Pro-Palestinian protesters take part in a demonstration against the violence in the Gaza strip, in Lyon

The Science Of Protest: How Our Brains Are Wired To Fight For Our Rights

The recent tragic events surrounding the deaths of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and the NYPD officers have struck a chord in a us all. However, today’s millennial generation of young people have taken to the streets more so than any other generation in recent history to express their feelings. Motivations, people’s beliefs, identity and emotions are key in generating a person’s willingness to protest. With or without social media, people who are deeply angry about an unjust situation, or who feel strongly connected with a particular issue, will always take to the streets.

Protest is defined as a form of collective action and as participation in a social movement. What is it that drives young people to protest? Why are young people prepared to sacrifice a comfortable and carefree lifestyle, or sometimes even their very lives for a common cause? The research team at NuSkool has found some scientific reasons why we fight for our rights that may have more to do with brain science than we realize. Science can’t always explain what’s in our hearts, but it can help us understand what motivates one of the greatest youth movements in history.

We are the risk takers and the rule breakers

Science has proven that teens and college students are really ‘bout that life. Scientists have used brain scanning methods to study the changes that occur in the teen brain. Recent discoveries have shown that teenagers have well-developed emotions and feelings and are more willing to do dangerous things an adult would avoid, this is due to the brain’s prefrontal cortex.


The prefrontal cortex is responsible for weighing risk and consequences in the teen brain. When experiencing an emotionally-charged situation like a tragedy in the community like Ferguson, the brain is handicapped in its ability to gauge risk and consider the consequences. In most situations, teens can evaluate risks just like adults. But in emotionally heightened real-life scenarios, this rational part of the brain gets overridden by the reward center. Racism, oppression and injustices in the community are definitely triggers for this kind of reaction. Our brains have a reward center, involving the nucleus accumbens, which lights up with dopamine whenever we find something exciting, interesting or meaningful. In a study comparing the brains of teens to adults, scientists found that teens need extreme situations in order to get excited.

We are natural born followers

News flash: peer pressure is actually a thing. Oxytocin receptors in a young brain makes teens highly responsive to the opinions of their peers. Studies find that the brain’s receptors for oxytocin has a strong influence on social bonding and affects our emotional and behavioral responses to social encouragement or peer pressure. When our peers become angry or emotional over a situation, this activates our own brain’s prefrontal areas in response to emotional and social stimuli. During this time, we also have heightened awareness toward the opinions of our friends, so much so that we imagine that our behavior is the focus of everyone else’s concern and attention.

According to a study, which examined brain scans of teens using fMRI data, the presence of friends activated certain regions of the brain that were not activated when they were alone that increased their willingness to take part in antisocial behavior. Being in the presence of friends also doubled risk-taking among young people in their 20’s, increased it by fifty percent among teens, but had no effect on adults, a pattern that was identical among both males and females. So the moral of the story is…choose your friends wisely.

We are a living, breathing social network

One of the strongest emotions in a teen’s life that pulls someone into joining a gang, a sports team or joining a social cause is the need to be a part of something bigger than oneself…joining a movement.

Research suggests that people who experience both personal and group oppression are the most strongly motivated to take to the streets. Being part of something bigger than yourself is very important to today’s generation. Any events that harm that group by definition harm the individual, and they find themselves experiencing emotions on behalf of the group. The more people feel that group’s interests or values are threatened, the angrier they are and the more they are prepared to take part in protests to express their anger. Collective anger moves people to challenge the authorities and subdue other emotions such as shame, despair and obedience. Participating in protests strengthens the collective power of that group, and feelings of unity and support empowers people to stand together against the authorities. However, taking action doesn’t always mean people expect that group-related problems can be solved by their united efforts. Protesters find a way to overcome their defeated hopes to eventually protest again and raise consciousness to create solidarity. Is it science?… eh, maybe not. Is it real?…you bet. Does it change the world?… absolutely.

Before you decide to join a protest and put yourself at risk to fight for a cause, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who or what caused the event?
  • How does the event influence my goals?
  • Do I have control and power over the consequences of the event?
  • Who can I call for help if I’m in danger or if I get arrested?


