Author Archives: Molly Mccarthy Tompson

Thanksgiving: “Food Coma”


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I’m sure you’re familiar with the post-Thanksgiving dinner urge to take a long, long nap. After stuffing our faces with turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, bread, stuffing, gravy, pie, and whatever else we can fit on our plates and into our stomachs, it is likely that you’ll find your Aunt Sue or Cousin Joey slumped on the couch (that is, if you’re not asleep first).

Is the infamous Thanksgiving Food Coma caused by overindulgence, or the tryptophan-in-turkey myth I’ve always heard about?

Or are neither of those things causes? What if it’s an old wive’s tale that people tend to feel tired, causing a placebo-effect (where people think and convince themselves that they’re tired?) What if it’s actually some third confounding variable, like cooking and cleaning all day to please your family, or feeling stressed while answering the interrogative questions your in-laws pose that makes you tired?

According to Rhianon Davies of Health Library (copyright of EBSCO 2016), there are a variety of foods that contain tryptophan (and tryptophan does actually induce sleepiness). Tryptophan transforms into serotonin once it enters the body, and serotonin can make you tired.  However, it is unlikely that consuming some turkey at Thanksgiving along with tons and tons of other foods (sides and appetizers and desserts, or whatever else you eat) would contain enough concentrated tryptophan to actually make someone tired. Simon Young, a research scientist from McGill University in Montreal, conducted studies and concluded that having a couple of servings of turkey on Thanksgiving will not cause you to fall asleep at the table.

A Huffington Post Article suggests that confounding variables like jet lag or tiredness from traveling and stress might actually also increase one’s Thanksgiving Day exhaustion. The article also describes how fattening, sugary foods (foods we all tend to eat on Thanksgiving) result in a  nerve response that calms our bodies down so they can digest. The article also alludes to research that shows that human glucose levels change and increase significantly after such overindulgence, and orexin, a protein, is created that makes us drowsy. Insulin also increases after such a meal, and serotonin (also mentioned in the Health Library Article above) increases, making us, again, tired.


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So, in conclusion, the tryptophan in turkey alone is not enough to make us tired after our ginormous Thanksgiving dinners. But, it is not necessarily a myth that we feel tired. Overindulgence can lead to a lot of chemical and hormonal changes in the body that induce drowsiness, and confounding variables actually are also partially to blame, There is no determined single cause of our Thanksgiving drowsiness, but I’m sure we all can agree that it is really there, and there are many reasons why.

Why Do Cold People Shiver?

I’m sure pretty much everyone, especially here at Penn State, is familiar with the discomfort of going outside and being so cold that your body involuntarily shakes. Just thinking about such icy temperatures sends a chill down my spine. But why do we shiver? Why do our teeth chatter?

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Allan Hemingway of the Department of Physiology, The Medical School, University of California at Los Angeles, California, in an APS Physiological Reviews journal, wrote an article and conducted a study about shivering. Shivering is, according to the article, a defense mechanism for when the body is endangered by cold temperatures. Our bodies are trying to protect themselves from hypothermia. It is an involuntary action that occurs with body systems and parts that people usually use intentionally, which is interesting. Oxygen intake increases when people shiver, as mentioned in another study Hemingway alludes to in the article.

Hemingway conducted a study on animals (including people) to measure their shivering in both quantitative and qualitative ways–both numerical and conceptual non-numeric ways. For example, metabolic rates were compared between neutral temperatures and exposure to cold with a shivering response. This is qualitative data.  Shivering was also measured by visual cues, mechanical methods, and EMG (Electromyograms).

The study found that shivering was different from animal to animal. For examples, rabbits with thick fur coats were much less inclined to shiver at all compared to people when exposed to severe cold. There were also different temperatures at which animals started to shiver. Rats were also most likely to not shiver, but to control and warm up their bodies in alternative ways (non shivering thermogenesis).

This study is observational and likely does not suffer from the Texas Sharpshooter Problem or the File Drawer Problem.

Teens Health suggests that the hypothalamus in our brains regulates our body temperature. It signifies when we should sweat from being too hot or shiver from being too cold. By shivering, we are converting energy stored in our bodies to heat.

According to Wouter Van Marken Litchenbelt, author of Cold Exposure–an approach to increasing energy expenditure in humans in Vol 25 Issue 4 of Science & Society of Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, obesity is caused by more caloric intake than energy expenditure. In other words–people eat entirely more than they burn off. Someone who eats a family sized bag of chips and lays on the couch in front of the TV all day is someone who probably consumes more than they work off with exercise. There have been suggestions to implement exposure to the cold to help people to expend more energy and increase their metabolic rates. People shiver when they get too cold. The subtle shaking and jerky movements that occur from shivering help people to use up energy and generate heat. An obese person who is subjected to shivering will start to use up more energy, and possibly lose some weight!

