Author Archives: M

Can We Learn While Sleeping

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A couple of years ago, in the midst of midterms and high anxiety, I ranted to a friend about how stressed I was for my exams. My friend quickly suggested I listen to recordings of the vocabulary words and information I needed to know while I was sleeping. Naturally, I assumed she was joking, because I never heard of such a thing, and didn’t think much of her suggestion. For some reason though, whenever I am stressed about a test, I always think back to her suggestion. Can listening to information while asleep really help me learn it? It seemed too good to be true, so I decided to finally research more about it.

According to a recent study, 16 participants were taught how to play two songs on a keyboard. After the participants learned the two songs, they were then put into a dark room, where they took an hour and a half long nap. During the participant’s deepest part of sleep, they were played only one of the songs they learned on repeat. After their naps, the participants were then asked to play both songs. Notably, the participants performed better on the song that was played for them while sleeping, than the song that wasn’t played for them. As a psychologist at Northwestern noted, it is important to note though, that this study found that your memory can be strengthened while sleeping, and did not test if you are able to learn new information while asleep (Stromberg 2012).

Although the previous study did not test if new information can be memorized during sleep, a study conducted by Swiss researchers did test this. This study consisted of two groups of Germans who were all given Dutch vocabulary words to memorize. One group was then told to go to sleep, and the other to stay awake. Over the next 4 hours, the participants in both of the groups listened to audio of the vocabulary words they were given, plus new vocabulary they were not previously exposed to. After the 4 hours were up, the participants in both groups were tested on how much vocabulary they could remember. It was found that the group who slept were able to recall more of the words they were given to memorize than the group who did not sleep. Although the group who slept recalled more words they were already given, it is important to note that the words they were not given to memorize, and only heard in their sleep, were not remembered when they woke up. Here it is clear that listening to information previously learned gets enforced during sleep, but new information is not able to be recalled.

Now that we can conclude that information previously learned can be enforced during sleep, but new information can’t be learned, we can ask why that is. Although scientists are not completely aware of why this happens, their hypothesis is that during deep sleep, our mind reviews events that happened during the day, so therefore those memories can be greater enhanced when listening to them again during deep sleep. Nonetheless, with finals coming up, this technique may be a helpful study tip, but only if you’ve been going to class all along.

Does Classical Music Make You Smarter?

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I was once told that listening to classical music makes you smarter. Naturally, I took this into consideration and listened to classical music before I took the SAT’s for the second time, even though I was unaware if this was actually true or not. Notably, I did in fact improve my score by 100 points, but this could have been from various other factors such as I already took the test before, so I had experience, I studied more, etc. Since I have been unsure of whether it was the classical music that helped me improve my score or not since I took the test two years ago, I decided to research more about the effects of listening to classical music, and if it does in fact make you smarter. 

According to a research study in France, classical music does indeed make you smarter. In the study, 249 students were split into two groups. One group being a control group who listened to a lecture with no music playing, one group being the experimental group who listened to the same lecture, but with classical music playing in the background. After the lecture, the students from each group took a multiple choice test based on what they learned in the lecture. Notably, the students in the experimental group scored remarkably higher compared to the students in the control group. Naturally, the French researchers wondered why listening to this music had such an effect on the student’s test performances. Together, they hypothesized that the music put the students into an emotional state so intense that they were more responsive to the new things they were learning (Crotty 2014). 

Another possible reasoning for the higher test scores in the experimental group could be due to a reduction in anxiety from listening to the music, and according to a study from the Duke Cancer Institute, classical music does in fact lessen anxiety. In this study, men undergoing stressful biopsies were played Bach during their procedures, and reportedly had no spike in diastolic blood pressure, plus reported less pain than men who were not played Bach during their procedures. Although this study didn’t determine if the lessened anxiety was due to the fact the subjects were listening to music in general, or specifically classical music, a study conducted by scientists at the University of San Diego determined this answer. In this study, 75 participants had to execute a hard three-minute mental task. After the three minutes, participants were randomly chosen to either listen to classical music, jazz, pop, or no music at all. It was found that the participants who listened to classical music had a much lower systolic blood pressure than the other participants who listened to the other styles of music or who listened to no music at all.

In conclusion, it is clear that classical music does in fact you smarter. Whether it is due to the fact that it helps you be in an intense emotional state and thus make you focus better, or that it lessens anxiety, or a mixture of the two, I highly suggest the next time you have a test, you listen to classical music beforehand.