The Incredible Hulk’s Origins: The Monster Within

The Gamma Bomb that launched a thousand comics


The brilliant scientist, Dr. Bruce Banner, was caught in the blast of a test Gamma Bomb, exposing him to seemingly deadly gamma radiation.  He began experiencing strange symptoms during times of stress – his mind and body would change and grow into a hulking beast of a man, full of rage and superhuman strength. “The Hulk” is a comic book superhero character from Marvel Comics.  He first appeared in the 1962 comic, The Incredible Hulk.

This character has stood the test of time and has remained incredibly popular, with comics continuing to feature him to this day, and big budget blockbusters, such as The Avengers, featuring him as well.  Though his origins pointed to his destructive nature, The Hulk’s abilities have been harnessed as a force of good.  Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the character in the early 1960’s with influences from literature and current events.


Literary Monsters


Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Hulk lesson

Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (1818), and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde (1886) are influences of The Hulk.  In Frankenstein, a young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, creates a grotesque yet sentient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment.  His creation becomes “the monster.” The monster has moments of self reflection, wondering why he has been given such a terrible fate: to be created, and then hunted down and tortured by society.  This theme is very much at play within the early Hulk comics.  He doesn’t understand why this had to happen to him, and why people won’t let him run off into isolation and be at peace. This aspect of The Hulk’s personality is at odds with his often incited desire to destroy.

This dichotomy leads to the other main literary influence.  Jekyll and Hyde is a novella that explores the rare mental condition often called “split personality,” known in psychiatry as dissociative identity disorder.  This refers to when more than one distinct personality exists within the same body.  Jekyll and Hyde is especially relevant to The Hulk, as it portrays one distinctly good personality, while the other is evil.  Dr. Henry Jekyll is at odds with his evil other personality, Edward Hyde.  Jekyll asserts that “man is not truly one, but truly two,” and he imagines the human soul as the battleground for an “angel” and a “fiend,” each struggling for mastery.


War, Mankind, and The Hulk


hulk banner transformation

There are influences from The Cold War in the Hulk comics. After World War II, in 1947, tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union escalated and existed for much of the rest of the 20th century. Many international incidents occurred that brought these nations’ to the brink of disaster including the Berlin Crisis (1961) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962).  The Hulk makes certain statements that point to his conception as an allegory for man’s ability to wage wars.

In issue #1, Bruce Banner is afraid he’ll keep changing into “that brutal, bestial, mockery of a human — that creature which fears nothing — which despises reason and worships power!”  In issue #102, the Hulk rages, “Me GO! Must kill…destroy! Must prove to world no one stronger!”  These statements allude to the darkest natures of humanity during times of war.

The upcoming Marvel movie Avengers: Age of Ultron explores similar themes about humanity’s warring nature, and ultimate hope for peace.  The Hulk will be a part of that story, ever relevant as his very existence is a representation of the same struggle.

bitcoin_01_c71b4abb52 thumbnail

Bitcoin: The History of Money and the Future of Digital Currency

MONEY! Is it the root of all evil? If you have more money, do you have more problems? Who created money? Why was it created?


Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 12.25.22 PM


The Internet has a history of people being skeptical about spending their hard earned real world cash in a virtual space. Many people were afraid of Internet scams when ebay was first launched in the late 1990s, and with good reason. There were fears of using Paypal to make online payments and never receiving your product. Over time, online spending has become commonplace. With, iTunes, and the google Play store (to name a few) it’s becoming less common to do your shopping in the physical world. Buying music, books, clothes and even groceries online is viewed as safe and normal in our current society.

bitcoin stacks

With all of our digital spending, there is now a growing trend in developing a digital currency. There have been attempts at this since 1990 (see the failed Whoopie Goldburg endorsed “Flooz”) but in the past few years there has been a stronger acceptance of digital currency and there is a possibility that Bitcoin could become a new common form of money. It would be money without government regulation, recognized across the world, completely revolutionizing the way our global economy functions.

Of course, with a brand new form of currency, there are a few concerns. Many digital currencies have failed because they have been used for money laundering. With anonymous identities, digital currencies have been used to buy and sell drugs and make other illegal transactions over Dark Web marketplaces like the Silk Road.

So, what does the future look like for digital currencies? Are you ready to join the Bitcoin revolution? Is it a safe investment or a waste of money? In this lesson, take a look at the history of money and where it’s heading in order to make a choice on where you stand.




