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Feng Shui: Pseudoscience at it's Best

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Feng Shui began 3000 years ago in China and is still used today. It is an ancient art that deals with balancing energies in a space to promote good health to those people inhabiting it. The word Feng translates to "wind" while the word Shui translates into " water." In the Chinese culture wind and water symbolize good health, and good Feng Shui is supposed to give you good luck and prosperity, while bad Feng Shui does the opposite. The idea is that all land is alive and filled with Chi, a type of energy ,that if used correctly can lead to good fortune and prosperity in life. This claim however is Pseudoscience. Pseudoscience is defined by a set of claims that seem scientific but aren't. There are no studies to support the idea of Fung Shui and no way to measure if the effects are realistic. Who decides what good Feng Shui is? There is no specific grid or outline to follow, thus proving that the myth has no substance. Some people claim that the effects of Feng Shui can be measured and that a scientific study can be done. The idea is that the effects of Feng Shui can be seen in your everyday life. For example someone with good Feng Shui would have economic prosperity and emotional well-being. But once again, how would one measure that? Who determines what emotional well-being is? The claim of Feng Shui is pseudoscience, an unscientific claim. If you're looking for economic prosperity and emotional well-being in life, I would stick to getting a good education and making good life choices.
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Doogie Vanquishes Dementia

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Not long ago in Professor Gewirtz's final lecture, Psychology 1001 students learned about Doogie the "smart mouse." Intrigued, I decided to find out more. In an article published by Princeton University (http://www.princeton.edu/pr/news/99/q3/0902-smart.htm) I found plenty of interesting information.

Doogie was "created" (let the Frankenstein flashbacks ensue) by neurobiologist Joe Tsien. By adding a single gene called NR2B, he was able to increase the animal's ability to solve, reason, and learn from his environment. During lecture, we saw how Doogie had a significantly faster learning curve than his unmodified peers did. Beyond this original extraordinary learning, modified mice retained certain features of juvenile mice into adulthood that allow them to remain better learners.

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This is an extremely important finding for humanity as well as scientists. With such a simple modification, memory and learning problems could be wiped from the face of the Earth. My grandma and aunt have been diagnosed with memory loss problems and past research has shown that the difficulties they face are genetic. Someday I could be the one forgetting where I put things or not remembering my friends' names. This procedure has not been used on humans yet, but with Doogie's help it is only a matter of time before it could be. Looking to avoid gene modification, pharmaceutical companies could look into making drugs to enhance current NR2B effects in our bodies.

While these findings seem promising, there are questions left. Tsien's modified mice experienced chronic pain and had shorter life spans as a side effect of accelerated learning and retention abilities. Would these problems carry into a human application and if so how severe would they be? It is also unknown how effective NR2B treatment would be on humans and if there are other side effects that remain undetected in the mice. With such uncertainties, the NR2B discovery has much left to be discovered but offers hope to the millions who suffer from previously incurable diseases.

Opponent Process Theory

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The Opponent Process Theory is easily explained that we perceive colors in terms of three different pairs of colors. These pairs are red or green, blue or yellow, or black or white. This theory is important because, it explains how we see things. It lets us understand how illusions work and confuses the eye. I have experienced illusions where you stare at a picture for a certain amount of time and when you look away you see the same picture with a different color. It can be explained by the Opponent Process Theory. Here is another example of an illusion that uses the Opponent Process Theory (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8xo2y3N-_c). There are a few questions I still have about the Opponent Process Theory. I would like to know more details on why our eyes work like that. Also I would like to know how this theory affects people are are color blind. Overall, the Opponent Process Theory is very interesting and explains how illusions are seen through our eyes.

In class we covered the topic of illusions. Even though we only really covered optical illusions in class, there are plenty of other types of illusions that exist in our lives. One example of this is the illusions that we have regarding procrastination, which is a problem that all of us face. Timothy A. Pychyl compiled a list of 10 of these illusions as well as the related truths behind each one. This list can be found at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-delay/201110/unnecessary-illusions-and-the-truth-about-procrastination. He also provides a link to another article of his where he writes about processes in the brain that lead us to procrastinate. The 5 "quirks," as he calls them, are related to how the brain functions and how the brain has evolved to function. The first is that the brain prioritizes minimizing danger over maximizing reward, which causes procrastination because we prefer to do things that provide us with immediate reward, because we choose to do things that we don't believe will harm us. The second is that our brain is set to avoid uncertainty because of the potential for harm. This relates directly to procrastination because many tasks are ambiguous to some extent, so we subconsciously try to avoid them. The third quirk is that we have a limited capacity to process information, which limits our ability to predict the way that our current actions will affect our future emotions, which also affects our ability to understand how doing tasks, such as studying or doing homework, will affect our lives in the future. The fourth is that we are not very good at controlling our emotions, which severely damages our ability to regulate our actions, which stops us from being able to regulate our own behavior. The final quirk that is discussed is that our plans and goals influence what our brains pay attention to. This is very similar to the concept of facial feedback, where a person's facial expression is capable of affecting their emotions. Like many perception based illusions, the illusions that cause us to procrastinate are a result of processes in our brain.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-delay/200909/quirks-the-brain-procrastinations-perfect-storm

Is Twitter Able to Determine Your Mood?

