Author Archives: Hannah Marni Stern

A Question of Cuteness


Walking to class the other day, I was taken aback by the cuteness of the puppies in training that prance around campus. Why are puppies so cute? It’s not the most mature question to analyze, but surprisingly the reasoning behind my playful curiosity is relatively scientific. According to this blog, kinderschema, or baby schema, is the scientific theory to explain cuteness. This hypothesis encapsulates all of the physical features that humans consider “cute” in babies and animals, which range from large eyes to a soft body. However, the blog recognizes that kinderschema was originally developed somewhat anecdotally. Thus, scientists are starting to make up for the lack of psychological explanation behind this theory. In this study, the characteristics of baby schema are tested through a visual manipulation experiment. Groups of 3-6 year old children were randomly allocated either a control picture or a “cuteness enhanced” picture of a baby, dog, or cat. Then, they were asked to rate the cuteness. Their reaction to the picture was also observed, specifically tracking their attention towards the already established kinderschema qualities. To eliminate age being a potential bias, adults were also put through the same experimentation. As a result, the concepts of baby schema were confirmed, and predicted to be a potential part of early childhood development.


Image obtained from the study

In addition, the study discovered that features of baby schema triggered feelings of “infantile stimuli,” or other feelings you get when you see something cute. For instance, this article shares that baby schema features are linked with the human desire to be caretakers. Oxford researchers are currently experimenting how parental brains react to infants, specifically in studying the was cuteness stimulates various natural senses. In addition to the urge to care take, this article delves deeper into the scientific reaction to the features of baby schema. Dopamine, or the neurochemical associated with pleasure, is released in the brain. This chemical reaction takes place in the mesocorticolimbic area of the brain, which is centrally located. Therefore, when our brains recognize cuteness, we experience subsequent happiness.


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Overall, cuteness can be scientifically attributed to various physical features known as kinderschema. While there has been a limited amount of experimentation to back up this theory, it is very well acclaimed and almost able to be proven by self experimentation. See what I mean by looking at this! I would love to see more controlled experiments on this question, as it applies to a greater purpose than simply the feelings of seeing a puppy on the street. For instance, what is the significance that Frozen, ranked as the highest grossing animated film of all time, contains characters with larger eyes than traditional Disney characters? This New York Times article brings up the brilliant point that proving baby schema would not only help us to understand our own perception, but play a vital role in fields like design, entertainment, and advertising.

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What’s Better… Messy or Clean?


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Formerly, the dominant notion is that the best way to carry out one’s life is to be clean and organized. However, scientists are starting to notice that there are some benefits to being messy. According to various studies, relatively messier people have shown to be more creative and forward thinking. For instance, this New York Times article explains a study where 48 people were randomly allocated to either an orderly or disheveled table space, and then asked generate ways that ping pong balls could be used aside from the game of ping pong. Their ideas were then rated on creativity. After the data was analyzed, the experiment discovered that the participants placed in messier rooms had higher creativity ratings, 28% more creative than the people in organized spaces to be statistically specific. The New York Times article also mentions that similar experiments have been replicated in various activities that would channel creativity, such as drawing and problem solving. In each undertaking tested, clear evidence that disorderly spaces may inspire more creative thinking was shown. However, a pitfall to this experiment is exactly how to quantify creativity. Creativity is subjective, so although the article calls the raters “independent judges” and considers their rating to be “done reliably” there is still some skepticism as to whether the result of the experiment would change if the set of raters were different. Also, the sample size of this experiment is relatively small, so I personally feel the need for a larger sample to make the study even more substantial.



