Author Archives: Alexandra Gerea

About Alexandra Gerea

Alexandra is a naturalist who is firmly in love with our planet and the environment. When she's not writing about climate or animal rights, you can usually find her doing field research or reading the latest nutritional studies.

Could a Cure For Allergies Be Right Around the Corner? Research Suggests So

For many people, an allergy to a particular food or substance is something they’ve learned to deal with throughout their lives. Whether it’s nothing more than the relatively mild seasonal allergies that cause the sniffles or a more life-threatening one, sufferers have generally found ways to manage their condition and not let it hold them back from living their lives to the fullest.

But that doesn’t mean that allergies aren’t annoying, or outright dangerous.

While the severity of these allergies can vary from person to person, trying to avoid all contact with known allergens can still be a considerable problem to the sufferer. Between trying to navigate meals out with friends, to well-meaning but ultimately ignorant people serving them foods with these potentially-lethal ingredients in them, trying to stay safe can undoubtedly become both stressful and anxiety-inducing. 

But all this could be about to end. According to a new study published in the January 2022 edition of The Lancet, individuals with a peanut allergy can possibly outgrow them later in life, provided they engage in carefully regimented exposure therapy at a young age.

What Causes Allergies?

For millions of people across the globe, some of the most commonly consumed foods we eat are staples in their diets. Certain foodstuffs such as dairy, soy, wheat, and peanuts not only provide us with essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals, but they can also help us remain healthy and strong through complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and complete protein sources they offer. 

Yet to those allergic to any of these foods, it can quickly spell danger in the form of urticaria (hives), shortness of breath and wheezing, and even anaphylaxis. While rare, this could quickly become lethal, especially if the allergic individual does not have epinephrine (also known as an “epi-pen”) on hand to treat the reaction. But what causes these reactions in the affected percent of the population with allergies?

In brief, allergies are an immune response gone out of hand. When the body believes it has been given something harmful, it ramps up its production of a particular antibody called “immunoglobulin E” (IgE) to combat it. In turn, this leads to the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Scientists aren’t quite sure just yet what causes the body to react this way, but it is largely believed to be genetic, with eczema and asthma being closely related comorbidities.

Curiously, allergies have been on the rise in recent years, and one hypothesis maintains that our more sanitary lifestyles have contributed to it. While cleanliness is certainly not bad in and of itself, it could possibly be contributing to the growing number of allergic individuals. Scientists believe that exposure to germs at a young age can help build our immune systems, and excessive hygiene is proving to be detrimental in this regard. Another possibility, especially related to pollen allergies, is that we’ve been cultivating more plants that can produce allergies — and focusing on the wrong plant sex as well.

Another puzzling cause of one type of allergy has been traced back to tick bites and Lyme disease, which have been shown to cause a serious reaction to red meat (called alpha-gal syndrome, or AGS). For those who suspect they may have contracted this disease, taking an at-home Lyme disease test can help determine possible exposure to this allergen-inducing infection.

How Immunotherapy Can Help

Though it does bear a considerable risk to the allergic individual, exposure therapy – or immunotherapy – has shown remarkable promise in preventing peanut allergies when introduced at a young age. Researchers have discovered that the sooner a child is exposed to peanuts, the better their likelihood of avoiding a more serious reaction later in life can be.

The study, known as the IMPACT trial, enlisted 150 children between the ages of one and three years old. During the thirty-week period, the participants were given a trace amount of peanut protein powder, which was designed to help build up their tolerance to peanuts. It’s important to note that only subjects who had a reaction at a half gram of peanut protein powder were permitted to enroll in the study.

Over the duration of the study, the researchers steadily titrated up the amount of peanut flour served to the participants, until they reached the maximum dose of five grams. The subjects were then told to avoid all peanut products for a period of six months, at which point they were fed another five-gram serving of peanut protein. Any participant who did not have a reaction was offered another eight grams on a different day.

The results of the study showed that following the treatment, nearly 75 percent of the subjects were able to ingest an average of sixteen peanuts in total. A staggering 71 percent of the children became desensitized to peanuts, compared to just 2 percent in the control group. This tolerance was maintained in nearly 20 percent of the participants six months after therapy was stopped.

Is a Cure On the Horizon?

It’s important to note that this study did have its limitations and should be taken with a grain of salt. For instance, participants who had the best prognosis of overcoming their allergy were the ones who had a more mild form of it, as well as those who started their treatment at a younger age. Despite this, though, it does show a considerable amount of promise that a cure for allergies can be forthcoming.

Furthermore, the definition of remission was also fairly specific. To be considered a successful outcome, the participant needed to be able to ingest a mere 5 grams (or the equivalent of about one and a half tablespoons of actual peanut butter) of peanut powder without a reaction. It is also unclear if the participants will remain allergy-free throughout their lifetimes, as well, as the study ended in 2015.

Until now, people with allergies simply had to find ways to manage them, and all existing medications are only meant to minimize the severity of the reaction. If researchers can find a way to completely eradicate a peanut allergy in a person, what other allergies can be cured? The ability to provide affordable, mass-produced, and nutrient-dense foods to those in need – without the fear of an allergic reaction – can be revolutionary.

At this point, it’s best to remain cautiously optimistic. Not all participants were able to experience complete remission from their allergies, which means that relapse is a very real possibility. And with many allergic reactions becoming more severe after repeated exposure, self-treating is generally not advised. However, the prospect is undoubtedly exciting, as is the idea of a life without allergies for those who suffer from them.

How the Scientific Method Influences the World of E-Commerce

Did you know that everything you buy or sell on the internet is highly influenced by science?  In today’s world where almost 70% of shopping is conducted online, marketers and retailers are taking full advantage of science to lasso sales and boost their bottom lines.  This could be particularly relevant to you if you are selling products online. 

If you’ve got an online business or a website using WooCommerce WordPress hosting, you might be interested to learn how the scientific method can benefit your e-commerce sales.  Read further to understand more about how the scientific method can positively influence your e-commerce game online. 

What is the Scientific Method?

Since as far back as the 17th century, the scientific method has been utilized to collect and organize information that results in hard, usable data. This method leans heavily on intense observation and also relies on skepticism.

In essence, the scientific method means you are scrutinizing and recording all the details of a subject and closely observing it in order to render a better, measurable understanding of outcomes.  Using the scientific method eliminates assumptions because the recorded data should render repeatable results, which takes the guesswork out of future outcomes.

How is the Scientific Method Used in E-Commerce?

There are specific steps to the scientific method that have been modified allowing marketers and e-commerce professionals to predict consumer behavior more easily.  The four scientific method steps that can be utilized for e-commerce are:

  1. Consider the problem and/or question
  2. Develop a hypothesis (a theory or supposition) about the situation
  3. Test the hypothesis
  4. Analyze the consequences and results
  5. Refine your research

When you apply these scientific method steps to the world of e-commerce, you can dramatically increase your odds for better success in online selling. Here are some tips on how to walk through each step of the scientific method in order to improve your e-commerce marketing strategy today. 

The First Step: Identify the Problem

Using the first step in the scientific method for e-commerce purposes will guide you to identify the main challenge in your sales tactics.  For example, let’s say the problem is that your red-colored widget isn’t selling as well as the blue one.  

Furthermore, you might deduce this widget isn’t attracting the demographic you want to tap into to make more sales.  In this case, you’ve clearly identified the problem, which is the first step to finding a solution using the scientific method.

The Second Step:  Develop Your Theory About the Cause of the Problem

Now that you’ve clearly identified the problem, the second step is to attempt to answer it.  Try to make a guess as to why the red widget sells more units than the blue, and why you’re not capturing a coveted demographic.  Making a guess might sound flippant, but it’s the best way to start the ball rolling in the direction of progress. 

Once you have developed a hypothesis (a guess), you can then go through the other steps to ultimately get to a valid conclusion about the issues you’re having with your e-commerce tactics. 

In this scenario, you might develop a theory that your website design is somehow negatively influencing your desired demographic. You may conclude your site design might be off-putting, therefore dissuading your target audience from purchasing your red-colored widgets.

Third Step: Test Your Theory

Once you’ve tackled the problem and developed a working theory or hypothesis as to why things are going haywire, it’s time to test your guesswork. Start experimenting with different solutions or actions you can apply to the problem.  

Let’s consider the aforementioned example in which your question might be, “How can I get ‘X’ demographic to buy my red widgets?”  Then consider the suggested hypothesis to answer that question which might be, “Perhaps my web design is turning off my demographic to where they are not attracted to my red-colored widgets.” 

Now that you have A (the question) + B (the supposition) you can begin testing.  In this situation, start tweaking your website design so that it is more appealing to your target demographic to buy your red widgets.  You may also feature the red widgets more prominently in your web design to draw more attention to them. 

Try to be patient during the testing phase of the scientific method of e-commerce. It will take time to observe and formulate conclusions.  Additionally, be sure to take rigorous notes about the results you receive through the testing process.  Record analytics, sales, and customer behavior while on your website as you are testing the changes you’ve implemented to answer the question to your issue.

Fourth Step: Make Your Deduction

This step involves gathering up the data and analyzing the results for answers.  If (using the example above), you gained sales from your desired demographic when you adjusted your website design, then this is a clear answer that the design was at fault for the lack of e-commerce sales.  After you test against your hypothesis, ideally, you should be able to determine if your theory was right or wrong. 

Last Step: Refine Your Research Based on Your Findings

If, after testing your theory, you find there is no change in sales or capturing your coveted demographic, then the scientific method states it’s time to go back to the drawing board.  Keep your original problem, but formulate a different hypothesis. 

Again, using the working example, if you found no impact on sales when changing the website design, perhaps the theory is wrong.  Therefore, pose a different hypothesis such as “Perhaps my social media isn’t geared to my desired demographic.” 

After you have produced a different working theory, it’s time to start re-testing. Once you’ve analyzed the new data from the second testing phase, you should be able to draw new conclusions as to how you can sell the red widgets to your targeted audience.

Conclusion

As you can see, using the scientific method for e-commerce marketing is largely about trial and error.  This might seem like an oversimplified approach to predicting the future of your e-commerce strategies.  However, many marketers argue that its beauty is in its simplicity. 

In the hustle-bustle world of marketing, it’s easy to get bogged down with tons of data, statistics, and analytics.  When you funnel the details down into a simplified scientific approach, you should have better results in determining solutions for your e-commerce marketing strategy.

How research on birth control could bring about a new era of contraception

There are many different birth control methods available at the moment – 12 methods in total, to be more precise, with scientists constantly working to expand the range of options. They’re designed to suit every lifestyle, and, used consistently and correctly, they are generally effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies. However, despite the wide variety of options, none of the methods we have so far is perfect.

From caps or diaphragms to condoms, contraceptive implants, patches, or IUDs, they all have their own disadvantages, and, what’s even more concerning, many of them come with significant side effects.

