Starting the New School Year Off Right

19 Aug
A new school year gives students a chance for a fresh start. Wise Words offers some tips on how to start the new school year off right.

A new school year gives students a chance for a fresh start. Wise Words offers some tips on starting the new school year off well.

With Labor Day fast approaching, students will soon be headed back to school. The start of the new year is often greeted with both excitement and anxiety — with opportunity and expectations.

Last year, Wise Words outlined suggestions on how students can start the new school year on a positive note. The two-part series focused on suggestions by Kelly McNamara, assistant professor of counseling and school psychology at Southern and a former school psychologist in Connecticut and Massachusetts, to make the new year a better one than last year.

Because of its timeliness — and timelessness — we thought we would present these ideas to you again. How can you improve the odds that this year will be successful? What steps should you take even before the first day of classes?

Check out Part I of the series.

We’ll offer Part II in an upcoming post.

Why Can’t We Remember Our Earliest Years?

5 Aug

Many experts say the rapid generation of brain cells during early childhood may be at least partially responsible for our inability to remember much from the first few years of life. This phenomenon of not remembering is referred to as 'childhood amnesia,' or 'infantile amnesia.'

Many experts say the rapid generation of brain cells during early childhood may be at least partially responsible for our inability to remember much from the first few years of life. This phenomenon of not remembering is referred to as ‘childhood amnesia,’ or ‘infantile amnesia.’

You probably remember many things from your childhood – family, friends, school. And if you are like most people, you have a slew of recollections from the time you are about 7 years of age and older.

But what about people, places, things and events at ages 5 and 6? Are those memories a little fuzzier?

Go back to age 4 and your preschool days, and your memory probably gets hazier. It’s even tougher, if not impossible, when pondering your life at age 3. And if you are able to remember anything as a toddler, you are indeed the exception to the rule.

But why are people generally unable to recall anything in those first few years of childhood?

This question has perplexed psychologists, scientists and other experts. Various theories have been discussed over the years, but a clear answer seems to have been lacking.

But today, many experts believe the answer – at least in part — is connected to the rapid generation of brain cells in those first few years of life, according to Rachel Jeffrey, an assistant professor of biology and a neurobiologist at Southern. This process is technically known as “neurogenesis.”

She points out that the brain isn’t quite equipped for long-term memories in the first months of life. But the “childhood amnesia,” also called “infantile amnesia,” generally continues beyond the first months of life, extending to a few years in most cases.

“Until about age 4, there are so many new neurons being created in the brain that they are probably interfering with the long-term storage of memory,” Jeffrey says.

She points out that short-term memory is stored in the hippocampus part of the brain, and eventually released to the cortex. But the hippocampus is a part of the brain in which neurons continue to generate at a fairly rapid clip during early childhood.

“Actually, there is evidence today that some degree of neurogenesis continues into and through adulthood,” she says. “But the pace is much slower, and does not impair memory to the same extent as in infants and children. And in adulthood, we believe neurogenesis helps us deal with cognitive problems, stress and other functions.”

She also noted that emotional episodes – regulated by the amygdala portion of the brain – are often easier to recall. That’s why if a person remembers incidents from the ages of 3 and 4, they are more likely to involve crying, fear or joy.

Interestingly, Jeffrey also notes that studies have children generally have recollections of ages 2 and 3, sometimes even earlier, up until around age 10. At that point, memories seem to fade.

What is the earliest age at which you can remember?

Distant Relatives? Earth and Newly Discovered Planet Appear to Have Much in Common

27 Jul
NASA's Kepler Mission may have found Earth's 'older cousin' some 1,400 light years away. The planet is currently called Kepler 452-b, and scientists are optimistic that it might harbor some forms of life. Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Kepler Mission may have found Earth’s ‘older cousin’ some 1,400 light years away. The planet is currently called Kepler 452-b, and scientists are optimistic that it might harbor some forms of life.
Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech/T.Pyle

In one of our first posts in Wise Words, we examined the Kepler Mission — a NASA project to search for Earth-like planets in the Milky Way Galaxy outside of our solar system. At the time — two and a half years ago — an estimated 105 planets had been confirmed as orbiting their sun in the “habitable zone,” a distance considered to be neither too close, nor too far, to sustain life.

