I blame Jack Frost!

“I hear those sleigh bells ringing…”

For as long as I can remember the winter has always brought me joy, warmth, happiness and the promise of a fantastic snowboarding season. I guess you can call me a winter enthusiast, hot chocolate by the fire, oversized sweaters and enough clothes to roll myself down a hill, let alone use a sleigh or board.  I love everything about the winter, and compared to the blazing heat of the summer or the constant sneezing of the spring and fall, winter and I are a perfect fit.


Taken in early fall, I can not wait for winter!!!

Apparently some Grinches out there do not share the same love of the winter as I do. While the faint hope of snow and below freezing temperatures keep me going, to others this could be a rather depressing season, some could even say they get sad.

“Frosty the snowman was jolly happy soul…”

S.A.D: Seasonal Affective Disorder. It affects 10 to 20 percent of the population and is more common in men (“Seasonal affective disorder,” 2000). During the winter month’s SAD leaves people feeling blue, it is a form of seasonal depression that can start in the fall months and can continue to early spring or summer. Some symptoms of these winter blues include: depression, anxiety, loss of energy, oversleeping, appetite changes, craving of foods in high carbohydrates, weight gain, difficulty concentrating (Vorvick, 2012)


While Jack Frost nipping at my nose is welcoming to me, other can be very depressed over his appearance. Your chances increase every passing year for SAD, the elderly are more susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder than 20 year olds (“Seasonal affective disorder,” 2013).

Growing up it did not matter if it was 100 degrees out or negative 30, my mother would throw me outside to play, therefore getting more sunshine than those who were cooped up in the house all day. Could this be a reason that the elderly are more susceptible to SAD? Also when blizzard conditions hit I will be found on the slopes, while most people will be found in the food store scooping up the last of the milk, bread and eggs (I never understood that, the only thing you could make is french toast).

“I’m Dreaming of a white Christmas…”

But what really causes SAD? There could be a few factors that play a part in GAD, the first being genetics. Depression can be passed down in genes, and SAD is no exception. Those who have parents or a close relative with depression are two to six times more likely to have depression that those who have no family history of depression (Vorvick, 2012).

Genetics is a factor but not the only one; there are major biological factors that go into SAD as well. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can be supplied by the sun. In the winter, days are shorter and outdoor activities are at a minimum, therefore serotonin levels go down. Serotonin is vital for feelings of “well-being”, and imbalances can trigger depression or other mood disorders. There are several other neurotransmitters that can be involved including acetylcholine, norepinephrine, and others (Vorvick, 2012).

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”

So how do you cope with SAD? In my personal opinion escaping to an island retreat is the only proper way to handle this (because everyone loves the islands). In reality there are ways to cope with SAD that are more realistic than flying to a remote island location for 3 months.


On my family’s annual winter week getaway, this was Christmas in Antigua last year

Light boxes are one way to bring sunshine into your day without escaping to the islands, or catching a cold. “Light boxes emit high intensities of light of 2,500 to 10,000 lux (as compared to a normal light fixture that emits 250 to 500 lux) and produce similar effects to the sun’s natural rays (Grohol, 2004).” The best use for these is periods of 30minutes up to 2 hours in the morning hours. Some people report that after 2 weeks the symptoms of SAD are gone.

Exercise has also proven to beat the winter blues. This could explain why winter sport enthusiasts are not bothered by SAD. It is proven that an hour of aerobic activity has the same benefits as a 2.5 hour light treatment. This aerobic activity doesn’t even have to be hard it can consist of spontaneous dance parties, Zumba, or a snowball fight with the neighborhood kids.

In the most severe cases of SAD medication may need to intervene. Anti-depressants medicines have been proven effective in making winter less dreary (Grohol, 2004).

“Cause Santa Clause is coming to town…”

Seasonal Affective Disorder may be the most commonly known disorder, but that doesn’t make it the only one. There are spring and summer seasonal affective disorders (also known as summer depression). The symptoms for this include: Anxiety, trouble sleeping, irritability, agitation, weight loss, and poor appetite (“Seasonal affective disorder,” 2013).


