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College students represent skewed sample

Sleep deprivation, binge drinking, eating disorders, bullying and suicide are some of the health-detrimental results of stress. In fact, such behaviors can lead to more stress, trapping their most common victims—college students—in a vicious cycle of stress. These stress-related health issues make a college campus into a pressure cooker, waiting to cause catastrophe amongst its population: us.

In our late teens and early twenties, we make our decisions, sometimes with the delusion that we possess a certain level of invincibility. Even if we do not, we may believe that we are hurting no one but ourselves, and in addition to being an unhealthy attitude, it is a mistake in judgment. College students are separated from the larger population in some respects, being seemingly concentrated in one geographic location. Nevertheless, we are not excluded from society, no matter how much a campus seems to sustain a self-containing bubble of college-specific community.

For anyone who has ever seen some of the flyers around campus, you are familiar with the fact that Brandeis is the home to a variety of labs: psychology, neuroscience, biology and so on. With that in mind, anyone who has taken intro to psychology knows about the requirement of participating in studies for credit. Many participate in the aforementioned studies for credit or as indicated by the flyers, for financial compensation. As a large result of convenience, college campuses are the common origin of clinical study participants.

These are the same clinical studies that physicians make recommendations upon and innovators implement changes upon in hopes of helping more people. Should that not be of concern? These individuals enveloped in a highly stressful environment and partaking in activities detrimental to their health, are the subjects that influence outcomes that usually get translated into what the general public believes to be healthy or best for them.

A little over a month ago, The New York Times reported about recent findings regarding lack of reproducibility in psychological studies that has since made the public doubt clinical research. This is a reminder to be skeptical of journal articles and prompts researchers to be more conscientious than ever. Even the most well-designed study has its shortcomings, and maybe one of those common flaws is the source of participants. College students are commonly the youthful image of health, but their stressed-out nature makes them a sample that is misrepresentative of the larger population. The ramifications of the choices made by college students are thus far more reaching than its importance in a single individual’s life.

Scientific study and its applications may be how the unique influence of college students indirectly impacts society on a whole. Yet more commonly, it is upon graduation, when students personally carry their “bad habits” into their adult lives. These maladaptive behaviors, which originate from the campus environment, are difficult to shake. They become part of day-to-day routines or worse, and the negative consequences lead to more serious health issues, where there is either a long road to recovery or no resolution at all. Such aftermath that people live with may manifest as trauma, physical or emotional in nature. Binge-drinking could mean a damaged liver, while continued effects of an eating disorder reflect issues of self-image or compulsive tendencies. Outcomes of behaviors chosen as a response to stress just have a way of sticking around.

A college campus is not a bubble cut off from the rest of the world. Yes, such a large number of people of the same age group and subjected to a very specific set of circumstances is unique to the college setting and rare in almost all other aspects of society. Nevertheless, this unusual situation should be noted, not disregarded. It is very possible that college students are skewing scientific data.

Their state of health is not congruent or even comparable to the greater population, and that is only emphasized by the state of being a bonafide college student, or in other words, by being a citizen of this community where stress and worrisome behaviors like binge-drinking are the norm. Furthermore, these not-yet adults are making decisions that will follow them. Eventually, students leave the supposable safety of residence halls and become part of a community. They will be an individual in this larger society, and public health may never be the same as a result.

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