Author Archives: nakhan3

I don’t like the taste of this anymore!!

In class, we discussed gustation and the different mechanisms associated with taste processing. Later, we participated in an amusing activity. We taste tested different snacks! In this activity, we were given chips of different flavors and had to taste and guess the flavor. The first chip smelled like barbeque, but I thought that was too easy of a guess. After tasting it, I was left uncertain of the flavor because it wasn’t particularly gross or tasty. Upon receiving a suggestion card that revealed the flavor as “mustard,” I still was not convinced I knew the flavor. When the options of pickle, cheeseburger, and mustard were given to me, I immediately thought it could be cheeseburger because it distinctly tasted like the aftertaste of a McDonald’s cheeseburger (the one in the kid’s meal). The next two flavor of chips were easy to guess because they both tasted exactly like their said flavors, cheese and ketchup.

After the chip taste test, Dr. O’toole gave us a supplement, and the effect of that supplement was that we had a harder time tasting sweet. To test how well it worked, we tried a piece of chocolate, and I do not enjoy the taste chocolate. However, it was not as bad as I expected because the sweetness of chocolate that I hate was not perceived by me. Instead, I really just felt the texture more than usual, but maybe that was due to that specific type of chocolate.

Anyway, during this activity, it occurred to me that the flavors we tasted were savored by some and despised by others, and some people started to enjoy certain chips. This observation triggered an intriguing thought. In what situation does one change taste preference? When I thought of this idea, I dove into scientific literature to find an answer to my question, and I stumbled upon a pilot study that investigated changes in taste and food preferences in breast cancer patients.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, and the prevalence is increasing (DeSantis et al., 2015). To decrease the fatality and to remove cancerous tumors from individuals, treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and/or targeted hormone therapy are administered (Andre et al., 2006). Moreover, patients who underwent chemotherapy have reported changes in taste preference before treatment (Mattes et al., 1987). Different interactions between learned food aversion and basic side effects of chemotherapeutic drugs can limit what a person wants to eat and can alter taste (Mattes et al., 1987).

5 basic tastes

Based on previous research, Kim et al. (2019) decided to investigate how cancer treatment plays a role in appetite reduction and change in taste preference. In order to test this question, the authors administered taste detection thresholds and recognition thresholds and compared the results between breast cancer patients and healthy subjects (control group) for sweet, salty, bitter, and sour solutions. The taste detection threshold is the lowest point at which one can distinguish the solution from water, and the recognition threshold is the lowest concentration that one can recognize and correctly identify the solution (Keast and Roper, 2007). If one has high sensitivity to a specific taste, then there will be reduced detection thresholds and recognition thresholds of that taste, and vice versa. The changes in taste thresholds and food preferences were monitored before and during treatment in the breast cancer patient group.

Both detection and recognition thresholds were measured in both the experimental and control group at baseline. The baseline data showed that the experimental group had lower sweet and salty detection and recognition thresholds and higher sour recognition threshold compared to the control group. The bitter thresholds (detection and recognition) were similar between both groups. The results of this study showed that as treatment progressed, the detection thresholds and recognition thresholds in breast cancer patients for sweet declined significantly compared to the threshold at baseline. The other tastes’ thresholds (detection and recognition) were not affected. For food preference, at baseline and during treatment, the patients had a consistent preference for mild and soft dishes (Kim et al., 2019).

Taking these results, Kim et al. (2019) concluded that at baseline, sensitivities to sweet, salty and sour were different in breast cancer patients compared to healthy individuals. Furthermore, as cancer treatment progressed, sensitivity to sweet increased and the other tastes were unaffected when compared to baseline. The results provide useful information to better understand what cancer patients can be sensitive to in regards to food. Overall, this information can be used to accommodate them so that their food intake can increase even during treatment to lower malnutrition rates commonly seen in cancer patients.(Kim et al., 2019).

I found this paper quite intriguing because it showed how certain conditions in life can impact what you do or don’t want to consume, therefore changing one’s taste preference. I never took the time to think about how changes in taste preference can impact health in several ways. There are so many other fields to explore preferential changes in taste anywhere spanning from general aging to food neophobia in autism spectrum disorders. Wow, who would have that a simple activity would unravel such a deep avenue of thought?!



Andre, F., Mazouni, C., Hortobagyi, G. N., & Pusztai, L. (2006). DNA arrays as predictors of efficacy of adjuvant/neoadjuvant chemotherapy in breast cancer patients: Current data and issues on study design. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – Reviews on Cancer, 1766(2), 197–204.