There is also Seasonal changes in bipolar disorder, and this effects people who suffer from bipolar disorder. In the spring and summer symptoms of mania or hypomania can be brought on. These would include: persistently elevated mood, hyperactivity, agitation, unbridled enthusiasm out of proportion to the situation, rapid thoughts and speech (“Seasonal affective disorder,” 2013).

“Silent night…”

I consider myself lucky to be able to face winter with excitement in my heart and anticipation in my mind. My love of the snow and icicle lined trees carries me like a child through the winter months. However, while I coo over the beauties there are other people who are less fortunate and dislike the winter, some would even say they get SAD.

“Later on, we’ll conspire,
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid,
The plans that we’ve made,
Walking in a winter wonderland.”

Work cited:

Grohol, J. M. (2004, Novemeber). Treatment for seasonal affective disorder (sad). Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/library/seasonal_affective_treatment.htm

Seasonal affective disorder. (2000, March 1). Retrieved from http://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0301/p1531.html

Seasonal affective disorder (sad). (2013, July 13). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/seasonal-affective-disorder/DS00195/DSECTION=symptoms

Vorvick, L. (2012, February 12). Seasonal affective disorder. New York Times. Retrieved from http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/seasonal-affective-disorder/


Creatures from the black lagoon

They live in the deepest and darkest places on earth, crawling through filth and sewers, praying on the decomposing flesh. They spread disease and chaos globally, and are single handedly responsible for the death of 4 million people during the bubonic plague of 1348. They cause you to squirm, squeal and look the other way and I hold them personally responsible for causing my mom to scream bloody murder on the streets of New York City. Of course I am talking about rats.


                While rats are made out to be cold blooded killers, for the most part they don’t live up to their reputation.  Si-Fi channel has us sitting here believing that all rats are six feet long and eat small children for breakfast. Even though I have some cousins I would like to feed to six foot long rats, they are almost as fictitious as the Blob.


                Rats may be my mother’s mortal enemy (not just rats, any rodent, bird, snake, small dirty child), rats can be a psychologist best friend. In my Learning Psychology lab, my lab partner and I work with a rat and are beginning to train her (you can read my rat blog post here). But what makes these squirmy little hairballs a psychologist best friend? What makes a rat’s brain similar to humans? And why is it that so many rats are used in studies and then generalized to humans?

To start I would like to tell you about something I saw on the news the other day. First of all we all know how addicting Oreos are, you eat one, you eat two, before you know it you are online signing up for a gym membership because you ate  the whole box. An article I found this week says that Oreos are as addictive as cocaine. To test this they put rats in a maze, one side got Oreos, and the other got less tasty rice cakes. When the rats were set free to explore scientist recorded the amount of time the rat spent on each side of the maze. This time was compared to a study where the rats were given an injection of cocaine or an injection of saline. The researchers found that the Oreos excited the brain’s pleasure center in the same way the cocaine did (Wilson, 2013).


These are my two pet ratties, Carmen and Shane

Now while I am sitting here contemplating my apparent drug addiction, I am also contemplating why researchers would use rats over lions or tigers or bears OH MY! There has to some explanation to why rats are used over every other animal.

One reason why rats are used in experiments is because they are mammals, as are humans. Rats systems should react in the same way as humans, if it is safe for a rat, it should be safe for humans.  Another reason that rats are good test subjects is for longitudinal studies. Rats can have litters within 20 days of being born, and generally have large litters. This allows scientists to do study’s and look at how a drug, chemical or reaction could affect people over multi generations (“Why are rats,” 2013).


                But how does a rat brain compare to a humans brain? How can something so small and fluffy bring us so much knowledge?!?

Typically scientists have been able to link rat nervous systems to human nervous systems due to how they develop. Rat brains and human brains match at seven stages of development allowing the development of rat brains to be compared to humans (“Human-rat comparissons,” 2013).  An interactive map of this can be seen (and played) here. This allows you to see that rats have the same components of the brain that humans have just in different areas (Martin).

