Author Archives: Sarah Elizabeth Read

Fight or flight…or freeze?

We’ve probably all experienced a good scare or two at some point in our life.  And you’ve probably reacted in a similar way after each scare.  The classic response to being frightened is to either punch the person that scared you or to run straight out of the room.  But is there another response to fear that might exist?

I have never thought myself to fall into one of these two categories.  Rather than fighting, or even flighting, I tend to fall.  And yes, I mean literally fall to the ground.  Now this only happens when I have been scared really (and I mean really) well.  It’s those moments of genuine fear that we learn about our genuine reaction.

What I wanted to learn, was whether or not the fall-response is a legitimate response to fear or if it somehow just falls into the flight response.

Image result for jack sparrow running

According to Harvard Health Publications, not only does the fight or flight response apply to fear, but it also applies to stress.  (I was glad I found this out as it broadened my question and my hypothesis a bit.)  Say, for instance, you were being accused of doing something you did not do, by someone who had much more authority over you.  It would be in our instinct to want to either run and hide from the situation altogether or to want to argue the problem out.  We’ve all experienced this, too: having the strong desire to vanish from the situation or feeling our jaw and fists clench up.

Turns out, fight or flight is a survival mechanism that both animals and humans have been using for centuries.

In a study I found from Cell Press, researchers looked at rats to learn about more about these known fear responses.  Researchers used methods like Pavlov to study rats by pairing a conditioned stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus.  Because animals cannot respond in more than one way at the same time, researchers were easily able to study how rats initially reacted to fear stimuli.  The main conclusion that researchers were able to draw from this study was that female rats were more likely to flee (or flight) from the stimulus than males rats.  However, researchers were also able to study how rats had anther response to the conditioned stimulus and that was to freeze.

Perhaps there are three instinctual ways to respond to fear or stress factors: to fight, flight, or freeze.

Image result for kangaroo fight

So what is it that causes us to respond one way over the other?  In general the way we respond to genuine fear is going to be consistent among the individual.  The mystery remains in why.

In time, this mystery behind this phenomenon will become more fully uncovered, but that will require more thorough research like Pavlov’s and meta-analysis.  To answer my initial question, it seems as though three categories of fear response do exist, just not the three that I hypothesized.  From a scientific standpoint, fighting and flighting are the most common responses to stress and fear, but a third response– to freeze– has presented itself as an alternative reaction.  So when I collapse to the ground out of terror, maybe I am, in fact, fleeing from the source of my fear.


Jones, Carolyn E. “Fight, Flight, or Freeze? The Answer May Depend on Your Sex.” Trends in Neuroscience 39.2 (2016): 51-53. Web. 2 Dec. 2016.

Publications, Harvard Health. “Understanding the Stress Response – Harvard Health.” Harvard Health. N.p., Mar. 2011. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

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Does temperature affect productivity?

I went to a high school that had no air conditioning.

If I’m being completely honest, it wasn’t that big of a deal.  It was really just in the first three or four weeks of school that the heat really got to me.  The third floor of the school was particularly warm in early September, and conveniently that’s the floor on which the majority of my classes were located.  As fall came and went, I noticed how much of a difference the moderate weather made in my ability to focus and therefore be productive.

Regarding temperature, I am most productive when I am not thinking about the temperature at all.  If it’s too cold in the room where I’m working, I tend to be more on edge.  On the other hand, if it is too warm when I’m trying to finish an assignment, I feel like I can’t focus my attention on anything.  This is why September at O’Neill High School was a struggle for me.

This might sound like a first-world problem, but in a country where it is possible to control temperature in the workplace, it’s surprisingly more prevalent than I would have initially guessed.  A great deal of the American workforce spends their workday in office spaces.  What I am curious to find is whether or not having the ability to control temperature in spaces like these is beneficial to overall worker productivity.

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In a study that I found from the Association for Psychological Science, researcher and psychological scientist Alan Hedge was curious to know the same thing.  He included nine women in his study, and tracked their productivity levels by means of equipping their individual work spaces with air samplers.  These air samplers measured air temperature every 15 minutes.  He was able to track their productivity through software that measured their typing speed and errors over the course of a 20 day period.

This study concluded that warmer office temperature resulted in a greater level of productivity.  At the temperature of 77° F, women were recorded typing 100% of the time and with an error rate of 10%.  When the office space was cooled down to 68° F, typing rates decreased dramatically and error rates jumped to 25%.

Interestingly enough, this study also found that once temperature rates raise above 77° F, productivity levels start to drop again.

Image result for the office thermostat

In a separate study that I found from the Journal of Building and Environment, a similar trial was conducted.  Unlike the first study, however, this study did not find a clear correlation between X and Y, or rather, temperature and office productivity.  What it did find though, is that there are several confounding or third variables that need to be taken into account when looking at these two variables.  One of the most prominent confounding variables is gender.  This is something that first study failed to account for as it only tested the productivity of women.  Men and women have different metabolic rates, which means that they are not going to reach a point of peak productivity at the same temperature.

