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New Study Sexy Images can cause Temporary Blindness



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On one of my many trips around the Washington D.C. area I was caught up in some even-more-busy-than-usual mid-afternoon traffic, and cursed the hundreds of construction projects on I-95. To my surprise, what seemed like an eternity later I came to the source of the traffic a small accident on the other side of the freeway, and everyone on my side of the freeway "rubbernecking" or gawking at the accident like there was nothing better to see.

Why do we rubberneck? What is it exactly that we're looking for? Are we hoping to catch a glimpse of some blood? Is the potential for gore just so tantalizing that focusing on driving becomes near impossible? Or is it something much more primitive and instinctual than that?

Well, apparently the potential for rubbernecking is just as great if not greater on the "Information Highway" as it is on the interstate.

The Study

According to a study done by Dr. Steven Most (from Yale) and David Zald (from Vanderbilt), certain images, particularly those of an erotic or violent nature lead to temporary blindness; or at least the inability to focus on anything for a short amount of time after seeing such images.

As printed in The Economist in 2005 (see Economist.com) test subjects were exposed to sequences of images and were told to find an image that was rotated. This target image was placed two to eight images after a violent or erotic image. The closer the target was to an explicit image, the less likely the test subject was to be able to identify it.

What does this mean for all of the men panicking at the premise of this article?

The Conclusion

When exposed to certain stimuli it becomes impossible for our brains to focus on other things for almost a second afterwards. So though there is no real fear of permanent blindness (at least not yet), at freeway speeds that second could prove fatal. According to NewScientist.com this study fuels the fire of those trying to keep sexy images from being displayed on highway billboards.

Why do sexy or violent images have such a jarring effect?

Researchers believe that these responses are all pre-programmed in the amygdala, or emotion center of the brain. Here all the information our brain processes is sorted by emotional contentthe more emotional the response, the quicker and more stimulating the rush.

In other words these images are attached to the primal part of our brain, and it may be near impossible to control our reaction to them.

How Do We Fix it?

We can all see the benefit of less distraction and less traffic due to "rubbernecking". According to the study the only way to identify the target images close to the explicit image was to focus on specific content. This means that when the test subjects were asked to identify a rotated image with a specific building or landscape that was familiar they were more successful.

How does that information help our driving?

A spokesman from Brake (a UK safe-driving organization) said that the only way to avoid distractions is to focus on what you are doing: driving. Of course, according to the study he was responding to, it may be impossible to control our reaction.

So the only real answer is avoidance.

When it comes to driving, that means the removal of sexy/violent images from billboards. It also means that rubbernecking may be an unavoidable annoyance. These images behave somewhat like a light to a moth: we are drawn to them against our will.

What about the issue of gawking on the internet? Well, since we cannot control our responses avoidance is still the key. This is especially important to realize when trying to protect your children. Filtering software can only do so much; the rest is up to you knowing what your children are looking at.

Whether or not you yourself feel the need to avoid, that is completely up to you.
Apparently these images carry quite a punch, enough of one to completely throw your focus whether you like it or not. Unfortunately for all of you wives/girlfriends/significant-others out there, those affects appear to be temporary.

Unless, of course, you decide otherwise.

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