June 30, 2011

The oddball effect and multi-tasking


The New Yorker recently ran an interesting article on neuroscientist David Eagleman. Part of Eagleman's research is on the varying perceptions of time, and the oddball effect is a simple experiment that illustrates how the mind doesn't always track elapsed time accurately. In the experiment, you watch a series of simple images flashing on a screen. Most of the images are of a brown shoe, but every once in a while you see a flower instead. Most people think that the flower picture is on screen for a longer period of time, when in reality all the images are displayed for the same time period.

The trick seems to be that something new and interesting focuses the brain more intensely than something routine, and that can affect our perception of time passing. Its pretty common knowledge that looking at something new once in a while keeps you fresh, but its interesting to hear a bit about the science behind that effect. Eagleman is a great believer in this effect; he keeps over 10 research projects going at any one time.

I'm a multi-tasker at heart, so the article made me feel a little better about my work habits. Its a great read, and the ideas are thought provoking. Plus, you have to respect any scientist who incorporates SCAD freefall diving into his experiements.

On a side note, I finally managed to mention my favorite magazine in the Perforce blog!