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We are all horny

Honking is so embedded in Indian driving etiquette that Audi India has confirmed, in media, having designed extra loud, ultradurable horns for vehicles sold in India. Meanwhile people face a rapidly growing problem with many side effects of noise pollution. Some of them being increased hyper-tension, blood pressure, hearing loss, increased risk of heart attacks and disturbed sleep patterns. Reports in Indian cities show that noise levels are way beyond the permissible limits. Truly we are all horny.

Honking like other behaviour, over time, becomes a habit. And habits are essentially automatic behaviour where one does not consciously think about the action, but rather, the decision-making happens automatically. So we thought that it was important to shift the driver from an automatic mode of honking as a habit, to make him deliberate on whether the situation really demanded that he honk. We needed to make the driver conscious of the habit of honking by giving him immediate feedback while the driver was still driving the car, so that the next time the driver honked only when he thought it was necessary, rather than honk indiscriminately.

This approach led us to create a ‘Horn Reduction System’ we’ve called Bleep that has proved to reduce honking amongst each and every one of participants by an average of 61%.

Bleep – A horn reduction system

Bleep is a device with a simple red button fitted in an easily accessible place on the dashboard of a car. The red button has a frown sketched on it and when the driver presses the horn, the red button begins to beep and flash. In order to switch the device off, the driver needs to press the red button.

The 6-month long experiment

Bleep has been tested on manual and automatic geared cars amongst 30 people including men, women and chauffeurs of private vehicles, over 6 months and over 3800 kms. The participants were given either of two cars – manually geared Swift or automatic Honda City, with Bleep fitted, to be driven for 4 days during the working weekdays. Two days with Bleep off and the next two days with Bleep on, so that we could compare the number of honks per kilometer in the control situation (pre-Bleep) with the experimental situation (post-Bleep). Bleep has been tested as triggering off every time the horn is pressed, which is a stricter version in the manually geared Swift car, as well as triggering off every third time the horn is pressed, which is more lenient, in the automatic Honda City. In the first phase of the experiment the drivers were not given any information about the experiment. In the second phase they were simply shown how the system works.

The results

We have found a reduction in honking in each and every one of the participants wherein honks per km reduced between 19% to 96% (on an average by 62.5%) when Bleep was triggered every time the horn was pressed (stricter version). A reduction in honks per km was found between 16% to 91% (on an average by 60.3%) when Bleep was triggered every third time the horn was pressed (lenient version). These numbers prove that the reduction in honking relates to indiscriminate honking that drivers can do without.

The science of Bleep

The science behind the effectiveness of Bleep is that it assists the driver in reducing honking by using a visual-cum-sound reminder. The driver gets instant feedback when the red light with the frown beeps and flashes when he honks, making the driver conscious about his inappropriate behaviour of honking and making him deliberate about when he really required to honk. The driver having to physically switch off the reminder further helps in persuading him to honk lesser. The frown on the device is designed to indicate that honking is socially inappropriate behaviour. A study called ‘Overcoming Intuition’ done by Alter, Oppenheimer, Epley and Eyre has shown that frowning helps the brain reduce the reliance on intuition and activates analytical reasoning. Another research at the Stanford University School of Medicine has shown that peak brain activity (arresting attention) occurred during a short period of silence between musical movements, which is evidence that sounds that have a pause in between make you more alert. That’s why a seatbelt reminder like sound was used in the beep.

Bleep comes with many other unique features like recording, displaying and transmission of vehicle data like number of honks, speed at time of honk, location, time, etc., inside the vehicle or at a remote location and many other customised features. Patent pending.

Bleep has got featured in the Times of India (click here), Radio One 94.3 (click here), Top Gear India’s June issue and HT Mint (click here).

Stare at your own risk

Just glancing at a photo of a rich and gooey chocolate cake can set your brain circuits sparking, switching on cravings and revving up your appetite.

The proof is in the brain scans. Researchers found that when people stare at sugary treats, regions of the brain known to be involved in appetite control and pleasure and reward light up, according to the study presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society.

The new study parallels earlier research in cocaine addicts. When addicts were shown anti-drug commercials that included crossed-out needles, the brain regions associated with pleasure fired up and the addicts reported increased craving. Contrary to public health officials’ plans, only the needles registered in the addicts’ brains, not the big red Xs crossing them out.