Today, the Kepler Mission has identified about 1,030 such planets. And the most recent development is the discovery of a planet named Kepler-452b, located some 1,400 light years away, which astronomers say is likely to harbor some forms of life.

The planet has been dubbed as Earth’s cousin because of many similarities, including the apparent ability to host life. Scientists estimate that it is composed of about 60-percent water, comparable to Earth’s 71 percent. It orbits its sun in 385 days, compared with our 365 days. Kepler-452b is about 60-percent larger, but it is far from a massive planet like the outer planets of our own solar system. And it is an “older cousin” to Earth, having existed for about 6 billion years vs. Earth’s 4.5 billion years.

Another similarity is that it orbits only one star, according to Elliott Horch, an astronomer and associate professor of physics at Southern. He has assisted on some of Kepler’s projects.

“We just observed this exoplanet’s host star last week at the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii,” Horch says. “My colleagues and I were trying to see if there is a close stellar companion in addition to the planet. But like our own solar system, it would appear from our observations that this system has just the one star at the center.”

The observation was made with a telescope that includes a DSSI (Differential Speckle Survey Instrument), a device developed by Horch that sharpens cosmic images many times over. He built it for the National Science Foundation in 2008.

Horch will participate in a panel discussion as part of an astronomy forum planned at Southern on Monday, Nov. 16. The program will examine Kepler, as well as the possibility and challenges associated with a manned mission to Mars. Guest speakers will include Steve Howell, Kepler project scientist, and Jennifer Stern, a space scientist and Martian expert at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. More information about the forum will be forthcoming.

Additional information about the recent discovery can be found in a recent NASA press release.

Fact vs. Fiction on America’s Birth

8 Jul
While America celebrates its independence on July 4, historians often point to July 2, 1776, as the date when the nation was actually founded.

While America celebrates its independence on July 4, historians often point to July 2, 1776, as the date when the nation was actually founded.

Two years ago, Wise Words dispelled some of the myths and shared a few surprising facts about Independence Day.

Marie McDaniel, assistant professor and Southern’s resident expert on colonial and early American history, addressed some of these misunderstandings in a blog post about our nation’s founding.

Now that the fireworks, parties and other celebrations are over, you might want to check out that piece.

Beneath the Surface…the Deep Web

24 Jun
Although not as well known as its Surface Web cousin, the Deep Web can provide people with a wealth of information on myriad topics.

Although not as well known as its Surface Web cousin, the Deep Web can provide people with a wealth of information on myriad topics.

You’ve probably heard that people use only about 5 to 10 percent of their brain. (As pointed out in a previous post, that’s actually a myth. We use our entire brain.) Nevertheless, the 5- to 10-percent figure is popularly believed.

In a similar vein, only about 4 percent of the World Wide Web is part of the Surface Web (sometimes called the Visible Web), the part that is easily accessible to people. And that isn’t a myth.

Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of the Computer Science Department at Southern, points out that about 96 percent of the World Wide Web lives in the “Deep Web.” The precise percentage is impossible to calculate, but most experts believe it falls somewhere between 95 and 99+ percent.

The Deep Web includes those items that are not indexed by popular search engines, such as Google and Yahoo! It can be anything from new Web pages that an agency does not wish to go public with at the moment; to classified information from governmental agencies or other organizations; to searchable databases.

If you are using a library database, you are probably in the Deep Web. Tax collection information controlled by municipalities is another example.

Lancor says that sometimes people confuse the Deep Web with the Dark Web. The Dark Web is only a relatively small part of the Deep Web. Many illegal operations, such as “Silk Road” until it was shut down by the FBI, exist on the Dark Web. (Silk Road was an electronic marketplace for illegal drugs.) She notes that the Dark Web is rife with illegal activity. But she points out that not everything on the Dark Web is bad or illegal. For example, conversations with political dissidents by journalists or U.S. government officials, are conducted on the Dark Web as a means to try to maintain anonymity.

But the Deep Web has much in the way of valuable information that is not as easily accessible as on the surface Web. Many databases on a vast array of subjects are part of the Deep Web.

“A slew of resources are available to explore the Deep Web, including meta-search engines, semantic databases and some pay-for-search services,” Lancor says. She points to a list of Deep Web tools recently published by Online College Blog as potentially valuable to Internet users.

