So why was Simone Harris standing on a Sydney street in a bikini? Was this a publicity stunt? Was she a psychologist conducting research? A performance artist being weird? I haven't been able to find answers anywhere.
These pictures in the Google Arts picture archive don't come with any explanatory text, except that they're from an "Air Raid Noise Experiment" conducted in Nuneaton in 1941. But I suspect that the experiment was part of a series of psychological experiments conducted in the UK in 1941 that attempted to "harden Britons to bomb shock." The idea was to expose people to the sounds of air raid sirens and battle sounds so that they would lose their fear of them. As described in the news clipping below:
The suggestion was advanced that whole populations be put through the experiment to make them 'immune, through familiarity, to fear caused by air raid noises.'
1976: Drs. William Johnson and Robert Truax of Louisiana State University raised and studied featherless chickens.
Aside from the physical problems, the chickens have social problems and psychological hangups, Johnson said.
"I guess 'embarrassed' is as good a word for it as any. You put one of them in with a flock of normal birds, and it huddles off in a corner by itself. The other birds won't have anything to do with it until they get used to it," he said.
"And then they're just not as active sexually. They will court and strut much more than the normal bird, but they don't mate as readily."
The story reminds me of the old urban legend about KFC raising mutant, featherless chickens. Maybe this is where the story started.
I ran across these intriguing images in an old copy of Newsweek - March 28, 1960.
Unfortunately there wasn't much explanation about them. The caption read: "Psychological sputnik: Year-old Soviet child rigged for conditioning experiment."
An accompanying article, about the visit of Soviet psychologist Alexander R. Luria to the U.S., didn't refer to the images at all. But offered this hint:
[Luria] maintained that there was little battle fatigue among Russian soldiers in World War II because they had a "purpose." As for the civilian population today: "We have much less neurosis than you have. Every man in our country has an important goal, the 'we'."
Luria's own goal and the goal of Soviet psychopedagogy, is important, too: Increasing the learning ability of Soviet children by 25 per cent.
"Think of it," he said, "such a finding would be worth billions of dollars. It is no less important than a sputnik."
So the images must be showing some kind of weird Soviet experiment to boost a child's IQ.
The kid would be too young to be Putin. Though there is a slight resemblance.
Psychologists have found that a person can easily become habituated to a repeated stimulus. But if the stimulus is removed, its absence can itself be perceived as a kind of phantom stimulus. This is known as the "Bowery-el phenomenon" — named after the Bowery el (or Third Avenue el), the elevated rail line that used to run through New York City. The cognitive scientist Karl Pribram explained the term in a Jan 1969 Scientific American article, "The Neurophysiology of Remembering":
For many years there was an elevated railway line (the "el") on Third Avenue in New York that made a fearful racket; when it was torn down, people who had been living in apartments along the line awakened periodically out of a sound sleep to call the police about some strange occurrence they could not properly define. Many such calls came at the times the trains had formerly rumbled past. The strange occurrences were of course the deafening silence that had replaced the expected noise.
And there's a slightly fuller description at indiana.edu:
Apparently the omission of an event can itself be an event. A somewhat famous case of this is the Bowery El phenomenon. The Bowery El is a train the regularly runs through the Bowery, a less than desirable section of New York City. In the Bowery the track is lined by some apartment buildings. That residents of these apartments regularly call police to report suspected criminal activity (breakins, assaults) is not so unusual. However, for a period of two weeks in late the 1960s the police received un unusually large number of calls in the middle of the night. Even more confusing was that the police often found no evidence of criminal activity (breakins, peeping toms, etc.) apparently nothing was happening. At least not more than usual. As mentioned, after about two weeks the number of calls reduced down to the usual number. Some astute investigator noticed that at about the time the calls increased in number the Bowery El had stopped its 2:00 AM run. Apparently the residents of the apartments had habituated to the noise in the middle of the night. However once the noise stopped the residents dishabituated and the resulting OR woke them up. Since no one wakes up to nothing, the residents apparently assumed that something unusual had happened and called the police.
