integer on 18 Nov 2000 02:36:43 -0000

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        I'm not sure where on the deadly-serious to totally-joking spectrum
the age/medication explanation for Palm Beach County's results falls.  If it
falls toward the joking end, please read the following as more examples of
how people can manage to mess up a simple task.  If it falls more toward the
serious end, I'd like to offer an alternative explanation:

        This past term I've been running participants (undergraduates at the
University of Denver: age 18 to 25) through an experiment that takes about
55 minutes to complete.  In order to run the maximum number of participants
in the minimum amount of time, I scheduled sign-up slots every hour on the
hour.  This meant that, for example, if the 1:00 participant showed up at
12:50 (or if the 12:00 participant started late), he or she could disturb
the 12:00 participants' session.  To prevent this, I hung two big
"Experiment in Progress, Please do not Disturb" signs outside the testing
room.  I placed the first one directly beneath the room number plaque and I
hung the second one so that it COVERED the door knob.  In order to burst in
on the 12:00 participant, the 1:00 participant would actually have to reach
under a "do not disturb" sign.  Inconceivable I thought.  I was
wrong...three times out of a total n of 30!
        One possible explanation could be that these were undergraduates who
were desperate for extra credit because they weren't doing very well in
class, perhaps indicating that they weren't too bright to begin with.
However, it turned out that two of the three were actually volunteers from
the honors class, so the low IQ explanation is pretty shakey.  Another
explanation might be that they were "medicated" one way or another and this
influenced their behavior.  Although I did not test for this directly, their
performance on a modified version of Posner's cued reaction time task was
not significantly different from  that of the other participants (as
measured by the eye-ball ANOVA test [p < obviously different for all means
and interactions]).

        Similarly, to help pay for my undergraduate education, during
summers I worked for a helicopter company that took (mainly) cruise ship
passengers on flights to a glacier.  Some of the helicopters were equipt
with emergency floatation devices.  Normally, these were contained in tubes
that ran the length of the landing skids and were about 15 cm in diameter,
but in the event of an emergency they would inflate into the equivelent of a
life jacket for the helicopter.  Anyway, to keep the floats in good wroking
order, my boss instructed all of us who were responsible for getting the
passengers into the helicopters to make sure that the passengers did not
step on the floats.
        Naturally, my first response was that during the pre-flight safty
briefing I would mention not to step on the floats. This had virtually no
effect.  Next, in addition to the instructions, once we got to the
helicopter I would point to the big "No Step" sign on the float (the
helicopter was running so I couldn't verbally remind them).  This usually
resulted in the passengers stepping directly on the "No Step" sign, often
while my finger was still there, and actually increased the unwanted
behavior.  Finally, I resorted to resting my foot on the float and
essentially blocking the passengers from using it as a step ladder.  Even
then the float (and I) got stepped on every now and then.
        Once they actually got to the glacier, the temporary insanity would
continue.  I had the following conversation a couple of times each week:

Passenger (holding a rock he or she found on the surface of the glacier):
What's this?

Me:  That is a peice of granit that fell off that mountain over there and
has been transported here as the glacier moved down the valley.

Passenger:  Granit?  Like the granit we have back home?

Me:  Yep.

Passenger (deadly serious):  So, it's not going to melt if I put it in my

Me:  No...

Much as I might want to make snide remarks about the intellectual
capabilities of certain undergraduates and cruise passengers in general, I
don't actually think this is the true explanation.  After all, 2/3 of the
undergrads in question were honors students and the cruise passengers had to
be smart enough to accumulate enough money to get to Juneau, Alaska and have
enough left over to pay for a helicopter flight.  Instead, boarding a
helicopter and walking on a glacier are exciting and are not usual events
for most people.  Although actually performing my experimental task is
rather boring, participating in an experiment is relatively novel and
potentially stressful (at least that's what the IRB made me write in the
consent form).  Back to Florida, people do not vote every day, when they do
vote it does not always involve deciphering the butterfly ballot (not very
difficult but presumably less difficult than not turning a door knob that is
covered by a do not disturb sign) and, as is evident from the volume of
traffic on this list over the last week or so, the processes can have any
number of arousing features.  I think arousal and novelty might be a better

Netochka Nezvanova     - kumulativ efektz ov millionz ov konversaz!onz
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