Brain awareness week

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This month (March 16—22) brings us Brain Awareness Week: seven days in the year when scientists tell us how much they’re learning about our brains and ask for funding so they can learn more. Turns out brains are complicated.

Emerging adulthood

Young adulthood (defined as 18—22 or 18—25) is a time of dramatic change in the brain, particularly its thinking structures. Scientists call this developmental period “emerging adulthood” or “the frontier of adulthood.”

Change, change, change

Brain development in early adulthood opens up more complex thinking, especially around relationships, moral problems, and abstract concepts. Young adults become better able to regulate their emotions and manage relationships.

Check out the research on emerging adulthood.

Raise your STI-Q

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Which sexually transmitted infection (STI) is making a comeback?

What’s up?
Syphilis rates. They’ve nearly doubled since 2005, and approached 17,000 new cases in 2013, says the CDC.

In whom?
Men (90 percent of cases)—especially men who have sex with men (75 percent of cases).

How is this happening?
Via skin-to-skin contact during sex.

How can we stop it?
Condoms, dental (oral) dams, STI screening, abstinence.

Which dead celebs had syphilis?
Bram Stoker, Henry VIII, and Vincent Van Gogh, according to Medscape.

For much more on preventing STIs and getting tested

Get LinkedIn to your future

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More than 20,000 college students are joining LinkedIn every month, according to the site’s administrators. Why? Because a strong profile on LinkedIn can open up more options for internships and the job you want after graduation. “LinkedIn is the first place most employers or recruiters will look to get more information about students,” says Allison Cheston, career development and advancement advisor at New York University.

Random acts of kindness week

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How are you honoring Random Acts of Kindness Week (February 9-15)? Most people would agree that kindness has many benefits. Did you know it’s good for your health? It’s true: Kindness relieves stress. Kindness also improves mental health, test scores, and behavior. It’s contagious: Kindness leads to more kindness.

So what are some simple acts of kindness you can do every day? Try these:

  • Walk a dog for a local senior (especially if it’s snowing, wet, or icy)
  • Hold the door open for someone
  • Pay it forward when buying coffee, donuts, or lunch
  • Tell people how great they are
  • Collect jeans for homeless youth or cell phones for domestic abuse survivors
  • Let someone in line in front of you
  • Be warm and supportive online
  • Donate used textbooks and sporting equipment
  • Become an organ donor
  • Smile at strangers
  • Don’t litter (and pick up other people’s litter)

Could you help a friend with an eating disorder?

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Eating disorders are serious health conditions that require medical attention and personal and professional support. It’s estimated that in the US, 20 million women and 10 million men will have an eating disorder at some point in their life. To increase the chances of recovery, early detection and intervention is key.

Symptoms vary according to the type of eating disorder. The signs can include:

  • Not eating enough
  • Intense fear of weight gain
  • Frequent periods of eating large amounts of food (which may or may not be followed by behaviors to stop weight gain, like induced vomiting)
  • Feelings of shame or guilt around eating

How to help a friend

If you’re worried a friend might have an eating disorder, here’s what you can do to help:

  • Be honest with your friend that you’re concerned. You could say something like, “I’m concerned about you, because you don’t eat breakfast or lunch.”
  • Don’t make promises or threats, e.g., “If you don’t get help, I won’t speak to you again”
  • Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements (which imply blame). E.g., avoid saying “You just need to eat” or “You are acting irresponsibly”.
  • Compliment your friend on their accomplishments and successes.
  • Express your support.  Let your friend know you are there to help/talk.
  • Ask for help! You’re not expected to have all the answers. If you need advice or help, talk to your school’s health or counseling center.

MORE INFO: National Eating Disorders Association

Give your heart on Valentine’s Day

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More than 120,000 people in the US are waiting for an organ: parents, children, college students, grandparents, and others. By signing up to be an organ donor, you have the power to save a life. Actually, several lives: one organ donor can save up to eight people. There are misconceptions about being an organ donor, so let’s check the facts:

  • If you are sick or injured and are admitted to a hospital, the #1 priority is to save your life.
  • Most major religions in the US support organ donation.
  • Being an organ donor doesn’t cost any money to you or your family.
  • When matching donors and recipients, several factors are considered, including severity of illness, blood type, and other important medical information. Race and celebrity status aren’t relevant.

How do I sign up?

Registering as an organ donor is easy. Sign up in your state.

How can I save a life today?