Is Crying A Good Thing?

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Ever since I was little, I have always been told crying is good for you. I vividly remember the first time I heard this, a feeling of distraught came across me. Why would something associated with something so sad be good? Is it actually true? This didn’t make any sense to me, and hasn’t for years, so I decided to look more into it.

To clarify, there are actually three types of tears: reflexive, continuous, and emotional. While reflexive and continuous tears are used to help keep your eyes clean physically, emotional tears are patently due to a reaction from your emotions (psych today). In this blog, I will therefore discuss the effects of emotional tears.

Structurally, tears contain chemicals and toxins. Therefore, when we cry emotional tears,  feel-good chemicals get released (Gilbertson 2014). For example, it has been found that out of the three types of tears, emotional comprise of the highest level of stress hormones (Govender). Thus, when we cry, we release some of this stress. These types of tears also contain the most manganese (Govender). Manganese affects mood, so when we cry our body reduces its manganese level, and thus our mood is improved (Sollitto).

Another reason crying is good for you is because it helps you emotionally internally. Tears do this by exposing your true emotion, and allow you to actually deal with said emotion. According to an occupational health psychologist, Professor Gail Kinman, this is due to the Freudian theory. This theory implies that it’s more advantageous to let your feelings out, opposed to bottling them up, because if you bottle them up for too long, you will not only likely to be psychologically negatively affected, but physically affected too. (Mann 2011).

In a recent observational study, this theory was supported. In this study, participants were shown a sad movie, and whether people cried or did not cry was noted. The study shows the progression of the participants moods after different time increments. Immediately after the movie, the non-criers felt the same as they did before the movie, while the criers felt worse. Then, after 20 minutes, the criers felt as they did before they watched the movie, and after 90 minutes, the criers even rated their mood higher than the non-criers did by this time. (Levine 2015). Here it is clear that crying has the ability to improve one’s mood. William H. Frey, a biochemist conducted a similar experiment where he also made participants cry by showing sad movies and found the same result; crying made the participants feel better (Levine 2015). Frey concluded that this happens because crying releases the chemicals: prolactin, adrenocortiotrpoic, and leucine enkephalin which are the chemicals that produce stress while watching said movie (Mann 2011).

Although these studies and observations support the phenomenon that crying is in fact good for you, there are restrictions and exceptions. First of all, to actually improve your mood from crying, you must cry after you’ve solved or fixed the reason as to why you are crying. This is due to the fact that if you cry before the reason is fixed, there is no benefit to the crying. Another exception is that crying will most likely not improve your mood and/or health if you suffer from a mood disorder such as anxiety and/or depression (Thompson 2010).

In conclusion, it is evident that crying does in fact improve your mood, so it therefore is good for you. Although this is true, we have to remember it is not true all of the time, and that if there are more serious conditions, greater action needs to be placed instead of relying on a good cry to fix everything.

How to Overcome A Phobia

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Ever since I was little I have always been scared of various things. Although I had many fears, none of them seemed to legitimately tamper with my well-being. Unfortunately, that changed once I got to around ten years old. Sometime around this time, I began to gain an irrational fear of fish. I am not quite sure how this came to be, but this fear became extremely prevalent in my life. From not going to certain restaurants because they served a lot of fish there, to not wanting to go to the beach, to not even going downstairs for dinner if my family was eating fish that night, everyday occurrences were becoming problems for me. This fear still even tampers with my life today. For example, I try my best to avoid the right side of the HUB where the fish tank is. Since this fear has significantly influenced my decisions over the past six or seven years, I decided to write my blog on how exactly to overcome a phobia.

Overall, a phobia is a fear that presents no actual danger, and causes a considerable amount of anxiety. The anxiety can range from mild anxiety, to even panic attacks. Physical symptoms can even include difficulty breathing, a racing heart, and shaking (Smith, Segal, Segal, 2016). Although symptoms of rational fears and irrational fears (phobias), can sometimes be the same, there are a few major differences. For example, with phobias, you realize that the fear is senseless, but you’re still scared anyways. This is unlike a rational fear, where once you realize the fear is absurd, you’re not scared anymore (Smith, Segal, Segal, 2016). Going back to my fear of fish, I am completely aware that a fish in a fish tank will cause no harm towards me, but I am nevertheless scared, so it qualifies as a a phobia. Another difference is that one will go to great lengths to avoid something if they have an irrational fear, unlike if they have a rational fear (Smith, Segal, Segal, 2016). For example, say someone has a rational fear of spiders, they may scream or jump if they see one. Now, if that person had phobia of spiders, he or she may avoid playing outside altogether merely to avoid seeing a spider. Overall, the major difference between a rational fear or a phobia of something is if the fear notably impedes on your daily decisions (Pomfrey).

