Category: Opinion


November 14th, 2015 in Article, Opinion, Pop Culture 0 comments

2006-10-14 - United Kingdom - England - London - Victoria - Lost - Cutout - Red - Woman

Conformity is determined by a variety of situational and individual difference factors. Situational factors tend to increase when subjects are in groups that have been previously successful, when subjects are asked to give public responses while facing an opposition, when the stimuli are ambiguous or difficult, or when members are interdependent or unanimously opposed. Individual difference factors tend to increase when there are factors that decrease the subject’s certainty of their response or increase the subjective correctness of the group. (Back et al, 1965)

The behavior of conformity can be classified by whether someone’s behavior demonstrates a real acceptance of the norm, or whether the person is just going along with the group (Mezzacappa, 1995). The Asch conformity experiments in 1956 studied how participantswere influenced by conformity when they held an opinion that labeled them as the minority against a unanimous group opinion on unambiguous perceptual stimuli. The line judgment task in this experiment showed a standard line and comparison lines, and participants were asked to say the letter of the comparison line that matched the standard line out loud after hearing other people’s responses. Only 25% of the participants in the study gave correct answers after hearing other people’s erroneous answers. The study found that participants conformed due to either informational influence, which is the assumption that the crowd, or majority, must be correct, and the individual, or minority, must be wrong, or normative influence, which is the conformation to a crowd to avoid looking foolish. Personality characteristics relevant to deviation from norm can also be associated with conformity. Maslach (1974) and Maslach, Stapp, and Santee (1987) studied the trait of individuation and found that it is negatively correlated with conformity. Conformity behavior is also negatively correlated with intellectual achievement, perceptiveness of self, and security in social status. However, situational factors have a greater influence on conformity because individual difference factors tend to be more consistent.

~ Sophia Han


Back, K. W., Davis, K. E. (1965). Some personal and situational factors relevant to the consistency and prediction of conforming behavior. Sociometry, 28(3), 227-240.

Mezzacappa, E. S. (1995). Group cohesiveness, deviation, stress, and conformity.Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 55(11), 5126.

The Paradox of Cell Death

November 11th, 2015 in Alzheimer's Disease, Article, Opinion 0 comments


“Apoptosis” is Greek word that literally means “falling of the petals from a flower or leaves from a tree” [1]. This description contrasts with the typical textbook definition: apoptosis is programmed cell death, caused by the Diablo gene. The literal translation stresses the evolutionary significance and benefit of apoptosis. While apoptosis can be detrimental, it is also important to understand the reason why nature would select for such a seemingly negative process that in fact has its benefits.

Apoptosis is important for maintaining a balance between cell proliferation and cell death. Families of proteases called caspases are responsible for cell death. Initiator caspases activate other executioner caspases, which continue to activate other executioner caspases. The Bcl2 family of proteins can either activate or deactivate caspases. Specifically Bax and Bak facilitate cell death because they cause cytochrome C to be released, leading to the assembly of the apoptosome. Another process for cell death is called necrosis – when a plasma membrane ruptures thus spreading the contents of the dying cells. This is different from apoptosis because typically phagocytes recognize cells undergoing apoptosis and engulf the cells and its contents, thus preventing them damage to other surrounding cells [2].

A protein relevant to apoptosis is the transcription regulator protein p53, which codes for a CDK inhibitor protein called p21 (a Cdk inhibitor protein). In response to DNA damage in the G1 phase of the cell cycle, p53 levels increase and the generated p21 binds to the G1/S-CDK to stop the cell from reaching the S phase. In cases where DNA damage cannot be repaired, p53 causes apoptosis because it is better for the cell cycle not to proceed with the damaged DNA. If p53 is nonfunctional, this has serious consequences for the cell because its leads to the replication of damaged DNA, leading to mutation and the generation of cancerous cells [2]. I find it astonishing that an issue with the expression of one protein, in this case p53, can lead to development of life-threatening diseases like cancer.

Furthermore, apoptosis plays an interesting role in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). AD is caused by AB plaques, which are aggregates of a misfolded version of the amyloid precursor protein (APP). AB is generated when APP is cleaved by B-secretase (or BACE) in the amyloidogenic pathway. Current research shows that the death of neuronal and glial cells in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus is related to the cognitive decline that is characteristic of AD [3]. Only part of this neuronal cell death is caused by apoptosis, meaning the rest is mediated by necrosis and other different forms of apoptosis. Research implies that Bak and Bad rather than Bax (a part of the Bcl2 family) [3], therefore a potential AD treatment could involve a method for inhibiting the expression of Bak/Bad.