Pictures directly from Appendix of published research but referenced in Business Insider article

The underlying question is, assuming this study is valid, is it better to think creatively than conventionally? Should we as individuals stop cleaning our desks and thinking spaces to encourage our brains to be more disorderly and innovative? This Business Insider article explores this paradox. For instance, they bring forth the timeline of completing a task, which requires more creative brainstorming in the beginning and gradually becomes more orderly as the individual organizes such ideas. Thus, this would indicate that a disorderly space would be more beneficial in the beginning stages, but tidiness would gradually become more advantageous. In addition, a bias of the study would be the industry in which the individual is working within. For instance, an artist might be more inclined to maintain disorder than an accountant due to the fact that an accountant’s profession requires more conventional and organized thinking. Finally, in my research I came across a red flag in terms of the science  done on this question. Both articles mentioned previously AND this one from the Association for Psychological Science all pull their conclusion from the same study done at University of Minnesota. u_of_m_logo_2There are two explanations for this repetition: a lack of scientific curiosity or the file drawer dilemma. This study was only published in 2013, so maybe scientists have just recently came across the “messy desk” phenomena and haven’t done much research on the question yet. Subsequently, maybe they have done research that has been tucked away due to the fact that it has yielded traditional results in favor of orderly spaces. We discussed this bias of the “boring” findings as the as the file drawer problem in class, and this messy vs clean controversy could be a valid example. Overall, the findings are interesting, yet more prospective investigation is most definitely necessary before we frantically tidy or chaotically destroy our spaces. In my personal experimentation, I have favored having an organized desk when completing my work… how about you all?

The Science of Passion

Age old phrases like “Do what you love, and love what you do” or “If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life” can be frustrating. Obviously, it’s easier said than done to find your passion. As college students, we face decisions everyday that challenge us to find our passions. Soon, we may even approach a decision as to whether we want to turn these passions into a career. We want to commit to something that excites us, inspires us, and motivates us – something that we love to do now and hopefully will love long term. Scientists are intrigued by the curiosity of where passion comes from, and how someone uncovers their destined passion. While countless theories exist and definitely no perfect process has been discovered, exploring a variety of hypotheses may allow us college students to find some direction as we explore the options of our future.


So, where does passion come from? According to this Fulfillment Daily article, passion is genetically rooted. This is mostly due to the fact that we usually are more inclined to love what we’re good at, and our innate skills are a product of our genes. The article discusses a study done at University of California that found between 22 and 36 percent of the variance in creative successes are potentially due to our variance in genetic skills. In simplest terms, it is scientifically established that being good at something can be partially attributed genetics. For instance, if someone is naturally athletic, they’re more inclined to enjoy playing sports. This scientific journal states that natural athleticism has proven to be associated with two specific genes, ACE I/D and ACTN3 R577X. This discovery was shaped by a meta analysis of 23 studies that statistically investigate the association between the ACTN3 gene and sport performance, which ended up being a positive association. Thus, an example where genes clearly contribute to the talent that would catalyze passion. In addition to genetics, the article brings forth the counter idea that environmental influences could be a somewhat confounding variable. Scott Barry Kaufman, the author of the Fulfillment Daily article discussed above, shares that he is passionate about music. While he attributes this passion to his natural musical talents, he also mentions that he grew up in a musical house. Along the same lines, people usually follow in the direction of parental influence in terms of their career choices. While this data is somewhat anecdotal, there has been countless studies of the “nurture vs nature” argument that would determine the true source of one’s passions. In my opinion, passions stem from a complicated combination of both genetic and environmental factors.


In addition, motivation also plays an integral role in what generates passion. We have all heard the age old question “what motivates you?” Apparently, the scientific answer is dopamine. When we partake in an activity we enjoy, our brains release dopamine to stimulate our motivation towards that activity. This Forbes article discusses an experiment done with rats that found rats with higher levels of dopamine were more likely to tackle the obstacle of climbing a fence to reach an edible award than rats with lower levels of dopamine. Therefore, if we’re naturally motivated to do something, we are most likely passionate about it too. This concept ties back to our genetically gifted stills as well, think about it in terms of the naturally athletic person example… if someone is naturally athletic, they’re probably highly motivated to practice and play.  

Here’s the catch: We obviously can’t see our genes, and we have a somewhat subjective view of how our environment has truly shaped us. We generally know what motivates us, but sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint. Thus, how does one find their passion? In terms of career passions specifically, this blog claims that an answer to this question could be the Self Determination Theory. This well acclaimed and popularly verified hypothesis states that passion is built on autonomy, competence, and relatedness. One will be passionate about something if they have autonomy, or the ability to control their involvement in the activity. Next, the competence relates to the ability to do something well (which ties back to our inborn abilities and environmental experiences). Finally, the presence of relatedness, or the ability to collaborate and connect with your co-workers and community. An activity or career that meets these three criterias sufficiently is a good sign that this could be a passion worth investing in.  


