Salmon is a fish that’s good for you. There are several types, so which one is healthiest?
Recently, Dr. Leslie Echols, associate professor of psychology at Missouri State University, worked with Dr. Jerreed Ivanich of the University of Colorado to conduct a Fast Friends study. It looked at using questions and answers to foster friendships among middle school students.
This research was featured in the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley’s recent list of the “Top 10 Insights from the Science of a Meaningful Life in 2021.” The annual list highlights what the center sees as the most important, provocative and inspiring findings published about “the science of a meaningful life.”
As environmentally conscious as organizations try to be, new technology and other products are still developed that may negatively impact the earth or human health long-term.
That’s why scientists are constantly putting these items to the test and asking questions for the greater good.
Dr. Paul Durham, director of the Center for Biomedical and Life Sciences at the Jordan Valley Innovation Center. and distinguished professor of biology at Missouri State University, talks with Sara Woodman, senior research scientist at the Center for Biomedical and Life Sciences, about several ongoing research projects.
Exploring a gas sensor project
When you have an accumulation of metals, Durham explains acid rain can cause the metals to leach into the soil, then seep into the groundwater.
“Then animals, including ourselves, can be exposed to that,” Durham said.
In a current study, Woodman says they are experimenting with what this exposure could cause to different organs and tissues.
“If you’re ingesting of some of these metals, you would expect the gut would be one of the first places that you would see it,” she said.
In their study, the colon and gut microbiome are among the most affected.
“If you want to have a healthy brain, you have to have a healthy gut,” he said. “This study has implications on cognitive function down the road.”
Keeping water sensors in top condition
Water sensors are developed to detect metals and other contaminants in natural water sources. But these water sensors can become unreliable due to bacteria.
Woodman and Durham are simulating different conditions to test how long these sensors can be reliably used. They’re also wondering what modifications could be made to prevent bacterial growth on the sensors.
“We’re doing some shorter term and also some longer term studies,” Woodman said, “on what we can do to prevent malfunctioning of these sensors due to growth.”
Although the water sensor project is ongoing, Durham says the preliminary findings are revealing some unexpected differences between water sources and water collected at different points throughout the year.
“Well water actually is fairly clean. There aren’t as many microorganisms,” Durham said. “You can imagine the pond water is the worst…Pond water in April is not the same pond water in August, though, during the dog days. And the rivers seemed to be a little bit more consistent.”
This information is important to identifying what kind of materials will be better for future water sensor designs, he noted.
Hearing and migraines
Technology also allows more in-depth study for debilitating health conditions, like migraines, a long-term interest of Durham’s lab.
“A lot of focus in the research world has been on photophobia and trying to come up with ways to minimize the impact of flashing, strobing and bright lights,” Durham said.
But migraine sufferers often report phonophobia as the most bothersome symptom, according to Durham.
“Migrainers can actually hear a fluorescent light all of a sudden,” he said. “Or there’s a sensitivity to loud sounds. The children’s volume hasn’t turned up. Your sensitivity to it has turned up.”
To better understand the connection between hearing and migraine, Durham and Kaf partnered to purchase a piece of equipment – all in hopes of providing insight to create an effective treatment.
It all starts with sound producers – like ear buds – and probes placed on the near and forehead, Woodman explained.
“These probes will detect how various parts of the brain and the spinal cord respond to different volumes and tones,” she said.
“This cross pollination [of departments] allows you to unlock mysteries of things and understand how things are really happening,” Durham added.
Is there an effective way to foster friendships among tweens and teens?
Yes, according to a recent study conducted by psychologist Dr. Leslie Echols of Missouri State University and Dr. Jerreed Ivanich of the University of Colorado.
Engaging in meaningful Q&A
The researchers implemented the 36 questions activity known as Fast Friends in a local middle school. About 300 seventh and eighth graders were paired together with a partner of the same gender whom they didn’t know well or consider a friend.
In addition, about half of the students were paired up with a partner of the same race, while the other half had partners of a different race.
“I wanted to see if cross-race friendships could be induced as easily as same-race friendships,” said Echols, associate professor of psychology at MSU. “The literature suggested cross-race friendships are a little more difficult to form, so I wanted to test out that question experimentally.”
The partners took turns answering questions in two sessions. They spent time asking and answering questions that became increasingly more personal and required more vulnerability.
In the third session, each pair engaged in a tower building task together to achieve a common goal.
According to Echols, the questions started with basic facts, such as favorite foods, favorite places to eat in town, favorite present you have received and worst haircut ever.
The more personal questions included things like, “What is something you might do differently than your parents did?” and “Are there things about the way you were raised that you don’t agree with?”
“The conversations were very interesting. Most of the students shared a lot of personal details about their lives and found out a lot of things they had in common that they didn’t realize before,” Echols said.
New friendships created
At the end of the study, the results showed the partners felt closer to each other. The students considered their Fast Friends partner more of a friend than another student they had not interacted with in the activity.
The Q&A tasks also seemed to increase closeness and friendship more than the tower building one.
“There’s a lot of power in the question-and-answer activity,” Echols said. “It’s surprising how few opportunities children and youth have to interact with each other if they have not been part of the same friend group for a long time. And I think the questions themselves were key because they did move into more personal topics.”
The most surprising and positive outcome was that cross-race friendships were just as likely to form through the Fast Friends activities as the same race.
“There were no differences in the increases. I wasn’t expecting that, so it was exciting,” Echols said.
Echols will implement this Fast Friends exercise in schools where she’s currently working on interventions aimed at fighting peer victimization.