Lay off, laserbrain.

It seems to me that modern society is based entirely on control.  The President is supposed to be in control of the country.  The boss is supposed to be in control of the office.  Individual citizens are supposed to be in control of their actions.  Of course, sometimes this control gets foiled.  Congress gets unruly, or the boss-man has some sort of weird spiritual awakening, or people have real, even medically unavoidable problems that affect their behavior.  Sometimes we can’t help ourselves from going a little loopy, but it’s usually still considered a social blunder.

Well, on the interior individual-mind basis, science is here to help.  Through a combination of glowy virus taken from algae and electric blue lasers, scientists have been able to stimulate nerve firings in specific groups of brain cells in monkeys.  The eventual medical applications are potential cures for diseases like Parkinson’s, or even depression.  Unlike past uses of lasers or electricity on patients, this new method would target only specific cell groups (those that weren’t working so great) and would avoid damaging the still-functioning parts of the brain.

Yet despite the limited nature of the approach, people are already speculating about mind control.  While there is some creedence to the idea that getting things to fire off in our heads could eventually be manipulative, especially when targeted to certain areas, I think the mind control thing is an overreaction.  Do we really think a little glowy light is suddenly going to make us do things against are will?  That kind of direct manipulation is ridiculous.  We don’t even know enough about the brain to tell which groups of cells to fire when to achieve certain behaviors.  It could never happen.

You’ll have to excuse me now, I have an emergency.  I just saw the Taco Bell sign and I need a burrito.

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Sex Sells.

Ok, we all know the studies that have been done linking attractive people in advertising to successful ads.  We all know that even in the smartest, most world-savvy of us, the appeal of being that attractive ourselves or winning the heart of someone else that attractive is a strong one.  We want to be and to have some ideal of beauty, and the commercials that promise us we will be and will have this ideal are the ones that get us to buy.

But our responses may be more basic than that.  A recent study has shown that men are willing to risk more when presented with a positive image before a gambling situation (say, a photo of a handsome couple together) than a negative (snakes and spiders) or neutral (office supplies) one.  In this case, unlike that of advertisements, the image is completely unrelated to the end result.  Gambling does not make you a handsome couple, a snake, or a stapler, nor is there any implication that it does.  However, the survey shows that by stimulating that positive part of the brain with a positive image, risk-taking increases.

To a certain extent this is common sense.  When we are happy, we feel more secure and able to take risks.  On a good day, you’re more likely to ask that crush out on a date.  On a bad day, you’re less likely to buy that new car you’ve been looking at.  While this study shows that such affects are almost instantaneously registered to your brain, the result is pretty much the same.  You’re going to gamble more in a casino with attractive and friendly serving staff, a good ambiance, and with a few drinks in you because you feel happy and relaxed.  No one gambles in a casino being bombed.