I believe these three principles that make up the Self-Determination theory are valuable and valid tools in finding one’s passion. They encourage self-reflection, which is necessary in finding something that fits you best. However, I am skeptical of the fact that there can only be ONE passion that someone can commit to for a career. For instance, someone can be passionate about money, which could lead to many careers. However, they could be passionate about teaching, which only would lead to one. This variance in the implication of a passion makes a single commitment challenging, which is I agree with implementing the theory presented in this Psychology Today article into one’s journey to their passion. The article presents a multi passionate approach, encouraging people to see every aspect of their life with “positive passion energy.” This is the act of creatively building the connection between yourself and a given activity to create passion, almost a manual release of the dopamine that would motivate you to enjoy something. Obviously, I recognize it is unrealistic to love everything you do, but I feel like having this sort of attitude will highlight your primary passions while making everything underneath them a little more enjoyable.
In your search for your own passion, remember that science has found that passions can stem from a variety of origins, such as your genes, environment, and motivations. In order to discover these passions, self reflection is vital. In addition, it is important to pay attention to how much freedom you feel while partaking in something, and how rewarded you feel afterwards. Most importantly, whether you’re set on a passion or you’re still searching, it is proven to be beneficial to see the world like you’re capable of being passionate about anything. An open-minded and positive outlook will illuminate the things you truly love to do.

Test Optional… It’s About Time!

I don’t know about any of you, but the standardized testing that monstrously consumed my junior year of high school was absolutely miserable. The trauma of this dark time in my life still lingers today! There’s just no way for a bad test taker like me to truly showcase all of my capabilities on that one booklet on that one Saturday morning. I personally feel that a numerical score should not define people in the eyes of college admissions workers. Can the ACT and SAT truly gauge college readiness?act-sat

While the SAT and ACT are structured in different ways, they attempt to measure the same thing: aptitude. This Washington Post article delves deeper into the idea of “aptitude” in terms of standardized testing. The SAT, which formerly stood for “scholastic aptitude test,” was created with the intent to test college readiness. Basically, creating questions that would evoke the use of academic concepts and logical skills that would be necessary to succeed in college. However, they eventually dropped this acronym when they discovered that aptitude is more than just problem solving or the memorization of facts. So… what is aptitude?


Aptitude is intelligence, as one of the most important indicators of college readiness is the ability to obtain good grades and graduate. According to a longitudinal observational study discussed in this PBS News article, standardized tests are not able to properly measure this necessary signal for success. Bates College, an institution that has decided to go “test optional” (meaning it isn’t mandatory to report your test scores), followed a group of students who did submit their scores and a group of students who abstained from sharing their scores through their four years. Throughout their journey, they compared the two group’s GPAs. Finally at graduation, it was discovered that the GPA’s of the test submitters were only a mere .05 percent of a GPA point higher than the students who didn’t report their scores. Therefore, this study shows that a test score cannot sufficiently measure intelligence, at least in terms of grades. With a scientific mindset, this would make sense. In science, the more random samples that are taken, the more accurate the consensus will be. Thus, we would expect a GPA, which is basically an accumulation of samples over the course of four years, to be more reflective of a score sampled from one day of someone’s life.

Aptitude is motivation. In order to succeed in college, it’s imperative to be self-driven. However, this PrepScholar blog sheds light on a critical downfall in the ability of standardized test to gauge someone’s proficiency to persevere. The blog asks, how would a college admissions worker determine the kid who got a high score naturally from a kid who worked hard to achieve their high score? This is a very important question that reveals the dark truth of how general a test score really is. A student’s motivation, work ethic, time management, and even creativity are all unaccounted for in a simple number. These are qualities that a college should be looking for, in my opinion and in the opinion of many universities that have decided to go “test optional.” Yes, it is very possible for the naturally high scoring kid to also possess these redeeming qualities, but the test score doesn’t definitely insure that. Therefore, test scores are not the most ideal way to measure the determination aspect of aptitude that would indicate college readiness.

