Author Archives: Lauren Hile

Reading On a Screen vs. Reading in Print


(photo)                                                             (photo)

Our generation was born into the digital generation. We were around when the first iPad and iPhone came out, grew-up learning how to be tech savvy and generally prefer technology over print sources. That being said, is there a difference between reading notes or textbooks in print than on a computer or our phones? Do we really learn better reading from print, or does it not matter in the long run?

Of course, there are some dangers and health concerns with reading on screens. These include computer vision syndrome, which is when you are on the computer for long periods of time and causes symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, strained and dry eyes, blurred vision, and neck and shoulder pain. Light from screens is also known to suppress the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone produced to help regulate sleep.

There have been countless studies on the effects that computer screens have on learning material. Most of these studies, such as this one and this one, came to the conclusion that we are not able to retain information from screens as well as we are able to retain information from print sources, citing the backlight of the computer as decreasing our concentration levels.

This study, though, came to the conclusion that reading from a computer is just as good as reading print, rejecting the null hypothesis. They conducted experiments with 615 altogether measuring proofreading skills on the computer and then in print. They measured the accuracy of proofreading on the computer an in print, the reading speed on the computer and in print and the eyestrain score. In each experiment the computer proved to be better or equal to the print in terms of their proofreading skills. The eyestrain scores were considerably lower for the computer readings than the readings done in print, as seen in the graphs below, which can be found in the link to the study.



As for the experimental design itself, there were pros and cons. The pro was that there were 615 participants, so the scope of the study was relatively large. While this many participants can’t obviously account for the whole population, it is larger than some studies in the past have been. As we have learned, large studies have a greater chance of yielding correct results. The con was that this experiment was neither a randomized or blind trial. There was no control group because each participant preformed both tasks of reading the online text (which would have been the experimental group) and the print text (which would have been the control group). Because the trial wasn’t blind, the participants knew what they were going to be tested for. This might have had an impact on the results because the participants might have subconsciously tried to do better on the computer than on the print because they knew what the null hypothesis was.

An article on Medical Daily listed some cons of reading on a screen. They said that we don’t generally take in as much information when we read online, accepting the same null hypothesis listed in the first two studies above, according to this study. Although there were only 72 participants in this study, it was a randomized control trial, unlike the previous study mentioned above, which might make it less prone to error. As mentioned in the second paragraph, looking at screens before you go to bed lessens your melatonin and takes longer for you to fall asleep. Medical Daily also did another article on how screens affect melatonin, here. It would be interesting to do a study to see if people who grew up using screens for the majority of their lives are less inclined to lose melatonin when they are using screens before bed because they might be immune to it.

Overall, it is still up in the air about whether we can learn better on screens or not, although most of the evidence points towards no, we can’t. Even if we can learn better on screens, there are so many side effects to constantly looking at a computer or cellphone that it might not be worth it in the long run.

Practice Tests: The Secret to Success



I remember towards the beginning of the year we had to take the plagiarism test an earn a perfect score on it in order to have a chance of passing the class. We were all a little upset with the fact that once we took the test we were not given the right answers and had to take it several times to achieve 100%. He said that there was logic behind his decision in not giving us the right answers—that the more we take the test and practice the material, the more we will think about it, and the more we will learn it and remember it in the long run. Well, according to several studies, Andrew was completely correct.

A study published in Science by Karpicke and Blunt sought to experiment on the hypothesis that practicing retrieval of the information (such as taking practice tests on the information) is the best way to learn science material and remember it in the long-term.



The Experiment

The experiment was an observational study of 80 students split in four different groups, learning a given science text different ways. Group 1 studied the given text in one period. Group 2 studied the text in two periods. Group 3 studied for a period of time and then created a concept map. Group 4 studied for a period of time and then took a recall test. When each group was done studying they took a short answer test consisting of verbatim (recall) questions and inference questions.

The Results

Out of the four groups, group 4, who studied for a period of time and then took a recall test produced the best results overall on the test, earning the best scores on the verbatim questions and inference questions. Group 2, who did a repeated study of the material, earned the best scores on the metacognitive predictions. In contrast, out of all of the groups, group 4 did the worse on the metacognitive predictions.



 The Findings:

The results of this experiment support the hypothesis that practicing retrieval of the information is the best way to learn science material and remember it in the long-term as there was a correlation between the number of correct answers on a test and using the practice test method of studying. Although the material that was being learned was science text, these findings might be able to be extrapolated to texts of other subjective courses such as math and languages.