Apparently, phobias are one of the most common mental disorders, effecting 11% of the population. With this being said, people should realize there is no shame in seeking help to overcome your phobia. It is even said that for adults, if a phobia has been existent for over a year, it will most likely not go away without professional help (NHS 2014). Fortunately, there are various ways to overcome phobias. Among the many ways, the most effective is being exposed to whatever is causing the phobia (Smith, Segal, Segal, 2016). There are two different therapies used to expose patients, systematic desensitization, and exposure-based therapy. Systematic desensitization, a class of cognitive-behavioral therapy, is when patients are put in a relaxed state, and then exposed to the object in a way that will only cause a small amount of fear/anxiety. When the anxiety begins to increase, the patient will go back his/her relaxed state, then back to being exposed in a different way, and so on and so forth, until he/she is desensitized (Pomfrey). In other words, if I tried doing this with my fish phobia, I would first learn a relaxation method until I was in a relaxed state. I would then be exposed to a picture of a fish. Then once my anxiety got too .high, the picture would be taken away and I would go back to my relaxed state. Next, I would look at a fish from a distance, then go back to my relaxed state. This would keep going on until I would ultimately be desensitized from fish. This process works due to the patient replacing anxiety with relaxation (Pomfrey). On the other hand, exposure-based therapy is the same as systematic desensitization, just without the relaxation part. Besides therapy, antidepressants are also helpful. The most common antidepressants used are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Prozac or Zoloft, but Valium and Xanax are also common (NHS 2014).

Overall, phobias can consume a part of a person’s life and everyday decisions. From simple avoidances to anxiety attacks, the consequences of having a phobia can run high. Fortunately, no phobia can’t go away with professional help.

Cardio vs. Lifting

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Ever since I was little, I have always enjoyed exercising. Although I enjoy it, and do various exercises primarily for my own enjoyment, wondering which exercises I do or don’t do are better for me never seems to not cross my mind. I played various sports growing up, so cardio was my primary source of exercise, but the occasional lifting session with my teammates always seemed to make me more tired than cardio. Was that because it was working my better more? Or merely due to the fact I didn’t lift very often, so my body just wasn’t used to such strenuous activity? Due to these questions, I decided to research more about the benefits of both cardio and lifting, to ultimately decide which is the better form of exercise.

According to a study at Duke University, the answer is clear. In this study, 119 overweight/obese adults were split into three different groups; a cardio-only group, a resistance training (lifting) only group, and a group of a combination of cardio and resistance training. How this study worked was that the researchers would give each group an exercise regimen for a set amount of time, with the combination group having to exercise the longest amount of time, lifting the second longest, and cardio the shortest. To get data on the change of each person, the researchers would test every participant’s body composition before and after each activity. At the end of the study, it was found that the cardio-only group lost the most weight altogether. The group who lost the second most weight was the combination group. Notably, the lifting group actually gained mass, due to them gaining lean body mass. Although it is clear that the group who lost the most weight was the cardio-only group, it should be noted that the combination group decreased their waist lengths the most, on average.

In another study, done by Penn State, participants were again split into groups. One group being a cardio-only group, the other being a lifting-only group. In this study, the participants, no matter which group, lost the same amount of weight, but the people in the cardio group lost six pounds from muscle, while the lifting group lost purely fat (Fetters 2013). According to personal trainer, Mike Donavanik, this is due to cardio not working your muscles very much, while lifting is the most efficient way to gain muscle, and for every 3 pounds of muscle gained, you lose an extra 120 calories per day (Fetters 2013). According to Wayne Westcott, an exercise-science professor at Quincy College, this extra calorie loss is due to your metabolism staying elevated by about 10 percent for days after you lift as the body recovers the  micro trauma in your muscles that were damaged during lifting (Mackenzie 2015).

Although it is clear that both lifting and cardio both have their effects on weight loss, what about the effects internally? According to a study done by the Journal of Experimental Biology, running on a treadmill increased participant’s endocannabinoid levels, a chemical that makes you feel good and is a pain reliever. This chemical is increased during cardio due to an increased heart rate, thus lifting will not have the same effect, unless you are lifting weights vigorously (Mackenzie 2015). 