So is there a link between air temperature and office productivity?  I would argue that there is.  The problem lies in personal preference.  In an office space of say, 25 people, not everyone is going to agree on an ideal temperature to set the space at.  This is where human adaptability kicks in.  Humans are capable of unbelievable amounts of adaptation, so within the magic range of acceptable work space temperatures, people are going to be able to adjust.  Maybe it means that not everyone will be able to type 90 words per minute, but hey– at least we have air conditioning.


“Cold Offices Linked to Lower Productivity.” Association for Psychological Science. APS, 7 Aug. 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

Tanabe, Shin-ichi. “Workplace Productivity and Individual Thermal Satisfaction.” Building and Environment 91 (2015): 42-50. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.

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Can brain games improve your memory?

I struggle on a daily basis with remembering things, no matter how significant or insignificant the thing may.  It can be a school-related assignment or a coffee date, but if I don’t write it down in my planner or my phone, it’s not going to happen.  The other day, I was wondering if there is something that we can do as humans to improve our memory.  Then I remembered the trend from several years ago that was all about playing computer brain games found on sites like to improve cognitive functions such as memory.  Was this just, in fact, a trend to drain the wallets of the naive American people?  Or were these companies actually onto something?

Memory is a complicated yet amazing process, and can be broken down into three main stores. When stimuli is first observed, it goes into the sensory memory store.  This is like where item that aren’t rehearsed get lost (like trying to remember a phone number).  If an item makes it through the sensory memory store, then it is now in the working memory store.  This is a place of learning where maintenance and active rehearsal are necessary.  If an item is to make it all the way to the long-term memory, it needs to first be encoded.  Ultimately, getting information in the long-term memory is the goal.  But this is so often harder than it appears to be.

Image result for memory process diagram

In a study that I found from the Procedia Journal of Social and Behavioral Sciences, 50 undergraduate students were recruited to play games–brain games.  At the beginning of the study, participants were assessed on their working memory and their attention capacity.  Over the course of a three week-long period, participants were given five different memory games to play each week (with one game per weekday).  After the training period came to a conclusion, participants took a post-test of sorts to test their working memory once again.  This test included the sequencing of numbers and letters in alphabetical and numerical order.  What the researchers found after analyzing this data was that on average, there was a significant increase in working memory capacity after the training occurred.

In a separate article that I found from Science, I learned about the other side of this theory.  This article mentions a study that was done at the Florida State University, where 77 undergraduate participants were randomly assigned to play games on Lumosity or a video game called Portal 2.  After 8 hours of playing one of these two games, researchers discovered that the participants who played Portal 2 scored higher on 3 tests of problem solving and spatial skills, on average, than those that were assigned to play games on Lumosity.  They concluded that because the Lumosity participants scored no higher than those of the other game, that the brain game hype is nothing to get too excited about.

Image result for lumosity

Something else to note about sites like Lumosity is that oftentimes memory skills are often only focused on one specific task rather than a broad range of memory-focused tasks.

The X variable is brain games in this question.  The Y variable is memory, but we have yet to find out how X and Y are related.  How can humans best sharpen their working memory on a day to day basis?  Could a confounding variable help solve the answer to this question?

Because these two studies don’t necessarily line up in their results, I’d be curious to find a meta-analysis on the topic.  Something that I think is important to remember about brain games, particularly those that are online and that are subscription-based, is that they aren’t the only known way to sharpen cognitive skills.  Taking a walk outdoors, sitting down for coffee with a friend, cooking, taking part in all sorts of other recreational activities have been shown to help clear and sharpen the brain, and thus improve one’s memory.

To conclude, I want to make note that this topic could most certainly suffer from the Texas sharpshooter problem in the sense that some it’s easy for people to want to bash companies like Lumosity.  Both of the studies I included have extreme and opposing conclusions in which the Texas sharpshooter problem could exist.

If you’re anything like me, I think the best case X variable is practice.  Like shown in the diagram above, rehearsal is necessary to keep information in the working memory.  Whether that practice be brain games or conscientiously thinking, practice makes perfect…right?


Dingfelder, Sadie F. “A Workout for Working Memory.” American Psychological Association 36.8 (2005): 48. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.

“The Human Memory – What It Is, How It Works and How It Can Go Wrong.” The Human Memory – What It Is, How It Works and How It Can Go Wrong. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

Underwood, Emily. “Neuroscientists Speak out against Brain Game Hype.” Science | AAAS. Science, 22 Oct. 2016. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

Can drinking water improve your grades?

Staying hydrated is one of the most important habits in human health.  But we’ve all had days where we somehow just forget to drink enough water.  Days after these are when we wake up with chapped lips and suddenly attempt to re-hydrate.  This morning was one of those times for me, except not only did I wake up with the dire need to quench my thirst; it felt as though my brain was foggy for the entirety of the morning.

