Our Obesity Obsession: Does Science Support It?
The cultural bias against obesity is often justified on health grounds. But recent studies show that people classified in the “overweight” BMI category actually have less mortality than normal weight people. Experts discuss how culture drives our obsession with weight and what science really has to say about it.
The Science of Smell:
The sense of smell evokes powerful memories and makes food taste good, but it also has important functions in interpersonal relations and personal safety. Experts discuss the science behind it.
Synesthesia is a condition involving cross wiring in the brain that allow senses to overlap. Dr. Joel Salinas describes his experience with his mirror touch synesthesia. His sight translates into his touch, and he is able to feel the pain from his patients. “If you are gasping for air, I feel it in my body. If you are having a panic attack, I feel it in my body,” says Dr. Salinas, neurologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital and author of Mirror Touch: Notes From a Doctor Who Can Feel Your Pain. “The vision part of our brain and the touch part of our brain will both activate when we see other people either moving, or being touched, or in pain. And this happens without us knowing.” While most people may cringe or wince at the sight of a car accident or painful fall, Dr. Salinas says he feels the pain of anyone he sees, including his patients. He shares a story about a patient who was unable to be restrained by her nurses. He came to help, and immediately felt a crushing pain in his chest. When Dr. Salinas realized that this patient was having trouble breathing, he ordered for a specific test to be done which found that she had serious blood clots. While this gift allows him to help his patients in significant, unusual ways, it also may cause him stress, discomfort, and serious pain. The first time he saw a patient die, Dr. Salinas underwent the feeling of death, which he describes as a long-running air conditioner that has gone silent. He had to will himself to breathe again, and has since used small tactics to “ground” himself such as focusing on the feeling of his toes.
Dr. Salinas says he had has mirror-touch synesthesia for as long as he can remember, and that he experiences letter-color synesthesia as well. When he visualizes certain words, each letter will have a distinct color that contributes to its meaning. Dr. Salinas also shares that roughly 4% of all people have some form of synesthesia, and most go on to hold careers in the arts, where their thoughts and feelings are translated into their work. Many well-known musicians are synesthetes, including Billy Joel, Kanye West, and Lorde. It is even suspected that artist Vincent Van Gogh had synesthesia, from how he described his artwork to others.
Dr. Joel Salinas, neurologist, Massachusetts General Hospital and author, Mirror Touch: Notes From a Doctor Who Can Feel Your Pain
Links for more information:
Stress is a familiar occurrence for adults in our hectic world, but recently it has also shown up in great numbers in high schools. A combination of social media, cyberbullying, and college pressure may be to blame.
Online, teenagers often act as their own public relations managers, constantly posting updates and replying to feedback — often until late at night. Sometimes they share in order to create false personas of who they want to be, or who they think they should be.
At school, the stress multiplies as students are encouraged to think about college as early as their freshman year. “The bar is being raised for the kids in almost every element of life that you could think of,” shares Jared Mason, Teen Programming Director at the Alive Center. “It’s being raised for academics, it’s being raised for athletics, it’s being raised for extracurricular involvement, all these different areas.” He mentions that teens believe that performing “under the bar” is unacceptable, and they internalize the stress they accumulate.
This stress is not only brought on by social media and schools, but by parents. Some parents will request that their child be placed in accelerated, honors, or Advanced Placement courses, regardless of if their child is capable of handling the workload. Mason suggests that parents might be the next step in helping their child avoid stress by teaching them to stop listening to the “noise” of fellow students and of Ivy League schools. By asking their children what they want to do or what they’re interested in doing, parents can use communication to effectively help with stress.
The culture of stress is hard to break, and since colleges have begun to consider more holistic reviews of students, looking at both academics and extracurriculars, students are feeling even more stressed than ever. Kandice Henning, founder of the Alive Center, says that teens now feel pressured to have both a stellar GPA and full schedule. While some students are able to work well under pressure, most are left wondering why it so hard to be a “well-rounded student.” A new kind of parenting may offer a solution, wherein parents teach their children to cope with their stress and understand why they’re stressed. “Stress is not bad. In the appropriate dose, stress is strengthening, says Dr. Michael Bradley, clinical psychologist and author, “you want to find that sweet spot in the middle.”
Dr. Michael Bradley, clinical psychologist and author, Crazy-Stressed: Saving Today’s Overwhelmed Teens With Love, Laughter, and the Science of Resilience
Jared Mason, Teen Programming Director, Alive Center, Naperville, IL and former high school English teacher
Saumya Bharti, senior, Naperville Central High school and member, Student Advisory Board, Alive Center
Kandice Henning, Founder and Executive Director, Alive Center
Links for more information:
Certain musicians not only have the ability to produce and perform music, but also have a special ability to hear any sound and identify what note it is. Dr. Diana Deutsch, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, San Diego, describes this special talent as having “perfect pitch”. Famous composers Beethoven and Mozart were said to have this ability as well as performers like Jimi Hendrix and Mariah Carey. Do you have to be a famous musician to have this ability? Experts claim this might not necessarily be true.
Stephen Van Hedger, University of Chicago PhD student in psychology, not only has researched this ability, but also has perfect pitch himself. When given any sound, Van Hedger can name the note associated with it. Additionally, he can produce the same note without thought. Although he has a musical background dating back to age 7, Stephen has a special gift experts claim only one in ten thousand people possess. Why is that number so low? Van Hedger claims the reason is that many people do not have a musical background, so they may have this talent, but do not know how to utilize their skill. He also claims the earlier one learns music, the higher chance they will have to develop perfect pitch by adulthood.
After conducting a study at the University of Chicago, Professor of Psychology Dr. Howard Nusbaum found that people may be able to develop a learned and trained ability of music later in life. The study consisted of teaching adults a series of notes and later testing them. The participants in the study recognized the notes given because they spent a decent amount of time training. Dr. Nusbaum concluded that with the proper amount of training, perfect pitch might be achieved. This means that you may never be too old to learn a new trick.
Links for more information:
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, fifteen million Americans or 13% suffer from social anxiety. It is the most common form of anxiety and the fourth most common mental illness. Adolescence is typically where experts find the most onset of this disorder.
The opinions of peers can negatively affect any adolescent into thinking they do not belong. Some young adults and teenagers become so influenced by the opinions of others they develop social anxiety. According to Jennifer Shannon, co-founder of Santa Rose Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, social anxiety is an anxiety disorder that influences a person’s functioning. Those with social anxiety avoid social situations like class or parties all together because they perceive threats of their environment. These threats involve worrying about people looking at you or judging you. Adolescents with social anxiety often create excuses to avoid school or gatherings because their fear of judgement.
Although Jennifer Shannon is an expert in this field, she could not find any resources for her own daughter Rose, so she decided to take matters in her own hands. She wrote the books The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook for Teens and The Anxiety Survival Guide for Teens as a guide for teens as well as their parents to cope and eventually overcome the disorder. On the bright side, Shannon claims this disease is completely treatable.
Jennifer Shannon runs a Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy treatment for patients like her daughter with the hopes of curbing their social anxiety. She uses a method she calls “target practice” to allow patients to slowly face their fears in social situations. Shannon focuses on realistic social goals like smiling and asking questions as a first step to making patients feel more comfortable socializing with their peers. She notes that parents need to look out for consistent patterns in their children like missing school or social functions. If left untreated, symptoms can get worse, however, if parents catch it, they can prevent or help their children beat a disorder.
Jennifer Shannon, co-founder, Santa Rosa Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Santa Rosa, CA and author, The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook for Teens and The Anxiety Survival Guide for Teens
Links for more information: