Gracias

By: Francesco Yepez-Coello

I teach a Spanish class in a local elementary school after regular hours. The first day I gathered the children around to explain that I will be speaking mostly in Spanish, and that they should try their best to watch my movements and gestures to understand. This proved particularly difficult for one boy, whom I will refer to as Sean.

Sean often does not make eye contact, but lets his eyes wander. When I call the students in a circle for an activity, he always ventures off into a different part of the classroom, as though in his own little world. Yet he is not merely a difficult child; the more I observed him, I realized he has a peculiar condition. He does not always understand when is the time to listen and when I would like the class to speak. When raising his hand to share something he often makes clicking sounds with his mouth instead of calling out verbally. Sean is a child with autism.

There is much misconception about the nature of autism. The primary characteristic of it is the inability to understand typical social interaction, and as a result, a difficulty relating to other people. The getures we make, our tone of voice, and what we are trying to say other than from our literal words are foreign to people with autism. Temple Gradin, a noted autistic, has described this deficiency as being “like an anthropologist on Mars,” struggling to comprehend our interactions.

However, there is much variability in this condition beyond the primary symptom. This is particularly troubling since science has not completely ascertained the cause of this condition other than many with autism have brains that are structured differently from those without. Their neurons and synapses are not organized, and they do not communicate, in the same way that they would in a typical brain.

Many people with autism do not just look at others less, but do not respond to their name, or do not point to things they are referring to. Many have repetitive behaviors, such as rocking back and forth, or clapping their hands, spontaneously. Others still are hypersensitive, and low levels of stimulation may be overwhelming to them, visually, auditorily, or otherwise. They do these things because their condition causes them to express themselves differently, not because of any intellectual deficiency. But to those not aware of their condition, all of these may appear very strange, and many children with autism suffer from being alone and misunderstood as a result.

So I strove to understand Sean, and to accompany my little scientist on his journey to the alien world that most of us know so well.

On one of the last days I had the children sit and draw a person and label their body parts according to the vocabulary I had taught them. I sat next to Sean. He was drawing something clearly not human, and when I inquired as to what it was, he said he was drawing a tank. I did not reprimand him for not following orders, rather I took the opportunity to teach him the names of different shapes in Spanish, and to label that on his drawing instead.

When he finished writing, I held up the tank in awe. I congratulated him on his beautiful work in my language.

“Gracias” he said to me in Spanish.

I smiled. We sat and continued to draw together.

I encourage all of you to read further about autism, as I have barely scratched the surface of what it’s like on this article. Every single case of autism is different in its severity and how it manifests. The most important factor when you meet someone on the spectrum is not to simply feel bad about their condition, but to try to learn from them. Try to meet the person and communicate with him as he does with you, rather than imposing a “normal” way of relating on him that he will not be able to understand. Depending on how severe a person’s autism is, we cannot ask of them to adapt to our world anymore than we could that fabled anthropologist to a strange land, and must therefore tailor the situation and his environment to his capabilities, as I did with Sean.

Sources

Rapin I, Tuchman RF. Autism: definition, neurobiology, screening, diagnosis. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2008;55(5):1129–46 :10.1016/j.pcl.2008.07.005

Sacks O. An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales. Knopf; 1995

Volkmar F, Chawarska K, Klin A. Autism in infancy and early childhood. Annu Rev Psychol. 2005;56:315–36 :10.1146/annurev.psych.56.091103.070159

Dominick KC, Davis NO, Lainhart J, Tager-Flusberg H, Folstein S. Atypical behaviors in children with autism and children with a history of language impairment. Res Dev 10.1016/j.ridd.2006.02.003

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Whats Drugs Got To Do With It?