This got me thinking.  Could hydration mean something more than physical wellness?  Could drinking enough have a direct correlation with mental health?

According to a study I found on hydration and cognitive function in children, I discovered that this might just be a correlation that is completely undermined in everyday human health.

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My question is whether x variable (drinking water) has a positive, negative, or no effect on y variable (cognitive function).

The first study I looked at focused on different degrees of dehydration including none/mild, moderate, and severe.  At birth, humans are composed of 75% water.  By late childhood/early adulthood, humans have lost nearly 25% of this water.  When looking at dehydration in the average human, mild dehydration can mean as little as a loss of 2% weight in water.  Far too often we experience this 2% loss or mild dehydration.  Mild hydration can decrease performance level in tasks as simple as short-term memory, psychomotor skills, or tasks such as arithmetic ability or perceptual discrimination.  In this study, research participants were strategically dehydrated through either heat exposure or treadmill exercise.  Researchers found after observing participants post-dehydration process, that participant levels of concentration and tracking performance were significantly lower than before the dehydration process.  They also discovered that participants showed signs of increased tiredness and headaches.  Additionally, participants were asked to identify the color of an object.  The reaction time for this test increased post-dehydration, though participants still correctly answered.  What is notable about this study, is that cognitive function only continued to decrease as participants were further dehydrated.

In a second study that I found, researchers deprived participants of fluids for a total of 28 hours.  In the average participant, this caused for a 2.6% loss in body mass.  Researchers were unable to note a clear decrease in cognitive function, but the volunteer participants self-reported an increase in tiredness, decrease in concentration, effort, and overall alertness.

Image result for drinking water

By looking at both of these studies, it can be concluding with a good deal of certainty that failing to stay hydrated, even within a single day, can decrease cognitive function.  I would argue that X and Y have a strong negative relationship.

What’s the practical takeaway then?  Stay hydrated, kids.  As we approach the end of the semester, keep a water bottle with you and refill it throughout out the day as you continue to drink water.  Staying hydrated won’t only keep you physically healthy, but it will absolutely help your mental/cognitive state.  My high school crew coach taught me a rule that I do my best to live by: drink half your weight in fluid ounces every day.

Who knows though?  Staying on top of your hydration game might just make the difference in that borderline A!


D’Anci, Kristin E. “Hydration and Cognitive Function in Children.” Nutrition Reviews 64.10 (2006): 457-64. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.

Lieberman, Harris R. “Hydration and Human Cognition.” Nutrition Today 45.6 (2010): 33-36. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.


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What’s so ‘super’ about super-foods?

Blueberries, quinoa, kale, Greek yogurt, oatmeal, green tea, almonds, cranberries.  The list could go on and on.  To some, this is just a list of food.  To others, this list of foods are known as something more: super-foods.  But what is it about these particular foods that makes them so super?  Is there something that allows a seemingly average food to earn the prefix of ‘super?’

I’m not vegetarian.  I’m not vegan.  I wouldn’t even consider myself an organic eater.  I do, however, love fresh food.  I like to know where the meat on my plate came from and whether or not my produce was grown locally or even regionally.  In other words, I try to be conscientious about what I put in my body.  After skimming a list of super-foods, I discovered how many I incorporate into my diet without realizing it.

Now I grew up in a home that put a good deal of emphasis on health and nutrition.  I know what a balanced meal is supposed to look like and how many cups of vegetables you’re supposed to eat in a given day.  If we were to poll the class, I’m fairly certain that most of the class would be able to distinguish healthy foods from unhealthy or junk foods.

But we’ve also been taught to pair health benefits with certain foods.  I’m sure all of us have heard that eating carrots improves your eyesight.  Or that drinking milk will strengthen your bones.  Or even that eating oranges during the winter will help keep you from catching a cold.

So is this it?  If a food brings a certain health benefit to the table (pun not intended), can it now be classified as super?  According to an article from the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry– the answer is both yes and no.

In the realm of science, one of the most defining characteristics of super-foods, is that of energy density.  Looking at fruits or vegetables in particular, these special foods are especially rich in phytochemicals.  Phytochemicals, otherwise known as phytonutrients are exactly what is in the word: the nutrients or chemicals of a plant.  These play a hugely significant role in human health and can be found in fresh super-foods that are produce.  In produce such as kale or pumpkin, there exists a phytochemical called beta-carotene that benefits the immune system, skin health, bone health, and vision.  Produce that contain high levels phytochemicals automatically get bumped up to the status of super.

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So why classify foods as super?  I think that this name is helpful in understanding that no matter what the benefit may be, super-foods have something special that makes them stand out that other foods may not have.  Whether it be a load of vitamins or antioxidants, these foods can earn this title because they all have one thing in common: they boost your overall health levels.

Yes, on a college campus these foods might be harder to find, but it might just be worth taking a closer look at the dining hall menus or maybe stopping by Jamba Juice for a Acai Super Antioxidant smoothie.

