Robert Zajonc, a Polish-born American social psychologist proposed an activation Theory for social facilitation. Sounds tough, but read on. His first theory, in simple words, tried to explain the way our performance at some tasks increases in the presence of others, while the performance at some other tasks decreases.
According to him, the presence of other individuals around you serves as a source of “arousal” and affects performance (in good ways some times and bad ways the other times).
When this happens, he said, humans tend to do well at tasks which they are inherently good at, or tasks which they’ve practised well, or easy tasks which involve very little conscious cognitive effort. While the performance at other complex tasks, which aren’t well-learned is affected negatively, when there are other people watching you.
More interestingly, he also pointed that this change in performance isn’t only seen among humans. An experiment that involved several cockroaches effectively proved this.
In two different cases, a cockroach was put in an easy maze to run around and find an exit. The first case had just the one cockroach running around in the maze. It did fine. But in the second case when there were other cockroaches watching the cockroach who was running in the maze, it ran faster. A clear increase in performance was noted in this easy maze.
Interestingly, when the difficulty of this maze was increased (it was a complex task now), as Robert had predicted, the cockroach’s performance decreased when other cockroaches were watching.
There’d be hardly anyone among us who hasn’t played with a roly-poly toy during their childhoods. If you know it by some other name, you could think of it as a toy that never falls, no matter how hard you hit it, and sells in variants which look like this. That isn’t exactly what a Gomboc is, but you get an idea about what it does – It does not fall. For more, read on.
What is a Gomboc?
A Gomboc (Gömböc) is a mathematical 3-D shape which has only one position in which it can stand and is made up of a single material of uniform density. If you try to make it stand in some other way, or try to knock it down, it moves back to that single stable position, gradually. When placed on its side, it starts rocking magically, gains momentum, straightens itself and gradually comes to rest in that single position. Here is a video of a Gomboc doing its thing.
A Gomboc is an object surrounded by a number of complex curves, it takes an immense amount of accuracy to get the surfaces right. An accuracy of the orders of around 1/10th of a human hair’s thickness is required for it to work properly. For better, people have started 3D printing these complex shapes.
The world’s largest Gomboc was displayed in China in the year 2010 which measured around 3 meters in all directions.
Terrestrial tortoises, who use a similarly shaped shell to get on their feet when turned upside down, were using it long before humans had found a way to construct it. The first time we made it, was in the year 2006. Evolution got there first!
How is it different than a Roly-Poly toy?
A roly-poly toy usually has an internal counter weight made up of a heavier material. But a Gomboc is made up of a single material.
Uses: Use it as a paper weight or to gift it to your friend who is a math geek. Tortoises use it to save their own lives.
Where can I buy one?
You can get one for yourself from an official website of the inventors – Here.