DeSantis CE, Bray F, Ferlay J, Lortet-Tieulent J, Anderson BO, Jemal A (2015) Cumulative     logistic regression with food preference score as an ordinal variable was used to         compare the preference of BC patients and CTRLs. The analyses were adjusted for        age.1.International Variation in Female Breast Cancer Incidence and Mortality RatesCancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 24 (10):1495–1506

Keast, R. S. J., & Roper, J. (2007). A Complex Relationship among Chemical Concentration,       Detection Threshold, and Suprathreshold Intensity of Bitter Compounds. Chemical      Senses,32(3), 245–253.

Kim, Y., Kim, G. M., Son, S., Song, M., Park, S., Chung, H. C., & Lee, S.-M. (2019). Changes in taste and food preferences in breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy: A pilot study. Supportive Care in Cancer.

Mattes, R. D., Arnold, C., & Boraas, M. (1987). Learned food aversions among cancer     chemotherapy patients. Incidence, nature, and clinical implications. Cancer, 60(10),2576–2580.<2576::AID           CNCR2820601038>3.0.CO;2-5


Food for Thought: The 5 Basic Taste Categories

Dutch vs. French: Who is happier?

This weekend I had the opportunity to visit Amsterdam with some friends! We explored, went out, and soaked up the Dutch culture as much as we could in one day. While we were there, the environment, or “vibe,” was noticeably different in Amsterdam compared to what I have observed during my last three weeks in Paris. Dutch people seemed to be happier and more welcoming compared to the French.

Gorgeous Amsterdam

This first indication that Dutch people are nicer was that our taxi driver was loud, happy, and making jokes with us. During the ride, he was asking where we were from, giving us advice, and telling us himself how people are happy here. Even throughout the trip, we came across numerous people who would actually smile at us while walking! I kept thinking to myself, “Wow, I can smile here and not get a sketchy response back!” People would talk to us, joke with us, and welcome us into their city with open arms. One man even came up to us when we looked confused to ask if we needed help to get where we needed. It was almost comforting to be around these people because I got that taste of America during my time in Amsterdam.

Meanwhile in Paris, people seem to be serious and in the zone. The crammed metro rides and the stereotyped city life really becomes apparent here in Paris. Although most people are nice and helpful, the impression that they give off seems cold and rigid. Quite honestly, they seem unamused with all the Americans that are in their city. Constantly, people are crammed and trying to get through by pushing and shoving to get where they need to go. With a “pardon” here and there, the Parisian way of life seems more stressful than the seemingly laid back Dutch culture.

Besides the mood that I am interpreting based on my interactions with both groups of people, the Dutch people also seem to be happier. When comparing overall mood of people in these two cities, I assume that people in Amsterdam seem to be happier than people in Paris. I may be completely on a whim here, but I really wonder what kinds of experiences and events can shape people’s moods. Although it is a precarious topic, I wonder if the legalization of marijuana attributes to the better mood and happiness in Dutch people, and if the long-term use can results in something detrimental to mental health.

Cannabis is used to enhance mood and at times quality of life (Fischer et al., 2015). A study analyzed an Australian cohort over time to study outcomes of the people. Quality of life, happiness, satisfaction and socio-demographic characteristics were taken into consideration when analyzing. The results provided by this study showed that frequent cannabis use did not enhance quality of life, and it was actually associated with low quality of life at 21-years old and up (Fisher et al., 2015).

Another study by Bruijnzeel et al. (2019), they authors were studying rats and how emotional behavior or cognitive function can change from adolescence to adulthood. The rats were exposed to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabis smoke with increasing doses. Once the rats reached adulthood, anxiety-like behavior, depressive like behavior, and cognitive function were assessed. The results showed that neither THC nor cannabis smokes during adolescence produced significant amounts of alterations in adult rats after the cannabis was abstained.

One study even compared synthetic cannabinoid use with natural cannabis use and their respective cognitive outcomes. The results showed that synthetic cannabinoid users have a higher likelihood of drug abuse, sleep problems, and other psychological problems compared to natural cannabis users (Mensen et al., 2019). Additionally, adolescents cannabis users seem to be more vulnerable to changes in the brain compared to adult cannabis users (Gorey et al., 2019).

All of these papers can be synthesized to conclude that cannabis use does not directly affect long term happiness, especially of an entire culture. It is important to consider that cannabis use, although legal in some places, can be dangerous long term. For example, grey matter volume differences can arise, especially during the vulnerable adolescent stage of life (Orr et al., 2019). I think that some people may seem happier because of alleged cannabis use (purely based off of assumption), but the research did not conclude that the use of marijuana is the direct cause of a seemingly happier society. Based on my literature search, there seems to be a fine line when it comes to using cannabis because there are still long term cognitive changes that can interfere with life (Akram et al., 2019). Although my question and assumption was not answered how I thought it would, it was interesting to see how variable cannabis consumption can be. From this, I still consider the Dutch to be happier than Parisians. However, maybe I am not giving the Parisians the benefit of the doubt, and maybe they are equally happy! We may never know the answer to that question.

Happy Tourists!



