The research provides valuable insights into how people react under stress.
You may have heard of the popular British TV show “Mastermind”. The television competition series has become known for its challenging questions and the high pace at which participants have to answer the questions. This, as you can imagine, causes a great deal of stress. in New study Researchers watched several episodes of Mastermind. Because in this way scientists can study how the human body reacts under stressful conditions and in situations that would be impossible to replicate in the laboratory.
In the Mastermind game, four participants are challenged on their general knowledge in a particular field of their choice, such as history, literature, science, etc. “They sit in an imposing leather chair and have to answer questions quickly while lights shine on them and the camera slowly zooms in on their faces,” explains researcher Robert Wilson. Participants are then questioned by the presenter in a tense and challenging atmosphere. The show is known for its high level of difficulty and has become popular due to the intense pressure that the contestants are under while answering questions. The popular TV quiz has had several versions over the years and is one of the longest running quiz shows in the UK.
The researchers were particularly interested in how participants in the neurostimulating game presentation reacted physiologically. “This is something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time, is trying to get physiological information from video footage,” Wilson said. This allows researchers to investigate situations that resemble real situations in everyday life. For example, the joy of being interrogated on national television is something that cannot be easily recreated in a laboratory.
Wilson and his team paid special attention to how many times the participants blinked. And this is not for nothing. For example, we currently do not know exactly how eye blinking is related to cognitive effort, especially in real-life situations. However, it is believed that people blink more the more stressed they are. The researchers wanted to study this better. “The intense lighting and slow camera movements in Mastermind make eye flashes easy to spot,” Wilson points out.
The researchers studied 25 episodes from two seasons of Mastermind and collected data from 100 participants. They recorded when each question began and ended, as well as when participants blinked. This yielded approximately 100,000 data points. The researchers then analyzed this data to understand how much blinking varied between different people throughout the game. They compared these results with results from less stressful experiments from previous laboratory studies.
Significantly more often
Mastermind pressure actually seemed to influence how many times participants blinked. They blinked at twice the normal rate of 20 per minute for a comfortable person. In addition, participants appeared to blink at the “semicolon moments” in the game, i.e. at the beginning of each question and at the beginning of their answer. They also blinked less when they thought about how to respond, consistent with the lab’s findings.
However, there were also discrepancies with laboratory test results. For example, in the TV show, older adults blinked more than younger adults, and women blinked more than men. “We did not observe these differences in the laboratory,” says Wilson. There were also differences in behavior. In laboratory tests, people usually take their time and act more carefully and carefully after making a mistake. However, this did not happen in Mastermind.
It is not entirely clear why exactly these differences exist. But according to Wilson, these differences are the most exciting aspect of the research. “One of the big questions in psychology now is how much what we observe in the laboratory relates to what happens in real life,” he says. “This question is essential, not only for our basic understanding of the human mind, but also from a practical perspective, with the goal of finding laboratory tests that can help diagnose mental illness.”
For researchers, studying blinks is just the beginning. “There’s a lot of information hidden in video footage,” Wilson says. For example, modern computer vision techniques can help understand how people look, breathe, and vibrate in their seats. This helps researchers measure all kinds of aspects of how our bodies work. “This is exactly what we want to investigate: how the physical and mental aspects of real human behavior work,” Wilson concludes.
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