Cancer can be caused by a lack of apoptosis in harmful cells, thus allowing them to proliferate and cause tumors. Interestingly, the p53 gene is found in half of all human cancers [2]. Typically in tumors scientists have observed that the main regulators of the cell cycle are altered, thus impacting aspects of proliferative control such as cell cycle checkpoints and how the cell responds to DNA damage. Therefore, a possible cancer treatment could involve finding a way to induce tumor-selective cell death. However, a challenge with this approach is finding a way to do so without harming normal cell function or normal cell homeostasis [4]. If scientists could discover a molecule specific to tumor cells or molecules that are regulated differently in tumor cells than in normal cells, this approach could be potentially beneficial.

~ Srijesa Khasnabish


[1] Zhivotovsky, B (2002) From the Nematode and Mammals Back to the Pine Tree: On the asdfasdfDiversity and Evolution of Programmed Cell Death Cell Death and Differentiation 9, asdfasdf867-869 doi:10.1038/sj.cdd.4401084

[2] Alberts, Bruce (2014) Essential Cell Biology. New York: Garland Science

[3] Shimohama, S (2000) Apoptosis in Alzheimer’s Disease – An Update Apoptosis 5, 9-16
[4] Kasibhatla S, Tseng B (2003) Why Target Apoptosis in Cancer Treatment? Molecular asdfasdfCancer Therapeutics 2, 573


Pay attention, Millennials!

October 16th, 2015 in Article, Opinion, Pop Culture 0 comments


It seems like today, there isn’t a single person without some type of smart phone. We look around, or more commonly, we look down at our screens, and everyone is either texting, tweeting, instagramming, or snap chatting. A short time ago, we had to actually have human interaction to give someone a message or to even just say hi. Now, we can Skype or Facetime and communicate with an LCD screen. That’s not even the worst part. Recent studies have shown that our attention span has been rapidly decreasing because of this. On average, humans have the attention span of 8 seconds. Let me just repeat that really quick, 8 SECONDS. That is a shorter attention span than a goldfish. We cannot pay attention longer than a goldfish…
This short attention span is a huge problem in society. Children are failing to read books properly because they cannot hold their attention long enough to stay on the page. Adults cannot finish one project at a time because they get bored of it and want to move onto something else. The list goes on. So what are we going to do to stop this? We can’t get rid of smart phones, which is the major cause of this loss of attention. We can’t give every person Aderall, a medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, to keep them focused, as that would be inefficient and a waste of money. However, there is one thing that people can do for themselves to help increase their attention span: meditate.
When people hear the word mediation, they usually picture a person sitting on the floor with their eyes closed, their thumb and middle fingers touching, making the ‘om’ sound. Yes, this is one way to meditate, but what many people don’t know is that there is a variety of other ways to meditate and be mindful. All you have to do is focus; pay attention to your thoughts and feelings in the current moment. I know that in today’s society, asking someone to focus and pay attention is a very big request, but everyone is capabile of this, even if it’s only for 8 seconds. The key to this is to do it a few times a day and increase your time spent meditating as each day passes. There have been countless studies done on mediation and attention. It has been proven that meditating at least once a day increases your attention span and improves many other things. How does meditation do this? Meditating every day increases cortical thickness in the brain. This has been proven through brain imaging before and after subjects went through different meditation programs. This increase in cortex leads to an increase in attention, which ultimately leads to better memory. When we are able to hold our attention longer, we retain more information so, simply put, we are able to remember more stuff.
There are so many positive effects of meditation. Not only does it lead to an increase in attention and memory, but it also reduces stress levels, increases relaxation levels, increases energy levels, decreases respiratory rate, increases blood flow, and so much more. Meditation definitely has the possibility of solving society’s attention problem and so many more problems, but only if people take the short amount of time out of their day to do it.




Nanotechnology: Creating the perfect human?

March 23rd, 2015 in Article, News, Opinion 0 comments

How would you feel if you had the choice of having billions of tiny robots injected into your body? A pretty unpleasant thought, am I right? What if I told you that these tiny robots could repair any mutation you may have in your DNA? Sound far-fetched? Well, scientists have been making huge breakthroughs in this! It’s called nanotechnology. These small robots are like tiny computers that are coded to attach to specific cells in your body and carry them from point A to point B. These tiny robots, 1-100nm in size (or 1 and 100 billionth of a meter!),  are like transporters; they pick up the target cell at point A and move it to point B. Point B can be anything from the trash, (cell death) if the cell is not needed anymore, to another part of the body where the cell is needed. They also have the ability to reprogram a cell’s biology. If more of one cell is needed in a particular area it can bring that cell to the specified area and “tell” it to replicate. Basically, nanotechnology will eventually perfect every single cell in your body.


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Is the brain the only place that stores our memories?