Akram, H., Mokrysz, C., & Curran, H. V. (2019). What are the psychological effects of using synthetic cannabinoids? A systematic review. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 33(3), 271–283.

Bruijnzeel, A. W., Knight, P., Panunzio, S., Xue, S., Bruner, M. M., Wall, S. C., … Setlow, B. (2019). Effects in rats of adolescent exposure to cannabis smoke or THC on emotional behavior and cognitive function in adulthood. Psychopharmacology.

Fischer, J. A., Clavarino, A. M., Plotnikova, M., & Najman, J. M. (2015). Cannabis Use and Quality of Life of Adolescents and Young Adults: Findings from an Australian Birth Cohort. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 47(2), 107–116.

Gorey, C., Kuhns, L., Smaragdi, E., Kroon, E., & Cousijn, J. (2019). Age-related differences in the impact of cannabis use on the brain and cognition: a systematic review. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience,269(1), 37–58.

Mensen, V. T., Vreeker, A., Nordgren, J., Atkinson, A., de la Torre, R., Farré, M., … Brunt, T. M. (2019). Psychopathological symptoms associated with synthetic cannabinoid use: a comparison with natural cannabis. Psychopharmacology.

Orr, C., Spechler, P., Cao, Z., Albaugh, M., Chaarani, B., Mackey, S., … Garavan, H. (2019). Grey Matter Volume Differences Associated with Extremely Low Levels of Cannabis Use in Adolescence. The Journal of Neuroscience, 39(10), 1817–1827.


Scholar Blogs and my own images

the sky is more than blue

“Why is the sky blue?” The question that children love to ask. Frankly, I want to know the answer too. Before tackling this question, we need to answer the question, “What color is the sky?” To me, the sky’s the limit (pun intended). Today on this beautiful and sunny day, the sky is blue, but when it is cloudy and gloomy, the sky is grey. At night the sky is black with the presence of stars that are spread throughout the galaxy. The sky can present itself as a spectrum of colors. During sunrise it is a refreshing mixture of yellow, orange, and blue. During sunset, the sky is a gorgeous blend of the rainbow from royal purples to warm, sultry reds. The colors of the sky can vary depending on your location on Earth. For example, during the northern lights, it is an array or colors that light up the sky. There are numerous answers to what the color of the sky actually is, but these are just examples of how I see the sky.

However, the perception of color is really at the core of this question. When we think about how we perceive the color of the sky, the answer to this simple question becomes quite complicated. There are many different ways that people see different ranges of color. This is quite special because these experiences and qualities allow for us to experience the world quite differently. People with “normal vision” will perceive the sky differently than others with something such as synesthesia.

Based on my thought process to answer this question, I really dove into different ways people with synesthesia are different in terms of how they perceive the world. Synesthesia is a phenomenon in which people experience unusual percepts elicited by the activation of a sensory modality that is unrelated or a cognitive process (Safran and Sanda, 2014). It is truly fascinating that people experience the world in such a distinct and unique way.

The literature provides great resources to better understand how people with synesthesia process many different stimuli in the world. In a study by Itoh et al. (2019), the experimenters performed a Stroop-like test in individual with synesthesia. The Stroop test is a neuropsychological test to test the ability to inhibit cognitive interference that happens when the processing of a specific feature of a stimulus disrupts the simultaneous processing of a different stimulus (Scarpina and Tagini, 2017).  For example, one must say the color of a word and not the actual word itself. When the color of the word and the word itself differ, this task seems to become increasingly difficult. The authors did this with people with synesthesia, except with an auditory stimulus because some people with synesthesia relate a color and sound together. This was done to test the automaticity of pitch class with relation to color. They did this by presenting pitch class names (e.g., do, re, and mi) in font colors that lined up with their color sensations. These results showed that people with synesthesia had decreased time in identifying font color when the color was incongruent with their associated pitch class names, concluding that pitch-class synesthesia is a genuine type of synesthesia (Itoh et al., 2019).

Stroop Test


Synesthetes have been implicated to have a cross activation of visual areas that processes shape and color, supporting how visual stimuli lead to their unique perceptions of the world (Amsel et al., 2017). A review by Safran and Sanda (2014) took a look into how people with color synesthesia have varying associations in regards to perceptions, emotions, and consciousness. For example, synesthetes showed improved digit identification because each number is represented by a color, making a specific digit stand out. Some synesthetes experience their emotions and understanding through color, as shown in the review. An example that was shown was how a painting called “Vision” showed how the synesthetic painter drew out the visual experience of a needle puncture during an acupuncture session (Safran and Sanda, 2014).

“Vision” (Safran and Sanda, 2014)


To me, I would interpret it as a red splotch that could be blood. Clearly, my interpretation is far less poetic and meaningful when compared to the synesthete’s perception. Even within this review, the authors explored and reviewed many different ways that people with synesthesia navigate the world around them.