So it seems that shivering is one of the many ways our bodies are always protecting and defending themselves. It’s cool that we have so many defense mechanisms that we don’t even have to think about in order for them to happen.

Does Marriage Correlate With Happiness?

Anyone who’s been in a relationship knows–there are ups and downs. Good times and bad. That’s why wedding vows require you to promise that you’ll stick with someone “for better or for worse.” But, as we see in so many movies and hear in so many stories, it seems that true love is the ultimate end goal for so many people. So many people spend much of their lives seeking true companionship. So: are relationships really the key to happiness?


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In an article called Does marriage make people happy, or do happy people get married? in the Journal of Socio-Economics by Alois Stutter and Bruno S. Frey, this question is explored exactly. In fact, this examines whether this hypothesized correlational/causal relationship might have reverse causality. The article discusses a multitude of surveys that indicate that with marriage comes increased physical and psychological well-being. While it is a relatively subjective question, it has been found that marriage has a direct correlation with happiness, regardless of gender. However, it seems that difference in happiness between married people and single people has become smaller.

In a longitudinal study to examine whether happiness led to marriage or marriage led to happiness, people were asked to rate their overall happiness/satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10 over a period of time, and people were asked separately if they started the sample single and then got married during the period. The question asked intended to incorporate both a socioeconomic and a general emotional sense of well-being.

One table of data from the study was relatively inconclusive–confounding variables such as employment/unemployment or children, might have contributed to the well-being of participants, and therefore it was impossible to determine if marriage alone made people happier. In a second set of data, it was found that having children slightly increased happiness. A longitudinal observational study conducted in Germany between the years of 1984 and 2000 showed more conclusive results, where people who married eventually were generally happier and more satisfied than people who remained single.

Another study in the article shows that the years leading up to and at the beginning of marriage came with higher happiness and satisfaction than times later in the marriage (the happiness line on the graph increased and then decreased). Also, people who married and stayed married tended to be happier than people who married and later divorced.

In conclusion, married people and people who expected to marry were simply happier than people who were to remain single.

Another article on Psychology Today by Sonja Lyubomirsky Ph.D. examines and discusses that the relationship is both causal and reverse causal. That is, being married increases our likelihood of being happy, but happy people are also more likely to get married in the first place. And, her article enforces the idea that the difference between happiness of married and single people gets smaller over time; the more time people are married, the less likely they are to be more happy than single people.

I’ve always pictured myself getting married and having lots of children. So, even if it isn’t for the entirety of the marriage (according to studies), confirming that marriage does lead to happiness is a comforting idea.


Peanut Problems

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Almost daily I find myself twisting the lid off of my Skippy peanut butter jar. Peanut butter, one of my favorite foods, is such a common food and ingredient in a variety of things. My mother always says, “I never knew anyone with peanut allergies when I was a kid. Now, it’s like everyone has them.” (An anecdote). I know of many cafeterias where peanuts/peanut butter are banned altogether.

Peanut allergies are, it seems, an extremely common problem. As many people know, peanut allergies could be fatal or extremely serious. There are a variety of symptoms from hives to swelling and closing of the tongue/throat.

So what really is the cause of peanut allergies? Are they actually rising in prevalence?

According to a journal article in The Lancet, by Professor A Wesley Burks, the peanut allergy is, in fact, an increasing problem. There was an approximate 3.2% rise in peanut allergy prevalence between the years of 1989 and 1995 according to a study conducted in the UK, the article states. Over 3 million Americans are allergic to peanuts.

The article suggests that there is an increase in peanut allergies for multiple reasons. One theory is that when children are not exposed to potential allergens enough when they’re young, they’re likely to develop allergies. Interestingly, the article goes on to suggest that allergies are developed to foods that children eat more frequently during their childhoods. Another theory is that the preparation of peanuts before they are consumed could cause different chemical and metabolic reactions that might cause allergies. A third theory the article discusses is that skin-exposure to peanuts when children or babies are very young could cause peanut allergies.

The article discussed a multitude of studies to which the results were extremely hard to come out the same again. So, it is very hard to determine why peanut allergies are on the rise. But, they definitely are.

Interestingly, in contrast, The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, a random survey was conducted (observational study) and an increase in peanut allergy prevalence among children was detected between the years of 2002 and 2008. However, the increase was not determined as statistically significant.

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Jane E. Brody of The New York Times discusses multiple studies that suggest that fetal exposure to peanuts during pregnancy might actually immunize them from peanut allergies, contrary to the ideas of the past in which people thought early exposure actually caused allergies to develop. A study conducted followed over 8,000 children. 140 of them were allergic to peanuts. Mothers who ate nuts at least 5 times per month were the ones who had the children that were least likely to develop the allergy. Dr. Rushi Gapta, referred to in the article, went on to suggest that a there were studies conducted where neglecting to eat nuts during pregnancy actually increased likelihood of the allergy, even further than suggesting that simply consuming nuts would decrease risk. Other studies tested the same thing, but with other allergens. Cow’s milk and eggs were both tested. It turns out that earlier exposure correlated with decreased risk of allergy for each. *Perhaps this comparison could suffer from the Texas-Sharpshooter Fallacy! 