The good news is the scientific community has been working hard behind the scenes to address these issues and come up with new solutions in the field that will set the grounds for safer and more effective birth control in the future.

The need for better birth control 

Believe it or not, condoms have been around for over 5,000 years, so we can safely say they’ve proved their utility. With sales for Durex condoms and lubricants surging after COVID-19 restrictions have eased, it’s pretty obvious that condoms remain one of the most trusted birth control methods to date — and also one of the easiest and handiest to use. And yet, considering men don’t have a much better option for birth control after almost five millennia (vasectomy aside), we think it’s time to see some innovation in this area.

Women, on the other hand, have more options to choose from, but they all come at a price. For starters, none of these birth control methods guarantee 100% efficiency. There’s always a chance, although slim, of getting pregnant when using the pill or other form of contraception. Research shows that the pill is 99% effective at preventing pregnancies if used correctly, and 91% effective with typical use.

Also, there’s some degree of inconvenience associated with many of the current birth control methods, not to mention the financial implications, making them less accessible to women living in disadvantaged areas. But probably the most important factor to consider is represented by the unpleasant side effects that many women experience when using hormonal contraceptives. These side effects range from mild symptoms such as irregular bleeding, bloating, and headaches to more serious issues like missing periods, high blood pressure, or depression.

Why there’s still not enough birth control for men

The fact that there are only two male birth control options available at the moment, leaving women to bear the burden of using contraceptives and dealing with their negative effects, has sparked discussions over gender inequalities in health research. So, the obvious question here is why we don’t have more birth control methods for men yet.

A study conducted in the early 2000s found that over half of the men interviewed from a total of 9,000 were open to the idea of trying a contraceptive method that would prevent sperm production. So, the issue is not the lack of interest in trying something new, but the technical barriers posed by human biology.

There have been numerous attempts at developing a male variant of the birth control pill, but most of them failed either due to lack of efficiency, or because they produced serious side effects such as depression or mood disorders, so scientists are still struggling to find viable solutions in this respect.

A new era of contraception is on the horizon  

So far, we’ve only exposed the bad side of the contraceptive industry, but it’s time to stop dwelling on the negative and look into the future, where new research promises to address some of the most pressing birth control issues.

A new take on the traditional birth control pill

Since the female birth control pill was introduced in the 1960s, not much has changed about the way it works. It has been widely used by women all around the world as the preferred method to prevent pregnancy and also for treating a series of health-related issues. However, the hard-to-ignore side effects and the fact that you have to take it every day for it to be 99% effective, make it a less than ideal form of contraception.

Fortunately, the traditional pill is about to get a makeover with scientists working on developing a once-a-month oral contraceptive pill. A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have already put this idea into practice and started animal testing for the pill. If it’s going to pass all the tests, this pill could provide three weeks’ worth of hormonal medication.

Bringing male birth control into the equation

Men have been left out of the birth control equation for way too long, but researchers at Parsemus Foundation have found a way to restore balance. They have developed Vasalgel, a birth control method that involves injecting a gel into a man’s vas deferens to stop the flow of sperm during ejaculation. The effects of the procedure can last for more than 10 years, but they can also be easily reversed if needed. The product isn’t available yet, since it’s still under trial, but results so far have been promising.

Fertility-tracking apps

Although fertility-tracking apps are not exactly a birth control method, they can be extremely effective at providing users with important information on menstrual cycles, analyzing the average period duration, body temperature, or length of menstrual cycles. Women can use the data they provide to track their cycles and identify their fertile periods with greater accuracy. These fertility-tracking apps have become extremely popular in the past couple of years, and although some people doubt their effectiveness, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence to back them up.

Mortar-filled tennis balls could make structures more resistant to earthquakes

Ensuring that a building is earthquake-proof (or at least earthquake-resistant) can be an expensive and challenging task. But according to a new study, a low-cost system can help: mortar-filled tennis balls.

In modern times, earthquakes have become a bigger and bigger problem. For starters, there are more people living in urban areas and multi-storey buildings. In addition, a lot of buildings are getting older and more vulnerable, and reinforcing or fortifying buildings is expensive and rarely attempted in practice.

Even new buildings are sometimes not fortified — especially in lower-income countries, where the extra cost of anti-earthquake design is unaffordable. The vast majority of anti-earthquake systems involve rolling isolator systems, typically steel rollers rolling on steel surfaces — a type of design that’s often expensive. Even when in the long run, the building owners would save money on building maintenance and repair, this type of system is rarely deployed.

But there could be a cheaper alternative.

Testing the tennis-ball mortar mold. Image credits: Katsakamas et al (2022).

A new method described by researchers from ETH Zurich in Switzerland uses tennis balls filled with mortar instead of specialized steel rollers. Using a closely-spaced grid of such spheres greatly reduces the cost, while also ensuring resilience against potential earthquakes. In addition, this could be a good way to reuse discarded tennis balls.

“The tennis spheres serve as permanent, spherical molds to cast mortar, and they are not removed after casting. The thin rubber shell of the tennis sphere offers increased damping and reduces stress concentrations at the contact areas. At the same time, this procedure creates a promising solution for the re-use of tennis spheres,” the researchers write.

“Tennis balls are used as permanent molds, meaning that they are not removed after casting. This has 2 main advantages: 1) The rubber shell of the tennis ball offers increased energy dissipation, and, 2) Local damage at the contact area is avoided since the shell offers stress distribution,” the team adds.

The performance of different cement mixes. Image credits: Katsakamas et al (2022).

The balls were initially cut in half, filled with mortar (a mixture of cement, sand, and water), and then stuck together with tape. However, although researchers tried several different mortar mixtures, the result was unsatisfactory as the balls ended up substantially deformed. Subsequently, the balls were drilled and mortar was poured through the tiny drill — this approach proved much more effective. Overall, the cost of the tested tennis ball isolators was 0.05 $ per sphere.

The idea is to use the resulting tennis balls to separate the building from the ground. The spheres are set into concave indentations and in the event of an earthquake, they create a rolling movement that absorbs the brunt of the earth’s movement. They also produce more friction, which dissipates much of the earthquake’s energy. In the study, the researchers set a small artificial building on top of their prototype and subjected it to the type of movement you’d expect to see during an earthquake, finding that the system worked as they hoped.

This could be a cheap and efficient way to protect buildings, the researchers conclude — but there’s still a way to go before the method can be conclusively proven effective. The team now wants to trial out this approach using a larger building and see if it performs equally well.

“The idea is to isolate masonry structures by placing the spheres at a dense grid so that only a thin or no diaphragm slab at the isolation level is required. Saving this cost is crucial to make seismic isolation affordable in low-income countries.”

The study “Feasibility Study on Re-Using Tennis Balls as Seismic Isolation Bearings” was published in the journal Frontiers in Built Environment.

Turns out, online therapy can be just as effective as face-to-face therapy

The ongoing pandemic has been challenging for everyone. In addition to the direct threat it posed, it put the entire world into survival mode, causing a great deal of stress for virtually everyone on the planet. Unsurprisingly, this has taken a big toll on our mental health.

Depression rates have surged during the pandemic, as have anxiety and suicidal thoughts. To make matters even worse, access to therapy and support has been hampered by restrictions — so when people needed therapy most, therapy was least available. But there’s good news on the horizon. A review of studies found that e-therapy is just as effective as face-to-face therapy, and in some ways, it may be even better.

E-therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychological treatment that has been demonstrated to be efficient in dealing with a number of problems, ranging from depression and anxiety to alcohol and marital problems. It’s essentially a type of talking therapy, which led many practitioners to believe that face-to-face talking is an important part of it. But that may not be the case.

Several previous studies have suggested that delivering CBT via internet might also be a good alternative. With online communication becoming much more reliable in recent years, the advent of smartphones, and virtually ubiquitous connectivity, the prospect of online therapy has also become much more attractive.

But as it’s so often the case, drawing general conclusions from small studies is not easy. So a team of researchers led by Candice Luo of McMaster University explored 17 different studies published on the topic.

“Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a widely used treatment for depression. However, limited resource availability poses several barriers to patients seeking access to care, including lengthy wait times and geographical limitations. This has prompted health care services to introduce electronically delivered CBT (eCBT) to facilitate access,” the researchers write in the study.

According to their results, online therapy was more effective than face-to-face CBT at reducing depression symptom severity, while being less costly and easier to carry out (as you don’t need to go to the therapist’s office). However, there were large differences between individual studies, and this heterogeneity still left some questions. Overall, though, online therapy appeared to be a very promising replacement for face-to-face sessions.

“With the current reliance and accessibility of technology to increasing number of people worldwide, serious consideration in utilizing technology should be given to maximize accessibility for depression treatments. Our results found eCBT is at least as effective as face to face CBT, thus eCBT should be offered if preferred by patients and therapists.”

The findings were echoed by a separate review that analyzed 12 studies. This second review focused on the long-term effects of eCBT. It makes a lot of sense — maybe in the short term, the effects are better (or comparable), but what if they’re not as long-lasting?

According to the study, although some of the effects of e-therapy subside after two years, the overall benefits are undeniable, and produce improvements in terms of anxiety, depression, and panic disorders.

“While effects may be overestimated, it is likely that therapist-supported ICBT can have enduring effects. Long-term follow-up data should be collected for more conditions and new technologies like smartphone-delivered treatments,” the researchers conclude.

However, there are some caveats in this study as well — most notably, the studies were either from Sweden or from the Netherlands, and may not carry out to other populations.

Overall, while there’s still much to be said about this form of therapy, existing evidence seems to suggest that online therapy is a valuable form of therapy. Not only is it more convenient (both for the patient and for the therapist), but it can also be a more palatable option for those who see therapy as still carrying a stigma. Furthermore, being in one’s own house (as opposed to an unfamiliar environment) may make the patient more relaxed and may increase the productivity of the sessions.

The last word is likely not out on this, but at the very least, it’s an option worth considering.

At a time when everyone is under large amounts of stress, we have the means to carry out therapy from the comfort of our homes. Have you ever tried it, and if yes, how was it?

More pressure mounts for US student loan cancellation, while economists advise refinancing

Image credits: Towfiqu barbhuiya.

Student loans are big business. Some 43 million Americans currently have student loans, totaling a whopping $1.57 trillion in student loans. Despite President Biden canceling some $2 billion in student loans already, progressives in the Democratic party are increasingly frustrated. This is just a drop in the bucket, they argue, and far more action is required.

A coalition of over 80 progressive House and Senate Democrats wants Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per person. But can this actually work, and is it even a good idea?

