In the famous Milgram Experiment, it only took commands from a purported authority figure to get people to subject another study participant to electric shocks up to 450 volts (about a quarter of the voltage used to execute people in the electric chair). In reality, the other participant was an actor, and there were no actual shocks. Nevertheless, the experiment revealed how easily influenced people are by authority, even when that authority has little real power. If that’s how ordinary people react to an unrelated authority, graduate students have no chance to resist their advisor’s commands. That was the situation faced by Andrew Jahn, who graduated from IU with his PhD in 2015. While a member of the Cognitive Control Lab at IU, he completed a project in which participants were shocked inside a brain scanner, to watch what happened inside the brains of the research participants. (Humorous allusions aside, the electric shocks in this case were much smaller and calibrated to be tolerable by the participants). (more…)
Adolescence is an important time in development due to significant changes in the adolescent brain. During this time, brain regions appear to integrate, which helps the adolescent self-regulate and/or improve self-control. Self-regulation is critical for success in life for both adolescents and adults. Meditation is a behavior that promotes self-regulation and enhances the integration of the adolescent brain. Although we know meditation enhances self-regulation during a critical time in life, unfortunately, very few adolescents meditate. I discussed the finer points of adolescent self-regulation and meditation in a previous blog post, but in this post I want to delve deeper into the research being done here at IU on this subject.
The focus of my research is looking at the influences on a young person’s decision to meditate. The Reasoned Action Approach (RAA) is a decision-making theory, developed by psychologists, that has been used to study, predict, and change a variety of health behaviors. The theory suggests that the most important predictor of a behavior is a person’s intention to carry-out the behavior. Intention, in turn, is influenced by a person’s attitude toward the behavior, their perception that the behavior is normative, and their self-efficacy in being able to carry-out the behavior (see Figure 1 for visual of RAA). Attitude, perceived norm, and self-efficacy, according to the theory, are all influenced by the underlying beliefs each of us hold from our previous experiences, education, etc.
In 2016, I surveyed a group of 135 students at a large and diverse high school in Upstate New York regarding their thoughts and beliefs about meditation. The questions I used were based on the RAA theory. I found that the biggest influence on the students’ intention to meditate was their attitude toward meditation, followed by their perceived norm regarding meditation. In other words, students who have a greater intention to meditate view meditation as being a good thing to do personally, perceive meditation as being enjoyable, hold the view that others would approve of them meditating, and lastly that other people like them also meditate.
According to responses from open-ended questions, many students felt that meditation would reduce their stress, help them feel more relaxed and calm, and would improve their focus. On the downside, they felt that meditation would slow them down or make them inactive. With respect to norms, they felt as though their parents, especially both parents and/or moms, would approve of them meditating and that no one would disapprove. The circumstances dictating their desire to meditate all had to do with time. Specifically, more time would enable them to meditate and being busy would inhibit their ability to meditate.
So, what do health professionals do with this information? I thought you’d never ask! Well, for starters, by using a theory to guide this particular research, the results will help health professionals and educators to prioritize their efforts when creating behavioral interventions to promote meditation in adolescents. Starting with attitude: health professionals can help young people see that meditation is really beneficial to them, especially with respect to stress reduction, helping them feel calm, and increasing their focus. It’s also important to acknowledge the fact that many young people likely see meditation as something that could slow them down and prevent them from keeping up with the fast-paced lifestyle that our society requires. In fact, health professionals can help them see that meditation actually increases performance and can therefore help them become more effective with the activities they enjoy (or are required to do) .
After taking care of the attitude factor, efforts can then be focused around helping young people perceive meditation as normative. It is especially important for adolescents to view meditation as common among their peers. A few suggestions for to help in this area include school health programs developing and offering programs that teach meditation to groups of students. These programs can specifically target youth with high social standing that can help influence a large group of students. These are just a few suggestions that may be helpful in increasing the number of young people in the US that meditate. But, as always, more research in needed!
 Tang, Y.-Y., & Bruya, B. (2017). Mechanisms of mind-body interaction and optimal performance. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(647), 1-3. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00647
If you aren’t in the field of astronomy, it may be hard to understand what we astronomers do. Surely we don’t set up small telescopes in our backyard to do research—most locations are plagued by light pollution, but neither can we all afford personal island observatories. However, the observatories we do get to visit now put even Uraniborg to shame.
To give a little background first, I am studying star formation in distant galaxies by looking at a narrow band of red light, called H𝛼 emission, which is emitted by young, hot stars. In order to do this, we need a powerful telescope through which we can take images.
Although collecting data with such powerful telescopes happens infrequently, in my opinion, it is the best part of being an astronomer – even if you have to adopt a strange sleep pattern. I recently had the great pleasure of flying to Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona to do research. This was my schedule for the second day/night of observing.