As we have discussed in class, science informs public health policy, but there is much more to science than just the facts.  We see foods getting bumped up to super status all the time in food journals, magazines, and every day news.  Science is ever changing, as is the realm of nutrition.  Probably the most important takeaway despite this, is that no single good thing eaten out of moderation will remain a good thing.  In other words, no matter how super a food may be, it is ultimately more important to maintain a balanced diet.


Lunn, J. (2006). Superfoods. Nutrition Bulletin, 31(3), 171-172.

Seeram, N. P. (2008, January 23). Berry Fruits for Cancer Prevention: Current Status and Future Prospects. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 56(3), 630-635. Retrieved November 30, 2016.

What Are Phytonutrients? – Fruits & Veggies More Matters. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2016, from

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Does the music in your head make you smarter??

If you’re anything like me, you’re mind is a music library and you constantly have a song stuck in your head.  Sometimes I can never remember when I first heard the song, or how it ended up on replay in my head.  I figured since this was such a relevant occurrence for me, that I’d do a little more research on the topic and perhaps find out if this type of memory might be more of a phenomenon than I originally thought.

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When I was a sophomore in high school, I was taking AP World History.  At the same time my younger sister was being home-schooled.  She was 12 at the time, and had an extremely intense curriculum for a 6th grader.  Part of her curriculum was learning the timeline of the world. This might sound overwhelming to people, as it was to me, but she was given a recording of a song that covered the entire history of the world.  The song was about 13 minutes in length and covered all major events from every time period.  Being my stubborn, 10th-grade self, I told my mom that I was fine every time she suggested that I learn the song.  It was incredibly corny, as most of these songs are.  May rolled around, which meant that my AP exam was coming up.  After almost an entire year of hearing this song in the background (my sister had to have it memorized by the end of the year) I finally gave in and decided to actually learn it.  To my shock, it helped me to retain much of the material I had to know for my AP exam.

Amazingly, this isn’t the only time this has happened to me.  If you asked me to, I could sing you the US presidents, the 50 states, and all the countries around the world by continent and region.  This isn’t something I ever planned to be able to do, but for some reason this information has stuck with me for years.  The question I’m asking now is– why?

In a study that I found, researchers focused on several English classes to find out how accurate this method of learning actually was.  Vocabulary words were presented to two separate groups; the experimental group to rhymes and melodies that the researchers invented while the control group was taught vocabulary words in a traditional manner.  A month after students were presented with this first set of words, they were tested on their retention of an entirely new set of words.  Both groups were taught the second set of words in the same manner as they were for the first set of words.

What the researchers found was fImage result for memoryascinating in the sense that the experimental group performed significantly better than the control group when tested on their retention of vocabulary words.  Not only did the experimental group of English students retain vocabulary words better when music was involved, but this group also had a better outlook on their English course, and an overall higher performance rate in the English class.

So is it a bad idea to try and use music to improve retention of information?  I think not.  There is obviously a reason I can still rattle off all of the presidents in order from Washington to Obama.  Music is powerful, and I definitely think that if we can better utilize our ability to learn the lyrics to the latest hits on the radio, we might be much better off in the realm of long term memory.



Köksal, O., Yağışan, N., & Çekiç, A. (2013, October). The Effects of Music on Achievement, Attitude and Retention in Primary School English Lessons. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 93(21), 1897-1900. Retrieved from ScienceDirect.

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Do means of transport mean more than you originally thought?


I went home for the first time this past weekend only to come back to campus and find that my front bicycle tire was flat.  This wasn’t too big of a deal, because I didn’t have a bike for the first several weeks of school and I knew how the walking deal went: give yourself 15 minutes to get anywhere on campus.  I proceeded to walk to class for the day, along with the following two days.  This post was inspired by the pain I am now enduring in my shins.  Who knew that a month of not walking to class consistently (and riding a bike instead) could get my legs so out of shape?!  I know that each of these gross motor skills requires very different use of muscles, but I was still so surprised to find my legs to be so sore!

As I was walking downtown this afternoon to get my front tire fixed, I began thinking about which of the two options– biking or walking– was ultimately better for my overall wellness.  All of us see hundreds of pedestrians every day when walking from one place on campus to another, but we also see many more bikers on this campus than on most.  (As a side note, I’m going to continue to ride my bicycle as it allows for a much quicker transition time between classes.  But for the sake of this blog post, I want to compare the two).