By Thompson Imasogie

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In 2011 Linn State Technical College in Linn, Missouri decided to experiment with a new policy, a policy that required drug testing for all incoming students and some returning students. To no surprise this policy was met with a plethora of protest, disdain from both students and parents, as well as a series of lawsuits that had the Linn State board of trustees clambering in their knees. In the end a federal judge ordered the college to stop drug testing students and the rest was history. But what if Linn State was able to carry out drug testing? Would the trend catch on? Afterall colleges and universities across the board (be it public or private institutions) generally take a strong stance against student drug use, in fact many colleges and universities have strong policies in place to ensure that students who violate said policies are punished. So what makes the case of Linn State any different? Other than the obvious violation of student privacy many viewed this controversial rule as hyper authoritative and simply put too strict. The Huffington Post of October 26th, 2011 states that “Linn State Technical College’s program calls for screening all first-year students and some returning students for cocaine, methamphetamines, oxycodone and eight other drugs.”  Whats interesting about this is that universities can openly punish students for using banned substances  yet they can’t prevent students who are users from enrolling. If your confused don’t worry, your not alone. From the same article,”The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six students at Linn Tech” moreover “The suit claims the program violates students’ Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful searches and seizures”. One may ask the simple question “If colleges can’t drug test students then why can’t collegiate governing bodies (i.e NCAA) drug test athletes for non performance enhancing substances?” Well according to the NCAA website the governinig body drug test athletes because of health and safety concerns, the use of performance enhancing drugs, etc. But, as the website states Bylaw 10.2 does not require schools to have a drug testing policy but does require them to follow the policy. The website then points out that “If a school fails to adhere to their drug testing program, it faces the possibility of going on probation, which would in essence mean NCAA monitoring of the school’s institutional drug testing program.”. Long story short; if you don’t want to drug test your athletes then fine.. just know that your athletic program will be put on probation. Policies like these, and governing bodies such as the NCAA, are the driving force in the hierachical paradigm that places student athletes above plain ol’e students. With that said, the sharp contrast between the lawsuits against Linn State and the NCAA’s ability to still continue testing for non-performance enhancing drugs doesn’t do much to help close that gap. Am I advocating that college’s drug test students? Nope, if it were up to me students shouldn’t even be punished for having certain substances. But what I am saying is that issues such as these become problematic, confusing, and vague when bodies such as the NCAA have more pull than the actual universities that allow them to govern.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/26/linn-state-technical-coll_0_n_1033346.html

http://www.ncaa.org/blog/2012/03/a-simple-reason-schools-drug-test/

The Cave

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By: Francesco Yepez-Coello

Peole often post facebook statuses or tweets sharing information that is private, or inappropriately intimate for the medium, even outside of a “confidential” place like GMU confessions. The phenomenon is such that doctors Chia Yeng and Bradford Brown conducted a study in which they interviewed a large sample of undergraduate students about their activity in social media, primarily facebook, and asked them about things such as motivations for posts, the way they feel when they post, the content of each post, etc, and their results shed light on the darkness of many students’ loneliness.

Most people who post express a desire to be acknowledged and supported in their struggle. But social media is a poor substitute for human interaction. With no physical contact to catch all the nuances of speech and nonverbal behavior, how could sharing your feelings online as a wall post truly provide the catharsis as sharing it with a friend might? The study showed a severe lack of tangible social support among participants who expose themselves so, which is a serious concern.

Although some relief is experience by people who post like this on Facebook, there are nonetheless harmful effects. Firstly, sitting in the dark, staring at a computer screen, hiding in a sort of cave, cannot provide you with the support that natural human interaction can. Even if a person responds encouragingly to your candid post, that person cannot hug you, laugh with you, or smile to brighten your day. Furthermore, interacting through message boards without perceiving another person’s face makes it less likely that a person will experience sympathy, as Confession #2855 so eloquently illustrates.

This makes internet interactions not only sub par, but harmful; your message will be read under very poor lighting, so to speak, and those who read it may not fully understand your pain. Having a poor social circle is one of the leading causes for depression amongst youth ages 18-25 according to another study (Hammen et al. 1998), most of all during our college years when we are away from hoe and do not have the direct support of our parents.

So, next time you are about to post something for all to see online, think to yourself: “who do I know who would love to hear about this?” And send it to that person instead. You’ll spark up a conversation and illuminate your social circle in a way that is actually meaningful. If you express your emotions directly to people you care bout, whether it’s a joke you thought of, or pain that you need to let out, you will cultivate that relationship, instead of plunging your thoughts into the void of social media, wherefrom you may not receive the same satisfaction and fulfillment of friendship.