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http://www.twincities.com/ci_19008471?IADID=Search-www.twincities.com-www.twincities.com

I was casually reading the newspaper a few days ago, and I came across a very interesting article in the Pioneer Press (posted above). The article is based on a study that tries to connect a person's mood and how it changes over the course of a day, week, or season. How they planned to do this you ask? The answer was Twitter. The study conducted by Scott Golder and Michael Macy, sociologists at Cornell University, seems to repeat what we may already think is common sense. According to the article, some previous studies have tried to measure the average person's mood on social media sites and "elsewhere on the internet, but (these studies) looked at collective moods over time, in different time zones or during holidays." However, this study was different because it went across cultures, using over 2 million tweets from people in 84 different countries. The results of the study showed that positive posts crested during the times of 6-9 a.m. and gradually fell throughout the day until 3-4 p.m. After that, it slowly went up again, with a sharper increase after dinner. This follows the previous studies in that people's moods were lowest on Monday and Tuesday, and rose as the week went on with peaks on Saturday and Sunday. What makes these results interesting is that the same trends were found on the weekends, only shifted a few hours later. This is making the researchers to believe that our mood could be biologically influenced due to the time of day.
However, there are plenty of possible confounds in this study. The first one is that the article never said if the tweets were randomly selected. That could affect the validity of these results in a negative way if random selection was not used. Also, this study doesn't have the characteristics of an experiment. Those characteristics are random assignment of participants to conditions and manipulating an independent variable. That is important because we can only draw correlations from this evidence and can't rush to assuming causation without further tests. Another possible shortcoming of this study is how they measured positive and negative moods. Sarcasm can't be easily found in text, so it is hard to truly determine if a person feels good or not through a tweet. Something that the article mentioned, which I completely agree with, is that the tweeter's motives for posting the tweet could be clouded. They could be posting the tweet expressing their true emotions at the given time, or they could post a tweet to tell their followers what they want to hear. This type of tweet could mislead the scientists from knowing what mood the tweeter was in. Overall, some confounds are present here, and the study seems to have been conducted in a very meticulous manner, but we have to make sure that we don't fall victim to mistaking correlation with causation.

Assignment 1 - Blondes going extinct

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http://www.snopes.com/science/stats/blondes.asp

This article states that blonde people are going extinct. As a blonde person I found this to be a quite interesting claim, but one that would be unlikely. The website states that it is completely false and that no study was ever done, it is a complete hoax. Many factors lead it to look believable. Firstly, the blonde gene is a recessive allele and thus it is easy to make the connection that eventually the dominant trait would be unanimous. This however does not hold true in terms of hair color, mostly because there are many alleles that go into it. The article also shares many other articles from the past that make the same claim. However every single article that they share has no evidence and no real study, it is all simply a hoax or scam. Also the wording such as stating that men prefer blondes to brunettes and that they prefer natural blondes to bottle blondes leads me to question the target audience and scientific reasoning.

The Principle of Critical thinking that is most appalling in this article is replicability. No study was ever even done and when the organizations that make the claims are questioned they say they have never even heard of the study. If something has never even been done how can it be replicated? This is appalling because they are quoting scientific research companies such as the WHO and the WHO states they have never heard of or made any studies or claims. Overall I would completely disregard any statement that blondes are going extinct.

Scaring America

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Too often the American populous is conned into believing ridiculous claims made by tabloids or chain e-mails. The claims are often created to scare people, especially about their health, articles such as "Mayonnaise in fast food restaurant is actually pus from a tumor." Obviously this is an absurd idea but these clever writers use opinions from "experts" and phony studies. Anything seems plausible when coming from an expert.
People need to use critical thinking. An article in Women's weekly is not always a good source for health tips. We need to practice ideas in critical thinking such as further research. What type of studies were conducted? Were studies even performed? Sometime studies are conducted only in order to get results that they want. Thus corrupting the correct method of scientific research. As long as we use common sense and a little bit of research on our own, crazy claims meant to scare will not be a problem.

