Great Expectations, Not-so-great Resolutions

UC Riverside experts are available to discuss topics such as the chemistry of favorite holiday concoctions, a STEM academy built on the principles of Kwanzaa, and a new look at the history of the I.E.


Brighten the holidays with these stories from UC Riverside.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Faculty experts at the University of California, Riverside are available to discuss their latest research and topics ranging from the chemistry of your favorite holiday concoctions, managing expectations and the worst New Year’s resolutions to the history of the Inland Empire and atheist humor.

Great Expectations
Kate Sweeny, associate professor of psychology
(951) 827-7165

The holidays often bring to mind delightful memories of one’s childhood, coming together as a family to share gifts, conversation, and a delicious meal, Sweeny observes. “With these memories come high expectations, perhaps unrealistically high, for the holiday ahead. Research finds that lofty expectations are easily shattered, leaving painful disappointment in their wake.”

Perhaps the optimal strategy when anticipating the holidays is to “embrace joyful optimism while pairing it with a dose of realism about the potential pitfalls that accompany a hectic time of spending, travel, and visits with family.”

Holiday Foods:  Love at First Bite Must Also Have Chemistry
Cindy Larive, professor of chemistry and divisional dean
(951) 827-2990

It’s the time of year when many of us loosen our grips on our diets to succumb to the temptations of festive foods like candy canes, sugar cookies, eggnog and chocolate fudge.  What’s the chemistry behind our favorite candies?  Could a short lesson on understanding the science of sugar this time of year be in order?

“Sugar is the basis for many holiday treats including divinity, peanut brittle, toffee, candy canes, toffee and caramels,” says Cindy Larive, a professor of chemistry. “Though all of these items start with a simple mixture of sucrose (table sugar), corn syrup and water, many different tastes and textures result!  As a sugar syrup is heated, the amount of water present decreases. Key stages are indicated by the behavior of the syrup when dropped into cold water (e.g. soft ball, hard ball, soft crack and hard crack). Getting the syrup to the correct stage is key to making candy with the proper texture. Once all of the water has been evaporated, the temperature of the syrup increases further and the caramelization process begins. This occurs when the sucrose begins to break down chemically, generating a mixture of chemicals that give rise to its rich flavor.”

To Eat or Not To Eat:  Staying on Track During the Holidays
Neal G. Malik, UCR registered dietitian
(951) 827-8006

Pumpkin and apple pies, cheesecakes, gingerbread cookies, candy canes… soon, many of our homes will be filled the aromas of these seasonal foods. With all of these temptations, how can we stick to our healthy lifestyle goals? Here are four simple techniques to help keep you on track this holiday season:

  • Choose smaller plates, bowls, and glasses when serving food – this will trick your brain a bit, it will make it seem as though your portions are larger which may increase satiety. This trick alone may end up saving you 150-300 calories!
  • Take your time – eating food too quickly often leads to overeating. Enjoy the time with family and friends as well as the smells, textures, and taste of the food. Plan to spend at least 20 minutes enjoying your meal.
  • Eat these foods first – proteins and vegetables. Commonly found protein sources around the holidays would be turkey and ham. Vegetables are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. This will likely result in fewer calories coming from other refined and/or sugar-laden  foods (like dessert)… foods that typically pack on the pounds.
  • Wait 10 minutes before going back for seconds – this will allow your brain to determine whether you are truly satiated or if you are still hungry. If you do go back for seconds, go back to the proteins and vegetables.

Teaching STEM Using Principles of Kwanzaa
Carolyn Murray, professor of psychology

Unity. Self-determination. Collective work and responsibility. Cooperative economics. Purpose. Creativity. Faith. For those who observe Kwanzaa, these are the guiding principles of a seven-day celebration created to connect African Americans with their African cultural and historical heritage. They also constitute the principles around which UC Riverside’s University STEM Academy was founded.

