Scientific Scribbles

The voice of UniMelb Science Communication students

Myers Briggs Test = Glorified Astrology?

Have you taken the Myers Briggs 16 Personalities Test? Do you think it totally described you? Is it possible to lump the entire human population into 16 personalities? In my case, I have taken the test about 4 times in the past 4 years. Out of those 4 times, only once did I feel like I could identify with the result.

 

The 16 Personalities. Image Source: Jake Beech via Wikimedia Commons

 

Basis

The test is based on psychological research into the psyches of the human mind. There are 4 different letters representing how we interact with people, the way we perceive the world, and personal inclinations. The final 5th letter was added for identity based on confidence in self. 

The test shares similar characteristics with the Big 5 Personality Traits, which is more widely accepted by psychologists. However, for this test there is research on genetic and environmental factors that have some influence over personality traits.

For the Myers Briggs Test (MBT), it is based on answers to questions on a scale, and combine to give a percentage for each one of the letters for personality aspects and identity:

Mind: Introversion (I) or Extroversion (E)

Energy: Observant (S) or Intuition (N)

Nature: Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)

Tactics: Judging (J) or Prospecting (P)

Identity: Assertive (A) or Turbulent (T)

 

Purpose

The test is intended as a developmental indicator. It will point out some strengths and weaknesses and identify them for you, so if willing, you can increase your strengths.

There was useful advice offered, the description and results identify the general strengths and weaknesses of your type.

 

Careers

My first experience with the MBT was back in year 10. The school’s career counsellor had a session with all the classes and made us circle answers that best described us. It was only a short double sided A4 sheet and was meant to show us the type of careers are best suited to our ‘personality type’.

For me, it felt as though I should only pursue a career that was in my ‘top 10’ list of careers, and when my parents saw the results they highly encouraged me to do so. Since then, I have definitely learnt that although those test results did provide some sort of guidance for a career choice, it did not mean that I had to pursue it to be successful.

 

Job Interviews

Recently, as I was applying for intern roles and jobs, some places did require me to do ‘assessment centres’ and fill out personal responses to questions prepared. Then based on the result, they will decide for you if you are good fit for the company, and what type of roles are best suited.

I personally feel as though my MBT results are a quite accurate description of me, and I could identify with what it said. However, I do not think it is justified to restrict individuals from a role because of their traits and personality.

 

Image by Lycs via Unsplash

 

Workplaces

The MBT is used by about every 9 out of 10 Fortune 500 Companies. It has widespread use in workplaces, and is used for picking out the strengths desired in some people and also to choose people who are best suited for that role based on personality and rather than merit and achievements.

Knowing this, if you found out that a workplace you are applying for preferred traits of a specific personality, would you change your answers to give yourself the best chance of being hired? If companies are choosing to look over applicants that do not match their desired personality is that biased discrimination?

 

What do you think?

Whether you think the 16 personalities test is just like astrology, or if you think it is just great insight into your personality, there is no doubt that the test is a useful tool for society, people and workplaces when used with the right intention.

All that’s left is for you to take the test! Let me know if you think it was insightful and accurate for you! Or maybe you found the result to be different and just read them all to figure out which one suited best!


Human history lifts lid on microscopic Pandora’s box

It’s flu season in Melbourne and I’m constantly being haunted with red-noses and sniffles. They’re everywhere! At uni… at work… even in my own home now that my housemate has it! It seems like the influenza virus is joyfully dancing its way across Melbourne’s dense population.

 

Photo by socialmediasl444 on Flickr

But how come this seasonal inconvenience and other infectious diseases caused by little nasties only really affect humans and their domesticated lackies?

You never come across an avian athlete’s foot stopping albatrosses from migrating because they’re too busy scratching their toes. You never see millions of termites worldwide dropping dead from some invertebrate tuberculosis.

Of course, every species of animal has its microscopic ailments, but the words epidemic and pandemic are confined to humans and the animals we domesticate.

So, let’s wonder back and see if we can find out why infectious diseases have such a massive impact on humankind.

