Monthly Archives: January 2012

Hit Me With Your Best Shot

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The group at Paintball USA in Ventura, CA.

I went paintballing for my first of time. It hurt. But it probably was the most fun I’ve had thus far this year. So what is it about paintballing, about seeking thrill, that is so loved? Why do we seek out activities like paintballing to fill our time with?

Thrill is anywhere you want it and strives upon uncertainty. The more unsure you are of a situation, the more thrilling your mind interprets it to be. This is why, covered in paint and nudged between a tire and a hay stack, my trembling knees and I were having the time of our lives. I was unsure of my situation; anyone could come around the corner at any moment and shoot a hurdling paint-filled bullet of doom at me, or at my face, which apparently was the easiest target of the day.

Temple University psychologist and former president of the American Psychological Association, Frank Farley, has studied people with type T, or thrill seeking, personalities. He states that type T people bask in the uncertainty and intensity associated with activities from roller coasters to bungee jumping. According to Farley, “there’s almost nothing else, including sex, that can match it in terms of the incredible sensory experiences that the body is put through.”

David Zald, a psychologist at Vanderbilt University, conducted PET scan research and found that type T personalities have a reduced number of dopamine autoreceptors, which act as brakes to stop the release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter most involved with motivation and reward, so it makes sense that a person with less “brakes” is more prone to seek out thrill. So what does Zald have to say about the subject matter? “Thrill seeking is one of the things that leads people to explore new things, to discover new things. The world would be a boring place if we didn’t have people who were willing to take the risks because they were so interested or drawn to the new and exciting.”

I don’t think he could have said it better. Everything in life we love, whether it be a sport, dating, gambling, or even traveling, has uncertainty that we inherently crave. I wouldn’t consider myself that much of a type T, but I really do find an unbeatable sense of satisfaction from activities without a finish line in sight. Something about not knowing what is going to come next helps me to embrace and accept challenge. Even if I have black and blue battle wounds to deal with now…

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Revising the Resolution

ImageIt has been too long since I wrote. So long, in fact, that I actually am disappointed in myself. This morning I made a mental note that I had to at least write something today, so here it is:

I started my first week of winter quarter, and of course one of my resolutions for the new year is to get straight A’s this quarter. Even the look on my Mom’s face seeing that report card would be satisfying enough. The class I’m most excited for thus far is Journalism Writing. I went in expecting this class to be an introduction to reporting, but it is actually part of an interdisciplinary collaboration with a Photojournalism class and a Sociology class. The final project among the three groups will be a published portfolio with the theme of “Justice” with writing and photography laid out in an aesthetically outstanding way, with each class focusing on their own specialty. Pretty cool, I think. Plus, it has been quite a while since I’ve taken a class that is not science-related, so it should be a breath of fresh air.

I recently read an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal by Jonah Lehrer on the science behind failed resolutions. He states that willpower is a rare limited resource, and that 88% of resolutions fail according to a 2007 study of over 3,000 people. The prefrontal cortex of our brain is the area largely responsible for willpower, among other functions such as focus, short-term memory, and abstract problem solving.

In an experiment at Stanford University, several dozen undergraduate students were divided into two groups. One group was given a two-digit number to remember and the other group was given a seven-digit number. They were instructed to walk down the hall, after which they were given two different snack options: chocolate cake or fruit salad.

The results show that students given the seven-digit number were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as the two-digit students. The reason, according to Stanford researchers, is that the extra digits filled space in the brain, making it harder for the prefrontal cortex to keep its willpower. Thus, the students are more likely to indulge. “In other words, willpower is so weak, and the prefrontal cortex is so overtaxed, that all it takes is five extra bits of information before the brain starts to give in to temptation.” A brain pre-occupied with problems resists what we want our willpower to do for us. Even moderation must be done in moderation.

So I am now going to alter my resolution. I do not want straight A’s; rather, I want to strengthen my study skills and spend more time focusing on school work rather than on doing nothing like I normally do between classes. I am going to be active and make good usage of my time during the day. What is your resolution?

If There’s One Thing I’m Not Going to Miss About College…

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Local New Year’s Eve celebration this year with some of my best friends.

New Year’s Eve has come and gone, and with so many statuses complaining about hangoversInternational Hangover Daydrunk, dying, and every derivation of those words, I thought it would be mildly appropriate to write my blog tonight on the science of a hangover.

The Biology of a Hangover:

Upon consumption, alcohol enters the body and causes the pituitary gland in the brain to suppress the secretion of vasopressin, the body’s antidiuretic hormone. This causes the kidneys to send water directly to the bladder without reabsorbing it into the body, which is why the bathroom tends to be a popular spot at a party. Frequent urination also expels valuable salts and potassium, resulting in headaches, nausea, and fatigue. The liver also breaks down glycogen to glucose as a result of alcohol consumption, and this glucose is expelled from the body during urination, which results in weakness and fatigue the next morning.

Alcohol also inhibits glutamine, which is one of the body’s stimulant hormones. When the drinker stops drinking, the body produces more glutamine to overcompensate and this stimulates the brain while the drinker is sleeping, prohibiting the drinker from getting a real night’s sleep, contributing to exhaustion and fatigue.

Because alcohol is absorbed directly through the stomach lining, the cells that line the organ quickly become irritated. An excess amount of hydrochloric acid is also produced in the stomach as a result of drinking, which sends a message to the brain that the stomach is irritated, prompting the common response known as puking, yaking, barfing, throwing up…you get the picture.

The next morning, the body feels all the effects of the many avenues of dehydration, which present themselves commonly in the form of dry mouth and headaches, as the brain decreases in size and strains the membranes connecting it to the skull when dehydrated.

Different types of alcohol are responsible for different types of hangovers, it turns out, because of the varying concentrations of congeners, which are byproducts of fermentation. The greatest amoung of congeners are found in red wine and dark liquors. Additionally, combining alcohol also can result in severe hangovers because of the incompatibility of the varying impurities.

I’m sure no one really wants to know what alcohol is doing to the inside of their body, so I’m just going to keep it short and sweet. We’ve all been there, and being in college I know I have plenty more hangovers to look forward to.