The physiology and psychology of living in space

Paul Raven @ 01-04-2011

Via BigThink, Robert Lamb of Discovery News has compiled an overview of the physical and mental adjustments a human being makes to living in the microgravity of an orbital space station:

Stage Three: Sometime between week six and week 12, you can expect things to get a little moody aboard the old space station. Russian observations found that a number of the symptoms were linked to boredom and isolation. You become hypertensive, irritable and less motivated. Expect to fly off the handle whenever a crew member drifts into your personal space or borrows your iPod without asking. You can also expect increased sensitivity to loud noises, changes in musical preferences, exhaustion, sleep disturbances and loss of appetite. It should come as no surprise that this sometimes results in an “accusation of negative personality traits.”

Mundane/hard SF writers, take note – plenty of scientifically verifiable story triggers in there. Especially in Stage Four, which is all about “prevailing feelings of euphoria” and “new insights into the meaning of life and the unity of mankind”… so, kinda like watching 2001 with a headful of Owsley’s Old Original, then. (I’m kidding, of course. Well, mostly.)

Of course, the above research can, perforce, only describe the effects of a relatively short tenure at the top of the gravity well; for anything longer than a five-moth stretch, you’re probably gonna want to go cyborg


Body Area Networks: medical monitoring on the move

Paul Raven @ 11-10-2010

The Body Area Network shouldn’t be an entirely new idea to regular readers, but for those of you new to the term, it does what it says on the tin, i.e. networks together an assortment of gadgets and devices located on or in the human body. Those devices can be pretty much anything that produces or processes a signal… so as well as the potential for augmenting yourself into a Stephensonian gargoyle, you can also turn the electronic eye inwards by rigging up systems to monitor your internal organs and send the data to your phone:

Dubbed the Human++ BAN platform, the system converts IMEC’s ultra-low-power electrocardiogram sensors into wireless nodes in a short-range network, transmitting physiological data to a hub – the patient’s cellphone. From there, the readings can be forwarded to doctors via a Wi-Fi or 3G connection. They can also be displayed on the phone or sound an alarm when things are about to go wrong, giving patients like me a chance to try to slow our heart rates and avoid an unnecessary shock.

Julien Penders, who developed the system, says it can also work with other low-power medical sensors, such as electroencephalograms (EEGs) to monitor neurological conditions or electromyograms to detect neuromuscular diseases. Besides helping those already diagnosed with chronic conditions, BANs could be used by people at risk of developing medical problems – the so-called “worried well” – or by fitness enthusiasts and athletes who want to keep tabs on their physiological processes during training.

Lots of street uses, too, once this stuff gets cheap (which shouldn’t take long). For instance, we humans tend to get competitive about pretty much anything that can be measured and recorded, so perhaps we’ll get forums devoted to people pushing their bodies to extremes – be it through drug use, extreme sports or even epic-scale lassitude – and posting the evidence. Whole lot of new (and weird) categories for the Guinness Book of Records coming down the pipeline…


Neurocapitalism

Paul Raven @ 23-02-2010

Move over, neurocinematicsneurocapitalism reaches far beyond the theatre and focus group in its all-pervasive influence! Well, not quite, but Martin Börjesson responds to an article that uses the term as its title in order to make a point about the increasing ubiquity of neuroscience and the effects that it will have on every aspect of our lives, be they public or private:

The real reason why neurophysiological knowledge will have huge impact is rather that we are heading into a world where 1st person experiences, emotions and perspective will dominate. This shift is very well matched to what neurophysiology is promising: e g to solve people’s (perceived) disorders and fix (perceived) shortcomings, but also to boost experiences and create (artificial) peace of mind. Institutions will, part from selling all the neuro-based drugs, devices and services to people, use the new knowledge to both manipulate people but also get new insight in what people wants in order to be able and develop and market products and services more efficiently and effectively.

So even if we will not have a Neurocapitalism, we will most likely have a market in where many, many products and services will be based on or transformed by the new knowledge, ideas and innovations that stem from neurophysiological research.

As with basic psychology, knowledge is power; if you want to be able to resist the imminent finely-crafted importunings of anyone who can afford the right neurological research, you’ll need to learn which tricks they’ve found effective so as to protect yourself against them. But start small – why not learn a little about the emotional psychology of retail as a warm-up [via BoingBoing; image via Hljod.Huskona]?


Neuromarketing – time for the revenge of the consumer?

Paul Raven @ 26-06-2009

showroom signRegular readers will be aware that technological marketing is one of my perennial topics here at Futurismic; it never ceases to amaze me how far companies will go to find new ways of selling us stuff more effectively. Neurological research is the cutting edge of the field these days, with Honda kitting out test customers with clothing that reports on their physiological status as they’re given the latest pitch in a gussied-up showroom:

Honda found the results so persuasive that it is remodelling showrooms and retraining staff to tailor pitches according to a potential buyer’s state of mind. “The hypothesis is that if you get the [sales] experience right, you may not need that price promotion to sell a product,” explains Ian Armstrong, manager of customer communications for Honda UK. “Conventional research only gets you so far because it’s rationalisation after the event, and most decision-making is done subconsciously. We set out to measure physical changes people cannot consciously control.”

Honda is not alone in believing brain science can boost the bottom line. A growing number of businesses say that traditional ways of understanding consumers – direct questioning, observing our behaviour – don’t explain why we buy one product over another. And they are turning to neuroscience for the answers.

All well and good for Honda, I guess – though I’d be immensely amused if at the end of it all it was discovered that purchasing choices are largely sub-rational and random. For now, though,  I’m inclined to see the sales floor as the battleground of an arms race. After all, the technologies Honda are using are comparatively lo-fi, the sort of thing that a smart independent researcher could knock up on a budget. So maybe consumer advocacy groups will start their own counter-research programs, offering tactics and training to enable shoppers to spot when they’re being manipulated by environmental factors or neurolinguistic programming techniques, and ways of turning the tables on the salesmen. Knowledge is power, right? [image by mrflip]

Of course it’ll be a while before grass-roots research can match the sort of data that fMRI scans can gather, but if there’s one up-side to the economic slump it’s that people already seem to be thinking far more carefully about what they buy; all the crafty persuasion techniques in the world won’t do you any good in an empty showroom, after all. And just to go all the way with the blue-sky thinking, perhaps we’ll eventually end up in a world where manufacturers realise the best way to sell us something is to have a robust and functional product that people actually need…

… hey, a guy can dream big on a Friday, can’t he?