Hamilton: Remixing the Old School for a New Audience


Hip Hop’s History of Remixing

Sampling and remixing from your forefathers has been a part of hip hop culture from day one. Bob and Earl’s opening horns to Harlem Shuffle were used as House of Pain’s opening to Jump Around. Funkadelic’s (Not Just) Knee Deep was heavily sampled by De La Soul’s breakout hit Me, Myself and I. Snoop Dogg’s What’s my name? practically sampled every bit of George Clinton’s Atomic Dog (bow-wow-wow-yippee-yo-yippee-yay). The Fugees biggest hits used hip hop to reinterpret old classics Killing Me Softly by Roberta Flack and Ready or Not, Here I Come by the Delfonics. Their reinterpretations shined a spotlight on their inspirations for a new audience to appreciate.

Funkadelic - Uncle Jam Wants You (1979) #warnerbros #funkadelic #parliament #sampled #delasoul #funk #disco #platforms #shades #style #fonk #wicker #wickerchair #georgeclinton #kneedeep #bernieworrell #bootsy #junimorrison #parlet


Enter Hamilton…

Hamilton is a Broadway musical that takes a very old school tale and spins it with a hip hop beat to update the story for today’s audience. When you think of United States historical figures like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and John Quincy Adams, you probably think of a bunch of white dudes with puffy pants, powdered wigs and a 1 percent attitude — a strange and distant past that doesn’t seem too appealing to visit. The Broadway musical Hamilton takes this impression and turns it on its head.



Remixing A Book Into A Musical

In 2004, Ron Chernow published a book titled Alexander Hamilton, about the historic U.S. forefather. It was an acclaimed best-seller that captured the drama of Hamilton’s life and presented it in a novel-like readable manner. The book wasn’t just engaging to readers, it was also historically accurate. This book ended up being the inspiration for Lin-Manuel Miranda to pen the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical Hamilton.


In this lesson, learn about how Hamilton pays homage to classic rap, celebrates diversity and provides a compelling narrative to tell the story of a white dude with puffy pants, which is entirely historically accurate. Then try your hand at creating the next unconventional blockbuster, relating history from your point of view.

What if Past Presidents Had Social Media?

In this lesson, students analyze the effects of social media on presidential politics and the influence it could have had during past American presidencies.

On April 26, 2013, the White House joined millions of Americans and created a Tumblr page. President Barack Obama was the first President of the United States to have Twitter and Instagram accounts while in office. President Obama is known as the first social media president. In this lesson, students use the words, actions, and policies of past presidents to interpret how social media could have been used during those presidencies.

Hipster Disney Princesses thumbnail

Why Fairy Tale Reboots are a Necessary Part of Society

Fairy tale reboots are so in right now.  Cinderella’s in the theatres, Once Upon a Time had a strong last season, and Maleficent rocked the box office. Versions of all these stories have already been made. So why are we rebooting them? Is it a cynical cash grab by studios? Well, yes, partially. But it’s also something more.
Fairy tales are a way to communicate shared values. As our values change, so to must our touchstones that convey them.

Magic Mirror by Greg GuilleminThe old versions of fairy tales just don’t work for people today. We don’t seem to find them entertaining, funny, inspiring, or relevant. Our culture has changed, and so our stories are changing as well.This is not the first time that we have changed fairy tales. Disney itself became rich rebooting the dark German peasant tales of the Brothers Grimm into something light and fun for consumerist America, then rehashed them again with a spate of direct-to-video sequels in the 1990s. Now, Disney, and others, are again changing fairy tale characters to make them more relevant to society today. The changes to fairy tales show us many changes in how mainstream society views both the media and the world.

Why Do Fairy Tales Matter?

Fairy tales, or similar folklore, appear in most world cultures. Often, when they were written, they were not believed to be fiction. For example, the Brothers Grimm published “Hansel and Gretel” in 1812, 66 years before the last real-life witchcraft trial in the United States was held in 1878. These fairy tales had real relevance to people who believed in witches, fairies, and other evil creatures. Now, few people believe, but fairy tales are still relevant. In fact, with the rise of fantasy literature, movies and TV shows, it’s clear that we are interested in magic almost as much as those ancestors who believed in it. Partially, this is because we still use fairy tales as what literary critics call “touchstones.” Touchstones are references that most people can understand, like the phrases “wicked stepmother” and “magic beans.” These touchstones carry a lot of meaning in a small package, and can be used for metaphors, morals, political speeches, and more. They are a way to communicate shared values and understandings. As our values change, how do we update our touchstones?


