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Tutor profile: Ben E.

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Ben E.
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Questions

Subject: Writing

TutorMe
Question:

I have to write an argument for an analytical paper on the book we just read. Where do I start?

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Ben E.
Answer:

Well, there's no best way, and we might have to figure out what feels right for you, but here's my approach. If the assignment allows you to choose your topic, think about what themes, characters, and/or writing styles stood out to you-- it's always easiest to write about something that you're actually interested in! Don't worry too much about coming about with the perfect question and argument related to that topic right away. Rather, take a look back and find as many passages that relate in any way to your theme as you can (though if this becomes a major undertaking, it might be best to narrow down the topic a bit). Write them all down, with page numbers (you'll thank me later), on a blank document or piece of paper. Once you have them all in front of you, take a look through them together. What seems to tie these passages together in your head? Why is the topic that your passages relate to important for the book, and how does the author choose to confront that topic? Finally, how do these passages connect with you as a reader or with the intended audience of the book? Answering these questions will get your brain flowing with ideas about what you want to say and how you want to say it. From here, you can start to build your central claim and use the passages to guide how you'll support it. If your teacher has assigned a topic, you can just start with the passage-finding and work from there. P.S. it always helps me to create an outline with my central claim, what point I want each paragraph to make in support of my claim, and the passages I want to use. Though it might seem like a waste of time, I always end up saving time since I already know where I'm going with each sentence I write!

Subject: Psychology

TutorMe
Question:

Which comes first, the physical experience of emotions or the psychological understanding of these emotions?

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Ben E.
Answer:

Put yourself on a shaky, not-too-well-built bridge that you have to get across (think Indiana Jones style). How do you know that you're scared? Does your body first tell you through physical signs like goosebumps and quivering, or do you have the feeling of fear, and the body follows suit? This question has been plaguing psychologists for centuries, and while there still isn't a single answer, there are three classical theories that help us understand this process. The first is the James-Lange Theory, which suggests that physiological arousal leads to cognitive labeling of emotion-- you feel the goosebumps, and you recognize that you must be scared. However, some psychologists weren't too happy with this, as they thought that this labeling process must happen unbelievably fast, and they recognized that sometimes you feel goosebumps without feeling scared (maybe it's cold!). Thus, the Cannon-Bard Theory makes the claim that the psychological experience of an emotion and physiological response occur at the same time, and neither causes the other (at the same time that your mind tells you that you're scared, the goosebumps come out). However, even this felt too simplistic for some, and psychologists developed a third theory that drew on principles of both preceding understandings. The Schachter-Singer Theory suggests that physiological arousal (goosebumps) do precede cognitive labelling (I'm scared!), but that an individual's understanding of the situation around them and interpretation of their body's physical signs lead to the psychological labelling of an emotion. Say you've crossed the bridge and calmed down, but you find your celebrity crush waiting for you at the other end. You might feel goosebumps and quivering now too, but you know that you're not scared for your life anymore (but maybe your heart!). Essentially, this theory suggests that there's a bit of guesswork your brain does in understanding what you're feeling in a given moment (look into the Shaky Bridge Study for more!). While we're still not sure which, if any, of these theories is fully correct, they've each provided valuable insight into the way our body and brain work together to understand the world around us and how we feel about it.

Subject: Cognitive Science

TutorMe
Question:

How does the brain process taste?

Inactive
Ben E.
Answer:

The journey of taste (also known as gustation) begins, of course, with the mouth! As with the other senses, there are "taste receptors," specialized parts of cells that have been designed to recognize specific tastes. Each "taste bud" in the mouth contains many cells with many of these receptors, but a single taste bud will typically only recognize one specific "tastant," a molecule in food that brings about the sensation of taste. There are 5 recognized classes of these molecules, belonging to sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami (for umami, think about savory foods like broth); each of these "tastants" has a unique mechanism by which they interact with their corresponding receptor. Believe it or not, these receptors aren't only on your tongue, but all over your mouth! Specific regions of the mouth and tongue tend to have higher receptor densities for specific tastes. Once you've taken a bite and your mouth is flooded with these molecules, receptors signal to the gustatory nucleus in the medulla, which then signals to the ventral posteromedial thalamus-- the thalamus is a part of the brain that serves as a relay station for most sensory processes in the brain, and "ventral posteromedial" means "bottom back middle." Finally, neurons from the thalamus signal to the primary gustatory cortex, where all of these tastes integrate for the conscious perception of taste. Why so many steps? Remember how each of those receptors in the mouth is highly specific for a single taste? In each intermediate region from the mouth to the primary gustatory cortex, neurons converge more directly, meaning your initial tastes start to become more complex and varied (this phenomenon is called population coding and is how the brain processes many sensations). This is how your brain moves from recognition of tastes such as sweet and salty to recognition of the taste of a hamburger, or a piece of cake! Neurons along these pathways perform calculations of how much of what taste they're perceiving, and integrate this information to form an overall perception of what's on your plate.

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