The pilot project, which launched in September, offers instruction and mentoring in math, science and leadership skills for 6th- through 9th-graders in the Inland Empire. It is aimed at, but not limited to, African American students.

The Worst New Year’s Resolutions
Howard S Friedman, distinguished professor of psychology
(951) 827-3672

Times gone by (auld lang syne) may have been filled with too much eating and too little exercise, and so we now resolve to lose weight, hit the treadmill, quit the socializing, and cut down on work. Big mistake! When we focus in on ourselves, we often subvert or destroy the very things that can lead to better health and happiness. The best New Year’s resolution is to throw away your self-improvement lists and focus on accomplishing things at work or school, with healthy friends, and with your community. That could mean more socializing and more challenge, but also a more fulfilling and healthy year.

In The Longevity Project, Friedman and his team has been studying 1,500 bright Americans who were first examined as children decades ago. They were followed for their whole lives, and the UCR team evaluated how well they aged and how long they lived. One of the participants, who is now 103 years old, still works at something he loves, even when it is stressful. He is still in a loving marriage, which requires responsibility. He stays socially active, including supporting a club that he first joined back in 1937. This is precisely the pattern of most of those participants who thrived throughout the years.

A lesson of The Longevity Project – one of the secrets of longevity – is to choose work, join social groups, and select hobbies that will naturally lead you to join hands with others in a whole host of healthier patterns and activities.

“From Acorns to Warehouses”
Thomas Patterson, distinguished professor of anthropology
(951) 827-2050

When Spanish missionaries arrived in Alta California and the region known today as the Inland Empire in the late 18th century, they found a highly manicured landscape farmed by Indian people. Today the Inland region is the Warehouse Empire, the gateway for nearly half of all goods imported into the United States from China and East Asia.

How the region transformed from vibrant, self-sufficient Native American communities thousands of years old to 21st century cities that host a burgeoning warehouse economy is the subject of new book by Thomas Patterson, distinguished professor of anthropology at the University of California, Riverside. “From Acorns to Warehouses: Historical Political Economy of Southern California’s Inland Empire” (Left Coast Press Inc., December 2014) tracks the social, political and economic changes in the region from thousands of years ago to the present, connecting issues of landscape, resources, wealth, labor and inequality.

Atheists and Humor
Katja Guenther, associate professor of sociology
(951) 827-5853

For social movements whose members believe they are maligned and misunderstood in the broader culture, marginalization is no laughing matter. But as the New Atheist Movement demonstrates, humor can be an effective tool to build a movement’s identity and develop strategies that empower members to operate in the realms of culture and politics.

“To be an atheist is to be funny,” Guenther says, noting that humor is used frequently to highlight atheistic beliefs and establish boundaries between insiders and outsiders. The New Atheist Movement, which since the early 2000s has come to dominate atheist organizing in the United States, uses humor to build a sense of collective identity among diverse participants, to break the ice and relax people, and as a central part of the movement’s identity.

In earlier research, Guenther found that atheists view religious believers as misguided, foolish, and even dangerous, in contrast to their understanding of religious non-believers as intelligent, thoughtful, and beneficial to society.

There’s a New Princess in Town
Setsu Shigematsu, associate professor of media and cultural studies
(951) 827-5679

Meet the Guardian Princesses, a group of seven African, South Asian, European, East Asian, Pacific Islander, Latina and mixed-race princesses who stand up to greedy kings, deceitful villains and polluters who harm marine life.  Created by Setsu Shigematsu and a team of UCR students and alumni, these princesses aren’t waiting for Prince Charming to save the day. They are taking charge in their efforts to make a better world.

This new series of books is published by the Guardian Princess Alliance and is designed to meet the new Common Core State Standards for language arts. The alliance recently expanded its message to a new platform by producing a music video, “My Heart is True,” that features the first three princesses of the book series. A fourth character – Princess TenTen, a gender-independent, East Asian super-heroine who helps fight terrible air pollution in her city – will debut in 2015.

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