These masters of the sewers, these dark shadows in the night, these blood sucking vermin, are not really all that bad. Being mammals and having similar brain structures allow us to perform test on these fluff balls and get results as if they were humans. So rats are not all bad, even if they are addicted to Oreos, or cocaine.

My high school psychology teacher made us memorize this song at one point.

Work Cited:

Human-rat comparissons. (2013). Retrieved from http://neurondevelopment.org/human-rat-comparisons/

Martin, V. (n.d.). Comparison between the human and rat brain. Retrieved from http://www.wesapiens.org/file/3401005/Comparison between the human and rat brain

Why are rats used in animal testing. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.wisegeek.org/why-are-rats-used-in-animal-testing.htm

Wilson, J. (2013, October 16). Study: Oreos as addictive as cocaine. WFMZ 69 News. Retrieved from http://www.wfmz.com/study-oreos-as-addictive-as-cocaine/-/121798/22468704/-/cig51p/-/index.html

Rat Tamer

When I think of training animals dogs are the first to come to mind, and when dogs come to mind so does Noah. Noah was a German shorthair pointer, but more specifically, Noah was the dog from hell. Every morning Noah would open my closed bedroom door, a skill he taught himself, and would proceed to eat everything and anything he could find. Noah ate socks, Noah ate rocks, Noah ate hair ties, Noah ate my breakfast, lunch, dinner and my snack for tomorrow. Noah was the worst dog ever, and there was no way to train him.


This is when I learned of my next task, to become a rat tamer. Our Learning Psychology class required us to act like professionals and train a rat. The first thing I thought of, Noah. I can’t even train a dog, man’s best friend; how am I ever going to train a rat, a wild flesh eating rodent found in the darkest, dampest, and grungiest of places?

First I have to admit that I was wrong. Enter Colette, a black and white dumbo rat who was approximately a month old, she was incredibly soft and could fit in the palm of my hand. There is no way that this rat could be the cold blooded killer my mom always screamed and swore they were when she saw a mouse.

I lied a little in the paragraph above, when I said Colette could fit in the palm of my hand I meant that she could rest there long enough to pee all over me, then scamper away. The first few weeks Colette did not favor me over my partner, in fact the only reason she would near me was to use me as a litter box. In the next two or three week Colette warmed up to me, growing bigger every day, becoming large enough to cover my hand and wrap her long pipe cleaner like tail around my wrist. She stopped using me as a bathroom, and more of a jungle gym.


Then disaster stuck, well for Colette anyways. Colette had to be magazine trained. When I say this I don’t mean that I had to teach her to read (which may have been easier). Magazine trained, when talking about animals, refers to them responding to food dropping in a cage. It is how you reward them when you are studying a reaction or training them to do something.

Did you ever just not want to do something, like clean your room, or listen to your parents? Colette definitely did not want to be magazine trained. We put her in the cage, once a week for two weeks, dropping a treat one by one down a slot hoping for a response, or a little nibble. Is this what I get for yelling at Noah to stop eating everything?!?! A rat that doesn’t eat! We thought maybe she was a picky eater. We gave her several selections of treats to choose from: green apple, fruit punch, even bacon! With me eating more of her treats than she did, things weren’t looking good.

Finally on the third week, with morals low and tensions flaring, Colette took her first treat. She must have liked it to because let me tell you, she didn’t stop. No matter where she was in the cage whenever a pellet was dropped Colette came running.


 Soon Colette was being trained to bar press. Now I’m an athlete, and when I hear bar press I think of the gym. Colette, the lucky little rat, does not have to go to the gym to bar press. Bar pressing in rat terms means that the rat will press a bar and food will drop. Essential Colette found out that she could feed herself and she was more than thrilled by this discovery.

In the end working with rats, or animals in general, is hard. You have no control over what an animal decides to do, or what they decide to not do. Underneath all the hair pulling and curse words whispered to yourself when trying to get your rat to perform like the others, working with animals gives you a real incite to learning and understanding conditioning. 