First I wanted to learn about cycling.  Are there any health benefits or dangers that make it a better or worse option than simply walking?  Rather than researching a single study, I chose to look for information on this topic in a meta-analysis–as cycling is a very prominent topic of study and is extremely relevant to the general public.  The meta-analysis that I found included results of many different types of studies, including cross-sectional, case-control studies, and intervention studies.  This included 16 studies total, with only two finding that cycling was potentially harmful to human health.  The cross sectional and longitudinal studies all found that a consistent positive relationship between cycling and cardio-respiratory fitness in youth.  All but two of the case-control studies discovered a consistent inverse relationship between commuter cycling and cancer mortality among middle aged adults to elderly adults.  The intervention studies also revealed positive results in their discovery of clear cardiovascular improvements.  Aside from the fact that this meta-analysis wanted only to look at health factors and not confounding variables such as the use of helmets, it discovered that overall–biking can absolutely maintain and improve human health conditions, especially the cardio-respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

Next I wanted to look into long distance walking and the benefits or potential dangers that came along with.  My typical route to and from classes, in addition to any other movement I do in a day (i.e. going to the gym, getting dinner at the dining commons, etc.) adds up to be about 3.5 miles on average.  I figured this out, back in my days of walking when my phone would alert me that I had reached a daily goal that I had somehow set up.

Good news for those of you that do have longer routes throughout your week: walking is one of the most underutilized yet best forms of physical activity.  It is considered moderate-intensity physical activity which is recommended universally, and regardless of age.  The most interesting thing that I found about walking, however, is that it has been found to increase in significance to health as the population ages.  Consistently walking has been shown to decrease obesity, chronic disease in older individuals, and reduce the risk of injury in people.

To conclude, both cycling and walking hawalk-feet-2ve tremendous health benefits.  While both are prominent ways to get around as a college student, what makes one better than another is that walking is universal.  By this I mean that it requires absolutely no equipment, training, etc.  Biking requires certain conditions that cannot be found everywhere.

So bike or walk?  It really ends up being personal preference.  The important piece to take away from this though, is that consistent physical activity like cycling or walking each and every day is going to help keep you healthy.  And staying healthy is what is really important in the long run.



Lee, I., & Buchner, D. M. (2008, July). The Importance of Walking to Public Health. Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, 40(7), S512-S518. Retrieved October 19, 2016, from Ovid.

Oja, P., Titze, S., & Bauman, A. (2011, August). Health Benefits of Cycling: A Systematic Review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 21(4), 496-509. Retrieved October 19, 2016, from Wiley Online Library.

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Mirroring: Unconscious Influence on Our Every Move?

Your friend is in tears over a recent breakup, so you too become sad in attempting to comfort her.  You’re going on a run around campus with a classmate, and you can’t help but fall in sync with each others’ steps.  You are in the library studying, but then you look up for a moment and see someone across the room check their phone, so you have the urge to pull your phone out and check it as well.

Image result for mrs incredible feeding jack jack

Mirroring: it happens in dozens of different ways to each of us every single day.  Most of the time, we fail to even notice it.  The people around us can be hugely influential over us in this respect, but why does mirroring occur in the first place?  Why don’t we catch ourselves doing it?  And why can an action so subconscious be so prevalent in our day-to-day life?

The scientific term for what we know as mirroring or mimicking is called embodied cognition.  Whether it be a facial expression, a gesture, or some other form of body language, the most simple reason that embodied cognition exists is because we, as humans, are empathetic beings.  We are far from being robotic, and we are able to experience hundreds of emotions.

We are also relational beings, by which I mean that in order for us to remain in a healthy social state, we have to be in contact with other people.  Studies have even shown that infants and young children who are not in contact with other people from the start can develop serious social problems as they continue to develop.  Think about it, whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you need to interact with other people at some point during a day.  Otherwise, you are left feeling alone and potentially depressed.  We are empathetic, relational human beings.

So what role does embodied cognition, or mirroring play in our daily lives?  Why is it important?

Embodied cognition wouldn’t matter if it didn’t play such a huge role in our daily lives.  Mimicking is important because it demonstrates that we understand the people around us.  For example, repeating words back to somebody, helps you and the other person to come to a mutual understanding.  Embodied cognition is also a very important skill to us because it helps aid communication between people.  In a study I found, researchers tried to better understand what is called the mirror neuron system (or MNS) in children.  This system has been suggested to play a critical role in social cognition of children.  In this study, 16 children (between the ages of nine and ten) were neurologically scanned to discover this neural mechanism by which others’ intentions, emotions, and actions could be explained.

What was found, was that there did exist a strong neurological connection between empathy and activity in the mirror neuron system.  Despite the fact that the sample in this study was incredibly narrow and not very diverse, I think that it answers my own question.  This neurological link is critical to our very existence.  Without empathy, our daily activities would be limited, and vice versa.

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So is mirroring ultimately a good thing?  I would argue that it absolutely is.  Don’t be freaked out the next time someone yawns and you find yourself yawning as well, or if you realize that you’re making the same exact facial expression as the person that your’re talking to.  Rather, be encouraged– because you are obviously doing something right.  You are being empathetic and relational, or human for that matter.