Another study by researchers at Kent State University conducted a similar experiment and got the same outcomes as the one mentioned above. Their findings concluded that summarizing and highlighting the text, studying keywords, using imagery and rereading do not, in fact, help students study and learn the information. Practice tests of the material proved to increase the students’ grades.

Although there is no found mechanism of why practice tests work as the best way for studying, it would make the most sense that they improve test scores because we are better able to retain the information and we can better consolidate the information in our brains.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve used the website Quizlet, which lets you create virtual flashcards and study them in different ways, including practice tests. I use this website for all of my classes that test subjectively and always feel like I learn the material much better than if I reread my textbooks or notes. It’s also great if you’re slow at writing out flashcards by hand.

So the next time you have the choice between rereading your textbook and making flashcards, choose the one that is proven to work!



Sleep and Studying



I’ve always thought that studying during the day was the best time to study—I’m awake and alert and can focus on my work pretty well. There have been studies, though, that prove night time studying—or studying right before you fall asleep—are the most beneficial times to study.

An article published by Dr. Jessica D. Payne in 2011 hypothesized that nighttime studying was the best time to study. The article explains that there are two steps towards remembering something: the encoding of the information in our memory and the consolidation of information in our memory. Encoding happens when a piece of information is constructed with the goal of being stored in our brain so we remember it and can recall it at a later point.  Memory consolidation, on the other hand, is the stabilization of new information in long-term memory and is essential to remembering facts in the long-term.

This is where sleep plays a crucial part in our memories. According to her research, Dr. Payne said that sleep helps to consolidate memories. In fact, it may be the best thing we can do to consolidate them. She said that learning new skills are learned slowly over time and not learned all at once during the studying period, and sleep helps with consolidating these new skills. You can’t just sit down and learn something that takes time and is complicated in one night. Your brain needs time to let all of the information sink in until you can really say you’ve learned it. As shown in the article, sleep can recreate and re-solidify these memories differently than when we learned them, which can help us remember them better in the long run.

A study published by Dr. Payne and six other scientists outline an experiment they did which supports the hypothesis that sleep helps consolidate memories.

The Study

The participants in this observational study were given word pairs to study and were tested 30 minutes, 12 hours and 24 hours later with several training and retesting intervals throughout that time. It looked like this:



It was found that participants who studied at 9pm and then went to sleep performed much better on the test they took twelve hours later than the other participants who either took the test directly after they studied, or studied a full 24 hours before they took the test.


The findings of this study agreed with the null hypothesis that sleeping right after studying helps consolidate memories and will therefore help you to do better on tests. According to the null hypothesis, the mechanism is pretty straight forward: sleep is what makes our memories consolidate.

If this hypothesis turned out the be wrong, the results might actually yield a false positive. If the results showed that studying at night proved to be no less beneficial or even less beneficial than studying during the day, the the null hypothesis would turn into an alternative hypothesis. This alternative hypothesis would state that studying at night has to positive effect on overall learning and memorization of the subject being studied.

Sleep is invaluable, not only because the health benefits it provides, but also because our brains need a rest to process everything that we are learning. Of course, this probably isn’t an excuse to stay up late to study and only get a few hours of sleep because of the sleep we actually need to help process what we just learned, but it’s amazing what our brains can actually do when we let them work.

The Curve of Forgetting




The curve of forgetting states that there is a correlation between the amount of time between learning material and reviewing it and how well one preforms on a test. This theory states that if we review material that we learned that day, we will remember up to 80% of what we learned.

It had never occurred to me before that we can actually lose information after a few days, but according to this study, if we review material that we learned in the same day, we will remember it 80% of it. A longitudinal study that was conducted over 60 years starting in 1880 proved this theory, and a replicate of this randomized control study conducted recently proved the findings to be correct. In this study, they had a random group of people memorize a list of vocabulary and relearn the list either 20 minutes later, one hour later, nine hours later, one day later, two days later, six days later, or 31 days later. The results show that the people who reviewed the material that same day and studied it over a longer period of time answered more accurately than the people who studied days later.



This experiment proved that the sooner we study after we learn the material, the less time we will have to put in studying later on, and the more accurate we will perform on our tests.

Although there is no mechanism for this hypotheses stated in this study, since the data was replicated very similarly to the previous study, the results can be viewed as legitimate. This replicated results also can prove a correlation between the time between learning the material and how much we remember from it.



