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.

Do Not Paint Your Walls Pink

By Anupum Pant

Like I’ve told you once, there is no pink. Still, we do see the colour pink and there’s no denying that. Don’t call me a sexist for saying this, but it’s true that the colour pink is associated with femininity. Otherwise the colour is also known to generate feelings of caring, tenderness, and love. If everything we know about pink is somewhat positive, then why isn’t it a good idea to paint your walls pink?

Let me start with a little story.

Hayden Fry and the Pink room

Hayden Fry was an American football player and later he went on to become a coach. In the late 70s he started coaching the University of Iowa football team. Now, the particular thing to note about Fry was that in the year 1951 he had graduated from Baylor with a degree in psychology.

Since he had graduated in psychology, Fry probably knew some good ways that he could use to mess with the opposing team’s brain. And then he decided to paint the walls of the visitor’s locker room at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium, with the colour pink. The walls, floors, toilets, ceiling and everything else in the locker room was painted pink. As a result, the home team started doing significantly well at football games (later the practice of painting locker rooms pink was outlawed).

Some say, he used pink to paint the visitor’s locker room because he knew that the colour pink had a calming effect on people. But I think he was relying on something deeper. He was probably trying to cash on the results of a study that was done by Prof. Alexander Schauss in the year 1979.

The Effect of Pink Colour

Prof. Alexander Schauss started a study with a couple of volunteers. He divided the group into two equal halves. All of their strengths were measured by asking them to use their arms against a counter-force and by asking them to squeeze a device called a dynamometer.

After this, for a minute, the first half had to stare at a dark blue colour and the other half stared at pink. Their strengths were recorded again.

A remarkable decrease in physical strength was recorded among the people who were given the colour pink to stare at. The participants were not aware of the effect it had on them.

Probably it were those pink walls and pink floors at the visitor’s locker that made the opposing team physically weaker and helped Iowa win.

Conclusion

Colours certainly are one of those subtle forces which change the way we think, feel, and behave. Pink has been proven to make you weaker physically. So, unless you wish to be weaker, you wouldn’t want to paint your walls pink! How about blue? It is a simple choice.

Now I think even writing an article about pink and having your brain think about the colour makes you weaker. Seriously, I feel like I need rest after writing this. Phew!

Hit like if you learnt something.

This Little Math Trick Proves a Profound Point

By Anupum Pant

Someone shows you a random set of numbers, say 2, 4, 8 and says that I have a rule in my mind for selecting these numbers to have them in the series. Your task is to guess the rule. But the only way you are allowed to do that is by stating 3 numbers and confirming if they follow the rule or not (any number of times). The host won’t lie, will just say yes it does, or no it doesn’t. See how fast can you guess the rule that he has in his mind.

Assuming you’ve watched it, it is natural for all of us to confirm the rule that is followed by the series 2, 4, 8 over and over, assuming that it must be, the multiply-by-two rule (your hypothesis). You try to prove your that hypothesis is right, several times. Never once do you try  to disprove your hypothesis (not soon enough at least), which could have straight away given you the answer. Even though the rule is pretty straight forward, you just can’t seem to figure the rule out.

This little math trick or puzzle or exercise conducted by Veritasium (a science video blog) proves a profound point.

In fact, this is a classic exercise used by teachers all over the world with which they are able to prove it to their students – Humans tend to notice or come up with a hypothesis first and then they try to prove it right every time instead of trying to prove it wrong.

This phenomenon where people constantly seek out information to prove their existing opinions and overlook the information that proves it wrong is called Confirmation bias. It affects our decision-making in all aspects of our lives and can cause us to make poor choices.

It happens all the time

You watch a conspiracy theory documentary – say the one that says, moon landing is a hoax. The documentary seeds an idea in your mind by repeatedly confirming an idea – the moon landing was a hoax – through various ‘proofs’. When you finish watching it, you go to Google and seek out information that confirms the theory; you are amazed. And then, you start noticing that some of your friends are making great points that also confirm the conspiracy. The same information coming from different sources seems genuine and now you get convinced that the moon landing was indeed a big conspiracy.

This is how conspiracy theories can make you – a rational human being – believe in something as outrageous as – the moon landing was a hoax or AIDS does not exist and so on…

This is the reason investors believe in company-failing rumors, confirm it by Googling to seek out negative opinions, overlook the positive news and make poor financial decisions in the stock market.

The profound point

As time passes, by never trying to disprove something, you collect subscriptions to blogs, magazines, books, people and television channels that confirm your beliefs. You become so confident in your world-view that people stop trying to dissuade you. At some point, if you are not cautious enough, you would stop questioning your own beliefs. You would eventually end up in a situation where everyone else knows that everything you have ever believed is actually false and you still remain a confident fool.

In science, a belief moves closer to the truth when scientists try to find  evidence to disprove something. You should probably do the same in your life.

Moral: Try to never believe in something you read or hear instantly. Develop your own opinions by also feeding yourself the information that questions your beliefs and then make an informed decision.

Without disregarding it as utter B.S, this is the reason I listened to the three-hour long debate – Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham.

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