In conclusion, scientists’ ideas about peanut allergies have changed. Where they used to think that early exposure caused allergies, they have conducted studies and done research that suggests otherwise: that early exposure increases tolerance to allergens and decreases likelihood of developing the allergy. The peanut allergy has been found to be on the rise.


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HPV and Cervical Cancer


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After our discussion of the Gardasil vaccine in class on Thursday, November 3, I could not stop thinking about how common it is for people to contract HPV. The statistics we heard about in class were absolutely appalling and disturbing to me. I thought of a lot of questions:

+Is HPV the main cause of cervical cancer? My hypothesis: the main cause of cervical cancer is HPV.

+Is HPV more common in women or men? I was a bit confused after class–I want to know which sex is more likely to have HPV and why. My hypothesis is that women are more likely to contract or have HPV. 

+How many strains of HPV does Gardasil protect against? I am unfamiliar with specific details about the Gardasil vaccine. 

According to a study  Journal of the National Cancer Institute, there are over twenty different strains of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. Gathered from over 22 countries, 1000 different cancerous specimens were tested, where 25 different cancer-causing strains of HPV were detected.

This is an observational study because HPV was not randomly allocated to participants; each of the people who sent in cancerous specimens already had HPV, and the scientists were examining causes.

HPV was found in 93% of the cancerous tumors and only the remaining 7% of cancerous tumors of the cervix did not contain some form of HPV. This is a number even higher than I was expecting. Different strains of HPV were more common in specific geographical locations, for example, HPV 45 was found mostly in Africa, according to the study. The study concludes by indicating that HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer.

It is unlikely that this type of study suffers from the file drawer problem or the Texas sharpshooter problem.

According to  Epidemiology of Genital Human Papillomavirus Infection in the American Journal of Medicine, the risk of cervical cancer was 8.6/ 100,000 people between 1988 and 1992. HPV 16 seemed to cause cervical cancer the most. The FDA shows statistics that cervical cancer is among the most common cancers of women and is the cause of over two hundred thousand deaths annually. The FDA also states that, among sexually active Americans, HPV is the most common STI.

In that journal it was also found that the most likely people to be infected with HPV are (sexually active) women under 25 years of age.

According to Maura L. Gillison, MD, PhD , Oral HPV is actually more prevalent in males than females. Approximately 7% of males and approximately 3% of females in the study were found to have HPV. A study like this likely does not suffer from the Texas Sharpshooter Problem or the File Drawer Problem.

Gardasil is a vaccine that is supposed to protect against HPV. How many strains? And how effective is it?

In the poll in class, we saw that approximately 60% of females had the vaccine (and the males of class seemed reluctant to respond for some reason).

The FDA article mentioned above states that Gardasil prevents HPV 16 and 18, and as seen in the journal study, HPV 16 is most likely to cause cervical cancer (70% of cervical cancers!). Gardasil also protects against two other strains that cause the most amount of genital warts (90%!). Gardasil only protects against these specific strains of HPV and does not prevent any other strains. So, people still can get different types of HPV and still get cervical cancer if they get the shots. However, it is definitely worth it, in my opinion, to get the Gardasil shot. The FDA discusses studies where about 100% of Gardasil-receivers were protected against symptoms of HPV including cervical-cancer-causing lesions and genital warts.

So, in conclusion, studies do indicate that HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer. And studies also show that Gardasil is effective. It is quite scary that so many people get infected with HPV in their lifetimes. It is so common, and it can have serious consequences.



Working with Music

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Class Test 2. We all saw the results during class on October 11. The grades were not all that impressive. Maybe you’re wondering how you can improve your grade for next time. Reflect: were you listening to music while you took the test?

Class Test 1. I took this test in complete silence in the library. I scored a decent grade, but I know I could’ve done better.

Class Test 2. I took this in my dorm room.

I live in a supplemental dorm with six other roommates. At times, I love it. At other times, I get a little frustrated. I love my roommates, but it was as if they conspired against me while I took this test. All of them were in the room at the same time, which is actually pretty rare. One was FaceTiming her friend and hysterically laughing. Another was watching a movie on her laptop without headphones in. A set of two were having a conversation and painting their nails on the floor. One was doing laundry and chores and talking on the phone simultaneously, and the last was heating up food, and the microwave was beeping and I heard crunching and chewing and shuffling. I hardly ever listen to music while I study or do work, but that was what I had to resort to so I could block out the sound; so I wouldn’t have to leave my room (I was feeling a bit lazy, okay?).

I ended up scoring an amazing score on Class Test 2! I was shocked. With all of these distractions masked by another distraction, my super loud music, I actually scored better on the test. I was mind blown!

Is listening to music beneficial to your studies?