Humans didn’t always live in the megalopolises they do today. We’ve only began inhabiting permanent towns and villages in the last 1% of all human history. So, what kind of existence did microscopic bugs have back in the days of roaming nomadic people?

The way things ought to be

Unlike us today, ancient humans didn’t rely on a handful of plants and animals to form their diet. They gathered roots, leaves, berries and nuts and hunted whatever game that strolled through their territory. These roaming bands of about 50 people had an incredibly varied diet and the fitness of elite athletes.

Photo by Tasmin Brown on Flickr

Blubbery toddlers couldn’t keep up with the group, so they wouldn’t have kids often. They breast fed kids for longer because a woman getting pregnant while still suckling is rare; and as a hidden advantage, it gave their immune system a massive kick start.

The extra milk-time, lifestyle and picture-perfect diet for humans fortified their immune systems, giving ancient human pathogens, like malaria, a hell of a fight.

Even if an outbreak of disease gripped a band of nomads, their small numbers and isolation from others meant that ancient ‘epidemics’ only wiped out a small number before fizzling out itself.

Unfortunately, this all came to an end when bands began combining and settling down, giving away their healthy hunter-gatherer lifestyle to till the soil for their food.

Getting cosy with plants and animals

Around 10,000 bc, people traded their nomadic lifestyle for cultivating highly nutritious plants. This was followed by the domestication of animals such as sheep, goats and pigs (dogs became man’s best friend 3,000 years earlier).

 

The switch had profound effects on all organisms involved.

Photo by cdfzer on Flickr

With high-energy food literally at their doorstep, farming cultures began to have more and more kids. They didn’t need to migrate for their food so the attitude towards procreation switched from having kids few and far between to having as many kids as possible to help in the fields.

Women breast fed for less time, our diet narrowed massively, and our population density exploded. The stage was set for human pathogens to reap the benefits of this new founded culture.

Human microbes were also joined by opportunistic ones from the animals that were now held captive. Smallpox, measles and tuberculosis are all diseases that have or continue to ravage human populations. All of these came from the animals we forced into close contact with ourselves.

The disease-causing armies that once solely inhabited our domesticated friends were all too happy to jump over and are now, without doubt, human afflictions.

Chemical warfare

After the switch to farming, society bubbled along slowly. Our diet kept narrowing, and people lived in unhygienic dense communities with little or no medicine against the now raging diseases.

Some ancients had a few natural antimicrobial extracts and remedies but the first effective defence, penicillin, wasn’t discovered until 1942. Humans now created more and more drugs and ointments and could fight the Pandora’s Box that had been opened by their farming ancestors.

But with all our cleverness, we are still outwitted by the unstoppable force of evolution. And evolution is without a doubt a microbe’s forte.

They generally replicate within a matter of hours giving them heaps of generations to compile helpful genetic mutations and adapt to anything that’s thrown at them. These characteristics allow them to become ‘superbugs’.

Photo by Conor Lawless on Flickr

Nowadays, there are heaps of ‘superbugs’ that are resistant to our best medicines signalling a new age, and perhaps a newly opened Pandora’s box, in our relationship with microbes.

So, every few thousand years humans would make decisions they thought would improve the quality of life for them and generations to come. Maybe they started planting crops or herding sheep. But with each of these decisions they brought huge amounts of humans and animals together in dank conditions and threw off the protective customs of our ancestors.

Our dense living created a perfect environment for human microbes to thrive and we even grabbed some from the animals around us.

I hope we can make better decisions in the future or the new superbug age may spell the end for us all!


To pill or not to pill?

Everyone loves to be dramatic when they have a headache and think that their head feels like it is going to explode! Most of us grab for painkillers in the hope that they will help.

However, some studies have shown that sometimes painkillers aren’t the only thing that can reduce your pain… have you heard of a placebo?

Placebo pills look the same as ‘real’ pills. Photo via Pexels

 

A fake treatment

A placebo is any medical treatment or drug that actually has no effect to reduce illness or symptoms. In most cases, a placebo is just a sugar pill made in the shape of a normal drug to mimic its appearance. This makes people think that they are receiving medical treatment for their condition.

