being done to explain the disease and hopefully find a cure.

This is an example of something in science that can’t really be explained at the moment, but scientists are diligently working to provide explanation.

The 5 second rule

My favorite rule of all time has got to be the five second rule. As a lover of food, one of the worst things that can happen is dropping it on the floor. The five second rule is idea that your food will not be contaminated within 5 seconds of touching the ground. For something that is such a well known phenomenon, one would think that there should be science that backs this up. This “myth” was debunked by the Mythbusters 

The myth busters perform experiments in the short clip to determine how much bacteria is obtained on a piece of food in less than and more than five seconds. The myth busters had used a control “floor” by making trays have a uniform layer of bacteria because a real floor would be inconsistent. the also wanted to account for dry and wet foods, so they included crackers and lunch meat in their experiment as well as eliminating food as a constant altogether. Their finding eventually concluded that no matter if it is 2 seconds on the ground or 6 seconds on the ground, the bacteria count found is almost identical. It’s safe to say that maybe you shouldn’t eat food that has fallen on the ground. It’s much safer for your health to make another sandwich than to potentially contract salmonella from trust the “5 second rule”.

As an adult, I can’t imagine eating food that has fallen on the floor, unless it was in a wrapper.

What I find interesting is that people are not likely to eat food that has been dropped on the floor, but a lot more likely to eat it if it fell on the table. Would you eat a slice of apple that may have fallen into the kitchen sink at home? I probably would. This study published by Charles River Laboratories International Inc.  takes a look at different surfaces found in the kitchen and how much bacteria they contain.

Charles River International Inc.

The bar chart from this study will show you how contaminated a regular kitchen sink can get. I hope this may open your eyes to the idea that the 5 second rule is one that may be best to ignore.

Can architecture affect human behavior?

Architecture is my major. As an architecture student, I believe that architecture drives cultures and progression. Of course, you can also say that about science, so maybe science and architecture aren’t so different after all?

In this blog, I hope to stimulate some thinking into architecture and how it affects us more than just “Oh, that building looks cool.”

Let’s take a look at the science of human behavior. Human behaviors are based off of everything we do and everything we feel as an individual as well as the entire race. We as an individual are influenced in different ways that affect a behaviors. We are influenced by our nature, what we were born into (our genetics, creative mind/analytical mind) and our nurture, what we grew up into (religion, social norms, attitudes). Wikipedia has a more in depth description of human behavior.  

Now I am confident in saying that our current world would not exist if it weren’t for the presence of creativity. This is what defines us as a human species. Everyone uses creativity everyday of their lives and it can create small changes or even changes the entire culture. Don’t believe me? Here’s an example:

In the Stuckeman Family Building (the architecture building), there are 2 main entrances that allow the architecture students to enter with swipe access any time out of normal office hours. There are also a couple doors that exit outside as an emergency exit from the stairwells. As architecture students who like to save as much time as possible, we realized that entering through this one particular stairwell exit was a lot faster in getting to our particular studio space than walking through the main entrance. Of course this door was always locked to the outside so we had to think of (creative) ways to keep the door propped. We’d use rocks, sticks, pieces of leftover model material, etc… At first, the school would post signs telling us to stop but then eventually realized it was better for everyone to add a door handle and a swipe access to this door. Now my classmates and classes to come have easier access to our studio space and all we had to do was just be creative and break just some rules. Somehow my students and I changed the attitudes of the heads of the building. We also changed the social norms of entering through the “front door” of the building.

We are influenced by what I personally view as our unintentional (economic status) as well intentional environments (sidewalks). Sidewalks and urban layout has all been thought out and designed intentionally. Why do we follow sidewalks? There is not actual law that forces us to. We are influenced by design to behave a certain way. Although we are greatly influenced by environment, sometimes we are creative enough to influence the environment ourselves as shown in the picture below:

sidewalk use

In architecture, light, materials, space, color, and much more are thoughtfully considered and carefully decided. Every single decision affects human behavior. In my room, I always have my blind open but when I look at the windows in the building across from me, I never see the blinds open.. Why?

My windows are facing the Northwest which means that I will rarely see the sun except for when it starts setting. The building across from me with windows facing  southeast gets direct sunlight for the majority of the day. Not only is the unintentional environment (sun) affecting the behavior of the students across from me as well as me (closing vs. opening the blinds) but the intentional environment (windows) affect our behavior (receiving too much sun or not enough).

I could talk for hours about how material, space, and color also affect our behaviors but I think that I may have said enough to provoke some thought. Please leave questions if you have more questions about the psychology of architecture. If you are interested in learning more about some buildings that use psychology to drive their design, you can read about Snøhetta’s Oslo Opera House in this article.

Our environment and design greatly influences human behavior in everyday life and as a whole human species.

What even is science?

Hello everyone!

My name is Hannah and I am a junior. I am majoring in architecture which means that I don’t get much sleep during school… Architecture Major

I am also an RA in east so if any East freshmen need a person to study with, just let me know!

I joined this class because the course description reminded me of this episode of John Oliver that perfectly captures the reason why I have such issues with science. I have attached the clip below. John Oliver discusses why media outlets report untrue information regarding science and scientific studies. I find it difficult to trust science when there are so many poorly executed “scientific studies” I want to learn how to distinguish between the accurate and the misguided.

I am not a science major because science is way too complicated and way too flawed for me. I am an artist. I like to create and design. I like to use the right side of my brain, not the left. I am not completely against science because I am really interested in social sciences. I love to learn about how people act and think. That is something that is very important when it comes to designing public spaces in architecture. I absolutely HATE anything that has to do with space. It freaks me out. I got sick watching the movie Gravity. I will never go into space even if someone gave me a million dollars.

Left and Right Brain

I am really excited to take this course and maybe have a better appreciation for everything science has done for us.

Everyone should really watch this clip! It’s 20 minutes long but it’s worth it! John Oliver on scientific studies