True Life: I Majored in Procrastination

Okay, let’s see. Before I write my paper I need to go for a run. Okay that’s done, time to do my paper. Wow, but first my room is a mess, better clean.  Let’s get started on this paper, eah yeah, actually I should shower and while I’m at it straighten my hair. Paper time, its paper time! But on second thought there are quite a few articles of clothing in my closet that I should get rid of. Finally, that’s taken care of let’s do this!!! WOAH, is that’s my rat’s cage I smell, they need to be cleaned, wonder if they would like a bath. I procrastinated enough, get this paper cranked out! Not sleeping till it’s done… nine-thirty at night!!!! I should get to bed, this papers not due till tomorrow anyways.


            Does anyone else suffer from chronic procrastination like I do? Some days I can get everything done in one foul swoop, but on others, I am not moving from bed to get lunch. This leads me to wonder, what is the deal with procrastination!!!

So what is procrastination, well the Merriam-Webster definition of procrastination is “to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done (Procrastinate).” While I am violently shaking my head agreeing that this is the definition of my life, I cannot help but think that there has to be more. Why do all the humans that I interact with on a daily basis procrastinate? Why do we put off pressing matters until the last possible moment?! Is there a way to overcome this lifestyle and break through as a go-getter, paper writing, no break taking, mastermind (maybe I am getting a little carried away with mastermind).


            In 1984 two students from the University of Vermont did a study on academic procrastination and they found that procrastination can lead to “detrimental academic performance, including poor grades and course withdrawal (Solomon & Rothblum, 1984).” If you are like me you are sitting there thinking “yeah, okay, tell me something I don’t know” I’ll take that challenge and raise you. Did you know that according to their study some possible reasons of procrastinations were “anxiety, difficulty in making decisions, rebellion against control, lack of assertion, fear of the consequences of success, perceived aversiveness of the task and overly perfectionist standards about competency (Solomon & Rothblum, 1984).” Sound familiar to anyone?

Laura J. Solomon and Ester D. Rothblum had three objectives while doing this study. The first one was to determine an amount of procrastination that students feel is a problem, the second was to figure out the reasons for procrastination and the third was to compare self-reported procrastination to standardized self-repot scales of potentially related areas (such as anxiety, study habits, depression, and self esteem). Three-hundred and forty-two students took place in this study and were ask to self report on many different areas, such as self-paced quizzes, a procrastination assessment scale, and the frequency of procrastination (Solomon & Rothblum, 1984).


After all the data was collected the results found that 46% of participants nearly or always procrastinated on writing a term paper, 27.6% procrastinated on studying for exams and 30.1% procrastinated on reading weekly assignments. While all of this was taking place almost all the participants agreed that they wanted to do something about their procrastination, and find a way to fix it (Solomon & Rothblum, 1984).

Briefly I want to take a quick look at procrastination and anxiety. Anxiety can be defined as a disorder that causes nervousness, fear, apprehension and worrying. These feelings can become physical symptoms and can have an impact on everyday life (“All about anxiety,” 2013).

Is our procrastination really a hidden cry of anxiety? When you procrastinate you end up worrying that you are procrastinating too much, you get nervous and start fearing that you will not get focused and meet your deadline. Can we blame school work, term papers and overall homework in general for anxiety? Sounds like a good excuse right?


Procrastination can really relate back to the stress response, this response is a reaction to threatening stimuli and is characterized by avoidance behavior, increased vigilance and arousal, activation of the sympathetic division of the ANS, and release of cortisol from the adrenal glands (Bear, Connors & Paradiso, 2007). This is the underlying cause of all anxiety, Stress is a response that is regulated by the brain, and when it can not regulate anymore than is when we are struck with anxiety.

Throughout my four years at college I feel that procrastination should have been a major because I have showed these symptoms more than should have. Procrastination is related to anxiety and is slowly destroying the lives of college kids everywhere. Okay maybe that is a slight exaggeration.  Next I should tell you how to overcome procrastination, but I’ll do that later.