Scientists use placebos in clinical trials to help determine if a new drug is effective to reduce pain or treat an illness compared to the placebo pill (the equivalent of receiving no treatment). These trials are called randomised control trials – which are exactly what they sound like. Random trials.

In these trials participants are split into two groups and are randomly given the real drug or the placebo. These people are essentially the controls and the experimental group within the trial.

Participants and the people giving out the drugs are not told which treatment they are giving or receiving. These studies allow scientists to reduce bias in their study, and they provide some pretty interesting findings and evidence as to how placebos and real drugs work.

 

Fake it until you make it

The placebo effect is what scientists running clinical trials see if an individual believes their condition has improved after taking a placebo.  Essentially, it is caused by the expectation of feeling better after taking medication.

This effect is somewhat logical, as most minor pain like a headache or a sore back goes away after time – regardless of whether it has been treated or not. Everyone associates taking a pill with improved health or a positive effect so it is no surprise that the ‘fake’ placebo effect is a reality for some.

 

A placebo pill is likely to improve your health as much as a present. Image by Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay

 

The science behind the illusion

A large and well conducted review of placebo based studies confirmed that placebo drugs have no effect on illness.

However, placebo drugs were found to have an effect on patient reported outcomes such as pain, nausea and other self-limiting symptoms.

This is because illness is usually objective and is diagnosed independently of a patient’s pain or feelings about their condition. Self reported symptoms are extremely subjective and may not accurately represent the health of an individual. For example, you may tell everyone that your headache is the ‘worst you have ever had’ but you may just be trying to emphasise that it is bad.

There are also many other potential explanations for the placebo effect. These explanations include: placebos leading to altered perception and reduced anxiety about symptoms, and placebo (and normal drugs) causing behaviour change such drinking more water or eating healthier.

 

Do you really need those painkillers?

Maybe humans are too dependent on painkillers and should consider when they are appropriate to use. Maybe all we want is to think that we feel better when we take drugs. Or maybe we are addicted to sugar and just want a sugar pill to make ourselves feel better!

There is merit in placebo pills for making people feel better, but don’t go expecting your doctor to prescribe you a sugar pill anytime soon!!!


The season to be sneezin’

Spring has sprung! Flowers are blooming, and bees are buzzing. But for some of us, it is an endless cycle of sneezing, runny nose, and red, watery eyes, all thanks to allergies.

Trust me, it snot fun at all.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

So, what is an allergy?

An allergy is an over-reaction of the immune system towards a foreign, usually harmless substance. In most allergies, such as those towards pollens, food, and dust, the reaction occurs because individuals have become sensitised to these harmless substances, the allergen.

Nearly 1 in 5 Australians suffer from allergic rhinitis, or hay fever.

Photo by Tim & Stacy Fisher on Flickr

Although every one of us is exposed to common environmental allergens every day, most of us do not develop allergic responses to them. However, prevalence of allergic diseases over the past two to three decades have been increasing in developed countries, especially the west, and numbers of cases are seen to be rising. On the other hand, this is not the case in developing countries.

Could getting richer means increased susceptibility to allergies?

Hygiene hypothesis

Scientists think that perhaps our lifestyles are “too clean”, hence our immune system doesn’t get ‘trained’. This is known as the hygiene hypothesis.

The hygiene hypothesis proposes that the lack of exposure to infectious agents, symbiotic microorganisms, and parasites in early childhood increases susceptibility to allergic diseases. This then suppresses the natural development of the immune system, leading to defects in the establishment of immune tolerance.

Is our lifestyle “too clean”? Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

A study observed that people with larger families are unlikely to contract hay fever. The researchers suggest that allergic diseases were prevented by infections in early childhood that were transmitted by unhygienic contact with older siblings.  It could also be acquired prenatally from a mother infected by contact with her older children. Later infection o reinfection by younger siblings might confer additional protection against hay fever.