Donate blood! It’s easy and free. First time donor? Here’s what you need to know:

  • Every two seconds, someone in the US needs a blood transfusion.
  • The most common blood type requested by hospitals is Type O–but all blood types are needed.
  • You can donate blood every six to eight weeks, which is the time it takes for your body to replenish the red cells used in the donation.
  • You can’t contract HIV from donating blood.
  • While the blood is tested for disease, donating blood is not the same as getting tested for HIV/AIDS (if you are at risk for HIV/AIDS, you shouldn’t donate blood). If you want to be tested for HIV, visit your student health center.

The hazards of mixing with Molly

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The drug “Molly” has been around for years. Maybe not in the same pure form, though. These days, Molly is usually mixed with other substances, and that’s what ramps up the risk.

Who or what is Molly?

Molly (short for molecular) is a psycho-stimulant. It’s a powder or capsule form of MDMA, the same chemical that’s in Ecstasy. Molly increases activity in three of the brain’s neurotransmitters—serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine—triggering heightened emotional, sexual, and trusting feelings, and sensory distortions.

When Molly gets miserable

After that surge of feel-good chemicals, the brain can run into problems. For users, this can mean confusion, depression, sleep difficulties, drug cravings, and anxiety. These other side effects are not so cute on the dance floor:

  • Involuntary teeth clenching
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased heart rate
  • Chills or sweating

Molly mixes with the wrong sort

It’s rare to find pure Molly these days. It tends to be mixed with other substances, including methamphetamine, caffeine, heroin, ketamine (the anesthetic), or cocaine. Combining these can increase the risk of side effects, and could lead to other problems, such as overdose.

For more on Molly

It’s peanut butter—jelly time!

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Or maybe just Peanut Butter Day: January 24. Peanut butter isn’t just the food that gets stuck to the roof of your mouth. The peanut is packed with nutrients, it’s the #1 snack nut in the US, and it has been to space. (Astronaut Alan Shepard took a peanut with him to the moon.)

  • Looking for a late-night study snack? Peanut butter is packed with protein, filling you up and keeping you full longer. That will keep you from reaching for the chips.
  • PB has the good fat—monounsaturated, which is heart-healthy. These mono fats can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • It tastes great and comes with delicious memories of elementary school.

Craving peanut butter? Look up some easy recipes. Or break out the old-school PB recipes. Ants on a log, anyone?

What makes us creative—and what kind of creative?

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Find your type

Creativity is hot in psychology research, and researchers are finding creative ways to explore it. They’ve shown that openness to experience is the key personality trait associated with creativity. But what does this mean?

There are many ways to be open to experience, wrote Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, a cognitive psychologist who focuses on intelligence, creativity, and personality, in Scientific American. Maybe you’re intellectually curious, or have a wicked imagination. Perhaps you immerse yourself in complex problem solving. Or maybe you’re more interested in emotional experience.

Four types of openness

Openness to experience can be broken down into four types, which manifest creatively in different ways, according to Dr. Kaufman’s study in the Journal of Creative Behavior (2013). The research involved 146 high-achieving British students aged 16—18.

FIND YOUR CREATIVE TYPE

You score highly on IQ tests
Traditional measures of intelligence (i.e., IQ tests), including scores for verbal reasoning and working memory, reflect explicit cognitive ability. They don’t seem to represent particular personality types. Explicit cognitive ability is more relevant to creative achievement in the sciences than the arts.

You’re driven to engage in ideas, rational thought, and the search for truth
You goal-directed types tend to be industrious, assertive, and persevering. Those traits represent your intellectual engagement. Intellectual engagement is more relevant to creative achievement in the sciences than the arts. It seems a better predictor than explicit cognitive ability of scientific creative achievement.

Your decisions are based on emotions, gut feelings, and empathy 
You might be more volatile, compassionate, enthusiastic, assertive, and impulsive than the average dude. That’s affective engagement in action. Affective engagement is more relevant to creative achievement in the arts than the sciences. Actually, it might even be detrimental to scientific creativity. (Don’t let that make you drop physics. This is a generalization, and people are complicated.)

You’re into aesthetics, fantasy, art, and culture
Are you searching for beauty? Are you more compassionate, enthusiastic, assertive, and impulsive than most of us? Maybe also less industrious and orderly? That’s what aesthetic engagement looks like. This is more relevant to creative achievement in the arts than the sciences.