Handel, S. (2013, February 17). The Unconscious Influence of Mirroring. Retrieved October 12,
2016, from
Pfeifer, J. H. (2008, February 15). Mirroring others’ emotions relates to empathy and
interpersonal competence in children. NeuroImage, 39(4), 2076-85. Retrieved October 12, 2016,
from ScienceDirect.
Wilson, M. (2002, December). Six views of embodied cognition. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review,
9(4), 625-36. Retrieved October 12, 2016, from Springer Link.

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Does Screen Time Affect Kids’ Health?

My 15-year old sister was just telling me about how her freshman class was issued Chromebooks for the academic year.  My 11-year old brother knows more about computers and research than how to master Type-2-Learn.  Even my 7-year old brother now has access to i-Pads in his classroom.  For those of you that don’t have younger siblings, just take a second to think that through.  This trend isn’t unheard of in schools today, but the use of technology such as tablets and laptops is becoming increasingly more popular in the K-12 setting today.

It’s funny how the term ‘screen time’ only referred to time watching the television when we were kids.  How times have changed.  Since the days of Clifford the Big Red Dog, technology has developed at an exponential rate.  Laptops, tablets, and smartphones have emerged as seemingly essential household items to the average American family.  I actually have to stop and think about how many of each of these items exists in my home.  With increased accessibility to these technologies, don’t we have to step back and question ourselves?  If 10-year-olds tImage result for child with tabletoday are carrying around phones of their own, what is it going to look like when our generation has 10-year-old kids?  Doesn’t this dramatic change in technology use seem like it could take a dangerous turn?  Or has it already?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average time an American child spends looking at a screen each day has risen from five hours to seven and a half hours over the span of only 17 years.  This increase is tremendous, and a study was conducted to understand what implications these numbers have on the youth of today.  Research has shown that some of the negative impacts of technology on children include depression, anxiety, or aggression.

In this study, researchers recruited 615 parents to learn more about the technology habits of their children and the potentially negative implications.  The children studied ranged in age from 3 years to 17 years and were split up evenly into three groups: young childhood (3-7 years), middle childhood (8-12 years), and adolescents (13-17 years).  After responding to a set of questions about their technology-related parenting strategies, parents were also asked about how much screen time they allowed their children.  Finally, parents were asked about the internal and external problems of their children.  Over the course of this study, researchers discovered that internalizing and externalizing behaviors positively correlated with the about of screen time they were allowed by their parents.  The results differed slightly between the three age groups, but overall the study found that the more time spent on screened devices, the more behavioral problems arose.

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There are a number of other factors or confounding variables that could play into the results of this study.  Some of these include the views of the parents on technology use, the amount the parents use technology themselves, and several other demographic factors.  The study took many of these demographic factors into account including marital status, parental age, parental education, household income, and demographic information regarding the child being studied.

I don’t believe that technology is a bad thing, rather I believe that any good thing used out of moderation can easily become bad.  Laptops, tablets, and other forms of modern technology can absolutely promote learning, especially in children.  However, when a third-grader spends more hours in a day staring at a bright screen rather than playing outside, I think a line can be drawn and a conclusion can be made that technology can only be beneficial to a certain degree.


Sanders, W. (2016, May/June). Parental perceptions of technology and technology-focused parenting: Associations with youth screen time. Journal of Applied Developmental Technologies, 44, 28-38. Retrieved from ScienceDirect.

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The Power of Hand-Washing

I’m not writing this blog post to call anyone out, but rather to bring awareness to a topic that I believe a great deal of people undermine.  Since I’ve been here at Penn State and since I’ve been living in close living quarters, I’ve noticed that while people aren’t necessarily unhygienic, they fail to make the simple move to wash their hands in the restroom.  I have seen far too many individuals walk out of the restroom on my floor without even glancing at the sinks.  I remember always being told to wash my hands thoroughly and frequently as a kid, especially in the fall and winter when bacteria seems to be floating around everywhere.  And I don’t think I was the only one that was told this.  As the initial ‘plague’ has just passed through campus, I have found myself being very curious to know what degree hand-washing actually plays in the overall health and wellness of our campus.  Image result for photo of handwashing tumblr

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A study was conducted during a fall semester at the University of Colorado at Boulder campus to discover if hand-washing did play an active role in the health of college students.  430 students recruited from four separate residence halls were split into a control group and a product group.  To test their hypothesis, researchers placed hand-sanitizing stations throughout every room, restroom, and dining hall for the product group.  Researchers measured the difference in reported symptoms of the product group, along with illness rates, and days absent from class.

What the researchers wanted to find was that those who didn’t increase their hand-washing habits decreased their likelihood of developing upper respiratory illness and increased their overall wellness and class attendance.  The researchers did, in fact, find that this hypothesis held true but they didn’t realize how significant of a difference there would be between the product groups and control groups.  In the end, the researchers discovered that reductions in upper respiratory illness reduced anywhere from roughly 14% to 40%.  They also found a 20% increase in overall wellness.  Finally, their study discovered that the product group missed classes 43% less of the time.  These statistics aren’t to be ignored; they bring concrete proof that hand hygiene is mandatory in the context of college if a healthy environment is to be maintained.