Finally, a confounding variable to high performance in test scores could be resources, which could distort the aptitude conveyed in the score. There has been an extreme amount of scientific and statistical analysis on the correlation between family income and test scores, which is based on the assumption that tutoring or other test taking resources put higher income students at an unfair advantage. This New York Times article accumulated research from various studies to produce the graph shown to the right. allscoresThe findings clearly illustrate a strong positive correlation between family income and test scores, as the highest income bracket in math for example scored 122 points higher than the lowest income bracket. The New York Times also reported that the R-squared value of the study was about .95, which is extremely significant. For anyone unfamiliar with statistics, the  R-squared value tells how much of the variance in test scores is attributed to family income. Therefore, the fact that this number is as high as 95% is evidence of a close correlation between test scores and family income.
In all, the science screams that standardized testing is not a sufficient way to measure college readiness. While there must be some method to the madness because smart people who get good test scores do usually succeed in college, science tells us that there is always the possibility to revise a former theory no matter how much time it has stood before. Personally, I’m excited to see what the future holds in a “test optional” world in terms of developing more holistic measurements to better assess the capability of an individual to succeed in college.

Indoor Cycling: Treasure or Trend?

Exercise enthusiasts can’t stop talking about indoor cycling. Places such as Soulcycle and Flywheel are offering high end spin classes that they not only claim is an incredible workout, but an overall outstanding self-bettering experience. However, while I am a health-conscious individual, I am skeptical as to whether $25-$30 per class is really worth the trend. Do indoor cycling classes live up to their hype?


In my personal workout experience, I love to attend spin classes. The music is motivating and upbeat, and it’s fun to imagine climbing and sprinting like it’s a real-life bike ride. I always leave a spin class sweating, which leads me to believe that it’s a great workout! Luckily, this American College of Sports Medicine article justifies my assumption. The article explains how the cardiovascular activity generated during indoor cycling is not only advantageous to your heart by reducing the risk of heart conditions and high blood pressure, but also strengthens your muscles, raises your endurance, and protects your joints. In terms of calorie burning, spinning is an incredible medium. As mentioned in the above ACSM article, discovered that the average 45 minute spin class has the potential to burn between 400-600 calories. However, I somewhat am doubtful of this statistic, as today I took a 45 minute indoor cycling class at the IM building where I only burned around 300 calories. Maybe I just have to work harder to reap the physical benefits of my exercise!

In addition to physical rewards, indoor cycling also enhancspinningclass_2-300x264es mental health. “The Brain Science of Biking,” an article by Shape, discusses how the act of cycling increases the “white matter,” or the tissue that is responsible for linking the various entities of your brain so that they can better communicate. Furthermore, cycling generates a protein that is tied to memorization and stress levels called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This amplified memorization as a result of spinning was also found in a study done by the University of Illinois, which concludes that regularly cycling increases the hippocampus, or the part of the brain specializing in cognitive recollection, by 2%.
19thneon_originalTherefore, spinning is beneficial from both a physical and mental perspective according to science.
Of course, all of these profits from the act of indoor cycling will vary by individual. For instance, one’s level of fitness, capability to spin with the right form, and their mental status prior to class. This explains why many people that I have questioned about the value of indoor cycling claim that a spin class is only as good as the instructor. This article addresses this downfall of indoor cycling, saying how failure to think and perform in a distinct way while cycling short-sells people of the potential benefits. Furthermore, another skepticism is the fact that spinning is not the only exercise that burns calories or aids memorization, so what makes it so special? This Business Insider article proposes that a potential answer to this question is the luxurious community appeal that places like SoulCycle and Flywheel use to attract their customers. These facilities utilize their high end reputation and strong branding to manipulate the consumer opinion that the workout will reward him or her beyond the capabilities of a traditional gym. They imply that cyclers will be a part of an elite and trendy community, and go through a one of a kind self-betterment process. Therefore, the upscale and fashion forward image of such indoor cycling gyms could be a confounding variable in the question of whether the workout lives up to the trend.


