is a term for a phenomenon frequently seen in cases of lethal hypothermia. Shortly before death, the person will remove all their clothes, as if they were burning up, when in fact they are freezing. Because of this, people who have frozen to death are often found naked and are misidentified as victims of a violent crime. Why does this happen? According to M.A. Rothschild and V. Schneider, writing in the International Journal of Legal Medicine
The reason for this paradoxical behaviour seems to be the effect of a cold-induced paralysis of the nerves in the vessel walls, which leads to a vasodilatation, giving a feeling of warmth. Another theory proposes that the reflex vasoconstriction, which happens in the first stage of hypothermia leads to paralysis of the vasomotor center giving rise to the sensation that the body temperature is higher than it really is and in a paradox reaction the person undresses.
But wait! It gets even weirder. Once they've undressed, the dying person will frequently try to crawl into a small, enclosed space. For which reason, victims of hypothermia are often found naked, squeezed into cupboards or beneath beds. This is called Terminal Burrowing Behavior
. Again from Rothschild and Schneider:
In 20% of our cases of death due to hypothermia the bodies were found in a position, which at first induced the suspicion of an attempt to hide the body. But after all our examinations together with the police investigations it was clear that no other person was involved. Obviously the strange positions in which the bodies had been found, were the result of a (pre-)terminal behaviour, which - for lack of comparable descriptions in the literature - we have called "terminal burrowing behaviour". The discovery positions always gave the impression of a protective burrow-like or cave-like situation, as the bodies were found under the bed, behind the wardrobe, in a shelf etc.. The clothes of the bodies were always strewn on the ground in front of the final position, sometimes forming a trail. In every case the paradoxical undressing had obviously happened before this self-protective "burrowing behaviour". This is sustained by the fact that the removed clothing was never found at the final position where the body was found, and some of the victims due to cooling had obviously been crawling around. In most cases the final position in which the bodies were found could only be reached by crawling on all fours or flat on the body, resulting in abrasions to the knees, elbows, etc. This crawling to the final position seems to have happened after undressing as there were abrasions to the skin but no damage to the corresponding parts of the removed clothing.
I came across a description of this experiment in an old newspaper (Reno Evening Gazette
, Sep 8, 1941) and have never found any other references to it. The experiment was conducted by British psychologists who wanted to find out if "civilian populations can be made immune, through familiarity, to fear caused by air raid noises." The methodological problems with the design of the experiment are obvious, but it's interesting that it was conducted nevertheless. The details follow:
The London experiment consisted of herding workers, children and bomb-shocked neurotics into underground vaults and there subjecting them to an 'artificial blitz bombing.'
Sound effects used in the test were recordings made during one of London's worst air raids last year, amplified to simulate the real thing. An Associated Press writer who witnessed the experiment reported:
"The sounds swelled in the dark vault. The guns kept banging. Then big bombs burst. The guns kept up. More bombs. Then the crackle of flames. Next clanging fire engines added their noise, the other sounds continuing."
According to the reporter, the subjects stood the test very well: 'No one was crying out. A flashlight swung around the room, revealing drawn faces and frightened eyes. But no one was swooning. The experimenters stepped up the amplification.'
The British psychologists responsible for the experiment were reported delighted with the results. They said it proved their theory that whole populations could be exposed to 'artificial blitzkriegs' and thus rendered immune to fear during air raids.
offers complete instructions on how to build your very own, low-cost hug machine. For those times when you need to feel the comforting press of two mattresses around you.
The Hug Machine was invented by Temple Grandin as a way to treat her autism. From Wikipedia
The idea for the hug machine was devised during a visit to her aunt's Colorado ranch, where she noted the way cattle were vaccinated while confined in a squeeze chute, and how some of the cattle immediately calmed down after pressure was administered. She realized the deep pressure from the chute had a calming effect, and decided that might well settle down her own hypersensitivity. Whereas psychologists at her high school sought to confiscate her prototype hug machine, her science teacher encouraged her to determine just why it helped resolve her anxiety and sensory issues.
The Westermarck Effect is a psychological phenomena named after Finnish anthropologist Edvard Westermarck. The effect is that (according to
): "when two people live in close domestic proximity during the first few years in the life of either one, both are desensitized to later close sexual attraction." Which is why most people don't get the hots for their sibling.
However, if siblings don't grow up together and only meet for the first time later in life, they may be intensely sexually attracted to each other. This is known as genetic sexual attraction, or GSA. Again, from Wikipedia
Several factors may contribute to GSA. People commonly rank faces similar to their own as more attractive, trustworthy, etc. than average... Shared interests and personality traits are commonly considered desirable in a mate... In cases of parent-child attraction, the parent may recognize traits of their sometime mate in the child. Such reunions typically produce complex emotions in all involved.
