Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Drink and You’ll Miss It
I read in my local paper a few days ago an article on drinking. It must have been something they picked up off the wire to round out the Your Time section of the Sunday paper. Under the banner of Your Time they included a bible quote, ”A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together. A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.” – Ecclesiastes. It makes me wonder what the folks at the local paper think we are doing with our time.
Anyway, the article was wedged in at the bottom of the page, under an article about what college bound students need to take with them and a report on a study that found that sexy music triggers teen sex. The article was written by Jeannine Stein for the L.A. Times. Apparently the good folks at the University of Washington in Seattle took 46 people and gave half of them enough alcohol to bring their blood alcohol content to 0.04 percent (half the legal limit in most states and about 2 ½ beers for a 180-pound man). The researchers then showed both groups a 25-second video clip of two teams passing a ball back and forth. (I assume these are basketball teams, but the article doesn’t say). The members were asked to count how many times one team passed the ball. During the clip, a person in a gorilla suit walks through the crowd, thumps its chest and walks off.
Researchers found that out of the sober group, only 46% saw the gorilla, while only 18% of the drinkers did. “Alcohol limits our attention span and is doing something to the brain cognitively, picking up on some information at the expense of other information,” says Seema Clifasefi, a senior researcher and lead author of the study.
While I’m sure that the good folks at the U. of W. are doing good work and furthering mankind’s noble venture into the study of science and ourselves, I gotta say, Hell, I could have told ya that. I studied Law Enforcement in college and I’m here to tell you that there is often nothing worse to go on then the statement of an eyewitness, even a sober one. Granted, the study sounds worthwhile when you hear that only 18% of 23 semi drunken people saw the gorilla. (That’s four people by my math). But when you hold that up to the other half of the study, that only 46% of 23 (or ten out of 23) sober people saw the gorilla, then it just seems that the 46 people they got for their study weren’t very good at details, or were too busy counting on their fingers and toes all of the ball passing going on to notice.
Try this for an exercise: The next time you stop at a stop light and a car pulls up beside you, look the driver over. When you get to the next light, try and think about what that person looked like, as if you were going to describe them to the police. Was it a man or a Woman? What were they wearing? How old do you think they were? Were they wearing any jewelry? Tattoos? Scars? Color of their hair? How did they wear it? What about the car? Make and model? Dents or scratches? Paint color and style? Was there anything hanging from the rear-view? Bumper stickers or Parking garage sticker? Was there anyone else in the car with them? What did they look like?
It isn’t as easy as it seems. It is something that you have to work at. Like the old party game where they show you items on a tray for a short time and then take the tray away and ask the group to list as many of the items as they can, and whoever remembers the most, wins a prize.
The part of the article that sticks in my craw is the way it is presented. They want to stress how much alcohol impairs your memory and attention that they seem to gloss over the fact that the sober people didn’t do that great either. Four out of twenty-three, compared to ten out of twenty three. That means, out of forty-six people, drunk or sober, thirty-two didn’t see the damn gorilla! The article mentions that they gave one half of the group alcohol to raise their b.a.c. to 0.04 percent but no mention of how this was done. They say that this is like 2 ½ beers for a 180 lbs. Man. Well, did these folks have to beer bong their alcohol? Did they get injections? Did they eat anything first? How long after the booze was delivered did they take the test? Did the people get to choose in what kind of drink that they would like to have their alcohol delivered? Some may have been wine drinkers, others may have preferred beer, some may have been teetotalers, the article just doesn’t say. It sounds good in a small blurb of an article crammed in the Sunday paper, but when you examine it further, it just sounds like shaky science.
I am not accusing the staff of the U. of W. of bad science, but the article could have been more specific. I’m sure that Jeannine Stein is a competent reporter, she works for the L.A. Times for the love of Pete, a job that any college grad of journalism would hock a kidney for, but the piece seems a little slanted. She was probably just pressed for space, or her editor hacked up the column after she turned it in, to make room for the ad regarding the big white sale going on a J.C. Penny’s.
I guess I’ll just have to visit my local library and see if they have this month’s copy of Applied Cognitive Psychology, where the full details of the study were published.
Damn, maybe I just need a cold beer and a cigarette, to forget the fact that I didn’t see the gorilla either.