mr. zilla goes to town

Monday, December 13, 2004

of mice and mental investigation

While I’m waiting on a couple of attempts at gainful employment to work their way through the Oxford University bureaucracy, to pass the time this afternoon I donned a hairy white coat, prosthetic tail and a slightly toothy Groucho Marx-style disguise to become a lab rat down in the maze of the Department of Experimental Psychology on St Cross Road.

The particular experiment I was subjected to involved sitting in a pitch dark room with four speakers arrayed in a square a couple of feet in front of me, two to the left and right of my head, two above and below. Next to each speaker was also mounted a bright flashing light. In the dark with only a tiny red diode in the centre of the square to focus upon, either the top two or bottom two speakers would sound off a burst of sound in turn. The activity was to indicate whether the sounds came in the order left-right or right-left. Here’s where it gets tricky: at the same time, two of the lights would strobe at you in turn. Sometimes the flashes corresponded to what the sound was doing, sometimes they didn’t. The question the Cross-modal group researcher was attempting to discern was the degree of inter-sensory interference going on between the subject’s visual and aural observations.

Now... can you think of any other circumstance I might have been in on a semi regular basis lately with lights strobing in front of me while I’m trying to listen independently to what’s going on in each ear and determine which sound is coming first? I’ve been DJing for a little while now and having a whale of a time with it, but I never thought the skills involved would actually turn out to be useful for anything, like, ya know, advancing the sum total of scientific human knowledge. Giddyup!

So as a result it turns out I did fairly well on the task. Apparently the usual ‘interference’ when the simultaneous visual flashes don’t match the sound is about a 40% decline in the subject's accuracy, compared to when they do match. My accuracy was 100% when the sound and light matched and only dropped off 12% when they didn’t. I'm such a serial high achiever...

I thought about asking the nice D.Phil student to recreate more realistic conditions in the laboratory, by continuing the test while simultaneously passing me a longneck of Kirin-Ichiban and bantering about the merits of Royksopp versus Gavin Froome and having a mate come over and request something by Swayzak. But the glint in his eye told me my disguise had perhaps been too effective and he was considering handing me over to the vivisectionists in the animal research lab for something nefariously appropriate across the street. Either to them, or to the police standing guard outside the lab keeping an eye on the nine animal liberationists making their weekly High Court-injuncted bit o’noise out the front.

So like a good rat I took my five pound piece of cheese (redeemable at Borders’ Bookstore) and scurried from the room, to fight another day. Stay tuned for the next episode of gonzopsqueakology, as mister zilla goes to oxygen-deprivation town!

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