Finally, there is the phenomena known as the Westermarck Trap, which occurs when two people who have grown up together (and thus are sexually desensitized to each other) are expected to marry each other, because of an arranged marriage. According to one theory
, this is what the novel Frankenstein depicts:
Students of the Westermarck effect may be interested to know that this trap is depicted in the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, in which Victor Frankenstein is expected to marry a cousin reared with him. Instead, he creates a monster that persecutes him and murders his prospective bride before the marriage can be consummated. It is suggested that the plot owes something to Mary Shelley's own experience of the Westermarck effect, following a childhood in which she was reared with a stepbrother. Her own personal solution was not to create a monster but to elope with a married man (Percy Bysshe Shelley) at the age of 16.
You might have seen the newspaper reports last fall about this experiment. Here's how it was done.
Do you feel dull and listless? Have you lost interest in everything? Do people describe you as "dead wood"? You may be suffering from Walking Zombie Syndrome. First described in the Journal of the Tennessee Medical Association, Dec 1979
these individuals carry around with them in their unconscious mind a death suggestion, while on the conscious level they have no knowledge whatsoever of it. In fact, when told they believe themselves dead they deny it even though their symptoms and their behavior continually affirm the diagnosis of the Walking Zombie syndrome...
Walking Zombies are present on the streets of every city, and not a single practitioner will escape their complaints. Even though they may faithfully attempt work every day, they are for the most part nonproductive and often represent more of a liability than an asset to their employers, families and friends. Many are accident prone, and most Walking Zombies cost their company a great deal by chronic absenteeism.
is a name used to describe people who believe they are "something other than human." That something other might be an elf, angel, dragon, or vampire.
The Otherkin Wiki explores topics such as Differences from humans
, Identifying your species
, and, of course, the dreaded Wannabes
who try to infiltrate the Otherkin community:
It's hard to detect wannabes...they can become enmeshed in the community and be quite active, or perhaps they eventually figure out that they were wrong and leave -- the realization is probably due to some type of disillusionment...
There is also some measure of fan-culture around some mythological archetypes -- such as Elves in the wake of the Lord of the Rings movies, Vampires after Buffy:TVS and so on. Due to the prevalence of these archetypes in popular media, the community does attract some people who "Wanna be" elves, vampires, etc. even though they know that they aren't. Some of them hang out for a while before realizing that we're by far an unromantic and rather boring community as a whole. They also probably leave disillusioned.
I believe that the social psychologist Leon Mann was one of the first to describe the phenomenon of the "baiting crowd." He did so in a 1981 article
in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
We assume that most people are concerned for the life and well-being of others. It comes as a surprise to learn that crowds gathered at the site of a suicide threat have been known to taunt and urge the victim to jump... In my examination of the baiting phenomenon, I searched all listings for suicides and suicide attempts in the New York Times Index for 1964-1979... The following extract from the New York Times for June 8, 1964, is an example of the data source:
A Puerto Rican handyman perched on a 10th floor ledge for an hour yesterday morning as many persons in a crowd of 500 on upper Broadway shouted at him in Spanish and English to jump. Even as cries of "Jump!" and "Brinca!" rang out, policemen pulled the man to safety from the narrow ledge at 3495 Broadway, the north-west corner of 143rd Street.
Mann identified five factors that contribute to the phenomenon: 1) the anonymity of being in a large crowd; 2) cover of darkness; 3) distance from the victim (but being close enough so that the person threatening suicide can still hear the cries urging him to jump); 4) duration of episode (people get bored and restless waiting too long); and 5) hot temperatures.
My theory is that people are okay until you gather them together into a crowd, at which point they transform into the lowest form of life imaginable.
The Autism-Spectrum Quotient Test
measures autistic traits in adults. The average score is 16. If you score 32 or higher, no one is saying you're definitely autistic, but you're probably not known for your sparkling social skills. I scored 22, so yeah, I'm on the antisocial side of the spectrum.
The Sensation Seeking Scale was developed by Prof. Marvin Zuckerman
almost forty years ago. It measures four psychological tendencies: thrill and adventure seeking; experience seeking; disinhibition; and susceptibility to boredom.
"Thrill seekers" get a kick out of activities or sports that provide unusual sensations and experiences-- even if they involve risk. Motorcycle racing or water-skiing, for example, might appeal to this category of sensation seekers... "Experience seekers" enjoy novel experiences--say, travel to exotic locations, listening to unusual or exciting music, experimenting with drugs or living a "non-conformist" lifestyle... "Disinhibitors" are constantly searching for opportunities to lose their inhibitions at "wild" parties involving heavy drinking and sexual activities with strangers... Finally, sensation seekers are very easily bored by repetitious, predictable experiences and people, or by routine work assignments.
Take the test
over at the BBC to find out how much (and what kind) of a sensation seeker you are.
I scored very high as an "experience seeker." Makes sense for someone who's addicted to weird.
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All original content in posts is Copyright © 2008 by the author of the post, either Alex Boese ("Alex"), Paul Di Filippo ("Paul"), or Chuck Shepherd ("Chuck"). All rights reserved. The banner illustration at the top of this page is Copyright © 2008 by Rick Altergott.