Get thee to a theater

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Plenty of learning (and becoming better people, and all that) occurs outside the school building. Now we’re getting a sense of how effectively it can happen inside a theater. We’re better off seeing a play performed live than reading it or watching the movie version, new research suggests. Live theater seems to make us more tolerant and empathic, too.

In the first randomized study of the effects of live theater on students, high schoolers were assigned by lottery to see stage productions of Hamlet or A Christmas Carol, or no live theater, by researchers at the University of Arkansas. Here’s what they found:

Knowledge and vocabulary

Students who saw a play performed live demonstrated considerably better knowledge of its plot and vocabulary than students who had read the same play or seen it performed on screen. “Plays are meant to be seen performed live,” wrote Dr. Jay Greene, professor of education reform, who led the study, in Education Next. “The story can be conveyed in a movie, but it doesn’t engage the viewer in the same way.”

Tolerance for others

Students who attended live theater later demonstrated greater tolerance for human diversity and difference. Here’s how students responded to statements relating to tolerance:

“Plays critical of America should not be allowed to be performed in our community.”

  • Students who saw a live play: 9 percent said yes.
  • Students who did not see a live play: 21 percent said yes.

“People who disagree with my point of view bother me.”

  • Students who saw a live play: 22 percent said yes.
  • Students who did not see a live play: 30 percent said yes.

Understanding others

Students who saw live theater seemed to have an improved ability to read the emotions of others. They scored higher than non-theater-going students on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test, which is thought to measure the ability to infer other people’s thoughts and feelings by looking at their eyes.

In a previous study, the researchers found that students who participated in a field trip to an art museum demonstrated increased knowledge, tolerance, historical empathy, and critical thinking than students who didn’t.

E-CIGARETTES Unhealth-E or OK?

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A few years ago, they were rarely seen in the wild. Now you can find them next to the Blow Pops in gas stations. They’re E-cigarettes, and they got popular fast. Researchers are scrambling to determine the health impact of these gizmos, which emit vapor laced with chemicals—including nicotine—when users inhale.

Can E-cigarettes help you kick butts?

The pencil-sized machines are marketed as a convenient alternative to lighting up—and as a tool to help folks quit tobacco. With the Great American Smokeout on November 20, if you’re a smoker, you might be eager to join the 88 percent of college students who have not smoked in the last month. Can E-cigarettes really help you kick the butts?

Mixed findings

Few studies have addressed the question, and findings are mixed. But we do know that nicotine—which E-cigarettes deliver in varying doses—is bad. The drug can contribute to heart disease, cause complications during pregnancy, and act as a “tumor promoter,” the World Health Organization wrote in July.

Nicotine also has the potential to harm brain development among young people. That includes—please cancel your trip to Denial—college students.

Still, E-cigarettes are far less abrasive to your lungs than plumes of cigarette smoke, so they may be significantly less harmful. But we’re not sure.

In any event, “vapers” must be wary of nicotine overdose, which can result in bad things like vomiting, confusion, and seizures, according tothe US National Library of Medicine. (Users should keep E-cigs away from young children, who–being teeny-tiny–can overdose more easily.)

Bottom line

Bottom line, as we await more research: We should consider E-cigs a cousin of a pack of cigarettes. Stick to those Blow Pops.

How to stop procrastinating tomorrow

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Hold on—I gotta check Facebook just one more time before I finish this sentence. OK, I’m back. So! Procrastination: It’s bad.

Most of us want to be efficient, but time after time we find the day melting away as we watch “just one more” TV episode or click on “just one more” video of baby animals.

Good news! Procrastination isn’t just in your head. Experts have found that making some tweaks to the way you work can make it easier to buckle down.

Breaking up is easy to do

A task can seem easier if you break it into small segments, says Dr. Jesse Crosby, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School. Try doing one bit a day, and start small.

“I always feel I can do anything for five minutes, so I set a timer,” Gail McMeekin, author of The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women, told WebMD. “Once I start, I usually go over five minutes and may finish the job.”

Crack the door

Completing just a small part of a project creates momentum and helps dispel fears that a given task is too difficult or complex. Think of that quote from the ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” After you take a single step on that assignment, you’re moving.

Buddy up

Working with others can hold you accountable for making steady progress, says Gail McMeekin. Be sure, though, to discuss with a professor what sort of teamwork is kosher. You don’t want to be accused of cheating or plagiarism.

Find a Hermione

Find someone who’s consistently proactive, and stick close to that person. You could soak up some of his or her good habits. “Surround yourself with people who are doers,” Joseph Ferrari, a DePaul University psychology professor, told US News & World Report.