The case for cancellation

The Democratic group argues that the loan cancellation will relieve economic stress that affects low-income borrowers in particular. This fits with what some economists are saying — it’s not the rich that are most affected by student loans, it’s the poorer borrowers, especially those of Black and Hispanic descent. These are also the borrowers that have the biggest trouble repaying back the loan. In addition, borrowers in low-income brackets often end up paying more than their better-off peers, creating a financially problematic loop that can last decades.

A 2021 data request by Sen. Warren, who spearheads the progressive group, revealed that 4.4 million borrowers are still repaying two decades into their student loan. In a public letter to Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, the group urged:

“We urge you to use every tool at your disposal to deliver relief to the millions of families inspired by your proposal to make a debt-free college degree within their reach by eliminating up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt for all families before payments resume.”

Economists have somewhat mixed opinions about this, but many seem to regard this type of loan cancellation as a positive effect on the overall US economy. William Chittenden, from the University of Texas, argued the net gains would be “positive but modest.”

According to a report quoted by Chittenden, Warren’s group overestimates the positive impact that loan forgiveness would have. Instead, Chittenden estimates a GDP increase “between $86 billion and $108 billion per year”. Adding $100 billion into the GDP seems like a lot, but it’s only 0.43% of the total US GDP.

In the grand scheme of things, it may not make a big difference, but alleviating the financial burden of millions of struggling loaners at at a small cost to the economy sounds like a win-win plan. Nevertheless, experts warn students not to rely on this, and instead focus on more pragmatic options.

Meanwhile, some economists say it’s a good time to refinance

In an editorial published in Forbes, personal finance expert James Brewer calls for refinancing student loans. In many cases, he argues, it can save money on total interests and help make lower monthly payments. Refinancing a student loan is much like refinancing a mortgage, and if you’re able to refinance your loans at a lower rate, there’s a good chance you can end up saving money in the long run.

The devil is in the details and, as Brewer goes on to explain, the rules may change — and have changed recently. So many loaners may find themselves in a situation where refinancing could be useful. It’s important to note, however, that federal loans often have different options than private loans, and the loan cancellation discussed by Democrats only covers federal loans.

Student loan experts talking to MarketWatch explained that you should always proceed with care when considering refinancing and consider all the possible avenues, including the moratorium currently in place (through May 2022). Furthermore, any refinancing on federal loans may affect potential future loan forgiveness programs, and this is something that should be included in the calculation.

Nevertheless, the experts seem to have little confidence in a major forgiveness program, and suggest that at least in some instances, it may be right to refinance rather than wait (again, if this is favorable).

The bottom line

The possibility of student loan cancellation is enticing, and it seems to make some economic sense. However, it’s a polarizing issue that’s just as political as it is economic. If you’re a loaner, you shouldn’t really rely on it. There are so many different types of loans, and conditions can vary so substantially, that it’s hard to give general advice. Nevertheless, it can’t hurt to keep an eye out for any announcements and see if refinancing would be useful in a particular case.

Biden says he wants student loan payments to resume in May 2022, but with mounting pressure from his own party, it’s hard to say what could happen. Ultimately, the US student loan woes are far from over — so buckle up.

Teenagers’ mental health is deteriorating — and social media might have something to do with it

Credit: Pixabay.

Concerns are growing over teenagers’ mental health, particularly regarding social media’s potentially negative impact. In academia and in the media, increased attention is being paid to the issue.

Mental health, across ages and generations, should be understood as a public health issue; public health is about promoting healthy lifestyles as much as it is about preventing and responding to diseases. Because mental health issues affect people’s physical and emotional well-being, managing mental health issues is central to public health goals. 

Untreated or unrecognized mental health problems may affect all aspects of an individual’s health, not least their emotional well-being and social development. Teenagers, in particular,  may be left feeling socially isolated and unable to make vocational, social, or interpersonal contributions to society; in short, it’s a public health threat.

In recent news, the correlation between social media and mental health issues has gradually garnered more attention. In fact, a recent study by ExpressVPN found that 86% of teens reported changes to their happiness due to social media. This could be interpreted in a number of ways, but one question we need to ask ourselves, is how much of a role does social media play in mental health, and what are the most occuring issues?

The most common teen mental health issues

According to established research, around 70 percent of mental health disorders were present in individuals before they reached 25, meaning that the adolescent years are a critical period for promoting mental wellness. It should be noted that teenagers, during this time, can be affected by mental health disorders of all kinds, including those more commonly associated with adulthood. However, several distinct aspects of mental health may be more affected during adolescence, and several conditions are more prevalent across adolescence:

Emotional disorders 

Emotional disorders are psychological disorders that are predominantly characterized by  “maladjustive emotional reactions that are inappropriate or disproportionate to their cause”, according to the APA Dictionary of Psychology. These emotional disorders are common in teenagers. For instance, the World Health Organization (WHO) notes that 3.6 percent of 10 to 14 year-olds and 4.6 percent of 15 to 19 year-olds experience anxiety disorders.

Eating disorders

Societal pressures may make teenagers, who are particularly prone to be influenced by dominant ideals, more likely to develop eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. Eating disorders occur across the gender spectrum and are characterized by abnormal eating behaviors and a preoccupation with food; most often, this is linked to concerns about body size and weight. 

Behavioral disorders

More likely to be diagnosed in younger adolescents than in older adolescents, behavioral disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and conduct disorder (CD), are among the most common teen mental health issues. Behavioral disorders are characterized by a pattern of disruptive and destructive behaviors that last for six or more months.

According to the WHO, an estimated one in seven 10 to 19 year-olds (14 percent) “experience mental health conditions, yet these remain largely unrecognized and untreated.”

How social media may exacerbate teen mental health issues

It’s no secret that teenagers and social media go hand-in-hand. A plethora of information and research shows that while social media platforms may help adolescents form the peer relationships that are crucial to the formative brain and personality, there are a number of troubling downsides. 

For one, social media has been shown to be addictive; likes and other interactions activate certain areas of the brain, the same reward areas that are activated when we see people we love or win prizes. Dopamine release proves to be a powerful motivator and is likely a factor in social media addiction. 

The study on Gen Z’s social media habits show that 61 percent are concerned about social media addiction. Respondents to the international survey also noted that other aspects of their emotional well-being were impacted by social media, including their levels of anxiety and self-esteem.

Teens who are predisposed to eating disorders may find that social media provides ample influence. 

Solving these challenges is a matter of greater awareness followed by public health measures and messaging that aim to remove some of the power social media has over teenagers and young adults. There is no straightforward solution to these issues, but as the body of evidence grows showing the impact on teenage mental health, it’s becoming more pressing.

Urbanization + Climate Emergency = Massive Problems. Let’s talk solutions

Urbanization is the tendency for sizable numbers of people to move out of rural areas and congregate in cities. This phenomenon happens in large part because cities tend to offer people more amenities and economic advantages than rural areas do.

Urbanization, overall, brings many benefits – but it does also pose some problems that need solving. For starters, the climate crisis disproportionately affects urban areas, and the urban heat island effect can raise urban temperatures by several degrees. So what can we do?

Image credits: Umet Ale.

It isn’t exactly news that rapid urbanization increases climate risk for billions of people; back in 2017, researchers at the United Nations (UN) warned us that this would be a problem. As it turns out, they were correct — since that prediction was originally published, we’ve witnessed extreme impacts such as severely flooded cities and cities that are literally sinking under their own weight.

A growing mountain of scientific evidence is showing that immediate action is needed to resolve the problems posed by the dangerous combination of urbanization and climate emergency.

Recent research suggests that low-carbon cities have the potential to mitigate environmental threats. The researchers have proposed four solutions for achieving these low-carbon cities:

1. Minimize the Footprint of Each City

 The researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences utilized data from nineteen counties in Taiwan. They employed partial least squares (PLS) modeling methods as a means for identifying the most important factors that affected carbon emissions in the counties of interest. 

To build their model, the researchers used data describing the size and density of each city, the currently existing land mix, the amount of urban sprawl, the level of industrial usage in each city, and the balance between housing and employment. They concluded that there were multiple factors that needed to be minimized in order for cities to enjoy a corresponding reduction in carbon emissions:

  • City size
  • Urban sprawl
  • Industrial usage
  • Transportation

2. Maximize Green Urban Spaces, Land Mix and Urban Density

 The model also suggested several factors that should be maximized:

  • Green urban spaces
  • Land mix
  • City density 

These findings corroborate previous research. We already learned that trees can help to cool down cities — and that every tree in an urban environment counts. So here we have further confirmation of the importance of green coverage in urban areas.

3. Focus on Urban Transportation Systems

 The researchers suggested “transit-oriented development” as a possible solution for reducing carbon emissions.

Image credits: Fraser Cottrell.

What, exactly, is transit-oriented development? The US Department of Transportation (DOT) website gives us an overview: It’s a situation where a transit system connects a community of people to nearby amenities including entertainment venues, commercial spaces, office buildings and residences. The closer together these accommodations are, the greater the potential is for the reduction of carbon emissions. The ideal is “walkable” cities where people can walk to work, stores, and many of the services they need.

Experts at the DOT point out that transit-oriented development is most likely to happen when governments make policies that encourage it. Tools they can utilize for this purpose include land use planning and zoning laws.

4. Engage in Conscious Urban Planning

Image credits: Srecko Skrobic.

None of the above-mentioned solutions will happen unless leaders step up to actively take charge of managing the urbanization process. The researchers summarize their findings by reporting that “appropriate urban policies and planning, such as compact cities, green cities, or transit-oriented development, might lower carbon emissions and thus further serve as useful strategies for building low-carbon cities.”

As things currently are, much of the world’s urbanization is happening haphazardly. It is true that some cities are employing urban and regional planners in hopes of making responsible use of their region’s resources; however, urban planning isn’t a universal priority across the globe. We need to reevaluate our priorities with the goal of actively managing our urban growth rather than allowing it to happen carelessly.

Other experts have weighed in on the issues independent of this research to express opinions that corroborate the findings presented in the summary. In an article posted at Urban.com.au, Professors Gabriela Quintana Vigiola and Heather MacDonald of the University of Technology Sydney’s Master of Urban Planning program point out that urban and regional planners are one critical key to solving the double-whammy problems of “climate change and limited resources” that disproportionately affect urban areas.

Professor Boyd Cohen of the EADA Business School in Barcelona, Spain also concurs. According to Cohen, urban planning appears to be the single most important means available to us for reducing fossil fuel pollution and consumption. He also points out that technology and clean energy for transportation have important roles to play in solving the problems caused by climate change and urbanization.

While the proposed solutions are likely to be viable ones, it will take a collaborative effort between governments and the public to actually implement them.

The paper “Crucial factors of the built environment for mitigating carbon emissions” will be published in the February 2022 edition of the journal Science of the Total Environment.