Dr. Kathleen Page, a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California says “We see parallels between substances of abuse, like cocaine, and highly palatable foods. Some of the same brain regions light up.”

Page and her colleagues scanned brains of obese Hispanic women looking at images of alluring foods such as cupcakes, chocolate cake and chocolate chip cookies. “What we saw was that the regions of the brain that are involved in reward and hunger lit up,” Page said. The women, who were also asked to rate their appetite at the beginning and end of the experiment, reported greater hunger and desire for food after looking at the photos.

And in an intriguing second experiment, the researchers asked the women to each consume a sugary drink of approximately 200 calories. Then the researchers repeated the scans as before with the women looking at photos of tasty treats.

“Surprisingly, consumption of the sugar drink actually increased the ratings of hunger and desire,” Page said. “We didn’t predict a hunger increase with the sugar drink. Apparently the brain saw it as an appetizer.”

It’s not clear how average people can protect themselves from photos of tempting treats, Page said. And it’s funny, but when I conducted the studies and looked at the pictures myself, I was thinking, I could eat a piece of chocolate cake right now.

Feel like having one?

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

You should sleep over it

Warning: If you are a consultant you may not like this post, but if you are a client you are likely to love it.

That’s because solution providers don’t particularly like to hear the words ‘Let’s sleep over it’, but this phenomenon is proven to be good for complex cognitive skills like decision-making.

In one of the first studies of its kind, Dr. Rebecca Spencer and postdoctoral fellow Edward Pace-Schott investigated the effects of sleep on affect-guided decision-making, which is decisions on meaningful topics where subjects care about the outcome, in a group of 54 young adults. They were taught to play a card game called the Iowa Gambling Task, for rewards of play money in which wins and losses for various card decks mimic casino gambling.

The researchers gave two groups of 18- to 23-year-old college undergraduates a brief preview of the gambling task, so brief that it was not possible for them to learn its underlying rule. Subjects were then asked to come back in 12 hours. The 28 subjects who got the preview in the afternoon went home to a normal evening and their usual night of sleep, while the 26 who received the game preview in the morning came back after a day of normal activities with no naps. On the second visit, subjects played the full gambling task. (You can read the detailed study in the online issue of the Journal of Sleep Research)

Subjects who had a normal night’s sleep as part of the study drew from decks that gave them the greatest winnings four times more often than those who spent the 12-hour break awake, and they better understood the underlying rules of the game.

“There is something to be gained from taking a night to sleep over it when you’re facing an important decision. We found that the fact that you slept makes your decisions better.”, says Dr. Rebecca Spencer.

She believes this sleep benefit in making decisions may be due to changes in underlying emotional or cognitive processes. “Our guess is that this enhanced effect on decision-making is something that depends on rapid-eye-movement or REM sleep, which is the creative period of our sleep cycle.”

Not convinced? May be it’s a good idea for you to sleep over it.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Is it true that we use only 10% of our brainpower?

Despite how common the belief is, it’s not true.

Neurologist Barry Gordon describes the myth as laughably false, adding, “we use virtually every part of the brain, and that most of the brain is active almost all the time”.Neuroscientist Barry Beyerstein sets out evidence refuting the 10% myth:

  • Studies of brain damage: If 90% of the brain is normally unused, then damage to these areas should not impair performance. Instead, there is almost no area of the brain that can be damaged without loss of abilities. Even slight damage to small areas of the brain can have profound effects.
  • Evolution: The brain is enormously costly to the rest of the body, in terms of oxygen and nutrient consumption. It can require up to 20% of the body’s energy—more than any other organ—despite making up only 2% of the human body by weight. If 90% of it were unnecessary, there would be a large survival advantage to humans with smaller, more efficient brains. If this were true, the process of natural selection would have eliminated the inefficient brains. By the same token, it is also highly unlikely that a brain with so much redundant matter would have evolved in the first place.
  • Brain imaging: Technologies such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) allow the activity of the living brain to be monitored. They reveal that even during sleep, all parts of the brain show some level of activity. Only in the case of serious damage does a brain have “silent” areas.
  • Localization of function: Rather than acting as a single mass, the brain has distinct regions for different kinds of information processing. Decades of research have gone into mapping functions onto areas of the brain, and no function-less areas have been found.
  • Microstructural analysis: In the single-unit recording technique, researchers insert a tiny electrode into the brain to monitor the activity of a single cell. If 90% of cells were unused, then this technique would have revealed that.
  • Neural disease: Brain cells that are not used have a tendency to degenerate. Hence if 90% of the brain were inactive, autopsy of adult brains would reveal large-scale degeneration.