Accumulating all of this information, I have come to believe that spinning is a worthwhile form of exercise if you’re there for the right reasons. It may sound like a line from The Bachelor, but it’s a valid differentiating factor in deciding whether spin classes are worth the trend. There is a line to be crossed where the schtick starts to override the actual exercise. People pay an exorbitant amount to spin because they get caught up in the brand rather than the bike. However, If you get on the bike with the mindset that you’re there for an intense workout and you’re going to give it your all, then you will reap the physical and mental benefits of indoor cycling that will live up to its popularity.

Are you happy?

I have thought a lot about happiness during my transition to Penn State. When I first arrived, I felt a complicated mixture of feelings that eventually led me to an overwhelming standstill. I wasn’t sure how to find happiness in a new environment, as I was interacting with new people, new places, and new experiences. I am a generally happy and positive person, so when the perception of my own happiness was jumbled and unclear, I started to critically question myself. What makes someone happy? What creates the variance in happiness from one person to another? How can someone create or force happiness?

Luckily, I’m not alone in my curiosity about the science of happiness. As scientists traditionally focus on advancing their understanding of depression and anxiety, the field of “positive psychology” is rapidly emerging. In this article, I found that a critical chemical in understanding the cause of happiness is endorphins, which specialize in stress relief. Endorphins possess the unique ability to act as calming messengers. Passing through neurons, they chemically channel parts of the brain that generate pleasure in order to mitigate pain. There are also many other chemicals that trigger positive emotions, which can be found here.unknown

If we all have the same chemicals in our brains, why aren’t we all happy? In this Harvard Business Review article, Daniel Gilbert, an expert in positive psychology, explains this concept extremely well. He declares that happiness comes from experiences, yet everyone is in different places in experiencing their life. For instance, many people believe that getting married will make them happy for the rest of their life, but Gilbert argues that humans are relatively bad at predicting such occurrences. When experiences cause a peak in our happiness, many people overestimate the time until the peak starts to decline. Furthermore, because we are all at different places on our climbs up and down the mountain of happiness, it is evident that happiness is extremely subjective from person to person.

So, if you are someone who is currently tumbling downwards to the bottom of your happy hill, how can science be the answer to stopping this negative momentum? According to Gilbert, it is time for you to stop waiting for happy experiences and start making them for yourself. This is called “synthetic” or “artificial”  happiness which is perfectly normal and worthwhile. Although it’s easier said than done, Gilbert advocates that there is always an outlet for people to create their own happiness that can feel just as good as natural happiness. Furthermore, this Happify article explains the concept of hedonic adaption, or the human tendency to acclimate to the good and bad circumstances of their life. In turn, making it easier to create synthetic happiness for oneself due to the greater understanding that comes naturally with time. More specifically, this article outlines seven ways to produce happiness, including everything from nurturing loving relationships to putting more effort into exercise. It also stresses the importance of finding “flow,” or a hobby/task that offers steady enjoyment, sufficient challenge, and self-educating takeaways. Most importantly, an optimistic outlook on life is a major key to happiness. Optimism is at the core of every cliche you have heard in terms of beng happy, specifically in the form of gratitude. There is reason behind this. People with more optimistic outlooks on life will overall be happier due to their strong belief that such negative feelings and occurrences will soon be alleviated in time.  


If all of this is too much for you, you can check out this infographic, a much more straightforward instructional tool on how to find happiness! 🙂

The Millennial and Scientific Mindset


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I recently read an incredible book called A Millennial World: Understanding the Drive of a Rising Generation, which explores the journey of Andrew Rosenstein, a 17 year old from my hometown of Plymouth Meeting, PA. Andrew has struggled with dyslexia since elementary school, and attends a school specialized in teaching children with learning disabilities called AIM Academy. In the book, he shares how this struggle inspired him to start a business, therefore catalyzing his thriving career in entrepreneurship. Now, he does everything from speaking at massive conventions to building strong relationships with eminent business executives. Most importantly, Andrew confidently attributes the success he has achieved today to his identity as a millennial.

