Author Archives: Nicole Paniccia

Can Music Make Us Smarter?

Whether it is to pump us up at the gym, or help us relax, we all use music for different reasons. But how far does our mind’s connection to music go? Can music make us smarter or even heal faster after surgery?

A common belief is that listening to Mozart will help you focus while studying. According to the Mozart Effect, listening to Requiem or Eine kleine Nachtmusik will improve your memory and increase your IQ. The question is; is this belief backed by research?

In 1993, a study published in Nature by Rauscher, Shaw and Ky stated that those who listened to Mozart showed a larger improvement in their spatial reasoning skills compared to those who listened to relaxation instructions or silence instead. Although the improvement was only observed for fifteen minutes after hearing the music and it was only noted for tests of spatial reasoning, popular culture quickly exaggerated the results. It isn’t extreme enough to link Mozart and an overall increase in IQ.

It has been suggested that playing music makes people smarter by other research, but proving a direct link between the two is not so simple. Socioeconomic status is a predictor of school grades. In addition, it is a predictor of being able to afford clarinet lessons. Or, maybe people who have the patience and aptitude for music are the same people who have the patience and aptitude for getting good grades. However, the correlation isn’t causation.

One study in 2011 tested the intelligence quotient of musician and non-musician children, between the ages 9-12. Also, they tested the children for indicators of executive brain function, which is their proficiency at high-level thinking. Some of these indicators could include their ability to multitask, make good decisions, inhibit bad behavior, and solve problems.

The author, E. Glenn Schellenberg, of the University of Toronto Mississauga, found that music and IQ were correlated, but the relationship between music and executive function was inconclusive. Schellenberg wrote, “These results provide no support for the hypothesis that the association between music training and IQ is mediated by executive function”. However, the neuroscientists behind the current research were not positive about that.

The team from Boston Children’s Hospital wanted to compensate for the shortcomings of other research. They removed two important variables: matching the 57 study participants in their control and test groups for equivalent IQ and socioeconomic background. The socioeconomic background is the education level of their parents and family income). Overall, they had two groups of children and two groups of adults that were similar in many ways; but, one group had significant musical training, and the other had very little.

The doctors administered a series of quizzes, like brain-teasers, while everyone was hooked up to an MRI. They discovered that musicians’ brains were more active than the non-musicians’ brains, and they performed better on cognitive tests.

Dr. Nadine Gaab said, “since executive functioning is a strong predictor of academic achievement, even more than IQ, we think our findings have strong educational implications”. In addition, “while many schools are cutting music programs and spending more and more time on test preparation, our findings suggest that musical training may actually help to set up children for a better academic future.”

In addition, this study furthers the notion that musical training in children with learning disabilities and the elderly could improve their brain function. 16 adults in a senior home took piano lessons for six months in a different study.  At the end, those 16 had better working memory and multitasking skills than 15 seniors who weren’t given piano lessons. Gaab said, “future studies have to determine whether music may be utilized as therapeutic intervention tools for these children and adults.”

However, this study doesn’t actually prove that the musical people weren’t predisposed to their talent. Their exceptionally quick thinking and problem solving might be the reason they’re so good at music. The team says its next study will be more like the senior home study, testing people over time to determine which came first, the music or the brains.



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Does Cell Phone Usage Cause Lack of Sleep?

It’s often hard to put cell phones down because technology has become such a huge part of our daily lives. For me, it’s hard to put my phone away at night in fear of missing a new text or notification. I always say to myself, “ill just watch one more video” and end up watching ten. The biggest issue with phone usage before bed is that technology worsens your sleep quality. There has been a lot of research done that shows that turning the T.V. and phone off before bed will help the quality of sleep for the night.

Although cellphones may make you stay awake when you should be sleeping, they do have numerous advantages. A lot of people are unaware that using their phone before bed will make them have issues actually falling asleep and their energy during the day. Melatonin is the hormone that induces sleep, but the blue light released by cellphones restricts its production. Not having enough melatonin makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Technology also tricks your brain into thinking that it needs to stay awake; if you watch an exciting Facebook or read an opposing email/article, those events can make it hard to relax and settle into sleep.