The Art of Fresh: Retro Hip-Hop Style

“Being fresh is more important than having money. The entire time I grew up, it was like…I only wanted money, so I could be fresh.” ~ Kanye West.

Recently, I had the chance to see the indie film entitled Dope. The movie centers on Malcolm, a straight-A student and musician from a rough neighborhood in present-day Los Angeles. Obsessed with 90s Hip-Hop music and fashion, the movie captures his search for identity while navigating the turbulence of his immediate environment. Embracing a retro style patterned after the 90s, he wears a high top fade haircut, stonewashed denim jeans, Nike Air Jordans, and other brands prevalent during the “Golden Era of Hip-Hop”. Unfortunately, he is inadvertently pulled into criminal life when he comes to posses several kilos of a drug dealer’s molly, and presented with the choice of two potential life paths. This choice between two essential life paths is presented to today’s youth on a daily basis, and the search for personal identity is universally experienced during the adolescent stage of development. So why did Malcolm look to a past aesthetic of fashion to represent his present identity?  His choice possibly was made to visually and distinctively set himself apart from the negative expectations for black males in his community.

Throughout history, all art forms have reflected the cultural elements of communities. As a result, there has been a constant exchange between artists and the communities from which they originate. Essentially, the arts have been impacted and influenced by their communal environments, and inversely, communities have been impacted by the artistic forms emanating from within them. Fashion trends as an art form, especially those prominent in Hip-Hop culture, are exemplary of this mirrored relationship. Furthermore, the art of fashion has been moved forward by the push and pull between forces of innovation and conformity within specific communities. In this vein, Malcolm’s character felt that he did not fit into the stereotypical mold of the young black male in Inglewood, California. In the midst of gangs and drugs that existed within his community, he was considered a “nerd” because he was focused on school, played in a punk band called “Oreo” with his two friends, and he was still a virgin. In his position, I believe that Malcolm and his friends embraced this particular style as a conscious derivative of the past in an attempt to escape the harsh realities of their present. Even though Malcolm and his friends did not actually live through the ‘90s, the concept of their nostalgia as a form of rebellion against the expected norm, paid homage to the idea of “better times”. Consequently, this establishes a direct link between one’s socio-economic environment and their artistic expression of their status within it. According to, socio-economics is “the study of the interrelation between economics and social behavior.”

On Friday, June 26th, a documentary was released that traces the history of Hip-Hop fashion entitled, Fresh Dressed. According to this film, the term “fresh” refers to “a crisp, new-in-the-box fashion look or tidy appearance.” Not only does this film discuss the impact that fashion has made on Hip-Hop culture, but it also notes fashion’s role to express commentary on social and economic statuses. Again, the mirrored relationship exemplified in fashion is explored. So, what is the connection between socio-economic statuses and artistic forms? In this documentary, Hip-Hop mogul, Damon Dash, makes a profound statement on the matter. He mentions that the whole idea of looking fresh stems from “the insecurity of not having anything.” He continues:

“The only way that you can kind of show that you have anything and feel some kind of status is, you know, what you have on your body. What you have on your body is a reflection of how you’re economically doing. It’s just a status symbol based on insecurity.”

Shirt King Phade, Co-Founder of Shirt Kings adds to Dash’s point, “When times are bad, a lot of people tend to gravitate towards art. Art takes our mind to another place.”

What I personally appreciate about the artistic expression of fashion, especially in Hip-Hop culture, is its ability to be both definitive and flexible. While at times a person can clearly take on a specific “look”, that same person remains able to represent his or her own individuality, ideas, or personal philosophy through their stylistic choices. In a sense, fashion can be a reflection of a person’s search for an identity within a paradigm of a specific culture. In the documentary, Pharrell Williams states, “When you’re young, there’s like a sense of wanting to express yourself…an importance of individuality.” This urge to find and establish individuality is a prominent challenge for the main characters of Dope. While Malcolm is not the only exception to the perceived “black male” typecast, through his character, the film examines a spectrum of stereotypes that are projected both inside and outside of an urban community. As seen in the current events that have spurred recent protest movements, stereotypes of black males are in full swing in today’s cities throughout the world, and our youth are continually placed at the intersection between expression of their own values, cultural histories, and pressures within community environments.