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Looking at the visual above, it’s astonishing to think about the number of Americans who say they practice good hand hygiene yet who have also witnessed other individuals leaving restrooms without washing their hands.  To put it simply: who likes to get sick?  I’ve been on the verge of catching whatever has been making it’s way around campus, so washing my hands frequently has been a top priority to hopefully avoid sickness.  Consequently, I haven’t gotten sick yet.  Is this a legitimate correlation?  I believe it is.

So the next time you wash your hands, I dare you to sing “Happy Birthday” out loud.  Think through the way you were taught to wash your hands as a kid, and bring back the trend.  Make the other person in the restroom think to themselves that maybe washing their hands before leaving is a good idea.  It may seem petty or insignificant, but an action as simple as this could prevent the next plague from taking students out all over campus.  When you’re looking at it this way, you’re considering the health of not just yourself, but the health of everyone you come in contact with.

Think bigger, and wash those hands.


Mathur, P. (2011, November). Hand hygiene: Back to the basics of infection control. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 134(5), 611-620. Retrieved October 9, 2016, from US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.


White, C. (2003, October). The effect of hand hygiene on illness rate among students in
university residence halls. American Journal of Infection Control, 31(6), 364-370. Retrieved October
9, 2016.

How Do You Like Your Caffeine?

I intentionally did not bring a coffee maker with me to college.  When I was doing one of my many runs through Target over the summer, I decided that I did not want to come away from college with a diploma and a caffeine addiction, so I went for the hot pot (or hot water heater) just down the isle.

When people have mentioned drinking coffee black, I’ve always shuddered at the thought…until very recently.  About a week ago, someone mentioned to me that they always start their day off with a cup of coffee.  My initial thought was that he was probably a caffeine addict, perhaps from the start of his college career.  However he proceeded to explain that he drank his coffee black.  Now the idea of this was turning me further away, until he mentioned some of the health benefits of drinking one cup of black coffee at the beginning of each day.  I couldn’t leave this conversation unfinished, so I later looked up whether this might in fact be true or if it was all another health scam.

To my amazement, I discovered that coffee may, in fact, have more to offer than the average college student realizes.  That is, if the coffee is served black.  According to an article I found by the American Chemical Society, coffee has proven to be the number one source of antioxidants for most Americans.  And by number one, I actually don’t mean number one.  Dates are packed with the most antioxidants per serving, but because most Americans don’t chose dates as their go-to snack, coffee beats dates in the ranking.  This itself is surprising, because items like tea, milk, chocolate, and cranberries are also commonly known for containing very high levels of antioxidants.

cup of black coffee with beans, spoon, and sugar

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The good news about antioxidants in coffee is that they have been associated with a huge number of likely health benefits.  The American Institute for Cancer Research has found that coffee can, in fact, help protect against cancer–specifically colon cancer and liver cancer.  The American Chemical Society has found that coffee can also protect against type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.  If we know this much, imagine what other health benefits we could continue to find from a simple drink like coffee in the future.

The important piece about coffee consumption is the same for any food or drink: a good thing can soon become bad if not used in moderation.  For coffee–this means that a cup or two can come along with many potential health benefits.  Studies have not yet shown, however, that going for a fourth or fifth cup by the afternoon is still beneficial.  Additionally, these benefits aren’t necessarily going to count if you’re packing your java with creme and sugar.

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I’m not sure if it was the power of suggestion, or a bright new idea of mine to start drinking my coffee black, but to me it made the most sense.  It was strange how I woke up one morning and decided to drink my Trader Joe’s Instant Colombian blend without any add-ins, but I certainly feel as though it’s a better option than with loads of sugar.  I look forward to seeing in the long-run if drinking a moderate amount of coffee served black impacts my health for the better.

Early Bird or Night Owl…or Somewhere in the Middle?


Most would agree that there are two types of people in life: those who enjoy early mornings, and those who do not.  Since I’ve started at Penn State, I’ve discovered this to be especially true in the college setting.  For example, I’ve learned that there are two main waves of risers on weekends.  The first wave consists of the people who want to get a head start on their Saturday (the people who didn’t stay out for the entirety of the night before).  The second wave of risers typically don’t emerge for another four hours or so.


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I was intrigued to learn that individuals don’t actually decide for themselves whether they are, in fact, an early bird or a night owl.  In an article I found on, I learned that this is predetermined by your genetics from day one.  This is what is called one’s chronotype, or a tendency for an individual to sleep at a given time over the course of a twenty-four hour period.  In other words, each of us contains an internal clock of sorts.  In fact, this clock can be found in almost all life forms.