It is genuinely mind-blowing how the person on my right can interpret the world completely differently than the person on my left. I never would have imagined how a simple question like, “What color is the sky,” could be such an intriguing conversation starter.



Amsel, B. D., Kutas, M., & Coulson, S. (2017). Projectors, associators, visual imagery, and the time course of visual processing in grapheme-color synesthesia. Cognitive Neuroscience, 8(4), 206–223.

Itoh, K., Sakata, H., Igarashi, H., & Nakada, T. (2019). Automaticity of pitch class-color synesthesia as revealed by a Stroop-like effect. Consciousness and Cognition, 71, 86–91.

Safran, A. B., & Sanda, N. (2015). Color synesthesia. Insight into perception, emotion, and consciousness: Current Opinion in Neurology, 28(1), 36–44.

Scarpina, F., & Tagini, S. (2017). The Stroop Color and Word Test. Frontiers in Psychology, 8.


Media Library


dancing around the world

Ballet. Tap. Jazz. Hip-hop. Ballroom. Contemporary. The list of dance styles goes on. The uniqueness of this art form unifies people across the world. The mere fact that I have traveled across the world and yet feel at home when I see the dancers perform speaks volumes to how unifying it is.

The fluid and intentional motions in contemporary paired with an intense emotional story characterizes the grace behind this style of dance. During the Fli dance spectacle in Paris, I was really reminded of how the style contemporary covers so many different aspects of dance. The combination of technique from ballet to the street steps of hip-hop in this performance really resonated with me. I remember when I would dance, contemporary was one of my favorites because of the style variation. This style pulls in aspects of almost all styles of dance to create an unique and open array of dance moves. One dance could incorporate numerous hip-hop moves and another could integrate jazz and ballet, but they are both constituted as contemporary. During this spectacle, all I could think about was how much I missed dancing up on a stage in front of numerous people.


A few days later we also saw a hip hop dance battle take place in the streets of Paris. I was ecstatic for this because hip-hop is my absolute favorite dance style! I think my favorite part aside from the dancing was that I was able to teach Dr. Frenzel a little about the different styles within hip-hop and how each dancer was incorporating different styles during their respective battle. We talked about how hip-hop has a rich history with high amounts of integrated technique from popping, break dancing, whacking, and more! As I was standing there watching these amazing dancers, I wanted to just scream out to cheer them on, and I would have loved to join them out on the floor, but the highly intoxicated man went ahead and did that for me. He was kind escorted away after his hilarious interruption.


The big take away from watching these dancers was their ability to move. I stood there and wondered, “How could I ever do that? Because I surely cannot even think about attempting some of these moves.” Since I have devoted my life to science since college has started, watching the dancers made me think of how their sensorimotor system works in producing dance moves. Their specificity and texture of movement holistically defines how dance is such an intricate art form. These artists really must have some enhanced connectivity that aide their precise, synchronized movement to the rhythm of the music.

One study in 2015 took the idea that musicians improved motor, perceptual, and sensorimotor skills compared to controls and applied it to dancers (Karpati et al., 2015). The dancers and musicians participated in different perceptual and sensorimotor tasks to determine who performed better in these tasks, ultimately measuring increased sensorimotor ability. The results showed that dancers showed better results in a dance imitating task while musicians performed better in a rhythm synchronization task, concluding that each artist has specialized sensorimotor skills (Karpati et al., 2015).

Building off of this study, another study conducted research to investigate if dancers with prolonged training have improved functional connectivity in the cortico-basal ganglia loops. (Li et al., 2015). Series of fMRI scans showed that long-term dancers (10 year or more) have increased functional connectivity densities (FCD) in the primary somatosensory and motor cortices which are involved in motor execution and learning. Additionally, increased FCD were found in the cortico-basal ganglia loops which indicate improved motor coordination and integration. There was also a significant increase of FCD in the putamen, which is implicated in the rhythm of dance involving controlled, metric movements (Li et al., 2015).  This study further implicated that dancers do have enhanced function in brain regions that are involved with sensorimotor function.

Although there is not much extensive research in this field, especially pertaining to dance, I agree with the fact that dancers have enhanced connectivity in sensorimotor brain regions to facilitate the movement that is being learned and executed. Maybe next time I see street dancers I’ll join in! Or maybe I’ll just stick to going to the studio to dance!


Karpati, F. J., Giacosa, C., Foster, N. E. V., Penhune, V. B., & Hyde, K. L. (2016). Sensorimotor integration is enhanced in dancers and musicians. Experimental Brain Research, 234(3), 893–903.

Li, G., He, H., Huang, M., Zhang, X., Lu, J., Lai, Y., … Yao, D. (2015). Identifying enhanced cortico-basal ganglia loops associated with prolonged dance training. Scientific Reports, 5(1).

All images were taken by me.