Another study, though, provides a theory for the mechanism of forgetting in our short-term memory. According to the study, memory, as well as forgetting, are controlled through the balance between two different proteins, called kinases and phosphatases. Because memory is controlled by kinases and forgetting are controlled by phosphatases, scientists believe that the two combined leads to forgetting in our short-term memory.

Another theory of why we forget is the decay theory of forgetting. This theory states that we forget because a certain amount of time has passed since we learned something. It also states that we can only remember the information we just learned after 15 to 30 seconds, unless we “rehearse” or study the information later. This also supports and is in agreement with the curve of forgetting because they both state that the longer we go after learning the information, the more we will forget it.

After I read these two studies and researched this theory, I was pretty discouraged. Who has the time to sit down and study what they learned day after day and week after week? According to Jim Roth, though, the more times we learn new information, and the more time we “touch” this information (like review and study it), the better it will become part of our permanent memory, such as our name or our phone number. He also suggested using flashcards whenever we can. This way the information is more accessible and we can bring them with us wherever we go. (Not that we’ll bring them with us everywhere we go, but you know what I mean.) This also means that the information will trickle into our brains a little at a time, which is the best way to learn, according to Jim Roth.

The Science Behind Motivation




It’s getting to that time in the school year when the novelty of new classes and new friends is wearing off. We’re all feeling lethargic and low on energy as we’re studying for midterms and writing more papers. We don’t feel motivated anymore—or maybe we never did to begin with. Nevertheless, I think we can all agree that if we were more motivated about school it would be a lot easier to get our work done sooner and more efficiently. So why can’t we? What is the science behind motivation that is holding us back from doing our best?

This came as a surprise to me, but what motivates us is the chemical dopamine.  In 2012, a study was published by two psychology professors at the University of Connecticut that explained their findings on the function of dopamine. According to their findings, dopamine should no longer be considered as a “reward” chemical because dopamine is a much more diverse chemical found at the root of motivation.

According to a study from researchers at a university in Spain, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that, at its core, motivates us to act. It is the most basic chemical that is released to tell us how to react to a situation, either positively or negatively.

Another study published by Michael Treadway and David Zald of Vanderbilt University in 2012 also proved that dopamine is connected with motivation, and went even deeper in their study. Using a PET scan, they scanned the brains of highly motivational people and less motivational people. They found that dopamine was found in the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex of the brain in the people who were highly motivational and in the anterior insula in the people who were less motivational. This study is significant in the science behind motivation because, as Treadway said, “this study provides new information about how dopamine determines individual differences in the behavior of human reward-seekers.”

So what does all of this mean? It means that scientists have found the mechanism behind motivation: dopamine; and have rejected the null hypotheses that dopamine is only associated with pleasure.

According to this article, lack of motivation, or procrastination, can be attributed to an emotional coping mechanism. When we procrastinate we put ourselves at the present time ahead of ourselves in the future. Most of the time we use avoidance to cope with our emotions, which can quickly turn into procrastination. This can also be attributed to a lack of regulation skills.

So what can we do to be more motivated? According to neurologist Dr. Willis, the best thing to do is rewire our brains and set tangible goals. These goals can be unrelated to school work, such as goals related to physical activity or learning a new hobby. The more we meet these other goals, the more our brains will train to meet every goal we set, including those related to schoolwork.

Related to that, Pychyl said that the most important thing to do is set little goals, as in breaking our work into several parts, so we don’t feel overwhelmed with one big assignment.

Related to that, Thomas W. Malone and Mark R. Lepper have discovered that creating incentives for yourself actually backfires. As hard is this may seem to comprehend, according to the two psychologists, doing the tasks is a reward in itself and the only reward we should need. That seems pretty tough to wrap our minds around, because it is going against our basic human nature. But this also ties in with how dopamine is the mechanism behind motivation. Because it is considered a “reward” chemical, us just being motivated to do something should be enough incentive for us to do it. So the next time you’re writing a paper or studying for a test, remember that your brain has the capabilities to reward itself without an outside incentive.



Giraffes: Four Different Species?



What was to be a simple study conducted by a team of geneticists at a biodiversity research center in Germany turned into one of the largest discoveries of the decade: there are four different species of giraffes.