Other special pieces of software are also available to surf the Deep Web (including the Dark Web) with the intent of doing so anonymously. But Lancor cautioned that it is best to assume that those networks have been compromised by government intelligence operations.

Finding a Job After Graduation

10 Jun
The job search after commencement can seem like a daunting task, even for those who are well-prepared.

The job search after commencement can seem like a daunting task, even for those who are well-prepared.

As college and high school students receive their diplomas this spring, thoughts of finding a job are bound to proliferate.

Can I find a job that fits into my career plans? How long will it take to find something…anything? What can I do to maximize my chances of landing a particular position?

Two years ago, Gerri Prince, Southern’s coordinator of employer recruitment programs, and Pat Whelan, who was then the university’s associate director of career services, offered some helpful suggestions to new graduates.

We thought this would be a good time to share that post with our readers.

Good luck to all the graduates!

How Long Will You Live? Talk to Your 5 Closest Friends

20 May

You’ve almost certainly seen at least one of those tests that attempts to predict how long you’re going to live. They are usually based on lifestyle choices and heredity – are you a smoker? Do you exercise? What is your diet? How old did your parents and relatives live?

While imperfect, these tests can give you some insight into the potential health challenges you face. But another test also has proven to be a good predictor of longevity, and the questions have more to do with personality characteristics then genetics or how much you work out. In fact, the most accurate predictor in this study has to do with your friends’ perceptions of your personality – while you are in your 20s.

The way you are perceived by your closest friends may predict how long you will live, according to a study co-authored by a Southern Connecticut State University adjunct professor.

The way you are perceived by your closest friends may predict how long you will live, according to a study co-authored by a Southern Connecticut State University adjunct professor.

A study co-authored by Madeleine Leveille, an adjunct faculty member in the Psychology Department at Southern, and her husband James Connolly, who previously has taught as an adjunct at Southern, shows that how your five closest friends perceive your personality is a key forecaster of your longevity. Leveille and Connolly were among five co-authors of the study.

For men, the most predictive personality trait was conscientiousness. Those whose friends rated them highly enough to place among the top 25 percent of participants with regard to this characteristic lived an average of 10 to 12 years longer than those who were ranked in the bottom 25 percent.

“The difference is roughly the equivalent of that between smokers and nonsmokers,” Connolly says.

Openness (to ideas and experiences) also was a predictive quality for men with an average of 3 to 4 years difference in longevity between those who scored among the highest and lowest quartile in this category.

For women, emotional stability was the most important personality trait with a 3- to 4-year differential between those in the top and bottom 25 percent. And agreeableness was the second most important quality for women, with an average gap of 2 years.

Now, you might be thinking that this test sounds like something from a bygone era – particularly with how women are judged. And in some ways, it is. The data for the study were collected between 1935 and 1938 by the late psychologist E. Lowell Kelly. About 300 engaged couples – most of whom were residents of New England with an average age of 25 — were interviewed separately from their betrothed. Their friends, as identified by the participants as individuals who knew them well enough to provide accurate assessments, were questioned. Most of the participants named five friends, although the number ranged from three to eight, and most were members of their wedding party.

“This was in an era before the long-term employment of women became the norm,” Connolly says. “Would the personality characteristics change among later generations? It’s possible, but we won’t know conclusively for some time.”

All participants were scored in five personality characteristics – conscientiousness, openness, agreeableness, emotional stability and extraversion.

Leveille and Connolly, who have their own psychology practice in Waterford, followed up the data from the study several years ago. The results were published in a recent edition of the prominent journal “Psychological Science.”

“If you think about it, the results of the study make sense,” Leveille says. “Who knows you better than your friends? And when you look at the key personality traits involved, men who are conscientious are less impulsive and less likely to take unnecessary risks. And those who are open-minded were more likely, for example, to give up cigarette smoking after the scientific evidence mounted in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s that it is harmful to your health.

“As for the women, you have to keep in mind that these individuals grew up in the 1920s and 30s. Being agreeable back then probably meant being a good housewife and having a close network of friends.”

The study also looked at how individuals perceived their own personality characteristics. Some correlation between self-perceived personality traits and longevity existed among men. In other words, men who gave themselves high marks for conscientiousness and openness tended to live a little longer, but it was not as much of a factor as their friends’ perception. Among women, self-perception was not a factor at all.

How would your closest friends evaluate you?

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