My hypothesis is that my improved score was due to confounding variables or that my better score was due to chance. I normal cannot focus when I have music on.

A study I came across on Wiley Online Library, summarized also by Sheela Doraiswamy, suggests that my notion was correct. Music and background noise are actually distractions and do not improve test grades.

In this experiment, students were given tests where there were various background-noise circumstances. They took the tests in silence, a place in which there was a repeated word over and over and over again in the background, one where there was normal conversation occurring in the background, one where music the student liked was played in the background, and one where music the student disliked was played in the background.

The worst scores came from the place in which there was regular background conversation or with music (both music they liked and music they didn’t). So, assuming the results of the study imply causation, I guess I wasn’t really helping myself out when I switched from the distraction of my roommates to the distraction of my own music.

The students received the highest scores when one word was repeated over and over in the background, or when they were in complete science.

Perhaps the reason that I did better on Class Test 2 was because of confounding variables or chance after all, based on this study. I am certain that I spent much more time and was a bit more meticulous when answering questions on Class Test 2, attempting to improve from Class Test 1. For some reason, the music wasn’t damaging to my grade. I am certain the music was distracting me, though: once in a while, I caught myself zoning out and singing along to myself. If a song I didn’t like came on, I would skip through my music until I found a song I wanted to hear, and then it would take me a few minutes to re-focus on the test.

So based on the correlations of these studies and ignoring the strangeness of the incidence here where I did better on Class Test 2, you might want to try to take the next test in silence! Putting in more effort and taking the test where there are no distractions will probably get you a higher grade.

Turn it Down?

On Thursday during our SC-200 lecture, there was a mysterious pulsing noise. About 1/3 of the class could hear the sound, and unfortunately I was not among those students, so I have no idea what they were talking about. After turning the lights on and off and taking guesses about the projector and many other things, Andrew asked us if the sound was high pitched. Why should that matter? I thought. He then said something along the lines of the fact that with age comes the loss of the ability to hear sounds over a certain range of pitches. I decided that I definitely would like to find out more about this.

According to The Biology Stack Exchange, adults experience hearing loss when they begin to lose their hair cells (tiny sound receptors inside of their ears that deliver sounds to the brain). They apparently begin to lose the ability to hear high frequency sounds first before low frequency sounds.

This information intrigued me, and reminded me of how my mother is always nagging my brother to turn his music down. She is concerned about the long term effects his ridiculously-loud headphones are having on his hearing.

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I believe that the use of headphones (especially earbuds) at a volume over a particularly high decibel might have damaging, lasting effects on hearing. I do not believe that there are any confounding variables to blame for this, like genetics or quality of earphones. I think that if a someone regularly listens to dangerously loud music, their hearing will be damaged.

According to the American Osteopathic Association, 20% of teenagers have hearing loss! This number has escalated 30% since a few decades ago and really loud headphones are likely to blame.

Some information found by the MRC Institute of Hearing Research on the Guardian found that while there was not enough direct evidence based on a specific set of data from 2010 to indicate that there is a causal relationship between loud headphone music and hearing damage (loud music was not the only thing they could determine was to blame for hearing loss and there could  have been confounding variables), the Oregon Health and Science University (Info Here) suggests that listening to music at 105dB, a commonly found (and extremely loud!) volume for headphones, can lead to hearing loss in as little as fifteen minutes.

The Guardian refers to a study conducted in the 1960s where women were exposed to loud industrial sounds for much of their lives, and experienced significant damage to their hearing in about a decade. Based on this information, I think loud headphones might result in similar effects.

It was also suggested on The Guardian that people should invest in good quality headphones because cheaper ones might have a less safe way of conveying loud bass sounds to your ears. I did not initially think the quality of headphones should matter.

I’d imagine it is hard to determine the long-term effects of extremely loud headphones because we are really the first generation to use these very noisy little earbuds so regularly. This is similar to the way we learned in class that scientists could not see that cigarettes were causing lung cancer for such a long time. They had to wait decades before the effects would show and they could find correlations. Perhaps it will take a bit more time for scientists to be able to accurately measure and understand how bad loud earphones actually are for us.

In conclusion, I think people should be cautious when using headphones, just in case. Although there might not exactly be concrete evidence that shows the specific effects loud music has on people’s hearing, it is almost common sense that you probably shouldn’t blast your music at maximum volume for hours on end.

Cell Phones In Class

We live in a world where pretty much at any place, any time, you can be reached. You can be found, you can be tracked, you can be talked to. Almost everyone’s eyes are following their phones more than they are following the paths in front of them. It is actually kind of scary.