In conclusion, both cardio and lifting have different effects on the body, and depending on what your goal is, one of these forms of exercise may be better for you than the other. If you wish to decrease your weight, cardio will be more efficient. If you are less concerned about your actual weight, and more concerned about how you physically look, lifting will be more helpful. Finally, if your goal exercising is to become happier, cardio is the way to go. 

What Makes Cute Animals Cute


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Throughout my whole life, there has never been a time where I see a cute baby animal, and don’t feel the urge to pet or cuddle it. While this has seemed normal and not unusual throughout my life, ever since we talked about mechanism in class, I have thought about the mechanism for why I feel the urge to do this, and why do only specific animals trigger this feeling. Due to these recent questions I have faced, I decided to research more about it.

To begin with why we even find any animal cute at all in the first place, we need to first understand the mechanism as to why we think human babies are cute, and the answer is quite logical. For humans at least, it takes years for us to mature. Since it takes us so long to even walk and talk by ourselves, we as a species need to think babies our cute, so they are taken care of and protected so that the human species is able to maintain its existence (Tyley 2015).

To answer why we find other baby animals cute is due to a few certain characteristics. According to Jodie Tyley, it is due to the baby schema. The baby schema is a group of physical features such as large eyes, large head, and chubbiness, that trigger our feelings to make us think animals with these characteristics are cute. These characteristics are found in human babies, so naturally, when other babies of different species contain these same characteristics, we feel the same overwhelming feeling of cuteness. Evidently, even non-animals that have these features can make us feel the same way. For example, the manufacturers of Mini Coopers designed the car to make us think it’s cute. They did this merely by adding large headlights, and made the car more rounded.

Going along with the fact that many of us feel urges to pet these cute animals, and even squeeze them, there is actually a reason why. This reason is called cute aggression. This aggression stems from the fact that we experience a high reaction when we see these animals, but we aren’t able to do anything about it. Although the science behind this sensation is not clear and definite yet, the main idea of reasoning is that there is a cross-wiring of reactions of cuteness and aggression when the dopamine is released as we see these animals, so we turn this conflicting feelings into mainly aggression (Scott 2015). 

As for what happens in your brain when you see a cute animal, the process occurs in the mesocorticolimbic system, which affects reward and motivation. When you see a cute baby animal, this part of your brain is stimulated, which then causes a release of dopamine, which is  a neurotransmitter that controls pleasure. Therefore, this process is the reason as to why you get a good feeling and feel warm inside when you see baby animals (Tyley 2015).

In conclusion, the next time you see a cute baby animal and feel a sudden urge to pet it, just remember that the reasoning is because we want the human species to survive, and it’s also good for your brain.

Does Music Preference Change With Age

Ever since I was little, it was always clear that my parents liked different music than me. Although I didn’t quite understand how or why they didn’t enjoy listening to the newest rap songs with me, I always just accepted the fact that they didn’t. Although my parents and I have never been a fan of the same artists, my brother—who’s only four years older than me—and I have usually had similar taste in music…up until a couple of years ago. My brother is now in his twenties, and our music preferences have never been more different. Curious as to why his sudden preference change has happened as he has gotten older, and our recent discussions in class if certain relationships are correlational or not, I decided to research if there is in fact a correlation relationship between age and music preference.

In a recent study, Ajay Kalia, put this question to the test. To figure out when we, on average, stop listening to popular music, Kalia looked at Spotify user data along with an artist popularity database, Echo Nest to see who is listening to recent popular music. 


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In this study, three major revelations were found. First, on average, teens mostly listen to what is considered popular at that point in time. They then slowly start to fade away with their liking of popular music in their twenties, and then ultimately have no to little preference in popular music anymore by their thirties. This data clearly explains why my brother, who is twenty-two, now has a differing music taste than me, eighteen. The second revelation found was that although both men and women listen to similar, popular music in their teens, men typically stop listening to this type of music faster than it takes women to stop listening to mainstream music. Again, this explains why my brother is already showing signs of a change in music preference, even though he is only in his early twenties. The last major concept discovered in this study was that people who have children, no matter their age, listen to less mainstream music than other people of their age, who do not have kids.