Better yet, meet up with a friend and tell them all about it in person. Use social media sparingly, and only when what you need to communicate really merits a large audience, such as promoting some sort of event or making an announcement in a group page you are a part of. If you find upon reflection that there really is no one you would feel comfortable talking about a problem to in person, then consider visiting the Counseling and Psychological Services on campus, located in SUB I two floors above the Chick fil A. Build your social support group guys, and only use social media for convenience, not as a crutch.

Sources

Motives for Using Facebook, Patterns of Facebook Activities, and Late Adolescents’ Social Adjustment to College

Yang, Chia-chen ; Brown, B Bradford . Journal of Youth and Adolescence 42.3 (Mar 2013): 403-16.

Patterns of Adolescent Depression to Age 20: The Role of Maternal Depression and Youth Interpersonal Dysfunction

Hammen, Constance ; Brennan, Patricia A ; Keenan-miller, Danielle . Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 36.8 (Nov 2008): 1189-98

Overbearing Parents and College.. A Recipe For Disaster

By: Thompson Imasogie

overprotective-parentsSince my years as a freshman I was always curious about the types of homes that some of my friends where raised in. Curious because when observing some of their behaviors I would often think to myself “does his dad let him leave his room dirty like this at home?” or “wait.. you mean to tell me this is the first party she’s ever been to?”. Questions like these (and many others) have always sparked my interest on the effects of the different types of parenting/home environments and how they shape ones behavior while in college. Often times we notice that some students take it upon themselves to explore every single nuance that college life has to offer, things that were once banned or prohibited while growing up back home,  and as a result many of these students often struggle to find an identity in college and the impact can be disastrous. Reuters of February 13, 2013 explains the correlation between overbearing parents and depression amongst said students, a problem that can have long lasting effects on ones ability to mature, develop socially, and learn from their mistakes. Furthermore, Denise Mann of the February 23,2012 article of WebMD takes a different route by explaining that overly strict parenting can result in delinquent behavior among teenagers. When you mix delinquency with a free and open environment like a college campus this can quickly become a recipe for disaster. 

Goldsmith, Belinda: February 13,2013 (Reuters) 

Mann, Denise: Febuary 23, 2012 (WebMD)

I’m Not Shy; I Just Don’t Want to Talk to You

By: Miranda Lapides

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I am an introvert; there’s no doubt about it. I used to feel bad about it too, like whenever I left a group hangout to go relax in my dorm and be by myself, or when I chose to have dinner with Netflix rather than a friend (how else am I supposed to catch up on Breaking Bad?). I used to associate my introversion with shyness, therefore not accepting it positively until I learned the distinction between the two terms.

The dictionary definition of introversion is “the direction of or tendency to direct one’s thoughts and feelings toward oneself.” This is a part of it, but when comparing the term to its opposite, extroversion, it’s all about “recharging.” Introverts gain energy through solidarity to balance out the energy spent in social situations while extroverts recharge through social situations. Therefore, introversion is said by psychologists to be a motivation because wanting to socialize with others or wanting to be alone depends on the amount of socializing that just took place.

Shyness, on the other hand, is defined as “feeling nervous and uncomfortable about meeting and talking to people; tending to avoid something because of nervousness, fear, dislike, etc.” Unlike introversion which is more of a motivation, shyness is a behavior in that it is biological. It is a minor form of social anxiety disorder. I could get into more detail but that’s a whole other article.

The main point is that taking a break from socializing is not the same as fearing it. Not every introvert is shy and not every shy person is an introvert. To study introversion and shyness, psychologists Jonathan Cheek and Arnold Buss administered a questionnaire measuring shyness and low sociability to college students and found a low correlation between shyness and low sociability.

The two can definitely overlap, though. According to Carl Jung, introverts “have an inward flowing of personal energy…The introvert is usually happy alone, with a rich imagination, and prefers reflection to activity…the introverted attitude includes a tendency to be shy.”

When the two overlap, it is easier to overcome shyness than change an introverted personality. For example, I used to be a much shyer introvert. Today, I am an introvert who is only slightly shy at first then eases into conversations and gets comfortable with them quickly. After a while though, my introversion kicks in and I need to take a break from people. I just need some time for myself to read or surf the Internet until I have enough energy to socialize again. I used to think this was because I was a shy person until I learned this is not the case. Shyness and introversion can overlap, but at the end of the day, they are two different terms and should not be used interchangeably.

