Stress-free Social Media

With the avalanche of information coming from social media, many people are trying to avoid being buried alive under emails, text messages, tweets, and selfies, lest they lose their minds. But a new study by researchers at Rutgers and Pew Research Center has demonstrated quite the opposite: social media has not been a source of added stress and, in the case of women, can actually be a boon for reducing it. Keith Hampton, an associate professor in the Department of Communication in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University–New Brunswick and the author of the study, said the findings are another indication that the introduction of a new technology, as has been the case historically, is not harmful or disruptive. The big reason it helps women? Being inclined to be socially integrated with one another and having a disposition to share, women benefit from the sense of connectedness that social media can facilitate.

Photo of rose garden


People will agree that roses are red, but agreeing on the actual shade of that red is another matter. That’s because two people will have different perceptions of not only color, but also events, influencing their recollections of them. Sarah Allred, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Rutgers University–Camden, believes that research would benefit from emphasizing, and understanding, the role of perception in cognition.

Perception Versus Reality

As much as two people can admire the beauty of red roses, they will rarely perceive the actual color of them the same way. “A person’s  retinas are comprised mostly of photoreceptors, which are sensitive to reds and greens, but the ratios of receptors can vary dramatically from person to person,” says Sarah Allred, an assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers University–Camden. People will have the same general perception of a color—but differ over the precise shade.

Color perception is a complicated process, one that is often measured by flawed research techniques, according to Allred and Jonathan Flombaum, an assistant professor of psychology at Johns Hopkins University. They offered suggestions for improving methods in “Relating Color Working Memory and Color Perception,” appearing in the November issue of Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

Allred likens the complex relationship between perception and memory to two people disagreeing over something that has happened. First, something actually happens, then the individuals perceive the event, and, lastly, each person remembers the event accordingly. “When two people disagree about an event, they may have actually perceived the event differently,” Allred says. “In the same respect, researchers need to measure perception first. Then, it can be determined how memory relates to what was perceived.”

Allred contends that researchers studying perception and memory don’t typically consider all the guessing that the human brain constantly does in order to figure out what is present in the world—and color is no exception. “The rules that govern the mapping between what’s in the world and what we perceive are very complicated, and there are lots of ways that we can make mistakes,” she says.

Olive Oil as Cancer Buster

Paul Breslin, a professor of nutri­tional sciences at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, and two cancer biologists at Hunter College have found that a compound in extra-virgin olive oil kills a variety of human cancer cells without harming healthy cells. Oleocanthal ruptures a part of a cancerous cell that releases enzymes to cause cell death. Under laboratory conditions, Breslin was able to have the oleocanthal kill cancerous cells by rupturing vesicles that store the cell’s waste. The team’s findings were published in Molecular and Cellular Oncology.

Scientists had known that oleocanthal kills some cancer cells, but no one understood precisely how. Breslin, working with Hunter’s David Foster and Onica LeGendre to test his hypothesis, believed that oleocanthal might be targeting a key protein in cancer cells that triggers a programmed cell death, known as  apoptosis. LeGendre discovered, however, that the cancer cells were killed by their own enzymes. The oleocanthal was puncturing the vesicles inside the cancer. The vesicles, known as lysosomes, are larger in cancer cells than in healthy cells, and they contain a lot of waste. Yet, oleocanthal didn’t harm healthy cells, the researchers found; it merely stopped their life cycles temporarily before healthy cells resumed their cycle. The researchers intend to go beyond laboratory conditions and show that oleocanthal can kill cancer cells and shrink tumors in living  animals. — Ken Branson

A Self-fulfilling Prophecy

Ioana Latu, an assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers University–Camden, recently teamed up with fellow researchers Marianne Schmid Mast and Tracie Stewart to examine the roles that interviewers’ and even applicants’ stereotypes played in predicting the outcome of a woman’s job interview. The results of their study, appearing in Psychology of Women Quarterly, found that the stronger a male interviewer implicitly associated incompetence with females, particularly as a manager, the worse that a woman actually performed in an interview.

“It’s a vicious circle,” says Latu. “These stereotypes are somehow communicated within the social interaction of the job interview in such a way that women perform worse. It then becomes a self- fulfilling prophecy: if you expect women to fail because of your stereotype, they are going to fail. — Tom McLaughlin