Mind and Brain

Who killed video games

This is a great read (I’m curious how this jibes with how +Jay Schneider sees the landscape). Originally shared by Greg Linden. Brilliant article on how Facebook games, rather than try to be fun, try to be addictive. They feed on the compulsive until they give up their cash. Amazing statistic in this article, that some people […]

Who killed video games Read More »

What you don’t know can influence you

Along the lines of a study on the effects of advertising that I mentioned earlier, a forthcoming University of Kent study suggests that people are more influenced by conspiracy theories than they think they are, and that this hidden influence may actually contribute to the tenacity of such theories:

After reading internet-based conspiracy theories about the death of Princess Diana, research participants agreed more strongly with statements such as ‘there was an official campaign by MI6 to assassinate Diana, sanctioned by elements of the establishment’. When asked how much they would have agreed with those statements prior to reading the conspiracy theories, they ‘revised’ their prior attitudes so that they were closer to their current attitudes – this made it appear as though their attitudes had changed less than they actually had.

…Our findings suggest that conspiracy theories may actually have a ‘hidden impact’, meaning that they powerfully influence people’s attitudes whilst people do not know it; outwardly they may deny the extent to which they have been influenced but in truth they tend to endorse the new information and pass it on to others.’

(Link via Cognitive Daily.)

What you don’t know can influence you Read More »

How squinting helps us see

I never knew this! Via LiveScience, via Cognitive Daily:

Squinting reduces the amount of peripheral light coming into the eye so that a greater percentage of light comes from the center of the visual field… It’s wrong to to say that “‘squinting squishes the eyeball slightly to correct for a focus point that misses the mark.’ Although the lens does change shape, this is a reflex muscle action that can accompany (but is not the result of) squinting.”

How squinting helps us see Read More »

I can name that tune in one note…

Interesting comment from this article on why humans are so good at recognizing music:

The subtlest reason that pop music is so flavorful to our brains is that it relies so strongly on timbre. Timbre is a peculiar blend of tones in any sound; it is why a tuba sounds so different from a flute even when they are playing the same melody in the same key. Popular performers or groups, Levitin argued, are pleasing not because of any particular virtuosity, but because they create an overall timbre that remains consistent from song to song. That quality explains why, for example, I could identify even a single note of Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets.”

“Nobody else’s piano sounds quite like that,” he said, referring to John. “Pop musicians compose with timbre. Pitch and harmony are becoming less important.”

(Thanks to Janie for the link!)

I can name that tune in one note… Read More »

Advertising as a form of violence


Remember the future depicted in the movie Minority Report, where every last inch of real estate is covered by advertisements that demand your attention by any means possible? I couldn’t help think about that as I flew home on US Airways after Thanksgiving. First there was the TV screens, which after the safety take-off script started extolling the virtues of their Skymall shopping opportunities. Then there was the flight attendant who, having just given me potential life-saving information about the flotation abilities of my seat cushion, came through the cabin explaining how we could have a free flight if we just signed up for their co-branded credit card. Finally, just as I thought the barrage was over, I brought my tray table down only to find it was painted with yet more advertising. Good thing I’ve developed a strong stomach to all this advertising, because even their barf bag had ads printed on it!

It seems like everywhere there’s a captive audience nowadays you’ll find it stuffed full of advertising. Movie theaters have finally branched out from advertising movies and concessions to full-on TV-style ads, Wal-Mart has their Checkout TV (designed to “entertain shoppers as well as inform them about new products”), my local Longs pharmacy even has a flat-panel TV showing continuous infomercials. These ads are always delivered with the pleasant-sounding lie that they’re for our benefit. If that’s the case, why do they always make me feel like the airline, theater or store I’m patronizing has just punched me in the stomach?

I’ve tried looking past my gut reaction and thinking about the situation rationally, but oddly enough when I do that I become even more convinced that, at least most of the time, advertising is a direct form of violence. I don’t mean violence in the most limited physical definition — I don’t get a bloody nose from the Trix Rabbit. But consider the following points:

  1. While we like to think we make all our own choices based on the information we have at hand, in fact we humans are highly susceptible to manipulation. (In fact, there’s good evidence that people who think they’re not easily manipulated are the most susceptible.)