Although it may seem sudden when someone, or your own, music preference has changed, there are actually a few reasons for this. First of all, as you get older, you are more likely to discover music from different artists and genres who are less popular. This is due to listening to the radio less, or merely listening to different stations. The second reason is that when you age, then listen to music that was popular music when you were younger, those artists are most likely not considered popular anymore. Therefore, although you once liked what was popular, that music is now considered old and unpopular. As for a reason why parents listen to less popular music than other people their age, it is due to the fact that these people are listening to a mixture of children songs and nursery rhymes more often than music they actually enjoy. It was even found in the same study that having a child is equal to having the same music preference as someone four years older.

In conclusion, it is clear there is a correlation between age and music preference—as you get older, your music preference changes. Although this is a correlation relationship, we can not say it is causal due to the fact that this was an observational study, not an experimental experimental. In other words, no variables were manipulated in this study.  



Science Behind Netflix Binge-Watching



As you may expect, I am one of the numerous people who has spent endless hours watching Netflix. From watching countless episodes of a show until 2:00 a.m., to ignoring plans to watch a show, I have experienced my fair share of the affects of Netflix binge-watching. Due to this, I decided to research the science behind this, because I truly hope there is a justifiable reason as to why I watched all 121 episodes of Lost in ten days, and all 125 episodes of Parks and Recreation in a mere two weeks.

Apparently, there are various reasons behind the science of binge-watching. According to ThriveWire Contributor, one reason is due to the fact that we perceive watching television as a task. Naturally, as we finish a task, our body releases dopamine. Dopamine is the control center for rewards, so we innately want more of this. One way of receiving more dopamine while still watching Netflix is to finish the series of that show. In another discovery, it was also found that during the night, bright lights increase our serotonin levels (Thrive Wire Contributor 2015). Serotonin is a mood stabilizer, so again, naturally, our bodies want more of this. This would explain why so many of us binge well into the night, opposed to binging during the daytime. Going off of this, in a recent pop quiz, we learned that light during the night led to signs of depression in hamsters. One question on the quiz asked if people should avoid light at night too, causing different opinions among people in the class. Although the general consensus was that we should in fact turn off the light to avoid these signs too, maybe we shouldn’t if this light increases our levels of serotonin.

Moving on, due to recent realizations of the neurological reasons as to why we binge-watch, writers have taken this into account and have written episodes with the knowledge that we will most likely watch/want to watch more than one episode at a time. In other words, writers create episodes similar to how a book would be considered a page turner. They do this by filling episodes with a lot of action, high levels of intrigue, building storylines, and ending with plot twists (Holloway 2015). Here it is clear that although scientifically our brain has reasons for binge-watching, television show creators have manipulated their strategies to even further our need/want for binge-watching.

Even though at 2:00 a.m. it may seem impossible to stop watching a show, there are some helpful ways to break your habit. For example, doing something unrelated to Netflix such as simply talking to someone, or going on your phone can help create context to real-life, opposed to life in the world of the show you are watching (ThriveWire Contributor 2015). Another tip is in relation to the recent popularity of cliffhanger endings. Michael Hsu suggests that you watch only a part of the next episode to clear up and gather answers to the previous episode. From only watching part of the next episode, you are able to get answers before getting dragged into another storyline.

In conclusion, there are in fact neurological reasons as to why we binge-watch Netflix, so there’s no need to feel bad about yourself the next time you’re up late at night unable to stop watching a show. If in fact you do feel bad though, there are still ways to help stop your binge, so don’t worry too much.

Learn The Science Behind Why Our Brains Love Binge-Watching On Netflix


The Hard Truth I Learned at NSO


Hi, my name is Melissa, and I’m from Connecticut. I’m majoring in marketing, and at NSO I found out the hard truth that I had to take a science class. As I was sadly scrolling through science classes I could take I basically felt like this: ron swanson

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Fortunately, my advisor told me about SC 200, and I was no longer sad after reading the course description, feeling as though this class was made for me. Through years of public school, I felt as if science was ruined for me, but I have a good feeling that this class will open my eyes to the interesting aspects of science, that we never got to discover during K-12, which I’m very excited about.

I’m not planning to be a science major because either a) school ruined science for me, or b) I really just don’t like science and I’m blaming it on the schools I went to. Also, I simply just enjoy business/marketing more than science.

Although I’m typically not interested in a lot of science topics, I do love to learn about space. Here is an article filled with some really cool pictures someone was able to take of space/the Milky Way, which reminded me of the model Andrew showed us in class.