Saturday, March 28, 2009

Puzzling behavior

Auggie here...

A little help? If there are any behavioral psychologists or cognitive scientists among the readers I would appreciate some help explaining two human behavioral patterns that, quite frankly, have me baffled. Let’s call these two behaviors “the scowl" and "road stupidity”.

You know what? Even if you’re not a scientist feel free to chime in – all theories are welcome.

1. The scowl:

I think NBA stands for National Bizarro Association. How else to explain the scowl?
Observe the nearby picture of Chris Bosh, a basketball player for the Toronto Raptors. Based on your understanding of human emotion and corresponding facial expressions, what emotion do you think he is feeling at that moment? In my world it is clearly anger. That’s the exact expression I would make if I just discovered a hair line fracture in my new Nike Sasquatch driver. Let me pose the question another way - suppose this was your SAT and the question was worded: From the following choices, describe the event that would NOT produce the accompanying facial expression:

  • A rookie just backed into his new Hummer H3
  • An opponent made a derogatory comment about his Mama
  • He just competed a rewarding play to help his team.

If you answered “c”, enjoy community college. This is the typical facial expression of an NBA player after a positive play. It is not just occasional, it’s the norm. Now, I know why most players do it – because they have seen their predecessors do it and the herd mentality impedes them from alternative expression. But how did it all start?

When I was a child, if I had seen my dad arriving home from work with that face do you think I would have said, “Whoa dad, you really nailed it today huh?” Nope. I might not have known the problem but I’d have been out of there faster than George W. at a fifth grade spelling bee.

There must be some good scientific theories out there.

2. Road Stupidity

We hear a lot about road rage these days, but the precursor to road rage is road stupidity. I witness it daily on my commute to work and back. When I see people risking the safety of themselves and others, or worse, me! it’s infuriating. They’re basically saying “I’m more important than the rest of you oafs, and these silly laws and regulations do not apply to a person of my stature”. Attempting to describe the levels of stupidity and inconsiderate behavior is beyond the scope of this blog, but I’m sure we all could cite examples we’ve witnessed.

Sometimes as I’m cursing a person from the safety of my car, I stop and think - if I knew that person I might like them and think of them as a good person. Even as a stranger, they would probably come to my aid if I needed help. And that is probably true a majority of the time, so the question becomes: what happens to an otherwise decent person when they slide their sorry butt behind the wheel of their vehicle? This is not a rhetorical question, I firmly believe a chemical change takes place the brain.

We’re all at least vaguely familiar with similar scientific concepts in other aspects of life. For example adrenaline. When a person encounters certain kinds of stress, a hormone is released that prepares them for ‘fight or flight’. And what about the numerous brain activity studies that show how certain brain regions are activated by certain experiences. You gonna tell me something similar doesn’t happen when some people get in a car? Can we get a control group together and study this? Slap some probes on their noggins and see what happens, its not that hard. Why hasn’t it been done?

I have some brain activity (or lack thereof) theories based on empirical evidence, but I’m not fluent in the scientific terminology so I’ll need to express my theories in lay terms.

Brain regions that become more active when some people begin to drive:
  • The region controlling territorial instincts
  • The region controlling the basic attitude “since we are all anonymous behind our steel barriers, I can act like a cretin and get away with it”
  • The region controlling general buttheadedness.

Brain regions that become less active when some people begin to drive:
  • The region controlling consideration for fellow humans.

I look forward to some enlightenment.

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