What is the Most Efficient CBD? Why the Way You Take CBD Matters

CBD, or cannabidiol, is continuing its seemingly unstoppable march into the mainstream. When CBD first began to circulate in major retailers, it was most commonly available as CBD oil or edibles. However, it is now common to see CBD in other products such as balms, creams, vape liquids, and even soft drinks.

Which begs the question: what is the best way to take CBD? There’s not a lot of research on this, and there’s no clear and straightforward response, but here’s what we know so far.

Image credits: Elsa Olofsson.

CBD is taken for a variety of reasons, including for its supposed mental and physical health benefits. Early studies have shown that CBD has the potential to mitigate the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even arthritis and joint pain. Although these claims are based on limited scientific research so far, the popularity of CBD seems to speak for itself.

Because of CBD’s broad range of alleged applications, it is taken in many different ways for different goals. Below, we will briefly explore how CBD works and how efficient the most popular ways to take CBD are.

How CBD Works

CBD interacts with a part of the human body known as the endocannabinoid system, or ECS for short. Early research shows that the ECS affects a multitude of body functions across many major organs.

CBD works by binding to receptors in the ECS to promote homeostasis, a term that refers to the chemical balance within the body. In short, this has the potential to regulate mood, sleep, and even pain — which explains the broad effects that proponents of CBD claim to have.

CBD Bioavailability

Bioavailability is a common term used to describe the percentage of a nutrient that actually enters your bloodstream. For example, many vitamin supplements claim to contain 100% of your recommended intake, but it’s rare the full amount is actually used by the body.

The same concept applies to CBD products. Just because you take a 50mg dose, does not mean 50mg of CBD will be used by your body. CBD for example has around 6-19% bioavailability, which means you absorb 19% of it at most.

Every type of CBD product interacts with the body in a different way, resulting in different levels of CBD bioavailability. Keeping this in mind is crucial to determining the most efficient way of taking CBD. Outlined below are the most common ways to take CBD and how quickly they integrate with the human body.

CBD Oils

CBD oil in either drop or spray format continues to be one of the most common ways to regularly take CBD. This also appears to be one of the more efficient ways of absorbing CBD. The most efficient way to take CBD oil is sublingual, which means holding the oil under your tongue for a minute or longer or until fully absorbed; this allows the thin membranes under your tongue to absorb the CBD oil.

Studies have shown that taking CBD oils sublingually results in peak blood levels in under 2 hours or less. This is because it avoids the less efficient digestive tract which is used by CBD edibles.

CBD Edibles

CBD edibles such as tablets, gummies or drinks are another favored way to take CBD. These products are seen as the peak of convenience and just need to be consumed to receive the benefits of CBD.

However, eating CBD is one of the least efficient ways to dose. Peak blood levels are reached at around 3 hours and do not rise as high when compared to other delivery methods such as CBD oils.

CBD E-liquids (Vaping)

Vaping and CBD are two quite recent phenomena and have grown in prevalence at broadly the same rate. While vaping is used mainly as a smoking cessation method via nicotine e-liquids, it is also a popular CBD delivery method.

In fact, vaping CBD is one of the most efficient ways to take it. It will take only around 3 minutes to reach peak CBD levels in the bloodstream and offers an unparalleled bioavailability of around 30%.

The main drawback to vaping is hesitancy to adopt the intake method itself. Some still view vaping unfavorably, often seeing it as equivalent to smoking. While health studies are ongoing, many findings have shown vaping to be significantly less risky than smoking, up to 95% less harmful according to research by NHS England.

CBD Topicals

CBD creams and balms are becoming popular products in both cosmetics and fitness industries. However, in terms of bioavailability, CBD topicals won’t actually enter the bloodstream and so do not serve the same purpose as other CBD products.

Instead, CBD topicals work in a similar way to other ingredients found in balms and creams. By interacting with cannabinoid receptors in the skin, CBD can act as a surprisingly effective anti-inflammatory product, with potential benefits for muscle recovery.

Furthermore, because of CBD’s effect on lowering inflammation, it has the potential to be used as a treatment for common skin conditions such as acne.

Best type of CBD for you

For those looking to regularly dose CBD for its therapeutic benefits, it is probably best to go with a high-strength CBD oil or vape liquid, if you want to maximize absorption. This will ensure faster integration into the bloodstream and improved bioavailability.

CBD topicals, on the other hand, should not be used as a way to dose CBD, rather as a possible treatment for dermatological ailments.

CBD edibles may be popular but do not provide a particularly efficient way to take CBD. The effect the digestive tract has on CBD absorption lowers bioavailability, but may still be suitable as a CBD top-up method.

Ultimately, while we still don’t know just how many of the benefits of CBD are actually true, CBD products don’t appear to be harmful and they are (and will likely continue to be) very popular. If you decide to take any CBD products, consult a doctor beforehand and only buy from a safe, certified source.

Food Traceability Has Never Been More Important for the Food Industry

The origins food traceability date back to 1930s France, when champagne sellers wanted to prove that grapes from a bottle of French champagne were indeed from the Champagne region of France. The practice expanded to other high-end foods, and in more recent years, to more common types of food as well.

In today’s market, food traceability is more complex, as food manufacturing and transportation have also become more complex. Keeping track of the food products in every step in the process, from production to the hands of consumers, involves a lot of actors.

For businesses, this is important because of strict regulatory requirements for consumer safety. For consumers, it’s becoming more and more important due to ethical and sustainable reasons — people want to know where their food comes from and are pushing companies in this direction.

Tracing food

Traceability has two integral components, tracing and tracking:

  • Tracing:

This offers a transparent picture of the product’s history by providing the journey of each food product throughout the supply chain. It includes the farms where the ingredients were grown, the places set up for combining those ingredients, and how and where the finished products were stored.

  • Tracking:

Tracking allows accurate identification of a product’s journey after leaving the manufacturer to the destination point, like restaurants, supermarkets or directly to the consumers.

No matter what process is used for tracing and tracking, you need a robust and reliable way to track the food’s journey from farm to shop. Nowadays, this is typically done with specialized logistics software.

Especially because we live in such a globalized world, tracking food is not easy. With many requirements and steps in the process (like real-time tracking, trace functions, monitor purposes, inventory, etc), it can be tempting to simply not bother with it. However, traceability is vital for a couple of reasons.

For starters, averting foodborne diseases. Ingredients and food products are sourced from all around the world. With this increased exposure to food profiles from all around the world, traceability will help to prevent outbreaks of lethal pathogens such as listeria and E. coli. Knowing where ingredients for a particular batch came from can be extremely helpful in recalling damaged or diseases products.

Food traceability can also help implement ethical and sustainable standards. Consumers are more demanding of traceability, expressing a preference for products that are both sustainable and organic. It can also help avoid malpractices, risk of contamination and terrorism threatening food supplies.

Essentially, to be able to thrive in today’s market, companies need to proactively take steps to keep up with the never-ending demands. The important steps for this are:

  • Knowing the Regulations:

A business should be well acquainted with the rules given by the governing bodies (for instance, the Food Safety Modernization Act in the US), to avoid fines and other problems.

  • Checking the Equipment and Software:

Every piece of equipment should be inspected regularly to confirm if they need a repair or replacement to ensure efficient operations. Inspecting software for bugs or potential issues should also be done regularly.

  • Understanding the Sector:

There are sector-specific issues that require specific knowledge. Being aware of this knowledge is important for every manufacturer, and it’s important to also keep in mind that standards, practices, and preferences are constantly changing.

  • Educating where necessary:

Providing education to employees, suppliers, and distributors if necessary is important to ensure implementation of traceability.

Food traceability is an important aspect both for businesses and for consumers. When properly done, it can increase visibility and control over the entire supply chain, and help minimize risks from contamination. It can also help ensure better standards for all workers involved and help consumers make more responsible choices.

Hormonal Birth Control: It’s Not Just for Pregnancy Prevention Anymore

Birth control does more than just what the name implies. In addition to preventing pregnancy, hormonal birth control can help with a variety of health issues. Here we’ll dive into the main types of hormone-based birth control and why it can be used for more than pregnancy prevention — however, please keep in mind to always consult a doctor before deciding on any form of hormonal birth control.

Hormonal Birth Control 101

The main purpose of hormonal birth control is, obviously, to prevent pregnancies. It can do this by:

  • Preventing ovulation or reducing the incidence of it;
  • Causing cervical mucus to thicken, which prevents sperm from entering the uterus;
  • Thinning the uterine lining so an egg will be less likely to attach successfully.

The exact means by which pregnancy is prevented depends on the type of birth control you select. There are a few different types of hormonal birth control on the market that you’ll want to consider.

  • The Birth Control Pill

The grandmother of them all, the pill needs to be taken daily; ideally at the same time each day. The pill pack typically includes four weeks of pills, and it requires a prescription from a health care provider. Fortunately, getting that prescription is easier than ever with the availability of online birth control.

  • The Vaginal Ring

Another type of hormone-based birth control available to women is the ring. This small piece of flexible plastic is inserted into the vagina near the cervix. Like the birth control pill, the ring releases estrogen and progestin into the body. This prevents an egg from being released from the ovaries.

You don’t need to see a provider to use the vaginal ring; you can insert it by yourself — though consulting a doctor never hurts. The ring stays in place for three weeks. On the fourth week, you remove it so you can have a regular period cycle. You’re still protected from pregnancy even when the ring is removed for those seven days.

  • The Shot

The birth control shot prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation from occurring. The shot contains the hormone progestin, which is a synthetic version of the progesterone naturally found in the body. The shot is given every 12 to 13 weeks, either in the upper arm or a buttock. You can inject yourself, or your primary care provider can also administer the shot.

What Hormonal Birth Control Can Do Besides Prevent Pregnancy

Now that we’ve gone through the three of the main types of hormonal birth control available, let’s turn our attention to reasons why you may want to consider birth control beyond pregnancy prevention.

  • It Regulate Cycles

For many women, periods arrive more or less like clockwork. For 9%-14% of women, though, periods are irregular and unpredictable. Most of these unlucky women will likely agree that one of the worst parts of having their period is not knowing when it will come. This feeling of uncertainty can trigger fear and anxiety.

Hormonal birth control can help regulate the menstrual cycle to every 28 days. Birth control pills are the easiest way to see when your period is coming. The pill pack generally contains three weeks of active hormones and one placebo week. Your body will menstruate during the inactive placebo week, or week four.

  • It Can Lighten Heavy Periods

In addition to regulating periods, birth control can also help reduce menstrual flow. For those who have heavy periods and/or debilitating cramps, hormonal birth control can be a godsend. Estrogen in birth control can promote thickening of the blood and clotting. This can decrease the menstrual flow, leading to lighter — and sometimes shorter — periods.

For this reason, women who are prone to anemia can also benefit from taking birth control. Anemia occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough healthy red blood cells to provide oxygen to the body’s tissues. Anemia can lead to dizziness, headaches, and fatigue. The main cause is low levels of iron in the body. When a woman heavily bleeds each month, she is losing necessary iron from her body.