  2. Sometimes manipulations are to our long-term benefit. Education is all about changing how someone thinks; so is love. Sometimes we’ll seek out ways to manipulate ourselves directly, be it by throwing out all our cigarettes so we won’t be tempted to smoke or by getting drunk at a party to get over our shyness and meet someone new. Other times we won’t recognize the benefit of a manipulation until much later, like the addict who denies he has a problem until his friends intervene and force him to go into detox.

    That said, commercial advertising is at best neutral about whether its message actually improves our lives. Advertisers often claim they just inform the public about products they want (if only they knew it), but their main job is to install a need for their product regardless of whether the need was there beforehand. And since creating a need where one didn’t already exist takes more repetition than simply informing someone about a solution to an existing problem, most advertising we see is designed to create new needs.

  3. People are naturally resistant to having new needs installed in them. Sure it feels good when we scratch that itch by buying their product, but at some level we also know that it’s the ads that made us itch in the first place. Because of this, the techniques used by advertisers are subtle and deliberately designed to manipulate our desires without our knowledge or consent.

In other words, most advertising is a deliberately deceptive manipulation of our person and our mental state, without our consent or regard for our interests. I can’t see any way how that’s not a form of violence. And they’ve been doing it all our lives, from the first toy we couldn’t live without to the makeup, gadgets and junk food we crave today.

I suspect if you were punched in the stomach every day since you were a toddler, you’d think it was normal. You wouldn’t like it, and no doubt you’d complain about the ones who punched especially hard or always punched you right as you were sitting down to dinner. But but somehow it’d still be seen as a price of living, nothing that could be done about it.

Only there is something we can do about it. The next time your flight attendant runs down the aisles with credit card applications shouting Who wants a roundtrip flight, absolutely free?!?, stop him and very politely explain how horrible you think it is that his company treats paying customers that way. Do the same with your local stores, and write letters to the company heads. Then take your business to those that don’t have such distain for their customers.

There’s no way a corporate policy of “Service with a smile and a punch in the belly” would fly. Why should advertising be given a free pass?

Advertising as a form of violence Read More »

No acupuncture vs. no pill

Discover Magazine describes a cute study where they pit fake acupuncture (with secretly retracting needles) vs. sugar pills to see which placebo effect works better:

After 10 weeks, subjects taking sham pills said their pain decreased an average of 1.50 points on the 10-point scale. After 8 weeks, those receiving fake acupuncture reported a drop of 2.64 points. In other words, not receiving acupuncture reduces pain more than not taking drugs.

Kaptchuk says that the rituals of medicine explain the difference: Performing acupuncture is more elaborate than prescribing medicine. Other rituals that may make patients feel better include “white coats, and stethoscopes that you don’t necessarily use, pictures on the wall, the way you reassure a patient, and the secretaries that sign you in.” Careful manipulation of such rituals could make all types of treatment more effective, Kaptchuk suggests.

(Thanks to Jill for the link!)

No acupuncture vs. no pill Read More »

Where am I?

Radio Lab had a great hour production called Where Am I?, all about how mind and body collaborate to determine where you and all your assorted parts are in space and how that can sometimes get out of whack. Audio is available for streaming and download, and well worth the listen.

It reminds me of the “That’s my hand!” illusion, where you can give someone the uncanny feeling that an obviously-plastic severed rubber hand is actually their own by simply hiding their real hand from view and then simultaneously touching each hand in the same spot at the same time. After about 20 seconds of such touching the illusion kicks in, and is a wonderfully eerie feeling. They have a station for trying this out at the SF Exploratorium, but my first introduction to it was from reading a recent study where scientists induced the illusion while the subject was being scanned by an MRI. What they found was that the illusion corresponds with activity in the premotor cortex, a part of the brain that receives input both visual and touch information, implying that we build our idea of where different parts of our body is in space by correlating our own sense of touch with what we can detect with our other senses. (They also have a more recent study showing that it’s not just vision combined with touch — you can get the same effect bindfolded by making the subject think she’s touching her left hand with her right when actually she’s touching the rubber hand.)

Where am I? Read More »