Every so often in SC-200, we text SIOW to the number written on the board to participate in surveys and polls. One of the most recent times that this occurred, Dr. Andrew Read mentioned that cell phone use in class often times leads to lower grades. Glancing around the room from row to row I almost always see someone staring down and scrolling in their lap. I personally feel that the allowed cell phone usage that occurs in our class (voting in polls) is useful and encourages us to be engaged and participate. However, most of the time, when people pick up their phones to vote, I wonder: do they scan their notifications and read their texts or check Instagram and Snapchat and Twitter and Facebook and their e-mails and all of the other possible things they could check? How distracting are cell phones really, and how much damage do they do to our grades?

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My hypothesis is that cell phone use during class lowers grades; that there is a causal relationship between the two.

An article I found on Longwood University, written by Dr. Chris Bjornsen, discusses a study that explores this question. The study examined the in-class cell phone use of 218 students who filled out surveys after each class, indicating if and how they used their phones. Most people used them to check social media, while the least amount of people used them to play games (which is actually what I expected–I would never even think to play a game on my phone during class). Higher GPA correlated with less frequency of phone usage: 3.0 or higher GPA was averaged at 2.9 time-use per class while students with GPAs lower than 2.0 used their phones 3.8 times per class.

This study found on Sage Journals accounted for multiple potential confounding variables that might affect GPA such as gender, academic year (freshman, sophomore, junior or senior), and smoker or non smoker were all accounted for.  On top of that, after examining all of those results, they incorporated cell phone usage into the statistics. Before looking at phone usage, females generally had higher GPAs than males, freshman and juniors had higher GPAs than sophomores and seniors, and smokers had lower GPAs than non smokers, according to the study. However, people who used their cell phones more frequently in all of the categories ended up with lower GPAs than people who used them less frequently. The students who fit in all of the same categories (smoker, gender, grade) were compared with each other, and it was found that cell phone usage brought GPA down, all else equal.

This article by Brian Heaton discusses a survey conducted by Kent State University, where increased cell phone usage lowered GPA. The difference in GPA between more frequent versus less frequent cell phone users was 0.31 points. That is a pretty significant difference, if you ask me.

I can honestly say that I do not tend to check my phone in class at all. I figure, since it’s only 50 minutes to an hour and twenty minutes, I might as well pay attention. Sure, sometimes I daydream or doodle or have to pinch myself to stay awake, but I really try to resist the urge (that I admit I often have) to check my phone. Mostly because I think it is rude and disrespectful to have my eyes glued to my lap while someone is attempting to teach me something. But also, it’s because my parents pay good money for me to be sitting in each of my lectures. I don’t want to waste their money by scrolling through Instagram. If that’s what I came to college for, I might as well have not come at all.

Gender Behind the Wheel

Our most recent pop quiz in SC-200 included a blog post from the past where the author wrote about the differences between male and female study habits and grades. On my long, peaceful stroll back to my dorm from class, I reflected on this. I began to ponder about other proven differences between males and females. I immediately remembered a conversation I had with my parents at the dinner table: I have a twin brother, and we began driving at the same time. However, my car insurance cost less than my brother’s. We were the exact same age with the exact same amount of driving experience. We even shared the same car. Why did his insurance cost more than mine? Why was the risk my twin brother posed as a driver greater than the risk I posed as an eighteen year old female driver?

I have no personal opinion as to whether guys are better drivers than girls. But I’m curious to see what the statistics say.

According to DMV.Org, a website independent of government agencies, there are many statistics that support the increased insurance rate for males. First, over 70% of deaths resulting from car accidents were caused by males in 2012.  Young female passengers were slightly more likely to wear seat belts than young men. Nearly 40% of males who died behind the wheel were driving while intoxicated, and for women it was only 20%. Also, men who died in car accidents were almost twice as likely to have been speeding than women.  The article also interestingly states that men are more likely to buy cars that cost more to insure than the cars women buy.

One confounding variable could be the tendency of each gender to consume alcohol.

According to a study conducted that I found on the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, men are simply more likely to drink, and to drink more heavily, than women. Women were more likely to refrain from drinking all together than men.

So, great. Young men are more likely to get in accidents than women in many different ways. But why? Is it something biological? Does it have to do with decision making or attention span?

Based on observing my father and mother drive for my entire life, my hypothesis is that (young) men might have more confidence while driving than (young) women and therefore drive with less caution. My dad seems entirely more sure of himself than my mom does sometimes, and my dad tends to take more risks behind the wheel than my mom.

However, I also think that young women might have more ways to get distracted behind the wheel, so the causes for their crashes are more likely to be distractions than dangerous driving. For example, I often see girls adjusting their hair or fixing their nails or doing their makeup behind the wheel. These distractions could be confounding variables. But these variables would make female crashes more likely than male crashes, right? So why are young men crashing more, and paying more for insurance?

Olga Khazan of The Atlantic wrote about a study conducted and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Car accidents among 16-18 year old drivers who were either driving by themselves or with 14-20 year old passengers were examined. They essentially determined a few categories of causes for the accidents including car-interior distractions like cell phone use, car-exterior distractions, aggressive driving, inability to focus on driving, and reckless driving/illegal actions performed behind the wheel, such as going through stop signs.