Tetrachromats

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Birds and insects are tetrachromats, which means they have four cones that allow them to detect color. According to Lilienfeld, "There's preliminary evidence that a small portion of women are tetrachromats, meaning their eyes contain four types of cones: the three cones types most of us possess plus an additional cone for a color between red and green" (144). In an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette titled, "Some women may see 100 million colors, thanks to their genes," Mark Roth agrees that it is possible for some women to be tetrachromats (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06256/721190-114.stm). The pigments of green and red cones are on the X chromosomes, so it would be possible for women to be able to obtain four cones (Roth). Jay Neitz, a renowned color vision researcher at the Medical College of Wisconsin, "estimated that 2 percent to 3 percent of the world's women may have the kind of fourth cone that lies smack between the standard red and green cones, which could give them a colossal range" (Roth). The average person's range includes the ability to see one million hues. Tetrachromats, conversely, could potentially be able to see 100 million different colors (Roth). The possibility that some women could potentially be able to distinguish 100 million shades is truly interesting.

This concept is, additionally, intriguing because women tend to identify many different shades of colors, calling them magenta or espresso, whereas men typically would refer to those colors as pink and brown. An article in TrèsSugar ™ titled "Color, Gender, and the Truth About Pink and Girls" discusses this same idea (http://www.tressugar.com/Do-Men-Women-See-Colors-Differently-14394573). A picture from the article clearly summarizes the idea:

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Is the reason men and women describe colors differently because many woman are tetrachromats? Or is that claim to extraordinary for the current evidence?

Caffeine

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I believe that of the fields we covered, the one that will make the greatest strides in the coming years is that of biological psychology; I also find it the most interesting. The process that neurotransmitters undergo is specifically fascinating.
Neurotransmitters are contained in synaptic vesicles with in the axxon terminal. They stay there un till an action potential triggers the synaptic vessels to release certain neurotransmitters into the synapse. Once in the synapse each neurotransmitter either bonds with its specific receptor site on another cells dendrite or they undergo reuptake and return to the axxon terminal. When each neurotransmitter bonds with its receptor site it sends a specific message based on what type of neurotransmitter it is.
The study of neurotransmitters in important because it allows us to understand the chemicals in our brains and our process of thinking. On a more advanced level it allows us to manipulate the chemicals in our head through the use of psychoactive pharmaceuticals. This can bring us closer to cures for depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, Parkinson's, etc., than ever before.
Without even realizing it, I, currently, am exhibiting the benefits of biological psychology. I'm am drinking coffee, which contains caffeine, the most widely used psychoactive drug on the planet [3]. Right now, I've been awake for quite some time, and should be tired but I'm not, thanks to caffeine. Caffeine binds to the adenosine receptor; adenosine being an inhibiting neurotransmitter that "causes drowsiness by slowing down nerve cell activity". Since adenosine receptor sites are occupied by the caffeine, I feel wide awake. So now I have "increased neuronal firing" in my brain, my pituitary gland senses this and releases a hormone causing the release of epinephrine having a number of effects on my functioning [2], all of which make me feel alert. Finally, caffeine releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter related to reward and pleasure [4].
The caffeine leaves me alert, functioning at a higher level and feeling good [2], the perfect condition to write a psychology blog post.


[1] http://iospress.metapress.com/content/m1584043445mx427/fulltext.pdf
[2]http://science.howstuffworks.com/caffeine.htm
[3]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTVE5iPMKLg
[4]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjH8_hHtumo

Can You Pray Away The Gay?

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Recently, there have been multiple claims that people have been they can become straight by just praying, also known as reparative therapy, or as the media calls it "pray the gay away." Patients are told that when they have homosexual urges, they should pray and that they may be "cured" this way.
This claim does not seem to be meaningful because there is no way to prove that the individuals who supposedly became straight, became straight because they prayed. There is no way to prove that it was caused be praying and it could have been purely coincidental. There is also no way to test this claim. How do we know that those claiming to now be straight are actually straight? It is not falsifiable. Furthermore, very few individuals have claimed to be changed by this method. If this method actually works, why has it not worked for more people.
Also, these people could have consciously decided not to be homosexual. There is no way to prove that this occurred, without their decision. Freud's theory of psychoanalysis mentions that primary influences on things such as sexuality are unconscious drives, meaning we have no control over them. It states that they are not caused by forces outside the organism.
If this is the case, then how can people become straight, by just praying? How do we know if they are straight because they prayed? Is it correlation or causation? How can anybody even prove that they have become straight, or that they were ever gay?

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