November 11th, 2014 in Article, Opinion 0 comments

Do you ever think about your childhood or replay an event in your head that happened 15 years ago but its so vivid that it seems like it happened yesterday? Do you ever hear something and think it sounds like your favorite song and then start singing that song? These are memories that were formed in your brain that are replayed as a result of a specific stimulus. For a long time scientists believed that memories were formed, processed, and sent to different destinations in the brain. Dr. Wilder Penfield was one of the first to accidentally discover this. In the 40s he electrically stimulated different areas of his patients’ brains while they were under local anesthesia and found that the region he stimulated would elicit specific memories in the patient’s life (see video below). For example, in one of his patients he stimulated her temporal lobe (auditory cortex) and she started to hum her favorite song out loud. This suggested that the memory of this song was stored in the place where it was processed or originated (i.e. the auditory cortex processed the first time she listened to the song). Penfield concluded that the cortex (the outer layers of the brain) stored the “complete record of the stream of consciousness; all those things in which a man was aware at any time…” Until recently, scientists have believed this phenomenon.


Music: More than Just Entertainment

October 23rd, 2014 in Arts + Media, Opinion, Pop Culture 0 comments


What is music? It’s something I listen to when I want to relax or when I want to focus. If I’m missing home, I listen to Bollywood. When it’s Christmas, I listen to carols, both classic and modern. So clearly, I think of music as a source of entertainment. In fact, in both ancient and modern times, music has been a key component of celebrations, like weddings and cultural events. Interestingly, scientific research on music and the brain has shown that music has more benefits than entertainment alone.


A Bad Joke Won’t Fool The Brain

April 15th, 2014 in Article, News, Opinion, Pop Culture, Uncategorized 0 comments

LaughterI think I’m funny. Some people say I’m funny. But when the moment presents itself where its my time to shine, all lights on me, this ‘one’ is going to be a knee slapper…nope, not so much. The first time I realized I wasn’t funny was in the eleventh grade in my calculus class. My teacher’s name was Mr. Butke and he easily is ranked in my top 3 ‘all-time’ of the math professors I’ve encountered in my lifetime. He had a mustache that covered his mouth and you never knew whether he was smiling, smirking, or grimacing at you. It kept you guessing, I liked that. He also presented stories of how he slayed cobras in Kenyan villages while pursuing a multi-purpose cure for malaria, encephalitis’ of sorts, and maybe AIDS. Bottom line, he was memorable and his stage presence resonated with my classmates and I.

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The Human Bias

April 10th, 2014 in Article, Opinion 0 comments

Philosophers since the time of Plato have considered the extent to which we can truly perceive the physical world, or the so called ‘mind independent’ universe. Modern science has given us further insight into the question, through experiments designed to understand the way in which our brain receives and manipulates sensory information. While it has been known for some time that human perception is subject to various priming effects and spatiotemporal biases, psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley have discovered that visual perception is also influenced by something called the ‘continuity field.’

To put it simply, the continuity field is what allows us to view our surrounding environment as a continuous perception. In his recent article in Nature Neuroscience, David Whitney and his colleagues have shown that our perception of the orientation of a certain object in our visual field is actually strongly biased towards the orientation of that object 10 seconds prior. This means that our brain ‘smoothes out’ small changes in the physical world so that we perceive a continuous image. Without the influence of this continuity field, we would be hypersensitive to the smallest changes in our visual field, and presumably have trouble determining which changes in our surroundings would be most relevant to our immediate needs.


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Neuroscience and the Iranian Nuclear Negotiations: An exercise in headline-grabbing

February 24th, 2014 in Opinion 1 comment

Recently, The Atlantic posted an article relating the growing field of neuroscience to international negotiations, specifically those surrounding the Iranian nuclear negotiations. Co-written by a neuroscientist and an expert in international relations, the article prompted a rather stern and testy response from Christian Jarrett, a science writer for Wired, yet he brings up some excellent points. Before continuing, I urge you to read The Atlantic‘s article here.

Although it may be well-intentioned, it appears that The Atlantic ‘s article is little more than an attempt to grab headlines and call more attention to the piece, riding the hype trains of two popular subjects. While it appears that applying concepts from neuroscience to news and international negotiations might be something that can contribute to our understanding, realistically it only serves to dilute the field. At best, it is a misguided attempt at connections between fields. At worst, it is another example of today’s journalism: lazy and prone to clickbait.


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Update on Concussions in Athletics: Traumatic Brain Injury in Baseball?!

February 2nd, 2014 in Opinion 0 comments

What’s the latest on all that news about concussions in the NFL? It’s been a while since this story initially made its way into headlines and penetrated news and popular culture around the country. The neuroscience world continues to bustle over the story and research on the disease now known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, remains a priority right here at the Boston University School of Medicine in the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) directed by Dr. Robert Cantu, Dr. Anne McKee, and Mr. Chris Nowinski. Especially with the release of the Frontline documentary released last October titled “League of Denial” (see below), aimed at exploring the possibility that the NFL has mishandled the concussion issue for a number of years, have more and more families in the United States and all over the world begun to understand the potential repercussions of traumatic head injury.

Protect the Brain


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