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Surprisingly, aggressive driving was the main cause for male drivers to crash more–when there was a female in the car with them. So basically, male drivers attempt to impress females with aggressive driving, which causes them to crash! To any boys out there who think I would be impressed by dangerous driving–I’ll walk, thanks. Male drivers also experienced more interior-car distractions when there was a female inside the car. They were more distracted when by themselves, however, than when they were driving with other boys. The chart on The Atlantic indicates, though, that they were more likely to do illegal things while driving with other guys in the car.


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Females weren’t likely to ever drive aggressively according to the study, and were more likely to get distracted by car-interior distractions if a male was present in the car with them.

The article suggests that a confounding variable for the study might be increased texting behind the wheel.

A simple conclusion I was able to draw from all of these stats is that opposite sexes seem to really distract each other in the car. Teenage hormones, I suppose, are to blame. Young males are often more dangerous drivers because they are more likely to attempt to impress others with their driving. For some reason, they tend to think that dangerous driving is impressive. Hm. Boys will be boys!



Is Smoking a Gateway?

During the past few SC 200 classes, we’ve learned that, after years and years of observational studies and experiments, smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer. When I was a child, one of my mother’s friends passed away from cigarette-induced lung cancer, so I found these lectures very engaging.

When we discussed the risks associated with cigarette smoking (before the results of the experiments were confirmed), we also discussed confounding variables that might have caused the cancer. Some of the studies we examined suggested that sometimes people only smoked when they were stressed or while they were drinking. And I wondered, is there a correlation between smoking and drinking? What about smoking and other drugs?

My hypothesis is that people who smoke cigarettes are more likely to both consume alcohol and do drugs than non-cigarette-smokers.


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One study I came across on the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, cigarettes and alcohol use complement each other. Some people were given regular cigarettes, and others were given nicotine-free cigarettes. The people who smoked nicotine-filled cigarettes ended up drinking more alcohol. It also showed a reverse relationship, that the pleasure of cigarette use improves when simultaneously occurring with alcohol consumption. This is very interesting as a non-smoker. I never really knew that there was a pleasurable feeling that came from cigarettes–I kind of always just assumed people smoked because they were simply addicted and craved it.

At the University of Missouri, according to author Dana Dovey on Medical Daily, the nicotine intake from smoking cigarettes counteracts the drowsy-effect alcohol had on drinkers. Who knew?

The article also confirmed that the sensations that come from alcohol and cigarettes complement each other when simultaneously occurring. It stated that 90% of alcoholics were also cigarette smokers!

Ok, so smoking and drinking usually happen together. But do cigarettes lead to use of other drugs? An experiment to find the answer to this would probably be unethical–people can’t really randomly be assigned to use illegal drugs (and it obviously wouldn’t be a double-blind experiment, either).

According to Tobacco Free Kids, over 2/3 of 12th graders who’d smoked weed had smoked cigarettes first, and 98% of the 12th graders who’d used cocaine and cigarettes  preceded the cocaine use with cigarette smoking. Tobacco Free Kids also explains that kids who start smoking before the age of 15 are multiple times more likely to use illegal drugs like cocaine and marijuana. The article also describes that heavier smokers are also more inclined to do drugs than non-heavy smokers.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows the same results as Tobacco Free Kids, and emphasizes the fact that youthful smoking is the worst problem, causing kids to later turn to cocaine, weed, and crack. Cocaine is the most common drug used by childhood cigarette smokers.


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All in all, my hypothesis was correct. People who smoke usually also drink, and are more likely to turn to other illegal drug use later in life.

The only issue is–the illegal drug and cigarette use correlation is simply that–correlation does not necessarily mean causation. Perhaps there could be other confounding variables.What if teens who start smoking young come from abusive households, and abusive households cause people to turn to drugs? There could be many possibilities.

Sometimes when I watch TV at night, I see a commercial that claims our generation could be the one to completely eliminate cigarette use. Maybe, with the end of cigarette use, drug and alcohol use and consumption might decrease, overall increasing the health of our society.

Running Versus Walking

By Molly M. Tompson

I LOVE to run. In high school I ran Cross-Country, and ran between 25-40 miles per week. Some days I would truck through the rain for ten miles, and other times I would jog lightly for only two or three. But no matter what, I loved to run.


cross-country-running-clipart-4ib4e7kRTImage Found here

I also noticed that I was always so much hungrier during the cross country season. I could put away seconds and sometimes even thirds of dinner after cross country practice. After the season ended, I took a little break from running. And ever since I got to Penn State, I have been walking around ten miles per day! I noticed that my appetite has increased a bit from all of the walking. But I want to know the differences in health benefits, metabolism, and calorie burning from walking and running.

Everyone knows that exercise is good for you. It is good for your heart, maintaining a healthy weight, and even might brighten your mood. But which is better for you?

