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.

This 50-Second Clip Proves Your Brain is Amazing

By Anupum Pant

There was a post I made in the past, about a popular email forward which mentioned a paragraph and it seemed like gibberish at first. But when you actually tried to read it, you were able to read is at a very normal pace. It was as if the totally mixed up spellings did not matter. Now, that wasn’t a very scientific way of going about claiming something – through an email forward. No one really knows where it came from. Certainly not from Cambridge. And right at the end of that article, the claims of that email were convincingly challenged.

What we see today is something similar, just that, it about listening, not about reading. Plus, this one, unlike the “spelling does not matter” claim, comes directly from a very reliable source – Jayatri Das, Chief bioscientist at Franklin Institute.

In an audio broadcast uploaded on soundcould, she demonstrates a very strong and fundamental trait of the human brain.

In the 50 second sound clip, she first plays a sound that is heavily distorted by a computer. You aren’t able to make any sense out of that sound. What happens next is amazing.

The sound plays again – the distorted R2D2-ish sound. Next, she plays the actual sentence which was distorted to make it sound like gibberish. The real sentence (which I won’t reveal in the text because it would ruin it for you if you read this first) is totally clear. Now, when she plays the gibberish again, somehow you are easily able to understand it!

It’s right here and you can experience it for yourself by listening (and participating) in the 50-second clip. It is a sound you literally “cannot un-hear”.

However, I had forgotten the real sentence after a couple of days, so the clip seemed to me like what it would to a fresh test subject when I listened to it again after a week. That means technically, you are able to un-hear it.

As this article from the Atlantic – where I first read about it – puts it. It is a lot like this visual experiment.

Did you happen to notice the following image that made fun of the FIFA Worldcup 2014’s logo? I’ve attached it below, if you haven’t seen it.

The image makes the logo look like a facepalm. Before this, you must have never thought of the logo to be a facepalm. But, after you see this, every time you see the actual logo, you’ll see a facepalm.

It’s amazing what the brain can do. world cup 2014 facepalm meme

Taste Areas on the Tongue is a Lie

By Anupum Pant


At some point in your school education, each one of your science books has shown you the ‘tongue map’ [Image]. There are solid demarcated boundaries shown in that diagram. The boundaries shown enclose areas on your tongue which exclusively specialize in tasting specific kinds of tastes. According to it:

  • The back of your tongue is responsible for the bitter taste.
  • Sides are responsible for sour and salty tastes.
  • And the tip is for tasting sweet stuff.

What it is really?

Unfortunately, it may be hard to digest the fact that taste areas don’t work that way. Although some parts are slightly more sensitive to specific tastes, mostly, all parts of your tongue can taste all the four (or five, or six) tastes almost equally. There are no taste area demarcations. Please don’t unsubscribe me for debunking something that you’ve believed in all these years.

Agreed it isn’t completely BS, you can call it an oversimplification of something. But one thing is for sure – It shouldn’t be shown on science books. The worst part – We have known this fact for more than 30 years and we still continue to propagate the misconception in school textbooks.

Where did this start?

It started a century back when a German scientist D.P. Hainig did a study which relied on subjective whims of his subjects. In five words, it was not very scientific. They were asked to report which parts of their tongues tasted which flavor. And THERE! He had a result – The tongue map.

Test at home

All said, I tried this at home. Since the ‘sweet buds’ are said to be located on and near the tip of the tongue, I found that it would be easy to isolate these buds by sticking out my tongue (and looking dumb by doing that. Fortunately, I did it in a closed room). Now, I placed a few sugar crystals in the middle part of the tongue. I made sure that it never touched my tip. The sugar did not taste sweet at all. And as soon as I retracted my tongue, the sweet taste was felt. Confusing!

However, salt tasted salty at the tip of the tongue. According to the map, it isn’t supposed to.

Well, that test wasn’t really scientific. It was exactly what the German scientist D.P. Hanig did to come out with the tongue map. It was busted in the year 1974 by a scientist named Virginia Collings.