  • It Can Help Alleviate Acne

Many women who choose to go on birth control during their teenage years do so because they are suffering from hormonal acne. Acne, whether mild or severe, is caused by an increase in androgens. These hormones, which are found in both men and women, cause glands to produce oil.

Hormonal birth control can help reduce the amount of oil produced, thereby decreasing the probability that acne will occur. While birth control alone likely won’t prevent all breakouts, it can be a useful partner to scrupulous hygiene practices. The combination of androgen-suppressing hormones and a diligent skincare routine can help keep acne under control.

  • It Can Reduce the Risk of Some Cancers

One of the long-term effects of birth control is a reduced risk of some cancers. Observational research studies show that oral contraceptives can decrease the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancers by 30% or more. The chance of contracting endometrial cancer is lowered because hormonal birth control suppresses endometrial proliferation. The risk of ovarian cancer is less because it reduces the number of ovulation cycles.

However, it’s important to note that a decreased risk of some potential cancers is not sufficient reason to take hormonal birth control. After all, there are others (e.g., breast cancer) for which oral contraceptives can slightly increase a woman’s risk. Talk to your doctor about your family history if you are concerned about developing specific types of cancer found in women.

  • It Can Relieve PMS Symptoms

Craving chocolate? Feeling moody? These are two common, well-known symptoms of premenstrual syndrome or PMS. PMS occurs between ovulation and the onset of your period. Women can experience a variety of other symptoms during PMS, including bloating, headaches, and cramps.

Some women can relieve their symptoms by natural means, such as drinking herbal teas, getting more exercise and sleep, and eating nourishing foods. However, if you have severe PMS or the more acute premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), you may consider birth control. Birth control affects every woman differently, so if one method doesn’t relieve your specific PMS symptoms, try another.

Deciding to take hormonal birth control is a personal matter. In addition to preventing pregnancies, it may help with other conditions. Always talk to your healthcare provider before going on birth control to ensure you’re making the best-informed choice for your health.

The Science of a Deliciously ‘Meaty,’ 3D Printed Meat-Free Future

Image credits: Redefine Meat

Without eating, humans may never have entered the scientific age. Meat turbocharged the evolution of our ancestors’ brains, and those brains eventually discovered Newton’s laws, general relativity, and quantum physics. But as it turns out, meat is a double-edged sword.

A big part of the environmental damage mankind is causing now circles back to the food we eat – in particular, meat. For most of our 200,000-year-or-so existence, humankind struggled with malnutrition. Now, although malnutrition is still a challenge, we live in a world where the obese outnumber the undernourished. Fast emerging economies such as the People’s Republic of China and India have successfully pulled many millions out of dire poverty, and better nutrition was and is a major part of that process. Better nutrition, however, generally correlates with increased consumption of animal protein. Healthier populations are a win, but the concurrent rise in demand for meat –and what that means for the planet – has almost made such victories pyrrhic due to all the environmental damage they cause.

Our current meat consumption trajectory is clearly unsustainable but what’s also clear is that the vast majority of people aren’t interested in meat alternatives. In a few places, vegetarians or vegans make up a decent minority, but this is not the case in most of the world. Even among those who care about the environmental, health, and moral issues associated with meat consumption, many are not ready to abjure it completely.

Over the last decade or so, plant-based meat substitutes have become big business as a kind of transitional option. Most major fast-food chains are already selling plant-based burgers that have been carefully designed to mimic the “real thing.” But they often don’t really hit the spot. A new concept, however, is challenging all the fancy faux meat substitutes.

3D-printed meat

“Alternative meat” is a term being used for 3D printed steak, ground beef, kebabs, and more. Yes, it is what it sounds like — it’s real meat, obtained through cloning, without killing animals and with a potentially lower environmental impact. Companies are using special 3D printers with proprietary formulas that use 100% natural ingredients to print ‘meat.’ This sounds like something from Star Trek but the impressive tech is very much a reality that’s fast-improving. The people behind “alt-meat” say they aren’t interested in converting people to veganism; in fact, 3D printed meat is an idea concocted by and for serious meat lovers. Many of the products were made in consultation with butchers, chefs, and blind tasters… all devoted to re-creating “meat.” 

3D printing is all about layers. The machine puts down layer after layer of whatever ingredient until the desired item appears. When one considers the consistency of meats from fish to beef, it becomes clear why layers could make a difference. If layers are possible, then you can have a layer of “alternative muscle,” and then a layer of “alternative fat.” Real meat isn’t all the same texture or taste, and with 3D printing, we might be able to get “veggie meat” to something darn near close to authentic “meatiness.” The science behind 3D printed meat is certainly high-tech but it isn’t as futuristic – or some might argue as unrealistic – like the idea of mass-producing cultured meat grown in-vitro in a lab.

Obviously, some vegetarians or vegans will be happy with “alt meat” but they’re not the target demographic for any company looking to offer up a real alternative to the modern unsustainable meat market – and looking to make any serious money.

According to WorldAtlas, India has the highest percentage of vegetarians of any country on earth – but while impressive, it’s still only 38 percent of India’s 1.366 billion people. Companies that are printing meat hope to provide genuine alternatives for billions of people who want to eat meat.

To get there, new players in the ‘meat substitute’ industry are evolving a new mindset to go along with new products. Yes, they argue, we want to save the earth, but priority one is delivering something delicious. They’re also doing away with even subtle guilt trips. Their ad campaigns are direct: “Of course you like meat! It’s great! We love meat, too! And here’s our best attempt to recreate it!” Already on sale in some select Israeli eateries, “alt-meat” made by 3D printing should be relatively commonplace in a few years. –But does it really taste like meat?

So far, the reports are promising. In one reported blind food taste test in Israel, those who tried “new meat,” gave it a ‘meatiness’ score of 90 percent or more. –That’s a pretty awesome score. By focusing on the taste, texture, smell, and look of meat, 3D printed “alt-meat” avoids any association with radicals. Instead, they want meat-lovers to love their products. The hope is that one day soon it won’t be “I don’t mind this.” Instead, knowing it’s likely a healthier choice, tastes awesome, is better for the planet, and perhaps soon, is cheaper than animal meat –you will want it. If a majority of people find a 3D printed meat substitute to be 90 percent or more of what they expect from real meat, the potential for financial profit is massive. At the same time, the potential for making a real difference for the planet’s future is immense.

The UN’s latest climate change report doesn’t contain much good news. The math of meat unsustainability isn’t going away… but neither is the fact that a lot of people want to eat meat. Maybe 3D printed meat is a solution that lets us have our cake and eat it, too.

4 Technological Trends Shaping The Post-Pandemic Future Of Business

Working remotely is also bound to be more common in the future.

For millions of people around the globe, the pandemic caused untold sorrow. In addition to the direct damage it caused, the pandemic also laid bare everything that’s wrong with the world. It exposed inequalities, weaknesses, and flaws across all industries. But then again, it also showed our capacity to adapt and reinvent new ways to get things done — both for people and for businesses.

As people turned to the Internet for almost everything (by necessity this time), businesses that are well into their digital transformation managed to survive or even thrive. Businesses that didn’t have a strong presence online often faltered. Now, as business leaders try to predict what will work in this new reality, one thing is evident: technologies and digital infrastructure will be the major players in the future of business.

This isn’t a new thing. The pressure for digital transformation has been going on for a decade or so. The pandemic, however, made it an imperative — moving online wasn’t something that needed to be done at some point in the future, it was something that needed to be done now. Technological tools that were seen by businesses as options or features became crucial tools for their operations, such as video conferencing and live streaming.

Ultimately though, the consumers’ wants and needs, including their preferences, will dictate which technologies will affect businesses. Technologies that are most suited to cater to consumers will shape the future of business. Below are just a few of them.

Increased investment in technology

Now that it has become clear that businesses’ reliance on technology will be much greater, many companies will prioritize the upgrades of their existing technological infrastructure. Thus, the trend for an increased budget for (and prioritization of) IT is inevitable. Businesses would need an upgraded IT department to handle other technological trends.

However, not many private companies will be able to deploy a proper IT department with enough resources to set up technology, like artificial intelligence (AI), which can cost a pretty penny — and are still not fully mature yet. They’d also need staff that possesses the necessary expertise to handle AI and its subsets.

For these companies to step up their efforts of advancing their technological strategies, it’d be wise to partner and potentially outsource IT services. They will need to upgrade their IT capability quickly, and they also need access to IT experts, something which an outsourced IT can provide. Various organizations across all industries, in fact, have started to follow this trend. In a 2020 report, 45% of companies worldwide have stated that they will be outsourcing their IT.

Rise of digitalization

Image credits: Samuel Regan-Asante.

Another obvious sign of increasing digitalization is the rise in the adoption of software that fosters collaboration as well as customer relationship management (CRM) software. On-demand service applications on users’ devices have also emerged as among the top trends that impact businesses. People realized that they can save time by using apps like these, and they only need an Internet connection and a smartphone.

Users of Software as a Service (SaaS) like MS Teams, Google Meet, Zoom, and others have also surged, as mandated lockdowns all over the world forced many employees to work remotely. Businesses like restaurants have also adopted the use of digital menus and expanded to touchless and cashless payments.

Virtual and augmented reality

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are two techs that have been around for many years; they are part of immersive technology, also known as extended reality or XR. Popularized in video games via a headset, these techs are proving to be invaluable in such sectors as healthcare, education, business, and many others.

VR can immerse you into a different environment, while AR lets you see your environment with an overlay of added, or ‘augmented,’ elements. A few retail businesses use these techs by letting you have the choice of ‘seeing’ their product, for example, a piece of furniture, in your own home. Virtual shopping for clothes is easier, too. You get to try on clothes in different styles and colors virtually, without visiting the physical store.

Many businesses have also started using XR in training for various things, including customer service. The applications for these techs are endless; their potential uses guarantee that XR will be a major influence on business and other sectors in the years to come.

Rise of AI

Image credits: Franki Chamaki.

In manufacturing, AI will be a great help in designing products. It can also assist managers in deciding how products are procured and manufactured. Processing’ Big Data’ will also be the purview of AI, helping marketers and engineers glean insights in analytics quicker. AI and its subsets, including machine learning and natural language processing (NLP), will also be a big help in customer service.

NLP enables speech recognition, which is used by digital assistants like Siri and Alexa. Additionally, NLP enables devices to have a deeper understanding of users’ words—it can be used to gauge client opinions, monitor feedback, and customer satisfaction. It can also help give more contextual answers to users’ voice searches.

The bottom line

Serving the customer’s interest is a concept as old as business itself. However, the pandemic made customers’ demands go on a trajectory that gives technology a greater role — and especially the online environment. And so, businesses will have to adapt to these new realities or else go the way of the dodo. The pandemic made digital transformation a necessity and no longer just an option to be accomplished piecemeal and spread through several years.

