Thursday, July 16, 2009


As I write this, I'm in a psychology lab running participants for an experiment in my PhD dissertation. But you know, sometimes, it's the findings that you stumble across while doing research that are just as interesting as the results you're actively seeking out.

For example, when first setting up the study, I had to go through horror movies in slow motion, frame by frame, to find the imagery I needed. After getting over the "really? they're making me a doctor for watching movies?" feeling, I observed the following facts:

  • There are not many moments in a horror movie with nothing scary going on. Especially in modern horror, every frame is saturated with disturbing oooh-look-how-creepy-this-is imagery. I think this has the ironic effect of making the movie as a whole less effective. Scares are relative to calm; without calm there are no scares.
  • Most of what we see on film is blurry. Our brains put it together just fine to make it seem like we're watching clear, continuous motion, but if you freeze at any given moment, it's likely to be a smeared mess of colour.
  • If you pause a movie at a random point, there is a 99% chance that it will depict two people standing around talking. This is what most entertains us. Overheard conversations.
Now people are sitting beside me, gasping at the imagery I'm paying them to click and type in response to, and I'm learning something else:

  • People vary a lot in how loud they type and how loud they click. Give two people the same task on the same keyboard, and some will be completely silent, while others will sound like they gave up and threw the keyboard down a flight of stairs. Even mice, with their limited range of activities, can sound different depending on whose fingers are fondling them. Try it right can make two different sounds; a simple click from applying gentle pressure, or if you pull back and unleash your full finger strength, a sort of click-thunk sound. A set of moving mice can be an infinitely varied cacophony, depending on the mousers' differing lift/drag ratios.

I think I'll drop my current project and start studying office noises instead.


Jennifer said...

For a second there I thought you meant real living mice. Ha. When I worked in a psych lab they had me sticking rats in mazes.

Phronk said...

Hehe, I'm sure living mice can make a variety of sounds too. :)

P.S. The guy beside me right now sounds like he's dismantling the keyboard.

Anonymous said...

If you want her, I have a particular coworker you could study for ages. I won't mind.

Anonymous said...

hahhaaa I am definitely a loud keyboarder! I blame it on my nails. I am sure without nails, the keyboard will be completely silent... I get very aggressive with my space bar though.

EVILFLU said...

I'm sure I'm a loud typer, I sit in a small office with 4 other people so I know I must drive them nuts with my constant clicky clicks. The first couple days I tried to be quieter on the keys but after I got more comfortable in the surroundings it got a whole lot louder!

That is so cool you get to work with horror movies! I'm so jealous ;)

Phronk said...

Jack: Sure, I'll "study" her "psychology" for ages. ;) ;) ;)

Lainy: I grew my nails long once for guitar fingerpicking, and it was really hard to type. Must be rough doing it all the time.

EvilFlu: Hehe, I'm sure people around you get used to it. It's only annoying once someone points it out, then you can't stop hearing it, ever. So for fun, you should totally point it out.

SharkBoy said...

Or come study real horror, the residents of Toronto during a strike... the good lord had not prepared me for how ugly people are...

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said... you are freaking me out. I used to think that I banged away on the keys like a madman because my keyboard was sticky from all the juice I spilled on it over the years (yes JUICE you perverts). Now I am selfconscious about it and how I am wearing down my already stubby Simpsonesque fingers. In fact my right pinky looks all distored. Help me soon to be Doctor Phronk!

D said...

NOTHING good ever happens in a PSYCHOLOGY LAB. Just ask my mother.