A recent study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston discovered that using technology before bed has an even more significant effect than they thought before. The study followed two groups of 12 study participants. The first group read on an iPad for four hours before bed each night for five consecutive nights. The second group read printed books in dim light. After a few nights, the two groups switched. The iPad groups showed lower levels of melatonin, as expected. In addition, they experienced shorter restorative REM cycles, and felt sleepier the next morning even though they got eight hours of sleep.

Even if you aren’t using your phone before bed, it can still affect your sleep. Having a cellphone within reach can still disrupt slumber, due to the late night texts, emails or calls. Approximatley seventy-two percent of children ages six to seventeen sleep with at least one electronic device in their bedroom, which leads to getting less sleep on school nights compared with other kids. The difference adds up to almost an entire hour per night. The long term effect of this issue is sleep disruption, which can result in high blood pressure, anxiety disorder and even type 2 diabetes.

You should shut off your devices two hours before sleeping to make sure it doesn’t change your sleep cycle. If you wanted to, you could even make your bedroom technology free by keeping your phone outside of your room.



Why Your Cell Phone Causes Sleep Problems

How Cell Phones Affect Your Sleeping Patterns


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Can We Control Our Dreams?

In the morning my alarm wakes me up and interrupts me from a really good dream. I try to go back to sleep and dream about the same dream again but it never really works. Or some nights I get nightmares and they disrupt my sleep. I asked myself what If I would be able to control my dreams? I would never have to have another nightmare again, and would be able to dream about whatever I wanted.

According to research, with using realistic and mental techniques, we can influence our dreams and use them to get information from the source of our unconscious mind. Deirdre Barrett, who is an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, is persuaded that we all have the ability to control our dreams. She says it Is feasible to effect dreams with a technique called ‘dream incubation’. According to Wikipedia, dream incubation is “a practiced technique of learning to “plant a seed” in the mind, in order for a specific dream topic to occur either for recreation or to attempt to solve a problem.

To try to help get this technique down, dream about a particular thing, and focus on it once you are in bed. Since dreams are visual, holding an image that is related to the subject will help. You can also put an item or photo that portrays the preferred dream on your bedside table. Another important factor of using one’s dreams innovatively is to refrain from leaping out of bed the instant you wake up. Doing so means you’ll lose half your dream content as the day’s commotions pull you into wakefulness. If you don’t remember a dream instantly, lie quiet and see if a thought or image comes to mind. Sometimes a whole dream will come showering back.

The idea of the second approach is to make use of the information accessible by our unconscious as we sleep. We may assume that thinking is our greatest problem-solving strategy, but the power of our conscious mind is quite weak. Obsessively thinking about a problem is strongly connected with stress, depression and anxiety. So letting the unconscious mind work on it may be healthier and more beneficial.

Barrett put this to the test in a week-long study involving college students; she asked them to use dream incubation as a problem-solving tool. About half of the students dreamed about the problem and one-quarter of them solved it. “If we’re stuck on a problem, it’s our waking, linear reasoning that’s stuck,” Barrett says.

Dreams are an extremely valuable resource, which most of us solely ignore. Learn to listen to them, even the nasty ones- they’re always trying to tell you something.




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Does Exercise Improve Your Hearing?

Studies have indicated that exercise can help an individual improve his/her hearing loss. Exercising for hearing loss has numbers benefits. Exercising regularly is one of the most successful techniques to stop hearing loss and improve hearing capabilities

In some studies, it has been proven that certain exercises improve blood flow to the brain, which improves an induvial cognitive abilities. Aerobic exercises are they main key as they will have the wanted effect on blood flow and offer people the proposed hearing benefits. The workouts should also be great for younger individuals who suffer from hearing loss, as they were shown to work even on people older than 50.

Yoga is also a great way to help improve hearing problems. Some forms of yoga are perfectly fit to helping sufferers of hearing loss to recover their hearing. For example, a yoga exercise called yawning, which combines a mantra with breathing exercise, can improve your hearing over timr with just two to three minutes of working out a day. Some yoga exercises can even be used to help alleviate a little bit of pain if your hearing problem is accompanied by such a problem as well.

Depression also has a strong link to hearing loss. Therefore, it goes without saying that any workout will help put an individual in a better state and will aslo most likely help with your hearing problem.