A study conducted that I found on the Greatist showed that runners were better at managing a healthy appetite than walkers; they were less likely to overeat. Interestingly, the study showed that running suppressed the appetites of the runners, and walking significantly increased the appetite of the walkers.  This is surprising to me, because I remember coming home from cross country and furiously raiding the cabinets for whatever I could get my hands on. I am a very small person, and running ten miles burns a lot of calories! The same website discussed a study in which walkers and runners had equal energy expenditure. The runners exercised for a shorter amount of time than the walkers, but they burned the same amount of calories and used up the same amount of energy. At the end of the study, the runners lost more weight. I actually did lose some weight during cross-country in high school, and so far, with all of my walking at Penn State, I have yet to lose a pound. The website concluded by saying that running burns more than two times the amount of calories that walking does. FitDay states that an average-sized person burns about 100 calories per mile while running.

The New York Times has supporting evidence to the first article. Running, according to the NY Times, is definitely better for weight loss than walking. This article alludes to a study conducted, though, that while running might be better for weight loss, walking is much better for disease prevention. The walkers had even lower risks for things like heart disease and high cholesterol.


HE_women-walking-02_s4x3_leadImage Found here!

There is a down side to running, however. According to FitDay, running is considered a more intense form of exercise than walking is. In other words, it puts a lot of stress on the body and is more likely cause injuries. FitDay says that running on grass is better for your legs than running on a treadmill or a track (thanks, Cross Country!).


So overall, running and walking each have their pros and cons. Walking is more associated with disease prevention and is less likely to cause injury. Running helps more with weight management and calorie-burning. I think that people should do whatever exercise suits them best. And no matter that exercise I personally do, I am always hungrier than if I did none at all!

compulsive-overeating1 Image Found here!


Sugar: Not So Sweet

Is there anything better than waking up in the morning to the smell of sweet, warm,sugary cinnamon rolls? Going out for a nice, cold, refreshing ice cream cone after a long, hot day? Or feeling flushed with nostalgia around Halloween time, ripping open a bunch of fun-sized trick-or-treated candies? Ever since we were little, we’ve constantly heard: “Don’t eat too many sweets! All that sugar and you’ll have a mouthful of cavities!” So, yes, we all know that sugar can cause tooth decay and cavities and similar dental problems.



Image Found Here

But what else is so bad about sugar?

I consider myself a healthy eater, for the most part. I make sure every day to eat fruit, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and everything else I’ve been told is good for me. Of course I eat ice cream and cookies and junk, too, but I do try to eat well most of the time. Sometimes, though, I’m confused. Fruit is really healthy, but some of it is loaded with sugar. Is that sugar okay, because it’s naturally occurring? Or is it equally as bad as eating a Hershey bar? That’s what I am planning to find out.


Image Found Here


Dr. Mercola, a NY Times Best Selling Author, seems to have a lot to say about sugar. He discussed an experimental study in rats that were fed fructose (another name for sugar) solutions. The rats fed fructose showed cognitive impairment. An infographic found on his website showed that sugar increases the risk of serious medical problems like heart attack, diabetes, arthritis, and more. It is also one of the main culprits and gateways to obesity, a growing problem in our world.

Americans definitely eat too much refined sugar in their diets. It is cheap and accessible, and delicious, too.

But what, again, is the difference between eating a sugary banana and a sugary twinkie?

According to Organics, there are two types of naturally occurring sugars, and a couple of times of refined sugars. Fructose and Glucose are the natural ones. High fructose corn syrup, table sugar, molasses, and many other types are refined sugars. They are processed types and are the kinds found in delicious treats we encounter every day. Glucose is essential in the human diet. Excess of any sugar is not good, but it is indeed healthier to eat natural sugars because they come from foods that contain many other nutrients, such as dietary fiber and vitamins and antioxidants.

So, essentially, there are more consequences than cavities from consuming too much sugar. Sugar is correlated with weight gain and obesity. Sugar is an addiction, actually. Obesity can lead to many other diseases, too, like heart disease. Sugar can also have damaging effects on all different parts of the body and increases risk of things like heart attack.



Graph Found Here

It is better to eat naturally occurring sugars from things like fruit, and glucose is absolutely necessary for energy. Naturally occurring sugars are better because they usually go hand-in-hand with lots of other nutrients.

In general, though, we should be conscious and cautious about consuming too much sugar. Too much of anything is not a good thing.




Texting and Driving: A Problem For Multi-taskers

By: Molly M. Tompson


Distracted driving happens every single day. And with advancements in science and the safety of driving and cars, it should seem like the number of fatalities and injuries caused by driving should be declining. As a young driver, I have always been absolutely terrified to even glance at my phone behind the wheel, and it has honestly never occurred to me to start texting behind the wheel. While walking or driving, I notice people every day with their noses buried in their phones and a hand simultaneously, yet absently on the steering wheel. In the past 50 years or so, the safety of motor vehicles has improved vastly; from a time where no one wore seat belts (and some cars didn’t even have any!) to now, where people have to pay fines for not wearing them, we were heading in the right direction for a long time.