An upgraded IT department to handle these technological trends should be at the top of every business’s priority list. In today’s business climate, only those who can innovate and adapt can survive.

Ancient turtle embryo preserved inside thick, tough egg

Some 90 million years ago, when dinosaurs were still roaming the land, a turtle laid eggs. We’re not sure what happened with most of them, but one never hatched. Now, researchers have found and analyzed that egg.

Illustration of a nest of land-dwelling turtles in the family Nanhsiungchelyidae. Image credits: Masato Hattori.

In 2018, a farmer discovered the egg and donated it to researchers. The finding came from what is today China, and based on its size, the turtle must have been about as big as a human — or even larger.

Fossilized eggs are, in general, very rare. Fossilization tends to require specific conditions, and soft eggs normally don’t withstand the processes. But this was a fortunate exception. The dinosaur came from Neixiang county, which is well-known for its dinosaur eggs. Initially, that’s exactly what researchers thought they were dealing with.

The egg, about as big as a billiard ball, was unlike any other dinosaur egg researchers had seen. But when paleontologists Fenglu Han and Haishui Jiang took a closer look at it, they realized that not only it wasn’t a dinosaur egg, but it also had a surprise inside: an embryo.

If turtle egg fossils are rare, the odds of such fossils being preserved with an embryo inside are astronomic. With the help of the embryo, which was imaged inside the egg, the team was able to identify the fossil.

Image credits: Yuzheng Ke.

The team used micro-computed tomography (CT) and initially found a mixed jumble of tiny bones inside. They then created a 3D replica of each individual bone and then put it all together. Remarkably, the embryo turned out very similar to what can be seen in today’s turtles. It was about 85% formed, the researchers say; it may have tried to hatch, but failed. Two other eggs from the same species and the same period have suffered the same fate.

Perhaps even more striking is the shell of the egg. At two millimeters thick, this is some 4 times thicker than even the thickest turtle eggs that are produced today. This shell would have allowed water to seep through, so these ancient turtles likely buried the eggs inside the cold, moist soil, keeping them safe from the arid environment of the late Cretaceous (and any predators that would wander about).

Unfortunately for this species, while most turtles managed to survive the extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs, the thick-egged turtles didn’t make it — and this type of thick eggs was never again seen for turtles.

In fact, it may be possible that the egg itself was what brought the demise of the species, or it could be that these specialized turtles couldn’t adapt to the dramatic shifts ushered in by the Cretaceous extinction. More research is needed before we can figure out what happened.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

How AI Is Helping to Prevent Diabetic Retinopathy Blindness

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has been used in various industrial and commercial sectors with stunning success. AI is particularly promising in the field of healthcare, from machines that diagnose cancer better than a doctor to new drug discovery thanks to ungodly fast protein folding. Now, it’s time for this technology to make its way into eye care to quickly diagnose retinal disease on a global scale. Some companies are using this innovative technology to detect and quickly diagnose retinal diseases on a global scale.

Millions of people across the world are at risk of preventable blindness

According to the WHO (World Health Organization), over 400 million people are suffering from some variant of retinal disease. This includes age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. This number is expected to increase by at least another 25%. The good news is that 80% of these vision problems can be cured or prevented — and AI is expected to be part of the solution.

Many research groups and eye care organizations are lending a helping hand to reduce the incidence of retinal disease, from a French company that is dedicated to developing effective diagnostics for retinal pathologies to technologist and investor Tej Kohli who runs a corneal institution to help provide solutions to treating and repairing corneal eye disease and blindness.

Some of these proposed AI-based technologies can help make the diagnosis of retinal disease more visible and fully autonomous, thus helping to reduce blindness throughout the world by allowing patients to start treatment early. Take for instance “diabetic retinopathy”, which is a consequence of diabetes and a leading cause of blindness.

Diabetic eye disease currently affects many of the 146 million diabetics around the world and the number of patients is increasing every year. The current shortage of eye-care providers would make it impossible to keep up with demand to provide the requisite annual screenings for this population.

Symptoms include light sensitivity which affects the retina, eventually causing blindness if not treated. But with the help of AI technologies, it can be detected in its early stages and help prevent the person from going blind.

Dr. AI

Specialists often require intensive training and specialized equipment to be able to tackle eye and vision problems. But AI may be able to fill in the gaps of the lack of specialized ophthalmologists.

In the future, patients may be able to upload a high-resolution picture of their eye through an app, where machine learning algorithms look for telltale signs of diabetic retinopathy. Such a solution would be particularly useful for those living in low- and middle-income countries where access to a physician is limited or non-existent.

A concrete example of such an innovative AI system that has hit the market is “IDx-DR”, which has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It’s a system that can tell within minutes if a person has more than a mild case of diabetic retinopathy. In clinical trials, IDx-DR demonstrated 87% sensitivity and 90% specificity at detecting more than mild diabetic retinopathy, which is on par or even better in some cases with a human doctor. The University of Iowa Health Care became the first organization to implement IDx-DR in the clinic.

Similarly, the EyeArt AI Eye Screening System (Eyenuk) system screens for diabetic retinopathy in images of the eye fed into the system. However, these aren’t any images. Both IDx-DR and Eyenuk work using images of the retina taken with a fundus camera, a microscope with an attached camera that images the rear of the eye. The EyeArt AI System has the CE Mark as a class 2a medical device in the European Union and a Health Canada license. In the United States, the system has received FDA 510(k) clearance. 

Other promising AIs that scan a patient’s retina to look for signs of diabetic retinopathy include IRIS (Intelligent Retinal Imaging Systems), an FDA class 2 retinal diagnostic solution that integrates into clinical primary care workflows, and Google’s DeepMind. The latter uses one algorithm to detect disease features in an image of a person’s retina. Another algorithm then uses those features to make a decision about whether that person needs to consult an ophthalmologist and, if so, how urgently. 

These technologies are in their infancy so there is still much work before eye care practitioners can defer to AIs. However, if previous results are any indication, millions of people could be saved by preventable vision loss in the not-so-distant future.

The 9 best drones for aerial photography

Looking for the best drones money can buy? We’ve got you covered. Are you on a budget? Not even a problem. Nowadays, drones can take stunning photos and videos, and you don’t really need to break the bank — although you definitely can if you’re looking for the very best of drone photography.

 Carmine Chiriacò, runner-up of the Urban section at the 2020  Drone Awards.

Drones have evolved greatly in recent years. It’s not just longer and better batteries and maneuverability, but the picture quality and image stabilization have also made massive strides. It used to be that only professional equipment could snap quality photos, but that’s not the case anymore. Even a tiny drone you can fit in your pocket can shoot 4K videos with ease. Aerial photography and filming have never been as accessible.

We’ve scoured the net and reviewed some of the best drones for photos and videos out there. The list is far from exhaustive (it’s almost like every week there’s a new hot drone on the market), but we think there’s something here for all types of drone enthusiasts — hobbyists and professionals alike.

1. Our pick for Best Drone Overall (price/quality): DJI Mavic Air 2

It’s honestly hard to argue against DJI being the best drone company overall — and they’re not even paying us for this (our DMs are open, DJI). But when you look at what you get for your money, the build quality, and the software that you get with their drones, it’s really hard to find anything better.

You’ll find several DJI drones in our list, but the one that offers the most for the price is the DJI Mavic Air 2. With a 48MP Camera, 4K Video and 8K Hyperlapse, the Mavic Air 2 is truly a spectacular drone. You get a remote controller that connects to your phone (as with all DJI drones), and it’s very easy to get started with it, even if you have no previous experience.

The quality of the drone, both in terms of flight and the photos it takes is spectacular. We couldn’t find any fault with it and were thrilled by the performance it offered. At around $700, it’s not cheap, but it doesn’t break the bank. It’s a perfect drone for beginners looking to get a simple and reliable drone, as well as more experienced users who want stellar performance.

2.Best Cheap Drone: DJI Mini 2

If you’re really new to using drones, probably you won’t want to spend a fortune and this is where DJI Mini 2 comes in handy. It is a lot cheaper compared to other drones, but this does not necessarily mean you will be losing on the quality side. Actually, this drone does a lot of the things that other more expensive types can do, and it does so at a fraction of the cost.

It has a range of up to 10km, which is really not bad, it also includes collision avoidance and a 4K camera. With its 31 minutes of battery life, which is similar to many more expensive examples out there, you’ll have plenty of time for your outdoor art projects.

My favorite part about this drone, besides the price, is the weight — which is strategically chosen at only 249g. This does not only mean that you can easily carry it in your backpack but because it is under 250 grams, it also means that it does not require registration for personal use (and you can use it straight from the box). The flight time is around 30 minutes, but you can get a “Fly more” package.

3. The best *very* cheap drone: Ryze Tello

Let’s be honest, if you just want a drone that flies in the sky and takes some photos, you’ll likely be hesitant to spend a few hundred dollars. I feel you! That’s perfectly reasonable, and this is why we recommend the Ryze Tello to get started with.

At a mere $99, this is a true bargain — and with a respectable 5MP Camera and HD720, you get the real drone feel for the cost of a fancy dinner. Mind you, the quality isn’t the same as the other drones on this list and there’s a reason why others cost more, but if you want a low-risk entrance to the world of drones, this is the perfect option.

The only major shortcoming to be aware of is the flight time. At only 13 minutes, it *will* feel insufficient. The good news is that if it does, and you want a drone that can do more, you’ll already have some experience.

5.Best Drone for Traveling: The Ultra-compact Parrot ANAFI

Drones are generally small, but when it comes to traveling (or if you just don’t have a lot of space to work with), having an ultra-compact drone can make a difference — and when it comes to ultra-compact (and overall quality), The Parrot ANAFI takes the prize.

Travelling also means lightweight and small equipment that could fit in a backpack. The Parrot ANAFI drone is ideal for traveling as it is not only lightweight but it also folds, taking up less space compared to other drones measuring only 2.5 by 2.6 by 9.6 inches (HWD) when folded and weighing only 11.3 ounces. Its USB-C smart battery lasts for a 25 minute flight time and can be charged from a laptop or power bank. With 4K video and HDR 3x digital zoom lens, you won’t be skimming on quality just for the sake of portability.

Even though this drone might look a bit flimsy at the beginning, it’s surprisingly durable and sturdy, which makes it a great companion for your next adventure. Seriously, it folds so neatly.

6. Best Waterproof Drone: Powervision PowerEgg X

With very few exceptions, all drones are vulnerable to water. Even a few drops can cause damage, and a big splash or a heavy rain should always be avoided — but not with the Powervision PowerEgg X. This incredibly versatile drone can be used in all kinds of weather, be it rainy or windy, and even land on water without losing on the quality side. How amazing is that? As if being waterproof and 4K wasn’t enough, this drone can also be used as an autonomous personal AI camera, or a handheld 3-axis AI camera.