This is not a traditional blog post, where I try to answer a common question through science. This post is a creative attempt to aid a better understanding of the scientific process and the identity of a scientist by comparing it with something we can all relate to: being a millennial. Everyone enrolled in SC 200 is a millennial, as it is the generation born between the late 1980s and the early 2000s. However, there is far more to being a millennial than simply our birthdays. We are millennials due to the the unique traits that we embody as a product of our upbringing. For example, we have grown up with constant exposure to technology. Therefore, we are prone to documenting our daily lives on social media. In addition, we are able to be more productive and resourceful when given a task in our education or in the workplace. Overall, millennials have a distinctive way of thinking and behaving that defines our generation, which Rosenstein refers to as our “millennial mindset.” After reading Andrew Rosenstein’s book simultaneously with listening to Andrew Read’s lecture in SC 200, I have come to the conclusion that the millennial mindset and the scientific method is more similar than I previously thought.


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Both scientists and millennials follow an innovative process of thinking. They are not the “cubical” type of workers, who wait for a problem to be presented to them by a higher authority and then work towards a traditional solution. As Andrew mapped out in class, scientists follow the procedure of questioning the world around them, identifying a problem or curiosity, and then creatively generating possibilities to form an explanation. They think outside of the box, broadening their horizons to a plethora of unique approaches and revolutionary ideas. Next, they take action! Science requires testing and trying each possibility in order to identify a unique solution, which isn’t always an easy or straightforward process. For instance, this National Geographic article describes how an experiment testing the solidity of tar started in 1944 was recently finished in 2013. In A Millennial World, Rosenstein shares his concept of refusing “no” as an answer, a similar process to scientific thinking and experimentation. He gives an example of how he was trying to contact Simon Sinek, an eminent marketing expert. He emailed Simon countless times, yet received no response. One day, he picked up a call from a random number that said, “Hi Andrew, this is Simon Sinek.” When he didn’t get immediate results, he did not give up. Like a scientist, Andrew was determined in his pursuit despite how long it took or how many failures it involved. Both scientists and millennials are eager for meaningful results, and they are extremely driven to achieve their goals.

Along with similar mindsets and motivations, the scientific process and the millennial mindset are both geared towards searching for the most accurate, most efficient, and overall best way to explain or do something. Albert Einstein once said, “To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” In other words, science is an ongoing process of advancement, disproving the old and developing the new. Furthermore, Andrew lectured about how scientists invest their time and emotions into this process in hopes that our greater understanding will advance as well. Millennials act in the same manner, always searching for cutting-edge ways to reach their goals more efficiently. For instance, Rosenstein touches on how the desire for the overall best is the reason for Snapchat. Some non-millennials are baffled by the idea of Snapchat. I’ve heard from my dad too many times, “What’s the point of sending faces back and forth?” Andrew believes that Snapchat is the most authentic form of communication, which is why millennials utilize it so often. In addition to sending a textual message, you can also pair it with a picture that expresses how you feel about what you’re saying. Better yet, you can even send a video to encapsulate everything into one message. Snapchat, along with every millennial targeted good or service, is constantly evolving in order to satisfy the generation’s desire for the most ideal way of expression. This is analogous to the evolution of science and scientific theory.

In addition, millennial and scientific nature thrive on collaboration. As Andrew Read explained, a scientific theory will only stand if it can hold it’s ground against an overwhelming amount of peer criticism. According to this research article, division of labor is an extremely important scientific strategy because each scientist can contribute a unique perspective and skillset to the group. Therefore, scientists usually work in teams. Likewise, so do millennials! Andrew Rosenstein makes a bold statement in his book pertaining to this idea, as it goes against the traditional idea that we must improve our weaknesses to be the best version of ourselves. Instead, he claims that people with the millennial mindset are more successful when they hyperfocus on their strengths and surround themselves with a circle of people to make up for their weaknesses. In essence, improving their weaknesses through sole collaboration.


