Tag Archives: science

Boosting Your Immune System with a Dose of Personality

Personalities and their effects on biological systems have become an increasingly popular focus of research over the last few years; the target of these studies is often related to the degree in which our personalities can regulate many aspects of our life, such as our wellbeing. A video from the Youtube series ASAPScience (see below) provides an example of the link between personality and biology. The video specifically discusses a relationship between personality and sleep habits (whether you’re a night owl or a morning person) and how the latter reveal your personality traits.

The science behind our personality is simple. It can be defined as a collection of characteristics or qualities that form an organism’s unique character. These specific traits that all combine to form a unique personality can affect different aspects of our life, such as our performance in school and the friendships we have. The question is, does personality really have an impact on our health?

Previous studies have linked personality and its role in the risk of developing health problems. More recently, research has shown that personality traits can be a factor in how well a body can fight a disease. Published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, a study conducted by Kavita Vadhara and colleagues at The University of Nottingham has shown that some traits part of the ‘Big Five’ group, which are five primary dimensions of personality common to all humans, can play a role in the way the defence system of the body works. This system is also known as our immune system.

The 'Big Five' Model shows the five primary dimensions of personality. Big Five Source: Wikipedia Commons

The ‘Big Five’ Model shows the five primary dimensions of personality.
Big Five Source: Wikipedia Commons

The team of researchers asked 121 students to complete a questionnaire based on their personality. This questionnaire measured their degree of the ‘Big Five’ personality traits. Specifically, they looked how extroverted the participants were (energetic, talkative), their neuroticism (how anxious or moody) and their conscientiousness (how organized or thoughtful). In addition to the questionnaire, they also took a blood sample from each participant. This allowed the analysis of a number of genes that are involved in an inflammatory immune response, which is a response initiated by our immune system that helps the body fight infection and speed up the recovery from injury. Using microarray technology to determine which genes are active, the team of researchers were able to make a correlation between personality traits and the active genes required for an immune response.

The above instrument is used in microarray technology to identify active genes. Microarray Source: Wikipedia Commons

The above instrument is used in microarray technology to identify active genes.
Microarray Source: Wikipedia Commons

Results showed that participants who scored higher for extroversion in the questionnaire had an increased expression of pro-inflammatory genes (genes capable of promoting inflammation). However, participants who demonstrated a higher degree of conscientiousness subsequently had a decreased expression of pro-inflammatory gene expression. In other words, individuals with a more social behavior appear to have a greater ability to deal with infection and injury, whereas participants who were more cautious could not effectively handle the infections. The third trait mentioned, neuroticism, did not show an association with gene expression.

Before you celebrate that your outgoing disposition means you’re better at fighting illness, I think an important question that should be asked is, what is influencing what? Could it be the opposite cause-and-effect relationship, where our immune system influences our behaviour? Whatever the cause of the above results, the study conducted by Vadhara and colleagues provides further support to the dynamic relationship between health and personality.

Check out this video by Kurz Gesaft explaining how the immune system works:


Thanks for reading!

Samantha Mee

Communicating Science Through Robots

In our science communication class, we talk about different strategies and mediums to ultimately help us get our message across easily. But, have you ever thought about learning science through a robot? For one company, robot teachers aid them in their mission to introduce young people to technology and to gear students towards scientific careers. Specifically, Aldebaran has developed NAO, a robot teacher that is aimed at engaging students in computer and science classes throughout elementary school to university.

NAO, a robot teacher. Source: LinuxTag Flickr

NAO is a 58-cm tall humanoid robot that can speak, sit, stand, walk and recognize speech. The robot is also programmed to speak up to 19 different languages.

The complexity of NAO’s teaching differs depending on the education level. For example, in elementary school, NAO can help teach children their multiplication tables, whereas in university, NAO can also be used to challenge students with problems in business and society.


NAO, waving. Source: Anonimski Wikimedia Commons

For St. Dominic School, NAO has been a great addition to their science lab for the past year. They use the robot to teach elementary children the fundamentals of basic programming. For example, children learn to program its movements from kicking a soccer ball to waving hello. While this serves as a great introduction to high school, a teacher from the Career and Technical Education Academy believes its use in higher level education could also look great on résumés. Operating a robot is surely something that may impress certain information and communication technology companies.

An article in Channel NewsAsia suggests NAO’s mere presence engages students, especially students with autism. Autistic students have trouble with social interaction, thus the robot allows a different form of interaction with the student. It can respond perfectly just like a human, but the idea is that since students are more keen to play with robots, they are seen as more approachable than human teachers. In a recent research study, they show that children with autism were more engaged with their tasks and found them more enjoyable with a robot compared to an adult.

I found NAO to be an interesting innovation because it engages students in not only science, but communication skills in general. It provides some things that human teachers cannot such as hands-on programming and an enjoyable method of interaction for autistic students. NAO may not be a necessary tool in helping students, but it is definitely a creative and innovative option for schools that want to try something new. With a hefty price tag of $7,990, NAO is unfortunately only limited to schools that have the sufficient funds to afford it. Hopefully, the robot can be much more affordable in the future so it can be used under a broader spectrum.

Check out this video below by AldebaranRobotics, showing NAO being used in a British primary school’s class.

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-Ian Villamin