Image Found Here

Some questions I had about distracted driving include:

  • Are cell phones reversing our progress in driving safety?
  • How well can humans actually multitask?
  • While teenagers are the main scapegoats in this mess, is there actually a correlation between age and tendency to text and drive?
  • Is texting while driving the most dangerous form of impaired driving?

My hypothesis is that, yes, cell phones are causing car crashes, injuries, and deaths to increase. And I do not think that teenagers are the only group that texts and drives, but that adults are equally as guilty of distracted driving as them. And I think that other means of impaired driving, like drunk driving, might be more dangerous.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, almost 3200 people were killed in 2014 due to distracted driving, and over 400,000 were injured. 34% of Americans admitted to texting while driving, according to This InfographicThis Infographic also shows that about half of all children have been in the car while a driver was texting, and almost 1/5 of them have seen their parents do it!

woman driving and texting on cell phone about to hit a man on a bicycle.

“woman driving and texting on cell phone about to hit a man on a bicycle.” Found Here

So can humans actually multitask?

Neuroscientist Earl Miller from MIT says that humans can’t actually focus on multiple things at once. They can actually just switch what they’re focusing on very quickly. At the University of Michigan (boo!) a study was conducted on a main and his brain responses were analyzed. He was simply overwhelmed and could not multitask. Multitasking is, plainly, not really do-able. We can immediately change what we are focusing on, but we can not focus on two things to once.

Here are a few things I learned Here and in a couple of other places cited below:

  • Teenagers are actually the #1 culprit of texting while driving. Thanks for the bad reputation, everyone.
  • Texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident than driving while drunk. That is really, really scary.
  • Texting and driving is actually like driving while blind.
  • It is not just texting that distracts people who are driving. People scroll through their facebook, instagram, snapchat and twitter feeds, play games, check their emails, and browse the web while behind the wheel (information found on CNN)
  • Psychological studies have shown that the people who think they’re good at multitasking are actually the worst at it, according to Fox News. And there is actually a neurochemical in our brains that makes us feel good when we check our phones, even though we know it’s dangerous while we’re driving. It is like an addiction.

I was a little bit right in my notions, but mostly wrong. I was right, obviously, in thinking that distracted driving increases injury and death. However, I didn’t know that texting while driving is more dangerous than driving while intoxicated. I thought humans might be able to multitask a bit, and that teens were not actually the worst in terms of texting and driving. But I was wrong about all of the above.

So, moral of the story is, no one–teens, young adults,  or even those who remember life before the cell phone should not be on the phone at all while they drive. These distractions are doing nothing but harm to us. With people dying daily in fatal car crashes caused by texting and driving, it is an epidemic that must stop. Perhaps stricter laws or ways to monitor this should be established. This is a very, very serious issue.


distracted-driving Photo Found Here

Molly Tompson: Initial Blog Post

Hello SC 200! My name is Molly Tompson and I am a freshman here at Penn State. I am in the Smeal College of Business and plan on majoring in marketing. When I went to NSO, I was unsure of what courses to take. My adviser routinely passed out sheets of paper with popular general education courses on them, informing us about the gen-ed requirements at Penn State. Classes were mostly filled up–I was at the last NSO–and I was slightly overwhelmed. When my adviser told us that we had to take a science course, I started to panic. While I loved biology in high school and actually excelled in it, I knew there were no more biology classes open. I examined the list about twenty times, narrowing down my options and decided that SC 200 sounded like it would be an interesting class to take–and nothing like Physics or Chemistry, which I detested.

I never thought of science as being taught “wrong” in schools until Dr. Andrew Read suggested it on the first day of class. Perhaps that is why I am not a science major. School made me hate science. I would stay up for hours at night, trying desperately to study and understand vector versus scalar concepts,  ray-diagrams of reflected light and ionic and covalent bonds. Math is not one of my strongest subjects, and math and science always seemed to go hand in hand (except for biology…rarely, at least). Science is cool. Science explains our entire world, our entire history. But I am not a science major because I do not want to stress myself out over memorizing formulas for acceleration or motion or momentum; I do not want to attempt to describe the relationship between atoms and calculate numbers that stem from concepts that are well over my head.

Some of the most interesting elements of science that I can think of are studying outer space, planets, stars, black holes, and the universe, in general. It is fascinating to me that there is so much that is unknown; that we as human beings have made what feels like so much progress, yet we are so far from knowing everything.

Black Holes


Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 7.03.38 PM

I also love to learn about prehistoric times. Dinosaurs and all of the species that inhabited the world before humans are of utmost interest to me. Animals that thrived before ice ages or died off during the meteor that struck earth so long ago; these are such interesting topics.

So, in a nutshell, this is why I am currently in SC 200. I am looking forward to a great semester!