Sources:

Dembing, S. (2009, Oct. 10). Introversion vs. shyness: the discussion continues. Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-introverts-corner/200910/introversion-vs-shyness-the-discussion-continues.

Gregoire, C. (2013, Jul. 29). 6 things you thought wrong about introverts. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/29/introvert-myths_n_3569058.html.

Introversion. The Free Dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/introversion.

Markway, B. (2013, Feb. 12). A quiet rant about introversion and shyness. Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shyness-is-nice/201302/quiet-rant-about-introversion-and-shyness.

Shy. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/shy.

Wardy, A. (2002, Oct. 27). The science of shyness: the biological causes of social anxiety disorder. Serendip. Retrieved from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/biology/b103/f02/web1/awardy.html.

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The Perfect Score

By: Francesco Yepez-Coello

I can’t tell you how many statuses about the never ending struggle of studying for midterms and finals the night before I see on facebook. It is a battle of epic proportions, akin to that of Crime vs. Justice, Odysseus versus the Cyclops, Rava versus Vatu. But it need not be so dramatic, because I’m here to help.

The biggest problem we face is that we study last minute. Marathon studying sessions are unhelpful because we lose sleep over them, and I discussed how bad not sleeping is for our brains in last week’s post. Moreover, these tend to approach learning the wrong way, because our brains just are not built to cement a ton of information all at once forever. The key to doing winning this fight is understanding how we process information.

The brain can process information in different ways, and in varying depths. The way the brain stores short term memory, or information we just recently received, into long term memory, can be by encoding visualy, auditorily, or semantically. Furthermore, when we first store new knowledge, we employ either shallow, deep, or deepest processing. These refer to what aspects of the stimulus we pay attention to, from shallow, or how many letters a word has, to deepest, or what that new word means in the context of a sentence.

So what does this have to do with studying? It means you should spread your studying to different methods, and over time. Studies show that if information is abosrbed with long periods of time in between rehearsal, then retrieval is overall better than if rehearsed once and has to be recalled shortly thereafter. Rehearsal should not be simple repetition either, it should be meaningful: either somehow relate the material to your personal life, or associate it with similar pieces of information.

This is part of the reason why traditional studymethods areso ineffective, because they only employ one type of processing, or only one type of stimulus is absorbed. Take memorizing vocabulary terms from flashcards. This is literally the worse thing you can do: not only are you not learning the material because you only encode auditorily (you saying the words out loud), but they take so much time of meaningless repetition that takes away from other ways you could be using your time productively.

I recommend that you begin studying the very first day your class covers new material, just not in the traditional way that people use the word ‘study.’ Studying is as simple as reading the chapter the professor will cover in class before the class starts. During class, listen closely to what the professor’s lecture, and ask questions for clarification. When you take notes, don’t just copy down what the powerpoint slide says word for word- feel free to draw pictures or graphs that visually represent the information, or something else that makes you think of what was discussed in class.

There, you already thought about the same few concepts, but in many different ways: you wrote them down, you talked about them out loud, and saw visual representations of it. To really hammer the points home, when you go to retrieve the material later, always try to produce it rather than absorb it again. If your professor offers homework assignments, this is a perfect studying tool. If not, most textbooks have review questions at the end of the chapter you can do a few at a time to make sure you’re fresh. Finally, a night or two before, study with a friend by asking each other questions on the material, only referring to the book or notes if you are completely unarmed to answer.

If you do this, essentially you are studying for the test all the time, just not very hard and not for extended periods at a time. This ensures you never have to stay up and cram the night before. But more importantly, you are absorbing the same material in many different ways, which ensures you achieve true understanding. When the test comes, you should know EXACTLY what your professor is looking for in each question, and agonizing over improving your grade should be a bout long past.

Sources

Wood, Justin N. Attention, Perception and Psychophysics 73.2 (Feb 2011): 420-439.

Lewandowski, Stephan. Oberaurer, Klaus. Yang, Lee-Xieng. Ecker, Ullrich K.H. Behavior Research Methods 42.2 (May 2010): 571-85.

Zeithamova, Dagmar; Maddox, W Todd. Memory & Cognition (pre-2011) 35.6 (Sep 2007): 1380-98.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBBjVFzJZZc&hd=1

Tips for managing test-taking anxiety

By: Christi Sabin

Photo by Jerine Lay, obtained from Flickr under CC license.