Finally, millennials and scientists usually aren’t as widely appreciated as one would think. They constantly have to withstand harsh criticism, and prove their potential in order to gain the praise they deserve. On the first day of SC 200, Andrew asked if anyone could name a living scientist… the room went quiet. Scientists generally go unnoticed unless they propose or discover something that earns positive feedback from others. Furthermore, even the most revolutionary discoveries, breakthroughs, or theories face an extreme amount of condemnation. Thus, scientists are motivated by this peer criticism to acquire merit and recognition. The same goes for millennials, as they often are extremely misunderstood and underappreciated. For instance, Rosenstein relates this concept to the stereotype that millennials are addicted to technology. Non-millennials might argue that we are dangerously submerged in technology to the point where we are losing our sense of real communication. They would call social media “useless” and call us “lazy” or “self absorbed” for using it. In opposition, Andrew writes in A Millennial World that millennials have mastered the appropriate and resourceful utilization of technology. He claims that millennials actually turn to social media for “productive entertainment” and news. For example, this American Press Institute article states that 88% of millennials use Facebook as a medium for staying informed with the news. Therefore, they must prove this by showing non-millennials how their absorption in technology is a positive, keeping them more informed and allowing them to complete tasks more efficiently. Millennials, as well as scientists, work hard to defy the criticism they face in order to express their true power and influence.

Being aware of the strong correlation between the qualities that millennials and scientists embody should allow each and every SC 200 student to better understand what it means to be a scientist and the power of science as a whole. If you’re interested, you can learn more about A Millennial World: Understanding the Drive of a Rising Generation and purchase it on Amazon! It is an amazing read, and truly inspired me to be more in touch with my own millennial mindset.

Freshman 15: The Science Behind the Stigma

I’m a “live to eat” rather than a “eat to live” kind of girl. Thus, while college has changed my level of independence and responsibility, the toughest adjustment for me is the food. I cannot explain to you how desperately I long for a home cooked meincredible_freshman_15-front-largeal, something balanced and relatively healthy yet enjoyable. With my busy college schedule, I find myself opting for the unhealthy and “snacky” type of meal. Furthermore, all previous consideration
to my health vanishes when it comes to late night eating, and I’ll carelessly take a trip to D.P. Dough or Gumby’s to satisfy greasy cravings. It all comes down to one thing: the
freshman fifteen. The infamous theory that college kids are doomed for a depressing weight gain due to their mediocre habits. I wonder, what is the science behind this stigma?

In my effort to analyze the freshman fifteen phenomenon, the first piece of valuable insight I came across was a Huffington Post Blog that actually featured an interview with Penn State nutritionists. Thus, a very relevant source of information pertaining to the question at hand. The Penn State dietary gurus shared that a possible explanation for the freshman weight gain was the fact that most dining halls are buffet style. They shared how the freedom of choice paired with the unlimited access to food causes students to either make unhealthy dining decisions or to over-portion their meals. Melissa Hendricks, one of the Penn State University dietitians mentioned in the blog, described how many students take advantage of the constant opportunity to consume foods that were previously eaten only occasionally. While I strongly agree with her claim, it also made me think about my own dining hall, Findlay Commons. It is currently under construction, so there is only a la carte options rather than a traditional buffet. So, why do I still feel like my choices aren’t healthy? Well, I believe I don’t need a professional Penn State dietitian to answer this one. The first thing I remember learning in my elementary science and health classes is the food pyramid, which required that we have an adequate amount of each food group in each meal in order to make that a healthy decision. However, Findlay Commons does not set me up for success according to the food pyramid. If I choose the salad bar at Findlay, I don’t get a good enough serving of protein. If I opt for the Italian food section, I am missing out on my vital vegetables. Then, I am becoming a part of the 66% of adults who fall short of the recommended amount of vegetables each day, according to a Kansas State University article. Therefore, while the buffet style dining promotes overeating and unhealthy options, the a la carte option promotes an unbalanced diet. Each meal, I am choosing which food group I am in the mood to sacrifice. Both dining systems are flawed, and I believe both contribute partially to why college students gain weight in their freshman year.


