Data Points

By Emily Gold Boutilier / September / October 2004
June 15th, 2007

SMELL THE COFFEEIf you think the smell of bacon or the pungent odor of smoke is going to wake you from a good night’s sleep, think again. Rachel Herz, visiting assistant professor of psychology, and Mary A. Carskadon, professor of psychiatry, studied six Brown students during various stages of sleep and found that the students remained asleep when they were subjected to very high concentrations of the sweet scent of peppermint and the foul smell of pyridine, but woke to the sound of a moderately loud alarm. (Their findings were published in the journal Sleep.) “If you ask people, they think you smell the coffee and then wake up,”says Carskadon. “But you actually wake up and smell the coffee.” Most houses have smoke alarms but no alarms for gas leaks. Herz says that could be a deadly mistake. “Smell as a signal for danger,” she says, “is not effective if you’re asleep.”

MAKE IT A DOUBLE College students disciplined for alcohol use tend to be somewhat heavier drinkers than their friends who do not get caught, reports Tracy O’Leary Tevyaw, assistant professor of psychiatry, in the June issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. The disciplined students also earn lower grades in school. Even more interesting is O’Leary Tevyaw’s finding that students who drink to excess may do so because they think everybody does. After interviewing students at a private university in the northeastern United States (not Brown, she says), she discovered that those who were disciplined as well as their friends who didn’t get caught both said the average college student has seven drinks at a typical party, while the reality is three or four. Because students end up drinking even more when they overestimate the norm, O’Leary Tevyaw says, alcohol intervention programs could benefit all college students, not just those who get caught. “If we can cast a wider net,” she believes, “we might do a better job.”
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September / October 2004