Monday, June 22, 2009

Mad Science Monday, 6/22/2009


Are you scared? I hope so. Apparently that will help you grasp the broad details of Mad Science Monday #3!

Mad Observations: Studies had shown that emotion (particularly fear) makes people see better, but the details of this sensitization were not investigated.

Mad Reference: "Emotion Improves and Impairs Early Vision." Bocanegra and Zeelenberg. Psychological Science Volume 20 Issue 6, Pages 707-713 (5 May 2009).

Mad Hypothesis: The emotional benefit to vision is limited in scope; some things will be easier to make out while in a state of enhanced emotion, other things will be harder to make out.

Mad Experiment: I had high hopes going into this one that the experiment might be truly mad, but it wasn't nearly as bad as it might have been. The researchers briefly showed people pictures of "fearful" faces and "neutral" faces, and then showed those people other images for the people to evaluate. This methodology relies on our mirror neurons causing us to feel a little bit of the fear we observe being experienced by a fellow human, without requiring that the test subjects actually get scared themselves. Again, I'm very disappointed; this was so close to really being mad.

They all laughed, but: The researchers found that the "scared" group had higher sensitivity to the orientation of "low-spatial-frequency stimuli" (ie, figuring out whether thick stripes were vertical or slightly tilted), but lower sensitivity to the orientation of "high-spatial-frequency stimuli" (figuring out whether thin stripes were vertical or slightly tilted).

The team's interpretation for this makes sense. When we're scared, we can notice details about coarse-grained features (things like movement of large objects), but noticing the exact texture of those large objects, for example, or the color of their eyes... that's less important.

Mad Engineering Applications: I could see a mad engineer using this to create some sort of invisibility-to-people-who-are-afraid device, although it'd probably only "work" in a TV movie vaguely referencing this research.

If you have any other ideas for mad engineering applications, let me know in the comments.


Die Anyway said...

re: "see better"

Ok, I admit I didn't read the article but were they talking about actual visual acuity or about focus?
I recall watching one of those TV shows about perception. The narrator told the viewers that he was going to show a video clip of a group of people bouncing a ball back and forth to each other and you were to count the number of bounces. During the clip a man in a gorilla suit ran across the screen. Something like 90% of people, including me, did not notice the 'gorilla'. It surprised me how much I could miss when my focus was pinpointed, although I know that's what magicians count on.
So anyway, I'm thinking of a use for this: When we go to a restaurant and I've forgotten my reading glasses and can't quite read the menu, maybe I can have my wife scare me just enough so that I can read the selections and make my choice.

Jon Harmon said...

As I understand it, the "scared" people were better at making out slight differences in orientation for things with wide strips, but worse at making out slight differences in orientation for things with thin stripes. I don't think being scared would make reading a menu easier (in fact, since that's a fine difference, it'd probably make you worse at it), but it'd likely make it easier to notice your waiter walking toward you.

Die Anyway said...

Well drat. I guess I need to do better at remembering to carry my reading glasses. :-)

Now if I could just find time to follow the 35 blogs I'm interested in (including this one), 7 forums, 3 podcasts, and complete more missions on WoW (which my daughter introduced me to... gotta kill more of those damn Kobolds).

Die Anyway said...

Speaking of favorite blogs and Mad Science, I was just checking out one of my favorites, Zygote Games, and found this:
( I know, if I were really a computer science geek I would know how to make that into a clickable link )
What are the odds that I would leave one blog about Mad Science and go to another one that also referenced Mad Science? Coincidence? I think not. The Universe is trying to tell me something. Now if I could just tune my chakras to get my qi flowing I'd probably be able to figure it out.

Jon Harmon said...

Hehe, that's funny about the other Mad Science.

You play WoW??? I'm mostly over my addiction, but pop in from time to time. I'm mostly Horde on Laughing Skull, but I have characters all over the place...

Die Anyway said...

Let's just say I tried WoW, with their 10 day free offer, in order to see what it was that keeps my daughter occupied about 10 hours a day. She helped me set up an Alliance character, a mage, on a server called Scarlet something. I've spent a few hours poking around the castle, killing a few wolves and rat creatures, upgrading my armor level and collecting a small amount of copper. I wouldn't mind playing once in a while when I'm sitting around in the A/C because it's too hot to be outside, but I'm not going to pay-to-play. It's not that much fun. After tomorrow, when my 10 days are up, Sharkchaser the mage will probably just fade into obscurity.