A very nice feature as well is the Patented SyncVoice technology which is able to pick up high-fidelity sound using the mobile phone’s microphone or you can even attach a wireless microphone and it automatically synchronizes the audio with the footage. Do I need to say more?

Other interesting features that need mentioning, the 4K camera has a resolution of 12MP and 60fps and the drone can reach a speed of up to 65kph / 40mph, with its battery lasting for about 30 minutes in dry mode.

7. Best Professional Photography Drone: DJI Mavic 2 Pro

If you’re looking for a professional-level drone and you’ve got the money to splurge, this is the right one for you. It just does everything. The drone is a joy to fly and very easy to maneuver for beginners and pros alike. In addition, it’s sturdy but surprisingly foldable, which also makes it a good companion for traveling. Plus, it’s expensive, but it’s not that expensive — if you catch a good discount, you can get it for around $1,500.

Its battery will last up to 31 minutes of flight time, it reaches a maximum speed of 44 mph, and it has a takeoff weight of 907g which could be incredibly useful, as you can attach a few things to it. I wouldn’t recommend using it to carry packages, but you can if you truly want to.

When it comes to the quality of the images, the drone is equipped with a 3-axis gimbal for steady shots, and with its 20MP one-inch sensor, its photos are sharp and crisp — to add, even more, it can shoot raw images and 4K video at 30fps. When it comes to storage, this model has 8GB internal storage and supports SD cards up to 128 GB, which is enough space for a lot of high-quality images.

What makes this drone amazing, besides the features already mentioned, is that it offers possibly the most advanced flight and camera tech currently available, which means that it is great for pro-grade images but, if you can afford the price, you shouldn’t have any problems as a beginner as well.

8. Best Drone for zooming: DJI Mavic 2 Zoom

If you are particularly interested in zooming and capturing detailed, ground-level images, the best drone for you is probably the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom which allows you to experience a very dynamic perspective. It is powered by a 1/2.3-inch 12MP sensor with up to 4x zoom which also includes a 2x optical zoom (24–48 mm). This means that you can capture close-up shots of people or animals, while still maintaining the safe and legal distance of 50m.

The battery lasts for up to 31 minutes of flight time, which is pretty standard I would say, meaning that just for this particular feature you won’t be spending extra battery life. It also has a 44 mph maximum speed which is great for using outdoors in nature, and a 905G takeoff weight which might come in handy depending on the extra equipment that you would like to use.

Among the features, it’s worth mentioning the omnidirectional obstacle sensing, the adjustable aperture which offers a bit more flexibility, and the low-noise design which may come in handy if you want to photograph wild animals. I also like how stable it feels in the air — when you’re zooming in, any weird movement can wreak havoc on your images, but this almost never happens with the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom.

9. Best Drone for science: DJI Phantom 4 PRO

There’s probably no drone quite like the DJI Phantom 4 PRO. Where do I even start? The 20MP sensor i the onboard camera, redesigned to use a 1-inch Megapixel CMOS sensor? The five directions of obstacle sensing? The powerful video processing? You can do anything and everything with the DJI Phantom 4 PRO.

The only reason why we haven’t listed this as the best professional drone is its price tag — just over $2,000. It’s not that it’s not worth it, it really is; but if you’re just looking at photography, I’m not sure it’s worth the extra $500 compared to the DJI Mavic 2 Pro. Both are superb drones, but the Phantom 4 goes the extra mile. Do you really need that? Well, that’s up for you to decide.

But the Phatnom 4 really shines when it comes to science. Are things like photogrammetry or Lidar your thing? Then this is the drone you may want to look at. You can replace its camera with a thermal sensor or a lidar one and be on your way for what, just a few years ago, would have probably cost you a few good tens of thousands.


The field of aerial photography (and drones in general) is progressing rapidly. We’ll do our best to keep this list updated. If you find any drone we may have missed or you’d like to see added to the list, send us a shout out!

Disclaimer: Purchasing these products may earn ZME Science a commission. This helps support our team at no additional cost to you. We will never advertise products if we don’t think they’re good. If something is here, it’s because we like it — period.

Slow mornings? Here’s how changing your alarm tone can combat sleep inertia

Ever wake up groggy in the morning and need more than a couple of hours to fully wake up and function, for no apparent reason? Odds are you’ve been called lazy or just not a morning person, but as it turns out, morning grogginess is a real thing — and you can fight it.

Image credits: Kinga Cichewicz.

First of all, let’s start with the term. ‘ Morning grogginess’ isn’t really a term you’ll find in the scientific literature. However, several studies do mention sleep inertia and that it’s a real condition that needs to be taken seriously because it can impact not just our mood and productivity, but also our safety and mental health.

Most people who experience sleep inertia say that they need at least 30 minutes to become fully alert, but the feeling can go on for as long as four hours. — and it can happen to everyone. One popular example that of a NASA astronaut on the International Space Station, who reported feeling unproductive after sleeping through two alarms, but you don’t necessarily need to have a demanding or exhausting job to experience it.

In a new study published in the Journal of Sleep Disorders & Therapy in March 2021, researchers from the RMIT University in Melbourne suggest that waking up suddenly may be responsible for sleep inertia and that changing our alarm tone to something more melodic could counteract it.

What makes sleep inertia potentially dangerous?

Sleep inertia may sound more like a minor inconvenience than a threat but, under certain circumstances, it can have serious consequences.

In simpler terms, sleep inertia is a physiological phenomenon marked by symptoms like grogginess and confusion after waking up. Compared to study participants who woke up alert and well-rested, participants with sleep inertia showed lower alertness levels, slower response times, and poorer memory. What’s more, people with sleep inertia also find it harder to make complex decisions and may not be able to be efficient in emergency situations.

The 2021 study highlighted the risks of sleep inertia for emergency responders, such as fire and police officers and military personnel, because they have to take difficult, real-world decisions immediately after waking up. The study also cited an air crash disaster, whose causes have been linked to sleep inertia: the pilot, suddenly woken up from an in-flight nap, could not make the critical decisions needed to avoid the accident where 158 people lost their lives.

In recent years, scientists have explored the importance of auditory treatments in emergency situations and found that high-frequency alarms were better at reducing the symptoms of sleep inertia.

To counter the effects of sleep inertia, first, we have to first understand what causes it, and research shows that the main cause behind it is sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is a persistent issue in modern society, and it’s only recently that we’ve started to explore its risks. For example, one 2017 study found that insufficient sleep, apart from being harmful to mental health, leads to poor work and academic performance and requires hundreds of billions of dollars in spending every year. What’s more, people who struggle with sleep inertia are more likely to be involved in accidents and require hospitalization.

Music could help combat sleep inertia

If you wake up suddenly, right in the middle of a sleep cycle, or you didn’t get enough sleep, it’s normal to experience some degree of sleep inertia. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to ease the symptoms. Among the most effective ones, researchers included having a cup of coffee, a hot shower, or light treatments.

But the biggest part of the research went toward understanding the impact of the sounds we wake up to on our mood and alertness. If you wake up with your heart pounding after hearing your alarm and the first thing you want to do is hit snooze and go back to bed, you’re not alone.

The default alarm on your phone may make your sleep inertia worse, and researchers explain that the sudden beeping you hear first thing in the morning should be replaced by something more melodic. To further test the efficiency of melodic alarms, the team of researchers at RMIT University conducted an additional study, where they split the participants into two groups: one that used traditional alarm sounds and one that used melodic tunes. After the participants woke up, researchers asked them to perform a series of tasks on an app. Unsurprisingly, the group that woke up to melodic alarms showed better response times and higher accuracy.

According to the experts at Melody Loops, the easiest way to differentiate between melodic and unmelodic tunes is to try to sing or hum along with them. If you can do that, then that song may help you wake up better. But, if the alarm induces anxiety even when you listen to it in the middle of the day, it’s a good idea to change it. Your ringtone settings are a good place to start with, but you can also download a melodic alarm tune from somewhere else.

Some people say that waking up to their favorite song makes their day better, but that’s debatable since you may end up disliking it. Other good ideas include famously melodic songs, like Here Comes the Sun, by The Beatles, Dancing in the Moonlight, by Toploader, or Happy, by Pharrell, but it’s up to you to choose a song that you really want to start your day with. You can also consider the Bedtime feature on your phone, if you have one, because it wakes you up gradually, with soothing melodies or nature sounds.

At the end of the day, one thing is for sure: although that extra loud alarm will wake you up from heavy sleep, it won’t make your day any better. Apart from causing sleep inertia, loud, unmelodic alarms have also been linked to high blood pressure, high heart rate, and headaches.

How neuromarketing helps us understand post-pandemic changes in consumer behavior

I feel, therefore I buy. Marketers have been aware of the connection between emotional drivers and purchasing decisions for many years now, and they haven’t hesitated to use these emotional drivers to create marketing experiences — in other words, to get you to buy things. While in classic economic theory, consumers are described as rational individuals who decide whether or not to buy a product based on objective factors such as price and utility, recent research points out that most of our purchasing decisions are much less rational than we believe and much more emotional.

In his book, ‘How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market,’ Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman suggested that up to 95% of the purchasing decisions we make are driven by the subconscious mind, and good marketers leverage this to create deeper emotional connections with their audience.

Image credits: Mehrad Vosoughi.

We’ve seen examples of this across all marketing channels: luxury brands play on the idea of exclusivity to appeal to our feelings of self-worth, telecom companies tap into our desire for social connections to sell cell phone plans, and insurance companies have more than once gone viral for their mobilization of emotions in advertising. But then along came the pandemic, which, apart from changing our approach to health, wellness, work, and family, also impacted deeply-rooted purchasing behaviors. For brands and marketers, understanding these changes has become crucial, which is where neuromarketing comes in.

Although the concept of neuromarketing isn’t exactly new (the term was coined in 2011 by Christophe Morin), it has now become more relevant than ever, and in the context of the pandemic, it’s an essential tool for understanding three things:

  • Why COVID-19 has changed consumer behavior;
  • What are the new psychological characteristics of the post-pandemic shopper;
  • What brands and marketers can do to appeal to this new shopper.

Neuromarketing and the post-pandemic landscape

As the name suggests, neuromarketing is a combination between neuroscience and marketing. It’s a newer branch of the advertising industry and aims to understand the neurocognitive principles that influence the way consumers react to marketing. Neuromarketing is an interdisciplinary study that also uses insights from social psychology and behavioral economics, and the methods used to research it continue to evolve.

