Cockroaches and Activation Theory

By Anupum Pant

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.

Biological Darkmatter

By Anupum Pant

To most of us, looking at things from a distance, it often seems like the age of exploration is over. It seems like there’s not much left to be discovered. Only a few who strongly believe that the age of exploration is far from over, and work hard to keep exploring, end up finding new things.

Take for instance the part of ocean that remains unexplored and unseen by human eyes today. According to NOAA’s website this unexplored part is about 95%, even today!

In fact, it is estimated that 96% of the universe is made up of some mysterious thing (called the dark matter) which we haven’t even started to figure yet.

If you think that is taking it too far, we don’t even know our bodies completely yet. Just last year (in 2013) a new body part in the human body was discovered!

Nathan Wolfe, a biologist and explorer, talks about how most (as much as 40-50% of it) of the genetic information found in our own gastrointestinal tracts doesn’t classify under any kind of biological form we have ever known – Not plant, animal, virus, bacteria or fungus. Biologists call it the biological dark matter.

genetic information

There are unknowns all around us and they are waiting to get discovered.

A 2-Minute Exercise to Do Better in Interviews

By Anupum Pant

Is there a job interview or a public speaking gig coming up for you? Well, you don’t have to worry as much as you are doing right now because Amy Cuddy is here to save you.

Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School, talks about a power pose – a 2-minute pose – you could strike before going into an interview which has been proven to have a significant difference in your performance at anything that requires confidence (like an interview).

She introduces this concept in the a very convincing TED talk that I’ve attached below. If you do not need much convincing, you could skip watching the talk and just do this before you go into an interview or go to the stage for something.

  • Find a quiet place where no one will see you and make fun of you.
  • Strike a superhero pose. If you don’t know what that means, stand like this. For 2 minutes. Done! Otherwise, here is a nice infographic based on Cuddy’s research. [Link]
  • If you don’t, at least do not stoop and close your shoulders while waiting in the lobby because it certainly affects you negatively.

Apparently, according to an experiment by Amy Cuddy and Dana Carney of Berkeley, 86% of those who posed in the high-power position (the superhero pose) opted to gamble, while only 60% of the low-power posers (closed poses) felt comfortable taking a roll of the dice.

Moreover, a significant difference was found in the saliva samples of both the high-power pose people and the low-power pose people. Who’d have thought that a simple 2 minute pose could make chemical differences in your body!

On an average, the high-pose people saliva showed an 8% increase in the testosterone level, while the ones who did the low-power pose had a 10% decrease of the same. That is phenomenal, if you ask me.

Also, the hormone related to stress, Cortisol decreased by 25% among high-power posers and increased 15% among low power posers. (A decrease in cortisol levels is better for activities like interviews)