Photo by Jerine Lay, obtained from Flickr under CC license.

It’s that day–nobody’s favorite day–TEST DAY! But you studied hard, you know you know the material, so you should do just fine, right? In theory, yes, yet something starts to happen when you sit down with that test–your mind starts racing, your heart starts pounding, you feel so nervous and you don’t know why–then you suddenly cannot remember the material you studied! If this sounds like you, then you are experiencing test anxiety. Now, of course you will feel anxious if you know you are not prepared for a test–as you probably should be, but what I am talking about here is an inability to focus and concentrate on a test when you have properly prepared for it. I will discuss some ways in which you can overcome the overwhelming feelings of test anxiety and perform to the very best of your ability.

  1. Unload: Recent research has shown that students who write down their fears about the exam right before taking it tend to do better. This is because when you are nervous about taking your exam, your working memory becomes overloaded, so dumping out the fears on paper frees up space in your mind to better concentrate. The time allotted for writing was 10 minutes in these studies, so try to make time before the exam if you are able to.
  2. Just breathe: Deep belly breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing) can relax the physiological stress symptoms associated with stress very quickly. While you are sitting, just breathe in slowly through your nose and let the air come down to your belly, and let your belly expand fully, then slowly exhale through your mouth or nose. Repeating this a few times should decrease your blood pressure and heart rate, and leave you feeling more relaxed. I would recommend practicing this before test day so you know how to do it properly, it sounds easier than it is, we tend to breathe in more rapid and shallow breaths in our day-to-day hectic lives.
  3. Go to your happy place: Use visualization to imagine a calm, peaceful place, or just anything that brings you a sense of calm that you can imagine. This in and of itself can be useful, but there is also a technique called the ‘Palming Method’, which involves placing the palms of your hands over your eyes (without touching the eyes) and placing your fingers on your forehead so that you are basically cupping your hands over your eyes. Visualization with or without using the palming method in combination with the deep breathing described above can help to physically relax you even further.
  4. Combat negative thinking: If you tell yourself you are going to fail, you probably will. Make sure to keep counteracting this negative self-talk with positive statements, the power of your thoughts is indeed a powerful thing. If you practice the relaxation techniques above, you may find it easier to think positively when you are in a relaxed state.
  5. Start with what is easier for you: On a multiple-choice exam, start with the questions that you know right off the bat, and then go back to the ones you were not as sure of the second time around. By this time, you should be feeling more relaxed and confident, so you will be thinking more clearly.
  6. Don’t rush: It can be anxiety-provoking to see other students finishing their tests first, but that doesn’t mean that you should rush as well. I always go over my exam one final time to make sure I didn’t make any careless errors the first couple of times around.
  7. Go with your gut: Most of the time it’s better to stick with the answer you chose originally. Sometimes nervousness can cause us to second-guess ourselves, but only change your answer if you know that you got it wrong because you misunderstood or read it wrong the first time around, or maybe you guessed the first time and now the information has come flooding back to you since you are (hopefully) more relaxed.

References:

Harvard Medical School. (2009). Take a deep breath. Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2009/May/Take-a-deep-breath

Middle Tennessee State University. (n.d.). Survival Strategies for Taking Tests. Retrieved from http://capone.mtsu.edu/studskl/teststrat.html

Nauert, R. (2011). Journaling Before Exam Can Relieve Test Anxiety. Psych Central.    Retrieved on October 24, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/01/14/journaling-before-exam-can-relieve-test-anxiety/22665.html

University of Houston-Clear Lake Counseling Services. (n.d.). Test Anxiety. Retrieved from http://prtl.uhcl.edu/portal/page/portal/COS/Self_Help_and_Handouts/Files_and_Documents/Test%20Anxiety.pdf

University of Illinois at Chicago Academic Center for Excellence. (2012). Strategies of Multiple Choice Exams. Retrieved from http://www.uic.edu/depts/ace/multiple_choice.shtml

Worchester Polytechnic Institute. (n.d.). How to Reduce Test Anxiety. Retrieved from http://www.wpi.edu/Images/CMS/ARC/How_to_Reduce_Test_Anxiety.pdf