If you’re anything like me, you don’t feel as though you fall into one category over the other.  According Penn State professor of psychology, Frederick Brown, nearly half of the population falls into this middle ground.  The good news about this third group, however, is that they are able to rise several hours earlier than usual or fall asleep a few hours later than the average night–meaning we’re an adaptable bunch.  This third group is the most common of the three, with evening people following, and, understandably, early risers being the most rare of the three groups.


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The most interesting fact that I found about the two extreme chronotypes is that there is no permanent switching of chronotype.  Our environment and behaviors can temporarily shift our natural inclination of sleep scheduling, which means that during these college years it is possible to shift more to the night owl chronotype.  It has actually been found that because of increased socialization and changes in hormones, high school students and college students will make up for a substantial cluster of night owls.  According to Brown, however, an individual will always return to their natural chronotype.  Unfortunately this means that true night owls may never know what a productive early start looks like, and vice versa.  For the early birds out there who have temporarily shifted to the night owl chronotype, this is good news for you in a couple of years.  And for you middle-grounders, congratulations– you will be able to adapt to whatever life throws your way.

Here is a quiz that I found that will determine whether you are in fact an early bird or a night owl, if you don’t already know.  If you’re like me, you tend to be a bit of both–depending on the day.  I’d be interested to learn how many of you are genuinely one type or the other, or if you’re stuck somewhere in the middle–able to do early mornings and late nights.

Plant Life = Better Life?

I came to college with 3 succulents and a cactus.  My roommate came with 3 cacti and 14 succulents.  As I’ve recently added one more of each to our collection, I’ve been wondering if these small plant forms have done more than contribute a pleasing aesthetic to our living space.

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A study discussed in an article I found covers this very question. Research has shown that nature has a positive effect on humans, whether it be a walk through the park or even looking at a work of landscape art.  Psychological benefits also come from having plants in your living space.  But what is it about having a tiny life form, that makes for a happier and healthier you?

While succulents and cacti might not have the same effect that a Boston Fern, a Peace Lily, a Spider Plant, or English Ivy have on human health and air quality, there is something to say about keeping plant life close at hand.  Plants undergo the oxygen-carbon dioxide cycle, which means that the carbon dioxide that we release, plants absorb.  The oxygen that plants then release, we breath in.  And so the cycle continues. Succulents and cacti aren’t nearly as effective in this process as are the plants listed above.  However, studies have shown that having plants in your living space improve the quality of one’s concentration and memory. A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that being around nature, whether it be going outside or bringing the outside in, increases memory retention up to 20%. I found this result incredibly fascinating, as my memory (especially my short-term memory) can be incredibly spotty from time to time.

This article continued to discuss other benefits of plants bringing them into your living space.  One benefit that stood out to me is that owning plants reduces stress levels. This made a lot of sense to me, because while succulents and cacti don’t require a massive amount of care, they still need to be looked after and watered on occasion.  Cacti aren’t children, but they do need attention, and having the responsibility of caring for something besides yourself allows for stress to be turned into positive energy. The same can be said of owning other varieties of plants or any sort of pet animal.

Another benefit of owning plants such as cacti or succulents is that they are able to improve one’s perceived quality of life. The second article I attached discusses how people associate living in areas with natural beauty with a higher quality of life.  While the article is implying that living in physically beautiful places is what causes this association, I still believe that the aesthetic of a desk area filled with little potted plants can improve one’s perceived quality of life.

So here I am, back at square one.  Yes, having plants in your living space can work all sorts of incredible wonders for your mental health, but succulents aren’t necessarily grouped into this category of “10 Best Houseplants to Purify Your Air and Life.”  Maybe it is the aesthetic that provides all of the benefits… Or maybe I’ll end up writing another blog post towards the end of the semester only to contradict everything I have just stated.  I guess we’ll have to see!

At Least It’s Not Engineering


Hey everyone! My name is Sarah Read and I’m a freshman this semester here at University Park! Probably the first thing people should know about me is that I’m a military brat.  I’ve been moving around the country (and the world) my whole life.  This move to State College is move number 14 for me.  My current hometown though, is West Point, New York!  For those of you who haven’t heard of West Point before, it is the home of the United States Military Academy and is located about an hour up the Hudson River from NYC.  A lot of people ask me if I considered going to West Point and entering into the Army.  The thought of going did, in fact, cross my mind.  It wasn’t until I made some friends with female cadets that I considered it though.  Here is an article about the women of West Point and how the dynamics have changed over recent years.


I’m a Childhood and Early Adolescent Education major, and I’m not planning on teaching science.  I figured when putting together my schedule that SC200 would be a good option to take as a happy middle for a non-science major like myself.  My advisor recommended it over meteorology, so here I am! Science and I are tolerant of each other–some types of science more so than others.  For example, physics and I didn’t ever click, but I ended up getting credit for AP Environmental Science so that’s something!

After this past week of SC200, I have already become much more interested in the course material and in science itself than I was a week ago.  I really look forward to learning about the answer to some of these fascinating questions that are listed on the course schedule!