Biology 103

Sarah Mellors's picture

Why Do Some People Develop Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

As the child of a man whose acute Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is the dominant force in his life, and consequently, having grown up in a very unnatural, controlled environment, when deciding on a top for this paper, I dared to delve into the enigmatic world of mental illness. I thought writing on this disorder would be both interesting and would help unlock the secret behind my father’s abnormal behavior. It would also help me understand why, up until now, I have exhibited only mild symptoms of this condition, and if the disorder is in fact hereditary, what this means for me in the future. In order to answer these questions, an in depth examination of the disease is needed.

Cayla McNally's picture

The Power and Complexity of Human Memory

I can remember going to a zoo in Canada with my parents when I was 3 years old; I can remember certain things said, that my father bowed out on seeing the lions because his feet hurt, and I can most certainly remember thinking that an angry gorilla was going to escape and throttle me in its gargantuan hands. One thing I cannot remember for the life of me, no matter how hard I try, is what anything looked like during my week there. I have no recollection whatsoever of the surroundings, no matter how much time I spend thinking about it, no matter how many times I present the question to my parents. Why is it that I can remember certain words, certain feelings, but nothing else? Why do people remember certain things, but blank on other things?
Kelsey McMillen's picture

Evolutionists: Not the fathers of their ideas

Since the mid-nineteenth century, Evolution has been reformed and recreated to further the biological evidence of life’s creation. Yet the ideas were not created by Charles Darwin or Aleksandr Oparin; they originated from the ancient Greek philosophers. As the people of Greece did not have the modern methods that we have today, they had to use their own observations of the World and were able to hypothesize the creation of life without modern technology. Evolution is said to have begun with the creation of inorganic molecules such as methane, water vapor, ammonia, and hydrogen (1).
Meagan McDaniel's picture

Web Paper 1 - Lou Gehrig's Disease.

I wasn't sure what to think when my sociology teacher told our class last year that she had Lou Gehrig's disease and probably wouldn't be finishing the semester with us. She had been my teacher for World History during sophomore year, and I had been excited to have her again for another class because she was very passionate about her subjects. "Lou Gehrig's disease" meant nothing to me, and her nebulous explanation didn't help. Why did she have it? What was it? If she'd just found out that she had it, how did she know already that she wasn't going to finish the semester?

Hannah Mueller's picture

Already Seen, Already Lived: What is Déjà Vu?

"It's déjà vu all over again." Upon hearing this cliché, most people know that it refers to a repetitive, unoriginal situation. They might also be familiar with the meaning of the French phrase "déjà vu": "already seen." Yet only about two thirds of the American population has ever had a déjà vu experience (1), and no scientist in history has been able to definitively explain the phenomenon. What is this sudden, often eerie sensation of having already seen or lived through the present moment, and how does it happen? Recent research on déjà vu, which only a few decades ago was considered unworthy of scientific exploration, has more clearly defined how déjà vu occurs and what is meant by the phrase. "Déjà vu" may actually be a catch-all term for three or four different memory malfunctions, at least one of which can become chronic in people with brain damage.

Defining déjà vu has proved nearly as difficult as describing a déjà vu experience. In 1983, the psychiatrist Vernon Neppe explained the illusion as "any subjectively inappropriate impression of familiarity of a present experience with an undefined past" (3). The words "inappropriate" and "undefined" troubled later researchers in their search for a single cause, because sometimes a "déjà vu" experience actually can be traced back to an experience in the past. Other scientists have found that, in a déjà vu situation, there is a difference between a feeling of "familiarity" and one of "recollection" (4). These discrepancies have caused different categories of phenomena to be created, of which déjà vu is only one.

Mia Prensky's picture

The Horror of Ragweed and Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis

What is seasonal allergic rhinitis? If you do not know or have no reason to, consider yourself very, very lucky because in the United States alone, approximately 20% of the population suffers from what we commonly call seasonal allergies or hay fever. Rhinitis, meaning the inflammation of the lining of the nose, can cause severe discomfort and significantly affect one’s ability to function day to day. Millions of school and work days are lost to the disease; annual medical costs to treat allergic rhinitis exceed over four billion dollars per year (2). Why and how do we become the victims of our immune system as the seasons change? Seasonal allergies are a problem, a big problem, that we must understand and treat in order to best preserve our health and wellbeing.
CN's picture

The Dodder – The Thinking Plant That Challenges Classifications

The definition of life is a very ambiguous one. It means different things to different people, to different cultures, and to different areas of study. One would think that a biologist’s definition of life would be succinct, to the point, and all encompassing. However, after a number of thorough class discussions and a number of laboratory sessions and experiments, it has become obvious that no such definition exists or could exist. This is because what is true for one organism might not be true for another, thus, the working definition used is purposely broad to try and to account for all walks of life. While most organisms fit nicely into the definition, there are always a few organisms that are drastically different from the rest. The dodder plant is one such organism.

kgins's picture

Love to Lose?

