do you want to be on the SmART Squad?

SmARTDevThe SmART Squad is hiring for SUMMER 2015!

The Wellness Education Office is looking for 2-4 Smith students to join the group of students who will assemble the SmART: Smithie Alcohol Risk Tutorial video,. SmART is a student-made online alcohol education video for incoming first year students. You’ll spend 6 weeks (May 11-June 19, approximately – dates are somewhat flexible) working 35 hours per week. The ideal candidate will have experience producing videos or other digital media, an interest in health education, and some insight into the cultural/social dynamics around alcohol use on campus.

I can only hire current students, so no seniors, alas. (But hooray that you’re graduating! yay!)

To apply, please email with  a resume and a letter of interest. In the letter, besure to specify (a) what makes the position interesting to you, and(b) what you feel you could uniquely contribute to the project. Remember that ANYONE could say “I’m interested because alcohol is a really important issue on campus,” right? Snore. So tell me about what makes the project important TO YOU. What will you gain by participating in creating the video? What do you hope to learn?

Deadline for receiving applications is this Thursday January 21.


alcohol versus caffeine: placebo effect

One of the big messages in the Smithie-made “SmART Senior!” video is that the behavioral effects of alcohol are due more to cultural expectations than to the effects of the drug itself. It’s called a “placebo effect,” for those unfamiliar with this kind of research. Most of the behavior changed exhibited by people consuming alcohol can be explained by their BELIEF that they’re consuming alcohol, rather than by the effects of the drug itself. (Watch the video for details.)

But I think it’s important to point out that not all substances are equally placebo-based in their effects.

Take this study on placebo effect and caffeine. It’s not quite the identical set up. We’ve got two groups: one is getting caffeine and is told they’re getting caffeine; the other group is NOT getting caffeine but is told they ARE getting caffeine.

And then both groups are given a series of tasks to do. Here’s the part where it gets interesting: half of the people in each group are told that the the caffeine (or “caffeine”) they consumed will make them better at the task, and half are told that it will make them worse at the task.

So how did they do?

The folks who got caffeine and were told it would enhance their performance DID SIGNIFICANTLY BETTER than those who got caffeine but were told it would worsen their performance. AND the folks who didn’t get caffeine and were told that it would enhance their performance did better than the folks who also didn’t get caffeine but were told it would impair their performance!


So finding #1: being told a drug will help you do better makes you do better, regardless of whether or not you actually take a drug.

But wait, there’s more! The folks who got caffeine but were told it would diminish their performance actually did better than the folks who didn’t get caffeine and were told it would diminish their performance. Now this might tell us two things, right? It tells us that the caffeine really does enhance performance, even in the face of being told it won’t; AND/OR it tells us that test subjects who are regular coffee drinkers but don’t get any caffeine in the morning will do pretty poorly.

Addiction is real, man.

So caffeine has a real impact, and when used MODERATELY (2oz of coffee per hour is a reasonable rate, 1oz per hour of an “energy drink”) it can help a sleep deprived student get through a demanding task.

But even without coffee, simply BELIEVING that you can do well will have an EVEN GREATER impact on your success!

It’s important to note that caffeine overdose is also a REAL THING and it SUCKS. Shaky hands, racing heart, it’s no fun and it can be potentially dangerous, taken to an extreme. MODERATION, friends.

PS: Never, EVER combine alcohol and caffeine. Seriously. Let me explain with a fun musical video:

What Causes Hangovers?

AsapSCIENCE, which makes educational animated videos about SCIENCE, has a great little video about what causes hangovers:

The short sciencey answer: acetaldehyde.

The short, non-sciencey answer: drinking faster than your body can metabolize the alcohol

Science wins at drinking!

For more info about dealing with or preventing hangovers, check this out!

Dealing with a hangover

The SmART Squad in 2011 made this excellent little video about preventing and managing hangover:

Thanks, SmART Squad! Water, carbs, and sleep, FTW!

why do people snore when they’re drunk?

Here’s a question I got asked recently:

How come my roommate snores when she goes to bed after she’s been drinking, when she never snores otherwise?”

So, we know that alcohol is a central nervous system depressant – which has nothing to do with mood and everything to do with slowing things down in your brain and spine.

The more you drink, the more things get slowed down, starting with your pre-frontal cortex, where decision-making, judgment, and reasoning happen, and moving backward and deeper into your brain. Eventually the parts of your brain that make your muscle work get affected.

Which is where snoring comes in.

Snoring due to drinking happens when alcohol affects the parts of your brain that keep your mouth, nose, and throat muscles open. Everyone’s reaction to alcohol is different, so exactly how much alcohol it takes to do this will vary from individual to individual, but there will be a point for most people when the muscles of the mouth, nose and throat are sufficiently relaxed that some part of the required anatomy lacks sufficient muscle tone to allow in noiselessly.


Well, alas, the only way to prevent this from happening is do drink less or else stay awake until you’re sober enough not to snore. Sorry.

Solution for the roommate? Earplugs.