A study from a University in Finland confirmed these results. This study tested 848 people between 75 years old and 90 years old. They gave the participants hearing exams. Then they tested each individual with a battery of exercises, including indoor activity, stair-climbing, a half-kilometer walk and a two kilometer walk.

Those who scored lower in all of these forms of exercise also were more likely to have hearing problems. For example, those who scored lower on stair-climbing had nearly three times the likelihood of having major hearing loss issues.

Exercise signifies increasing circulation and the elimination of contaminants. Increased circulation means transporting nutrients to those cells that need them. And toxin elimination means removing those things that damage the components of our ears that transmit sound.

There are multiple ways physical exercises can help you overcome your hearing problems. Specifically, exercise has been shown to help with the problems normally responsible for hearing loss, for instance, strained blood flow to the brain, obesity, depression, and so forth. Good regular workouts might just be what an individual needs.



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Does Obesity Have Effects On the Brain?

Although obesity can cause medical problems involving heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea and depression, can it affect cognitive functioning as well? According to a research study recently broadcasted in Neuropsychology, that might actually be true. John Gunstad of Kent State Universoty and Kelly M. Stanek of the University of Alabama directed a team of researchers studying the interaction of BMI and cognitive performance throughout the human lifespan. Their conclusions have worrying problems for the present obesity epidemic as well as the alarming rise in dementias cases amongst older adults.

Based on prior studies, obesity has been related to increased danger of Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. Weight gain has also been linked to a continuing decline in cognitive functioning even when dementia is not in play. Neuroimaging studies of morbidly obese people (BMI bigger than 40) propose that they are at a larger risk for brain deterioration- however these outcomes are still debatable for younger individuals. As people get older however, they become more susceptible to brain-related illnesses which may make the consequences of obesity even more essential.

In their latest study, Stanek, Gunstad, and their collaborators studied data collected from the Brain Resource International Database (BRID) as well as data taken from a national study of morbidly obese people having bariatric surgery to aid in weight loss. In total 732 people varying in age from 18 to 88 and with BMI score ranging from 19 to 75 were used in the study. As well as medical history, the researchers also looked at how the people in the study responded on different analyses of cognition, including memory, attention and decision-making.

Like the researchers predicted, age was inversely linked to performance on most of the cognitive tests. Decreased attention, fine motor speed, and processing speed was also a connected consequence to obesity. However, the relationship between BMI and other cognitive capabilities seemed to be more complex. Even though the overall correlation between BMI and executive functioning was not substantial, it did become a factor when age was brought into the picture. According to the results, executive functioning shortages were greater for older adults who were obese than for older adults who had a lower BMI. When factors such as medical history were taken into account, these results were still significant.

Overall, these findings indicate that obesity can increase the risk of different cognitive problem as individuals age. The interaction between age and BMI in reduced executive functioning seem especially important since both aging and obesity have separate effects on brain structure and cognition. As people get older, they become more susceptible to different issues affecting brain functioning than when they were adolescents.

The relationship between cognitive damage and obesity is not necessarily limited to older adults however, since research has found cognitive problems in severely obese younger individuals as well. Since there have been quite few research studies dealing with obesity and brain functioning so far, the definite connection between BMI and cognition is still uncertain.




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Effects of Yoga on the Brain

Well I tried something new yesterday and it was awesome! I’d never taken a yoga class before, but my friend was interested so I figured I’d tag along. I had always heard that yoga had calming effects and stimulated some parts of the brain while relaxing others, but I assumed that was just something that people said to get other people to try it. How could an exercise have that much impact on someone’s brain? I always thought of exercise as a way to change your body, not your mind. Well after taking this yoga class, I felt completely different and did a little research to find out why. We did a variety of poses and moves, and I felt like I was completely challenging myself during class because I wasn’t used to it. The instructor kept telling us to breathe through our noses and out our mouths, no matter how hard the position was. I tried to do this as much as possible, but it was a struggle at some points. I couldn’t imagine how people say that yoga makes them feel more focused and less stressed.