In addition, many experts claim that the freshman fifteen can be attributed to the increase in stress levels for freshman students. As I have witnessed, the adjustment to college life has been a rollercoaster of emotions. On my first day at Penn State, I actually jumped up and down with excitement and hysterically cried of depression within the same five minutes. From the same Huffington post blog mentioned earlier, a Penn State nutritionist, Alison Borkowska, commented on how stressful college adjustments can in turn cause weight gain. For example, she discusses the increase in strict scheduling that overwhelms most students, causing them to binge eat out of stress. Similarly, a Psychology Today article shares the details of an intuitive research project done by Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management Cornell University that alludes to stress being a catalyst for the freshman fifteen. The research team discovered that students ate more of what they defined as “unhealthy
snacks” than “healthy snacks” during the week leading up to final exams. In other words, the week containing the highest stress levels for the student population. This also aligns with information presented in the 2013 publication of The National College Health Assessment, which declared that 46.3% of surveyed students expressed feelings of inundation in terms of the increase in their college responsibilities and stress levels. Therefore, it seems that the newfound stress that comes with transitioning into college is a clear explanation for the freshman15myth_amanda_jpegfreshman fifteen.

The final cause of the freshman fifteen that I explored was one of the most popular college habits… late night eating. As college students, our bedtimes are not as strict as when our parents set them for us. Furthermore, after late nights of studying or spending time with friends, we usually feel in need of some fuel. However, this Washington Post article explains that the closer you eat to bedtime, the more likely your body will store those calories as fat rather than burning them as energy. In addition, scientists have performed various studies on the reaction of animal bodies to late night eating, which revealed that how the body processes food late at night varies do to a variety of factors. Director of the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences at Oregon Health & Science University, Steven Shea, explains that “body temperature, biochemical reactions, hormone levels, physical activity and absorption and digestion of food” all fluctuate when one eats out of rhythm, in this case late at night. However, studies also have noted that there is a confounding variable in the correlation between late night eating and weight gain. Usually, people tend to crave calorie rich foods the later they eat, which would account for the greater calorie intake. 

Overall, the freshman fifteen can be attributed to a plethora of factors. While the dining options throughout campus are unlimited and unbalanced, I believe the primary cause of the freshman fifteen is psychological. The stress and responsibility of adjusting to the collegiate lifestyle is such a prominent source of the tendency to overeat. Furthermore, student brains give into the temptations of college culture, such as late night cravings and unhealthy choices.


Picture found here


How to Get Your Physics Grade Bumped Up to an A

Hi class! I’m Hannah Stern, and I am from Plymouth Meeting PA (right outside of Philadelphia). I plan on majoring in marketing with a minor in statistics in order to go into the field of market research. Therefore, I will admit to a slight appreciation for the data and analysis side of science. The reason I fell in love with the statistics is because my brain is wired to search for reason. I enjoy the challenge of looking for creative insight that will explain one’s curiosity, so much to the point where I did an entire independent research project on statistics which you can check out HERE. This is why I was attracted to SC 200. From the course description, I feel like this course looks at science through a critical and analytical lens similar to statistical reasoning.

However, here is my pitfall with science: you can’t see gravity. You can’t have a conversation with a planet in order to draw conclusions about the universe. In business, you can use insight from other people and past experience to fill the void of the unknown. On the contrary, all of the scientific exposure I have had thus far has been too abstract and uncertain for my mental capacity. After failing my first physics test as a junior in high school, I approached my teacher and said “I am willing to put in as much work and time to succeed in this class, but I am almost positive that my brain just doesn’t work like this.” I studied tirelessly, and stayed after countless hours trying to comprehend concepts that flew so far over my head. It got to the point where my teacher would give me extra online practice problems out of pity to make up for my mediocre test results. In the end, he bumped my grade up to an A for
the insane effort I showed. It was a GPA miracle, but an obvious sign that a science major is not the right path for me. To some people, thinking in circles about the “what if” is fascinating. To me, it’s a headache. In all honestly, when Andrew used the “black cat in a room” analogy to describe science in class on Tuesday, I felt a mini anxiety attack coming on. Science is just not my thing, but I am open minded and excited to build an appreciation for it in SC 200!