I was just in the mood for some myth-busting. This ain’t meant to say that we don’t have the potential to do more than we currently do. If you think you can do it, you can.

Via 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior

Illustration by M____ T____________

 

The Power of Scent

We usually use scents (perfumes) to feel fresh, confident, smell good and to attract the opposite sex (well, same sex in some cases). But scents can have uses beyond our imagination. Here’s one brilliant way, designers at Rodd Design and The Olfactory Experience have used the power of scent.

They’ve created a product called Ode. Ode is a product that releases authentic, high-quality food aromas at particular times in the day to help stimulate appetite and rekindle an interest in eating – discreetly and unobtrusively.

Ode has been created as part of Design Council and Department of Health’s design challenge program ‘Living well with Dementia’. It’s a project to find new solutions for the people of UK that have been diagnosed with dementia. Dementia is a decline of mental abilities such as thinking, reasoning and memory. Dementia usually occurs in older age. It is serious enough to diminish everyday functions in a person’s life such as driving, everyday duties like personal hygiene, dressing, and feeding.

Weight loss is common to most people with late-stage dementia and can be an early indicator of the condition’s onset. Ode is a discreet system that is less stigmatizing and more inspiring than an alarm or constant reminders to eat. Initial research suggests it can stimulate real hunger subliminally.

Fragrances are released in short sharp bursts, acting as a strong appetite trigger and then dissipating rapidly so users won’t become inured to the effect. A subtle light indicates the device is working and also communicates when fragrances need refilling.

Ode is a beautiful and subliminal way of changing behaviour. It can have implications much beyond the application of stimulating hunger amongst people with dementia. It can be used by hospitals to stimulate appetite amongst various kinds of patients or by spas to improve relaxation or by offices to promote alertness. The possibilities are endless. What applications come to your mind?

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

You will never lose your mobile againLet me tell you how. Here’s an interesting story of an experiment conducted by my favorite guy – Richard Wiseman, an experimental psychologist, author and magician.

Sometime ago, he bought 240 wallets and filled them with the same set of cash, fake credit card, address of the owner, etc. In the first batch of 40 wallets he put the photograph of a smiling baby. In the next 40, the photograph of a cute puppy. Next 40, a happy family. Next 40, a happy elderly couple. Next 40, had a card which indicated that the owner had made a contribution to charity. In the last batch of 40 wallets, nothing additional was added. These were secretly dropped on the streets of Edinburgh away from post-boxes and dustbins.

Within one week, 52% of the total 240 wallets were returned. The percentages of wallets returned as per each batch were as follows: 6% of those that contained no additional element, 8% of those containing the charity card, 11% of those containing the photograph of elderly couple, 19% of those containing the photograph of cute puppy, 21% of those containing the photograph of happy-looking family and the winner with a huge margin – 35% of those containing the photograph of the smiling baby.

Why did that happen? Brain scanning scientists at the University of Oxford say that activity in the section of the brain directly behind the eyes (medial orbitofrontal cortex) kicked in, in 1/7th of a second after seeing the baby’s face and that it happened as an automatic response to the image of big eyes, forehead and button nose. This part of the brain is associated with people receiving a nice reward, like a chocolate or lottery. Scientists say that this ‘baby-aww’ linkage is a deep seated mechanism, evolved over thousands of years, that causes us to get in touch with our inner parent, become happier and caring, and thus increase the likelihood of returning the wallet.

So if you want to increase the chances of your mobile being returned if lost, go click the happiest cutest baby and set its picture as your mobile wallpaper.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney. Say hi to little Ettan in the illus-photo (Mayur’s elder son).

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