After I got home, I did some yoga research. It turns out that regular yoga practice actually does improve brain function! Many studies have shown that yoga seriously benefits mental health. One study shows that it increases the part of the brain in charge of lowering stress and also the part of the brain that is responsible for your sense of self. It also develops the part of the brain that controls attention. According to Scientific American, yoga helps the somatosensory cortex, the visual cortex, and the hippocampus increase in volume.

Another study found that the reason yoga is so beneficial is because it works to reverse the stress response, which is what usually causes people to feel anxiety or tension when they’re in a difficult situation. Yoga encourages deep breathing and relaxation while doing stressful or difficult poses so that when you do it regularly, you reverse your body’s response to stress because it learns to calm down and breathe through challenging situations, and so it can apply these yoga strategies in real life. Also, according to the study, yoga can allegedly improve depressive symptoms and immune function, as well as decrease chronic pain, reduce stress, and lower blood pressure.

Whatever the reason, I certainly think that yoga is worth the time and the practice!


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Battle of the Sexes

I am sure I am not the only girl to ever say this, but guys drive me completely nuts sometimes! How can they really be so different from us? How can they really not understand what we’re thinking and how to do the right thing? But then after I thought that, I realized that I have no idea what guys are thinking because their reactions seem crazy to me half the time, so maybe there really are differences in male and female brains that make it difficult for us to communicate and get along sometimes.

Several studies have shown that there are too many other factors that could affect the differences in people’s brains, so you can’t say for sure that they are because it is a man or a woman. People’s brains can be affected by their upbringing or environment, so that is something that could affect brain function aside from what gender the person is. A lot of research says that male brains are larger, which means they have more volume than a women’s brain, but none of that research has proved that this means they have more cognitive function than women, which is obvious to most of us because there is no way that men are automatically smarter! Either way, there is actually very little evidence to show that male and female brains have different structures, but instead it shows that you can’t really blame behavior on biology.

On the other hand, the same studies show that males and females definitely react differently to different social situations. To me this says that there must be a difference in brain functions! Scientists are looking into why their reactions are different and if it is because males and females see things differently or because they see things the same way and their reactions are just different because of how they process it:

Whatever the reasons are for why we act the way we act, it is clear that there are many differences between men and women. It might not be clear why yet, but I guess it is up to all of us to deal with these differences and try to figure out a way to make things work!


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Fountain of Youth

I always wonder why some people get to have their grandparents around for so much longer than other people. Are they doing something different? Is there something I could have my grandparents do to make sure they stay healthy for as long as possible? People are known to decrease in health and increase in disease after age 65, so the goal should be to continue being healthy beyond your 60s in order to improve overall health and life length. In looking this up, I found that there are several studies that show that there actually are things that people could do to stay as healthy as they can, which may increase their life expectancy. It may not be a fountain of youth, but it’s definitely helpful.

Of course we all know that exercise and eating healthily are essential for everyone, but people who are getting older may not work as hard to do that. One study shows that eating a diet full of fruits and vegetables and low in calories and staying active every day, in addition to reducing stress, even stress related to positive life events, is the best thing we can possibly do to increase our quality of life and the length of our lives. Exercise alone decreases the chances of getting diabetes, heart disease, and many other illnesses. Being lazy is one of the worst things you can do for your body and health at any age, but especially as you get older.

While other studies show that occasional fasting and diabetes medications could possibly aid in life expectancy, proper nutrition, lowered stress, and an active lifestyle are guaranteed ways to improve your life and health. I plan on sitting down with my grandparents and finding out exactly what they’re eating and how much they’re exercising, to make sure that they’re around for as long as they ca be!


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Science, not my thing

Over the past couple of months there have been multiple times when I’ve been asked what my major is and I have felt like a less capable student. I am undecided and I still am not any closer to figuring out what I want to major in.  I never excelled in math or science. Both of these subjects were a struggle for me throughout all of high school. I realized these subjects just weren’t for me; I don’t understand or enjoy them. I’m not a science major because it’s not something I enjoy or would even be good at.

I am taking this course for two simple reasons. The main reason I am taking it, is to satisfy the gen ed requirement. Another reason is after reading the description of the course I thought it would be interesting and help me make me think more critically.

I love coffee and drink it every day, so I could relate to this article and thought it was interesting.