Competition is found in everything that we do. It’s a reason why we’re still alive, and it brings us highs and lows. Most will agree that the highs come from winning, and the lows, from losing. However, research has shown that these generalizations may not hold true, finding that some people feel more stress after winning than, as expected, after losing.

Studies were done at the University of Michigan to investigate competition and the brain’s response (1). One hundred and eight college students were taken and shown photographs, for example, of two men biking. They were then asked to write a response to each photograph. This was done to find the participant’s non-conscious need to dominate others, or, more formally, their ‘implicit power motive’ (2). The researchers found that a large group wrote about a competition between the two men, and another large group analyzed the bike situation more as a casual ride between two friends. From this, they grouped the people with the more aggressive responses into a “wolves group”, and those with the less aggressive responses into a “sheep” group.

The researchers then had the participants play a video game, after which each participant was told that he or she had won. After, the researchers measured each participant’s cortisol level, as they had done before the gaming had taken place, to gauge the participants’ levels of the stress hormone. They found a correlation between the stress levels of those at the extreme end of the wolves group, and those at the extreme end of the sheep group. The most aggressive wolves had significantly higher cortisol levels after losing, while the most sheepish sheep had higher levels after winning (1, 2). They concluded that some people, unconsciously, would rather lose than win.

I think that this study is interesting, in that it categorizes two groups of people and that the stress levels hold true at the extremes, but there’s a large intermediary group to account for, and that’s going to be harder to breakdown. The concepts of winning and losing are interesting, because, while winning implies being the best, there are always going to be people who weren’t the best, people who are then deemed ‘losers’ because of us and because of our triumph. There’s also the element of what is then expected of us- is more expected, which means more pressure, or is that pressure a motivator, something we need in order to strive for the best?

Breaking competition down further, I wanted to find what it is in the brain that controls competition levels, or what, as we so know it as, is responsible for some people having the urge to compete, and others being happier when everyone’s at the same level. I found that there’s a part of the brain, the amygdala, that has been found to have some distinguished response between winning and losing, and adds more solidity to the belief that different responses are chemically triggered when a person comes in either first or last.

The amygdala, an almond-shaped group of neurons deep in the medial temporal lobes of the brain (3), may have control over how competitive a person is. This part of the brain, thought to primarily perform the role of processing the memories of emotional reactions, has been found to react to winning and losing differently (4). Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure regional brain activity when subjects were given feedback to their performance on small tasks, the researchers looked for a correlation between positive feedback and some response, and negative feedback and a different response. They found that the parametric increase of more positive feedback and having “winning” was associated with left amygdala activation, while the more negative parametric increase of “losing” was associated with right amygdala activation (4). This was used to show that the amygdala responds differently to the two types of stimuli, meaning that it has some role in the area of competition.

The amygdala, also thought to be partially responsible for binge-eating (5), men’s sex drives (6), the emotional aspect of fear (7), and many other things, plays an important role in understanding why we are the way that we are. In this study, the researchers found opposite sides of the amygdala responding when the participants were told that they had either won or lost. I wonder if there’s a way to further distinguish, and to correlate with the other study- to separate the “sheep” from the “wolves” in relation to which side of the amygdala responds in each situation. I would have expected less certainty from this study because of the findings that some people don’t actually like to win and so a different brain response might have been expected. Granted, this study assumes a positive association with winning and a negative association with losing, which is solely what the other study set out to distinguish.

Winning and losing are categories- categories that are associated with whatever connotation we have been brought up to believe. Being the best at something may be what we all strive for, our ultimate goal, but it’s interesting to think that we may not want what we actually are convinced we do. If a part of our brain is responsible for sending out certain hormones that make us stressed when we think we are happy, then there’s a major problem… or is there? If we are absolutely convinced that winning is the best, or close to it, and when we win, we think we’re happy, then does that need to change because of certain chemical evidence? Competition is constructive. It’s why there have been so many advances in the world, and why we push ourselves harder each time. We need to learn how significant the negative the effects of competition are on the body when someone is not able acknowledge his or her needs. If someone is the champion of some sport, and then is told that they don’t actually enjoy the thrill- that it produces stress- how much will that be worth? Are our strong conscious feelings worth ignoring our unconscious, chemical needs? As more research is being done as to why some people have a negative response to winning (when they think they are in fact happy), and how the brain controls this, we’re left to compete and win and lose, and decide how we feel, even if our brains disagree.

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