Placebo Paraphernalia for Favouring Frustration and Prompting Play.


It seems likely that the mechanism of the placebo response is through the production of what are called endogenous endorphins (naturally produced opiate substances) produced by the person being treated. Endorphins are released whenever we feel good, whatever the reason.

In pain, which I know best, approximately one third of patients will have a significant improvement in painful symptoms when treated with an inactive agent. This effect is increased if the doctor states that the new agent is superb. There is also a substantial placebo effect in depression and skin conditions, but much less effect in clear disease entities such as bronchitis and heart conditions.

- Stephen Tyrer, Psychiatrist and my Dad

That’s my Dad. He’s one of the leading researchers into placebo’s and their effect on depression. Alot of my Dad’s research looks into creating a believable experience for his patients as instrumental to the effect of the placebo. Queue the Experience Designer and Birgit Mager’s quote that “Experiences cannot really be designed, only the conditions that lead to experiences”. I’m taking the placebo approach on board full throttle now and aim to test it in eliciting a playful response in the face of frustration (caused by error). I’ve been finding some great examples of placebo’s used in a playful way to cope with fear, confusion and behavioural control.

You eat like a pig.

Pigs acquire, through learning and evolution, expectations of their environment. Frustration of expectations results in motivation to change these conditions and is therefore adaptive. Initially, frustration should produce problem solving behaviour. If these responses are unsuccessful, other behaviours, reflecting general frustration should be elicited. Our purpose was to study both types of responses to frustration in grower pigs.

So these scientists took 18 pigs, and fasted them for 1, 2 or 3 hours every morning. On Monday and Tuesday the pigs got full feeders BUT on Wednesday and Friday they got 2 types of feeders – lidded with the lid bolted down (L) and un-lidded that was empty (O). Results showed that pigs in pairs showed an increase in sitting and playing and single pigs started to ignore the L-feeders after 2 hours while increasingly looked into the O-feeders.

from “Frustration of goal-directed behaviour in swine”, N.Lewis in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 64, Issue 1, p 19-29

Blink and you’ll miss it.

The two videos above demonstrate Change Blindness – in basic terms when you fail to spot a change in your environment. While the Derren Brown video shows how age and colour are all victums of change blindness, the second video explains much better the conditions that lead up to change blindness.

When we blink, we create our own grey flicker effect. Almost as if we’re naturally designed to miss things. Reminds me of the statement by Joe Hallihan that “we are hardwired to make mistakes“; that our brain cannot simply take in all the information around us, so it filters out the unimportant and focuses on the important. In web design techniques such as the yellow fade and a javascript blink are used to notify people of changes in the online environment. How does the built environment notify us of changes? Normally handwritten notes to notify people of change of address of a building. Notification boards, newspapers

I guess this is more about an experience of error through change

The Broken Escalator Phenomenon

We’ve all experienced it. The weird way our brain always assumes an escalator is moving, even when it’s stationary. Well trust it to science to investigate the reasons and psychology behind it:

“We investigated the physiological basis of the ‘broken escalator phenomenon’, namely the sensation that when walking onto an escalator which is stationary one experiences an odd sensation of imbalance, despite full awareness that the escalator is not going to move…The findings represent a motor aftereffect of walking onto a moving platform that occurs despite full knowledge of the changing context. As such, it demonstrates dissociation between the declarative and procedural systems in the CNS. Since gait velocity was raised before foot-sled contact, the findings are at least partly explained by open-loop, predictive behaviour. A cautious strategy of limb stiffness was not responsible for the aftereffect, as revealed by no increase in muscle cocontraction.”

from The broken escalator phenomenon. Aftereffect of walking onto a moving platform.

Personally, I rather like the feeling. However I think my quest to always “ride” a broken escalators has disappointingly educated my brain to understand that an escalator can have two states: moving and stationary.

Why we walk in circles when lost

“Small random errors in the various sensory signals that provide information about walking direction add up over time, making what a person perceives to be straight ahead drift away from the true straight ahead direction.”

from The Times Online
See also Science News

Living in a Reverse World

A scientist experiments with altering people’s perception. Subjects wear glasses for several months that flips their vision back to front with hilarious results.