The study published September 8, 2016 by Current Biology explains how there are really four giraffe species, instead of one, like was thought all along. After analyzing different giraffes from different parts of Africa in order to figure out how giraffe populations differ in different parts of the continent, they found that there are actually four separate species of giraffes: the Masai giraffe, the reticulated giraffe, the southern giraffe and the northern giraffe. According to Janke, a scientist at a biodiversity research center, the different species of giraffes can be looked at like the different species of bears, such as polar bears or brown bears. So yes, while all giraffes might look they same, they are, in fact, very different.

It could be that the different genes they discovered weren’t a correlation to the subspecies, like was thought previously, but instead they caused the discovery of the different species.

What is shocking about this discovery is the fact that, according to Victoria Gill, none of these four species of giraffes have not crossed genetics for millions of years, and each have adapted to their different environments.

Although this is an exciting discovery, the discovery leads to very bad news: because there are now different species of giraffes, these species are now even more endangered than the previously known one giraffe species was. According to the GCF, the population of giraffes has dropped more than 50,000 in the past thirty years. The numbers look even worse as we zoom in on each individual species of giraffes. There are less than 4,750 northern giraffes and less than 8,700 reticulated giraffes.

There are many endangered mammals in the world, including jaguars, lions, and the red panda, among many others, but according to the new findings on the amounts of different species of giraffes, they are now considered one of the most endangered mammals in the world.

Although this sounds like, and is, terrible news, it actually might be helpful in helping protect giraffes. Because each of the different giraffe species counts as a completely different species from each other, they are even more endangered than they were as a whole, which will help them to receive even more funds and support, according to Dr. Julian Fennessy of GCF. This is especially important because giraffes as a whole are not considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.


The Science Behind Yoga: Does It Really Do Anything?



When I think of yoga, my mind tends to think about stay-at-home moms who drop their kids off at school, go to yoga class, and then go out to brunch with their girl friends. The concept of yoga has introduced itself into society as the “cool” way to get a workout and relax all at the same time. But what if it’s really all that it’s cracked up to be? Of course, going for a run or swimming laps in the pool have great benefits, but for us slightly less athletic and less coordinated people, there’s good news: yoga has its benefits, and they don’t just include weight loss of that pesky freshman ‘15. Yoga has amazing effects on our body as a whole, from managing stress to boosting our immune system to curing addiction.

Yoga has been around for nearly 5,000 years, and everyone that has practiced it has felt its benefits, but why? What is the mechanism behind why yoga makes us feel better and calmer?

Our brains are so complex that scientists haven’t even begun to tap into their power, but one thing that scientists have been able to figure out, though, is the connection between our brain chemistry and yoga.

According to Uplift, we have two “sides” to our brain, the emotional brain and the logical brain. The emotional brain’s job is to initiate stress and the response to stress which causes adrenaline and cortisol to soar through our bloodstreams. (These are not good things to have in our bloodstream, but I’ll explain that later.) Then we have the logical brain, which tries to turn off the emotional brain’s stress response. People who are very logical thinkers have a very easy time turning off and managing their emotional brain, but for those of us who are ruled by our emotions, if feels like there’s no end in sight when it sets off. This is where yoga can come in: We can physically manipulate our brains’ responses to situations by practicing yoga on a regular basis.

We have these sort of “pressure points” throughout our body, which can be triggered or signaled depending on how we stretch our body. When we bend forwards to touch our toes, or backwards to see behind us, these “switches” in our neck turn on our stress response signal, or our emotional brain. Our logical brain, then, has to overcome this stress in order to stay balanced. The more we train our logical brain like this, the easier it will be in the future for our logical brain to take over our emotional brain in times of stress and help us calm down.

According to Stephen Cope, the head the program “Yoga and the Brain” at the Institute for Extraordinary LIving, yoga can also help our nervous system. The nervous system, responsible for the “fight or flight” response to stress produces the hormone cortisol, “which not only fuels our split-second stress reactions,” but can cause severe damage to our bodies when we are continually stressed. Reducing cortisol has it’s many benefits, including lower stress levels and a healthier immune system.

Among helping our nervous system and controlling our stress, yoga has countless other benefits as well, including reducing inflammation, helping with and sometimes even curing addiction, and enlarging the number of our brain cells, according to the Art of Living. According to Paula R. Pullen, yoga has the ability to positively influence the smallest of molecules which can help later in on in diagnosing the risk for many serious diseases.

For those of us who thought yoga was only for stay-at-home moms, we need to re-think this type of exercise and relaxation. The benefits are numerous. Not only does it just help with managing stress, but it can also helps heal countless other ailments.