“I leave my homework until the last day because I’ll be older and therefore wiser.”



Work cited:

All about anxiety. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/anxiety/

Bear, M. F., Connors, B. W., & Paradiso, M. A. (2007). Mental illness. In Neuroscience: Exploring the         Brain (3 ed., pp. 668-669). Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Procrastinate. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved September 21, 2013, from http://www.merriam-            webster.com/dictionary/procrastinate

Solomon, L. J., & Rothblum, E. D. (1984). Academic procrastination: Frequency and cognitive-behavioral                correlates . Journal of counseling psychology,31(4), 503-509. Retrieved from http://www-                rohan.sdsu.edu/~rothblum/doc_pdf/procrastination/AcademicProcrastinationFrequency.pdf

A Mouth Watering Pleasure

All of us are guilty of it. Some of us do it in the middle of the night, others, when you first wake up. Some are more sneaky and do it when there roommates are gone, or under covers so we don’t get caught. Sometimes there needs to be a cleanup immediately afterword because of the sticky mess left behind, or sometimes the crumbs need to be brushed out of bed to contaminate the crime scene.  Obviously, I am talking about snacking.

Humans are natural Snackers, some of us eat to live, while the other half lives to eat. Whatever side of the spectrum you fall on, do not worry, I am not here to judge you. I am however hear to  tell you that the way you taste what you consume can all be related back to psychology.



Way before the feast begins you get a feeling, an inkling, a taste in your mouth that leaves your mouth watering. If you were Pavlov’s dog you would be sending the salivation meters off the charts, your craving must be answered! Surprisingly food cravings are most common in young adults, and the food that are craved are associated with liking (Hill, 2007). For example, chocolate, I do not know any woman who does not crave chocolate. It is something that we like, and it is our sweet shoulder to cry on in our time of need. But while you may be craving this piece of rich, mocha, warm, sweet, hunk of chocolate, you may not actually be hungry. There is no real link between hunger and craving, however there is a link between craving and mood (Hill, 2007).  You may be eating that piece of sweet, decadent, and sugary piece of red velvet cake because you are in a mood where you need to feel comported by something, and that cake is it.


            So why do we eat? The primary need for eating is to survive; we eat to get the energy to fuel our bodies. In college life most of us eat because we are bored, or because it smells good.  However the response that we know of as hunger comes from a response that our liver sends in the vagus nerve, this signal goes to lateral hypothalamus and the ventromedial hypothalamus, which tells us that we need to eat (Ghosh, 2009).

When we eat the food goes into our mouths and we taste, and the amount of different flavors we can taste is almost unlimited. Unknown to most we taste with more than just our mouths, we can actually taste with the palate, pharynx, and epiglottis (Bear, Connors & Paradiso, 2007). When consuming something bitter such as a stout beer, the back of your tongue is what senses the bitterness giving you that crinkly face that makes all those around you laugh. Sweetness, like that found in a bite of coconut custard, can be detected on the tip making you feel warm all over. The sides or your tongue can detect saltiness and sourness, giving you you’re all over taste (Bear, Connors & Paradiso, 2007).


Today while enjoying my java chip ice cream cone on the beach, I did not receive a felling of hunger in my stomach, nor did I think about what part of my tongue was sensing what, I did however enjoy a java chip ice cream cone on the beach that was sweet, creamy and cold. The fact that I can explain to you that it was sweet, creamy, and cold is all thanks to psychology.  I consider myself a foodie, I love to eat, taste, and bake, and it is thanks to psychology that I can make food that tastes a certain way which pleases people.


Work cited:

Bear, M. F., Connors, B. W., & Paradiso, M. A. (2007).Neuroscience: Exploring the brain. (3rd ed., pp. 252-253). Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Ghosh, P. (2009). The psychology of eating. Everyman’s science43(9), 113-118. Retrieved from http://www.sciencecongress.nic.in/html/pdf/e-book/Dec08_Jan09.pdf

Hill, A. J. (2007). The psychology of food craving.Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, (66), 277-285. doi: 10.1017/S0029665107005502