This article aims to warn you about the dangers of “page 5” girls. It’s what the papers should have, but never did, tell you about flicking to that notorious (but now extinct) section of your weekly tabloid.
Firstly though, how might you go about proving that sexy images cause temporary blindness? A group of psychologists designed a study to do just that. Coincidentally, read on if you hate your day job and need inspiration on how else to earn a living.
In the study, participants were presented with a quick succession of pictures. Almost all of the images in the string were described as having neutral’ content but embedded somewhere amongst them was a so-called target’ image. The guinea-pigs were briefed to seek out the target and press a key pad to indicate at what point they noticed it. A proportion of participants were even offered a large monetary award for each correctly recognized target.
Sound like an easy way to make your millions? Well as the results show, it proved to be quite a challenge. Scientists haven’t got their bright spark reputation for nothing, and neither were these guys and gals trying to appeal to charity-cases. This tight-fisted group of individuals had a trick up their sleeve.
In amid the stream of pictures preceding the target the researchers craftily added an image distractingly sexual in nature. Even when participants was instructed to ignored depictions of people, erotically charged pictures blinded’ them for several milliseconds. Failing to spot the subsequent target these unfortunate volunteers missed out on the Big Money.
Of course, by blindness’ we aren’t talking the guide-dog-and-dark-glasses kind. The psychology term is “emotion-induced blindness” and refers to a split second involuntary lapse of visual processing. It is experienced by a person after they view an emotive stimulus – in this experiment a sexual image which the authors politely describe as emotionally positive’.
So could these findings be the root of something more serious? Might seemingly innocent Playboy pin-ups be a real safety hazard on building sites? And does the window cleaner from the Diet Coke Break pose a serious risk to those of us who work in offices (any one of us could end up with hand stapled to page)?
Apparently the extent to which you are blinded depends on society’s familiarity with the naked human. Maybe that explains why in Denmark, a nation famous for its liberal approach to sex and nudity, a gang of topless blonds holding traffic signs were let loose on the roadsides. The Speed Control Bikini Bandits were said to be making Copenhagen a safer place by drawing attention to speed limits.
A news clip showing the girls in action is available on the web. Obviously viewing only would be in the interest of science and to ascertain whether the male drivers are in fact temporarily blinded by the spectacle. I hasten to add the movie is completely fictional and part of a Danish Road Safety Council campaign. Presumably if it were real, no amount of learned cultural adaptation’ to nudity would make this practice any less perilous for road users, especially the male sort.
And interestingly, regardless of culture, men in the study were more affected by erotic content than women. Men also gave erotic pictures a slightly higher arousal rating than women did and the authors point out that men show more physiological reactivity’ to erotica too. I leave that last quote open to your interpretation!
But whatever you take it to mean, the one thing that seems to come across clearly is that men are more susceptible to being distracted by sexy scenes. With that in mind, perhaps you can be thankful that as of Halloween 2006 Weekly World News stopped featuring their scantily clad models. That’s another source of distracting stimuli removed from the supermarket shelves.
Removal of easy-access porn is surely the safest way to protect the poor bored souls who accompany their wives or girlfriends on the weekly shop. After all, they might be inclined to give in to temptation and take a sneaky peak at the lowbrow paper, dangerously unaware of that high speed trolley crash or tumbling tower of candy about to come down on top of them.
Or perhaps ladies you’ll go easier on your partner when he hasn’t got a come back to “Are you even listening?” if the telly’s on and some sexy lady is seducing him away from your words of wisdom? You better still watch out boys – if you’re not paying your girl full attention who knows what you might get accused of. And for those of you without women to answer to, if you do happen to read that sort of thing make sure you’re sitting in safe surroundings!
Most et al. (2007) The naked truth: Positive, arousing distracters impair rapid target perception. Cognition and Emotion, 21 (5): 964-981
Speed Control Bikini Bandits