Although it’s easy to dismiss neuromarketing as just fluff science, or at most a tool for figuring out the right color combinations to use on a website or what key phrases to use in an ad, its insights are useful and can go much deeper — they delve into the depths of human behavior, and why some stimuli appeal to us more than others. For example, an MIT neuromarketing study found that paying with a credit card activates the brain’s reward system and releases dopamine, which makes us want to spend more.

Generally, neuromarketing studies have people interact with various stimuli, such as colors, text, and sounds, and interpret biometric measurements such as eye movements, response time, and heart rate with technologies like EEG, MEG, and fMRI.

For brands, figuring out what drove consumer purchases could be a tough puzzle to crack, even before the pandemic. Now, it’s even more difficult because COVID-19 affected many areas of our lives and changed old purchasing behavior. Every brand hoping to stay relevant should collaborate with a leading company supplying market research to find out how its target consumers have changed and what are the new values that appeal to them.

How has consumer psychology changed after the pandemic?

Empty supermarket aisles, panic buying, a sudden interest in homemade recipes – these were just a few of the trends that started with the onset of the pandemic and, although it can be easy to dismiss them as some of the many weird things that happened in 2020, neuromarketing experts point out that they aren’t just trends. Some are linked to psychological changes that could define the market for a while now.

For example, a new study conducted at the University of Adelaide, Australia, in June and December 2020, identified four key traits of the post-pandemic consumer:  

  • Risk aversion. 24% of respondents said they did resort to panic buying for fear that they would run out of essentials such as toilet paper. This tendency was more common among parents, and scientists assume this happens because the pandemic has lowered consumers’ tolerance for risk and made them plan more in advance.
  • Interest in the country of origin. 46% of consumers said that, for safety reasons, they cared more about the product’s country of origin; as a result, products that were advertised as ‘made in Australia’ flew faster off the shelves. Similar findings were published by American researchers from the Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences: ‘made in the USA’ claims on the packaging increase demand and drives online auction prices up.
  • Higher focus on health and wellness. According to the Australian study, there was a 45% increase in home-cooked meals, a 33% increase in fruits and vegetable consumption, and a 60% increase in plant-based protein sales.
  • Sustainability. People are going to the supermarket less often and, when they do, they look for sustainable options.

In addition to these four factors, a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology advocates for the role of neuromarketing as an emotional connection tool between organizations and audiences in social networks. While many brands have managed to align themselves with the new purchasing values of the post-pandemic shopper, others have continued to rely on the old ways, which led to insensitive, irrelevant, or tone-deaf marketing messages.

The pandemic has changed the world in more ways than we probably envision at this point. Some of these changes will revert to the “normal” baseline. But some are here to stay, and they may shape society for a long time to come. We’d be wise to pay attention.

The pandemic gnawed at everyone’s mental health — but children are particularly affected

Ask almost anyone on the globe and they’ll tell you that the past year and a half has been less than ideal. The isolation, the uncertainty, and the time spent without the usual routines have been challenging and took a toll on all of us. Kids have been hit especially hard during the pandemic, and the mental health issues that they are faced with are too often left out of the spotlight.

There are 2.2 billion people under 18 in the world, around 28% of the world’s population. Teenagers (10-year-olds to 19-year-olds) make up 16% of the world’s population. With social distancing and school closures, isolation has become a major component of our day-to-day life. As necessary as the response was for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, it has come at a high cost.

While school-age children may have experienced short closures in the past, the amount of time many schools closed their doors during 2020 and into 2021 was unprecedented for them. The resulting lack of regular routine and social interaction can help explain why many are experiencing, or have experienced, increased stress, anxiety, and feelings of helplessness.

The impact of the pandemic, lockdowns, and school closures on children will depend on a range of factors:

  • Educational status;
  • Developmental age;
  • Whether they have special needs;
  • Economic security (or lack thereof);
  • If they’ve had a parent quarantined due to exposure or illness.

If you’re worried about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on your children’s mental health, a good first step is to speak to a doctor, and potentially get a referral for a mental health practitioner. Even if your child isn’t showing any clear signs of distress, it’s better to ensure that everything is alright.

If you don’t have a primary doctor, a good first step is to find a family medicine physician to be prepared if and when you need to contact someone.

Research findings on the pandemic’s impact

The following are some of the results of studies that have looked at the impact of the pandemic on children.

Research on loneliness has a bearing on the situation. A review of 63 studies with more than 50,000 participants found that loneliness and social isolation increased the risk of depression up to nine years later. That research suggested that duration, rather than intensity, was the most important issue, which means that the fallout of school closures and social distancing could be marked. So keep in mind, any effects the pandemic has had on children is unlikely to simply go away — it may be a problem for years to come.

More directly related to the pandemic, there have been several studies that demonstrated a big impact. One recent questionnaire administered in China to over 3500 children and adolescents measured depression, anxiety, and coping style. Over 22% of respondents were depressed, higher than the estimated 13.2% that would have been expected in the country.

Anxiety was also higher than previously reported, especially among those who had a friend or family member who had contracted a case of COVID-19. Among coping styles, those with a “problem-focused” coping style fared better when it came to depression, while those with an “emotion-focused” style had a higher level of depressive symptoms.

A study in Italy and Spain looked at the emotional impact of the pandemic, with a focus on parents. This study asked parents of children from the ages of three to 18 to compare how their children were now, to how they were before being confined at home. 85.7% of parents reported a change in the behaviors and emotions of their children. The most frequent included:

  • Problems with concentration;
  • Boredom;
  • Becoming irritable;
  • Feelings of restlessness;
  • Nervousness;
  • Uneasiness;
  • Loneliness;
  • Worries.

Among parents, 75% reported feeling stressed about the situation in quarantine. That parental stress was associated with an increase in reports of emotional and behavioral changes in children. It is possible that some of this is also spilling to the children.

Another survey in China of more than 8000 middle and high school students asked participants to describe their anxiety and depressive symptoms during the pandemic. Depressive symptoms were reported in 43.7% of respondents, while 37.4% reported anxiety. There was an overlap of 31.3% reporting both.

Final thoughts

Research has demonstrated that COVID-19 has, and is, affecting children’s and adolescent’s mental health. Depression and anxiety are rising, and while additional research is required to understand the longer-term impacts, it’s not wrong to be concerned.

If you’re a parent, you should think about this when you’re discussing your children’s health with their doctors. A good clinician will be keeping an eye out, and may already be asking you and your child questions about how the pandemic has impacted them. For some, it could mark the onset of problems, or it could make existing mental health issues worse. For young people with depression and anxiety, being at home may actually help things temporarily, but it’s not a long-term solution, so be prepared to work with a clinician on how they can best adjust when returning to school.

The relationship between social media and cryptocurrencies is not healthy

Social media platforms have long been seen as a “signal” generator for traders and investors of the crypto space. Due to the relatively small size of Bitcoin ($BTC) and other coins (in terms of market cap, compared to many other stocks or commodities like gold), public opinion can quickly and significantly move crypto markets. But things are going way too far.

Imagine if a few decades ago, you would have told one of the richest people in the world they can control the price of an asset, and make it rise and fall drastically, by merely writing a few words. Their eyes would have flickered and small, green, dollar signs would have appeared in front of each pupil. Well guess what — that’s kind of what’s happening now.

Oh Elon

Credit: Twitter, @elonmsuk.

Elon Musk, the billionaire behind Tesla and SpaceX, has the power. In the past few months, cryptocurrencies like Dogecoin and Bitcoin have fluctuated wildly based on Musk’s tweets. While the tweets may have not been posted for his own financial gain (and in truth, Musk doesn’t really need to tamper with the market, at a net worth of some $160 billion), they did send the crypto market on a wild rollercoaster.

Sometimes, the tweets were semi-relevant to the crypto market, like when Tesla stopped taking Bitcoin (after previously bragging that it does accept Bitcoin), or that time SpaceX launched a Dogecoin-funded satellite into orbit. But other times, it’s just plain silly — like when he posted a meme about breaking up with Bitcoin.

Dogecoin, essentially a meme cryptocurrency that somehow picked up a lot of popularity, was at one point 1,400% up compared to the start of 2021. Now, after a peak value right before Elon Musk hosted Saturday Night Live (SNL), the coin dropped by 75%, after the show failed to live up to the hype.

While Musk is the main exponent of the effect social media can have on cryptocurrency markets, he’s far from the only one.

Crypto and social media go back a long time

Crypto and online discussion boards go back as far as Bitcoin’s creation. Shortly after it was brought to the world, Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto founded the popular forum BitcoinTalk, where most crypto-related discussions took place.

Shortly after Satoshi chose to disappear forever in 2010, we saw a parallel between an increase in online mentions of Bitcoin and its growth and price. The more people talked about it, the more it seemed to be worth. The platforms that stood out in terms of community building and valuable information was Reddit and Twitter, which are also some of the most bitcoin-friendly social media platforms.

Later, Discord and Telegram caught up to the trend as well, since privacy-oriented discussions and closed groups started to increase in popularity. These platforms of course experienced quite a bit of volatility from users after their use in ICO scams deemed them less trusted as information sources.

For crypto traders, keeping an eye on social media became the norm — a way to track the overall market sentiment, but also anticipate scenarios based on Musk-type interventions and try to anticipate the ebb and flow of prices. When you see that the public starts to feel overwhelmingly positive about Bitcoin (to the points that you see Twitter accounts adding laser eyes to their profile pictures) it may be time to sell. When the same audience starts bashing Bitcoin, writing it off as dead, it might be time to buy bitcoin.

Of course, actually analyzing social media sentiment is not easy. You can scroll through Twitter or Reddit, but you just won’t have enough time for it. You can also harvest data and try to analyze it in bulk, but that may miss out trends. You can also look at all the things niche-related influencers are talking about and try to determine how the public will act based on this information, or even use specialized tools to aid your quest.

This is not what was promised

Bitcoin, and cryptocurrency in general, promised to change the world, but it kind of hasn’t. It’s made some people some money, it’s cost others some money, but the impact on society has been negligible. When you take into account the fact that mining and trading cryptocurrency produces emissions comparable to a medium country, the issue becomes even more thorny

Part of the problem stems from the fact that we’re not really sure how much Bitcoin (or any cryptocurrency really) should be worth. As long as the price runs on emotions, memes, and influencer whims, cryptocurrency will continue to fluctuate wildly and trust will dwindle due to this volatility.

In truth, the same can be said about stocks. The market isn’t perfectly rational and oftentimes, it’s anything but rational — we’ve seen this happen time and time again. But crypto is a relatively new happening, and no one is really sure just how high or low it will go.

In an ideal world, people like Musk would lose their power, and cryptocurrency, freed from such nefarious influences, would drift towards a realistic value. People would trust it more and use it more widely; it would become incorporated in humanitarian projects, where its decentralized nature can work best, and act as a viable alternative to existing currency. Alas, we don’t live in an ideal world, and who knows what Musk will tweet next?