The indiana.edu article says the flurry of calls occurred in the 1960s, but I think they must be mistaken, since the Bowery el was torn down in 1955.
The Bowery el, aka Third Avenue el. Image via wikipedia
The Stop Stress Group is a Spanish company founded by Jorge Arribas Haro in 2003. It offers stress management and team-building therapy to companies, and it specializes in "Destruct Therapy" (Destructoterapia), which involves giving office workers sledge hammers, taking them out to a junk yard, and having them vent their rage on "cars, washing machines, refrigerators, television sets, and so on."
In the video below there's one burly guy who seems like a ringer, and then a bunch of people who are more like tapping the car with the sledgehammer. They're probably thinking, "Why do we have to do this idiotic team building exercise?"
Back in 1931, Dr. Mandel Sherman, director of the Child Research Centre, wanted to find out the exact number of ways in which children annoy their parents. He came up with the oddly specific number of 2,124 different ways.
He arrived at this number by having a group of parents carry notebooks around with them for a week and record each time their child annoyed them.
Some of the ways in which the children annoyed: being disobedient, being too slow or too quick, not being neat, primping, etc.
Personally, I think he seriously lowballed that number.
We've encountered the work of Dr. Sherman before. Back in 2009, I posted about his advice that instead of training kids to be successful in life, we should train them to accept the inevitability of failure. That way, they'll be much happier when they actually do end up as mediocre flops.
In the mid 1930s, Dr. Harry DeSilva of the Massachusetts State College at Amherst created a brake reaction test to measure how quickly drivers can step on the brake in response to a red light. He took it around the country and tested thousands of people.
People in their mid 20s generally had the quickest reaction times, and then times declined with age, which wasn't a surprise. Slightly more surprising was that short people generally had faster responses than tall people. From Time magazine (Aug 1935):
The average reaction time was .43 sec. The fastest was .26 sec. The slowest was .90 sec. It was found that tall persons generally react a little more slowly than short people, no doubt because motor nerve impulses travel through the body at about 300 ft. per sec. and thus for tall persons the motor impulse would take longer to go from the brain to the foot. Another theory is that short people simply have less leg to deal with.
Back in the 1930s, if a Detroit judge suspected a driver was mentally unfit to be on the road, he might send the driver to see Dr. Lowell Selling, who would test the driver using a miniature street intersection to simulate various situations. However, I'm not sure what exactly this testing involved, beyond that vague description.
Despite the high incidence of both motor vehicle accidents and mental disorders in the general population, a literature examining correlates between the two is sparse. Almost 70 years ago, a Detroit psychiatrist, Lowell Selling, pioneered work in this area with a series of unfortunately forgotten journal articles. Beyond his seminal contributions, little has been published on this important area of crime.
Gravitz wasn't actually doing this himself, but he reported that back in the early 20th century (and presumably earlier as well) creating warts was a popular pasttime among girls in the Swiss canton of Vaud:
Charles Baudouin, a contemporary Swiss, noted that the canton or province of Vaud, in which Lausanne is located, was well known for its large number of lay wart healers. It was also possible for a patient to employ a prescription for the treatment of warts without consulting one of these folk healers. "In these cases, autosuggestion is seen in all its beauty. Prescriptions pass from village to village and hamlet to hamlet. Some of them are incredibly quaint. For example, to cause warts, the subject goes out one evening, moistens the tip of the finger, looks at a star, and simultaneously applies the wet finger-tip to the other hand. The operation is repeated, the finger being freshly moistened with saliva each time, while the subject counts, 'one, two, three . . .' up to the number of warts desired. Now, wherever the moistened finger-tip has been applied, a wart duly appears."
He noted that such practices were a form of amusement among the Vaudois girls who derived pleasure from passing their own warts on to someone else. "A ribbon is tied around the affected hand, and is knotted as many times as there are warts on the hand; then the ribbon is dropped on the highway. Whoever picks it up and unties the knots, will get the warts, and the original owner of the warts will be cured."
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Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction books such as Elephants on Acid.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.
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