If you are a video game enthusiast, you might be familiar with the importance of the graphics processing unit, or the GPU. The GPU determines whether you can play a game with all the fancy visual effects turned on, how high you can set the screen resolution, and how many frames (the images you see on the screen) it can process in a second. Did you know that they are used for scientific research purposes as well? Our own premier supercomputer, Big Red II, has hundreds of NVIDIA GPUs inside of it and, as a gamer myself, I think it’s pretty neat that I get to use them for my research.
In my previous post, I introduced you to star clusters. In fact, I work on simulations of the evolution of globular clusters, the largest and oldest star clusters in the Milky Way. In this post, I will tell you how these simulations are conducted. (more…)
As a third year Ph.D. candidate in biology, I am constantly bombarded with questions from concerned loved ones: “When are you graduating?” or “What will you do with your degree?” My unexciting and somewhat embarrassing answer to these questions is always, “I don’t know;” and the truth is, how can I know? I have been immersed in an academic setting for twenty years now. I know little about life outside academia, and I’ll admit—I’m a little terrified about leaving a university setting. It’s hard to make an informed decision about your future when you know little about the options. My professors and mentors, as brilliant as they are, are really only suited to advise me on pursuing a career in academia. So, how does one break the mold? (more…)
A few weeks ago, I attended a report release at the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, D.C. on best practices for educating children who are learning English. These reports are published after a preeminent group of experts reviews the evidence and reaches a consensus, so I knew it would be interesting. Slide 2 of the presentation was more than interesting – it was mind-boggling.
Indiana has the second-fastest growing population of school-aged children whose native language is not English (among states that have experienced a 200 percent growth in non-native speakers) . These students are known as “dual language learners” (DLLs), although they are more commonly referred to as “ELLs” (“English language learners”) in many school districts. My mouth fell open. (more…)
Astronomers have a favorite saying that if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a spectrum is worth a thousand pictures.
A spectrum is measured by the scientific technique known as spectroscopy, and unless you’re already familiar with the term, this may compel you to ask: what is spectroscopy? The short answer is that spectroscopy refers to the study of the interaction between light and matter. Today, the field of spectroscopy is incredibly broad and advanced, with applications in not just astronomy but also chemistry, physics, biology, environmental science, and even art! (more…)
Viral infections are the cause of many common illnesses, such as the flu and the common cold. The symptoms aren’t pleasant, and typically involve the well-known repertoire of coughing, sneezing, and achiness. But sometimes, symptoms from viral infections can be more severe. Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) infects most people before their second birthday. In many cases this infection does not cause serious illness in people with healthy immune systems. However, the number of hospitalizations and emergency room visits in children under five is higher by three times compared to instances caused by the flu . Additionally, 14,000 RSV-related deaths occur per year in the US in older adults . The best tool scientists have against viruses like RSV are vaccines.
The purpose of a vaccine is to trigger the body to create a long-lasting line of defense against a specific pathogen. This is accomplished by exposing the body to small pieces or a weakened version of the pathogen. Upon exposure to the infectious pathogen, the body will be prepared to fight it off. However, immunity isn’t created toward every pathogen equally. Some pathogens, like RSV, have no licensed vaccine. (more…)
Did you and your grade school friends ever find yourselves in intricate negotiations around the lunch table, trading that boring snack your mom packed you with the sweeter and more enticing dessert in your friend’s lunchbox? Well, similar to you and your childhood friends, plants also partake in such a trading of commodities around their own ‘lunch table’.
Plants use their packed lunch — newly photosynthesized carbon — to build biomass, such as new leaves, taller stems, and a larger root system, while also pumping some of these carbon compounds into the soil. In some cases, more than 10% of the carbon photosynthesized by the plant flows from plant roots out into the soil! This begs the question: why do some plants release such a significant amount of carbon to the soil? What advantage does this process (rhizodeposition) confer to the plant? Part of the answer lies in understanding the challenge plants face in acquiring nutrients such as nitrogen from the soil. (more…)
Maybe you remember reading the classic Dr. Seuss tale as a child, Horton Hears a Who! Or you may have also seen the 2008 movie adaptation on TV or at some recent family vacation? For those who haven’t, or whose memory might be a little fuzzy, Horton the elephant discovers, and becomes the sole champion of, an entire microscopic community living on a speck of dust: the fabled city of Whoville.
A similar champion for the hidden microscopic communities of our world can be found here at IU–a research scientist by the name of Natalie Christian from Dr. Keith Clay’s lab in the biology department. However, instead of a speck of dust, Natalie’s microscopic communities form inside of plant leaves, and instead of the Whos of Whoville, the inhabitants of these leaf communities are tiny fungi called endophytes, for which the Latin translation literally means “inside plant.” One of Natalie’s central research goals is to better understand the importance of these microscopic communities for the health and well-being of their host plants. (more…)