Thursday, May 28, 2009


When I was about twelve years old my scout troop and I went down to Emory University to assist in a study that some of the students were doing. We were told that the study was to test reaction time. They sat us in a chair and them they moved the chair into a very dark box with a monitor on the far side. We were then given an Atari joystick. None of the directions worked they just needed us to push the fire button on the top. We were asked to stare at a small X in the middle of the screen and to push the button when the X changed to an H. They started the test and I was eager to show that I had really good reaction times so I stared intently at the X in the middle. When it would change to an H I would hit the button as fast as I could. This went on for about ten minutes.
When the test was over they pulled me into another room and asked me some follow up questions while the next scout was actually taking the test. The follow up questions really surprised me. They didn’t ask me about the X changing to the H at all. The questions seemed to last longer than the test and they kept asking me about things that were happening outside of the task I was given.
“Did you see the large monkey at the top right of the screen?”
“What word was inside the large circle that kept going around the screen?”
“I didn’t see it.”
“The M just to the right of the center of the screen changed color at least five times. What to colors did it change back and forth from?”
“Um, I didn’t see an M.”
“Do you remember any of the other words that appeared around the screen? There were over a hundred?’
“Um, I thought y’all were testing reaction time so I didn’t pay any attention to that other stuff.”
As we drove home that night I felt that I’d been dupped. I talked to my Dad about it. He told me that the joystick probably wasn’t even plugged into anything. The test seemed to be a test of peripheral vision and not about reaction time at all. They basically had to lie to me to get me stare at the center of the screen. Had I known it was to test my peripheral vision I’d have not been focusing on the center and I’ve have been looking all around the get the right answers. So If I’d have known what the test was about I’d have given them faulty data.
Nurses frequently use a similar ruse. When they take your vital signs to put on your report one of the things they measure is your breathing rate. Do you ever remember being asked to sit back and breath normally? No you probably don’t. If you have been asked that, the nurse more than likely did not get a normal breathing rate for you. Most nurses are trained to take you pulse for 15 seconds while looking at their watch and then multiply that number by 4 to get your pulse. But they actually hold your wrist and appear to be looking at their watch for at least another 15 seconds. For those last 15 they are actually watching your chest rise and fall and counting your breaths. Like the joystick, the watch is just a misdirection.
So, why do I bring this up? Well lately I’ve been experiencing a lot of the same frustration that I felt as I left that Emory study. I feel like I’ve been concentrating on everything that I’ve been told was important. Yet now I’m beginning to wonder if many of these other details are just the misdirection so I can be tested on what the testers were really looking for. I’m afraid that when the test is over and they start asking me the follow up questions I’m just going to be stammering like I did when I was twelve.

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