Effects of Secondhand Smoke

Like most people who don’t smoke cigarettes, I don’t especially like the smell of cigarette smoke. I find it hard to breathe when I am around it and hard to stop smelling it when I finally move away from someone who was smoking. Living on campus for the past two weeks has proved to me one thing—LOTS of people smoke on campus, something I wasn’t expecting. What I really wasn’t expecting, though, was smelling it in my dorm room. My room overlooks a loading dock, and while the loading dock technically isn’t a designated smoking area, students utilize it that way. I’m counting down the days until it will be cool enough to keep my window closed and the smell of smoke out, but until then I’ll been concerned about how much secondhand smoke I would actually have to inhale before it caused me any damage.

According to the CDC, second hand smoke is the smoke from a cigarette mixed with the smoke that smokers breathe out. Most people (me included, until now) think that it might not actually cause a problem, but it’s only problematic because of the smell. According to the American Cancer Society, though, smokers and secondhand smokers are inhaling the same chemicals. The most popular places for adults to acquire second hand smoke is at work and in public areas, making Penn State the perfect environment for it.  



When secondhand smokers breathe in smoke, they inhale nicotine and other various toxic chemicals like smokers do. The CDC says that second hand smoke contains more that 7,000 chemicals, 70 of which are cancer causing and can also cause asthma attacks, respiratory infections and ear infections, as well as more severe problems such as cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). The American Cancer Society says that there are also some cases of secondhand smoke being linked to the throat and voice box, among other illnesses. According to, secondhand smoke has killed approximately 3,000 adults each year because of lung cancer. Second hand smoke can also increase the changes by 20 to 30% of a non smoker getting lung cancer. 

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It should be noted that the cancer causing chemicals in secondhand smoke is only caused by direct smoke, meaning that any lingering smoke or smell does not have chemicals in it and can therefore not be harmful, according to recent studies by the American Cancer Society. Residual tobacco smoke, or thirdhand smoke, though, could be a larger problem. Thirdhand smoke refers to the smoke particles that settle into dust on surfaces and, when combined with gases, in the air, create chemicals that can cause cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Although it hasn’t been proven yet to actually cause cancer, it can be very harmful for children and babies.

So what can be done about it? Of course, the only thing that can be done to completely eradicate it would be to ban smoking, which won’t happen. There are some immediate fixes, though. According to Live Smoke Free, there are tons of short-term solutions that can be done to stop the spread of smoke. They suggest padding and sealing electrical outlets, light switches and baseboards because smoke can travel through small openings. There are also strips which can be put around windows and doors to keep the smoke out. One of the most important things, and one of the solutions that actually works in my opinion, is to run a fan or an air purifier. An air purifier takes the dust and particles from the air, which could have remnants of cancerous causing chemicals.

Although it’s hard to change the environment around us, being informed about how it affects our health is very important. Learning how to deal with secondhand smoke and stop the spread of it is one of the only ways to keep ourselves healthy against it.

Science is NOT for me

Hi everyone! My name is Lauren Hile and I am from State College. (Long way from home, right?) I am a freshman in the college of communications, studying journalism. I chose Penn State, not because it is so close to home (this is my least favorite part about it), but because we have an amazing communications department, and my parents work here, so I couldn’t really justify tuition elsewhere.

I’ve never really liked science or math (even though my mom is a math teacher and my dad is an engineer). I would much rather write a paper or learn a different language than figure out math or science questions. I had ok-ish science teachers throughout middle school and high school, but none of them ever stuck out as my favorite teachers. I didn’t really get much out of the classes that I could use in everyday life, as opposed to my English or Government classes. I’m taking SC 200 for the obvious reason that I need a gen ed, but I am really looking forward to this class. I really like how Andrew will teach the class things that we personally want to know and are curious about. In my past science classes, especially chemistry, I was told that it was the most important thing I would ever learn in my life (which is hard to believe, considering I don’t remember any of it now and have no use to remember any of it anyway), so I like how this class is set up so that while it might not be the most important lessons we learn here at Penn State, we can still use what we learn and actually apply it to our lives.

That being said, I think the world around us is beautiful and amazing. I love the outdoors so I would love to know more about ecosystems and the environment. Here  is an article of the four ecosystems found in Pennsylvania. The picture below is of the falls at Rickets Glenn State Park, my favorite place to hike.