Declining family size, improvements in household amenities, and higher standards of personal cleanliness could have reduced the opportunity for cross infection in young families. Maybe playing in the mud more as a child might help prevent us from allergies later in life.

So, what happens in our body during an allergic reaction?  

The immune system produces many types of antibodies to ward of infections caused by bacteria or viruses. One particular antibody known as Immunoglobulin E, or IgE, plays a role in the body’s response towards allergens.

When an allergen enters the body, a type of immune cell called antigen presenting cells takes up the allergen and presents it to the T-helper cells. Upon recognising that this substance is foreign, the T-helper cells then signals the B-cells to pump antibodies, in particular IgE antibodies that will bind specifically to the allergen.

The IgE antibodies will then attach itself onto another immune cell known as mast cells. The next time the body encounters the same allergens, the mast cells will then release a large amount of histamine. Like a bouncer at the club, histamine functions to get rid of the allergen from your body, making you itch, sneeze or tear up.

Last but not least, there are many other factors contributing to our allergic response towards an innocuous substance. I don’t think this one post will be able to cover the extensive topics regarding allergies. Here are some further readings on some of the factors if you are interested.

Additional readings:

The ‘hygiene hypothesis’ for autoimmune and allergic diseases: an update

TGF-beta and allergies

Microbiome and allergies

Gut microbes and peanut allergy in mice

Memes (only if you have allergies)


Why can’t hybrid animals breed?

What are hybrid animals?

You may have heard of the tales of chimera, a fire-breathing lion with a tail ending with a snake’s head and the head of a goat emerging from its back. Even though this monstrous hybrid creature only exists in ancient Greek myths, hybrid animals do exist in our real world and some of them play an important role in our lives.

Chimera. Photo credit: Alexandra Korey via Flickr

Hybrid animals are the results of interspecies mating. To name a few, liger (the offspring of a male lion and a female tiger), beefalo (the offspring of a domestic cattle and an American bison) and mule (the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse). However, animals from different species rarely mate unless there is environmental stress or human interventions.

While many hybrid animals are kept in zoos, some of them especially mules have played an important role in mankind history. Historically, mules were widely used for transportation, agriculture and even fought alongside British soldiers during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. In modern days, although not as widely as in the past, they are still used in Central Asia and South America for agricultural purposes.

A mule transporting luggage. Photo credit: Jeroen Mirck via Flickr

All of those contributions of mules to mankind history are made possible due to their inherited patience, strength and long life-span from donkeys, and intelligence and speed from horses.

Although hybrid animals might look very cool and have many advantages over their parents, it is extremely rare for them to have babies.

 

Why can’t hybrid animals have babies?

To understand the infertility in hybrid animals, we must go deep and look into the world of chromosome. Chromosomes are thread-like structures consist of DNA and protein. They carry the genetic information that determines the body plan of animals. Chromosomes are arranged in pairs, one set from father, and one set from mother.

In order to have babies, animals need to produce sex cells. The production of sex cells requires paired chromosomes to exchange genetic information, so that the chromosomes from the father will carry some of the genetic information from the mother, and vice versa. For example, a blonde hair gene from the father exchanges for a black hair gene from the mother. This exchange process is called genetic recombination.

Genetic recombination. Image credit: yourgenome via Flickr

Genetic recombination is the process that goes wrong in hybrid animals and causes their infertility. In normal animals, because their father and mother are from the same species, the genetic information that are exchanged from their mother/father to their father/mother can still be processed. However, in hybrid animals, things could get really nasty. Because hybrid animals have parents from different species, the exchange of genetic information can cause many malfunctions in the chromosomes. This can result in the production of infertile sex cells and infertility.

 

There is an exception to every rule!

In ancient Rome, when “impossible” things happened, people often describe them with the saying “when a mule foals”. However, “impossible” things sometimes do happen.

For some unknown reasons, there are incidences  that some mules have skipped the process of genetic recombination and produced fertile sex cells. Although we cannot explain those incidences now, we can definitely say to the ancient Romans that sometimes mules do have babies.


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