My mother was telling me the other day that someone's done a study on virtual reality, and discovered that, when people are reading and engrossed in a book, what happens in their head is essentially the same as virtual reality.
To which I can only roll my eyes and wonder if my tax dollars went to pay for said study. In other words, duh.
This reminds me of a study I read a year ago on Broadsheet, one that found out that the sight of their baby's smile triggers peaceful, loving hormones in mothers. Gasp! I mean, really. You couldn't just say, figure that out from looking at people?
And yet, it seems like we so often need studies like these, because people's grasp of common sense is so slippery. We need studies like these -- seemingly expensive and unecessary -- to reaffirm the obvious for the mass population that logic brushes only tangentially.
For example, the news this last week or two that bank executives in the US are using government bailout money to give themselves huge bonuses. Everyone's shocked. And all I can say is that you didn't need a PhD in anything so complex as underwater basket weaving to have seen that coming. The assumption that the executives would have been chastened and suddenly behave in a fiscally responsible manner defies even the most basic logic.
If any of the blind people in government or think tanks had asked me for advice, this is what I would have mapped out for them:
A. Greedy people are greedy.
B. Greedy people are generally greedy rather than smart (they use their brains to acquire more of what they're greedy for), and they're certainly never altruistic.
C. Greedy people made decisions that made them lots of money and flattened the economy.
D. The government then gave the greedy people more money, trusting said greedy people to use it wisely.
What do you think happens next?
This is all aside from the common sense realization that an economy based on people buying stuff they don't need with money they don't have is by definition unhealthy, no matter how fast it grows.
Personally, I'd go for a common sense study that researches something more useful than what happens in our brains while we're reading, or even what happens if you hand a bunch of bank executives billions of dollars with no strings attached.
I'd like to lobby hard for a study that goes into depth to examine what happens to the brain development of children exposed to any significant telelvision time before the age of three. I read a survey result recently that found that 45% of American children under age three have a television in their bedrooms. Situations like this, and DVD players in cars are, I'm willing to bet, far more damaging to brain development than, say, being exposed to moderate amounts of wine in utero.
When I saw that little statistic in my Mothering magazine, I flipped immediately to the section on the visual cortex in my favorite parenting book, What's Going on in There? by Lise Eliot, a neurobiologist. The visual cortex is essential to brain development, and does a lot of its growing in those first three years. Television is not evil per se, but watching it has an unknown and likely huge impact on the tiny brains of infants.
I've met many parents who have proclaimed to me how quiet their kids are in front of Spongebob, or how they love to watch Baby Einstein. They never make the connection that the mental fixation, and glazed expression directed toward flickering pixels and images that will never in fact interact with them, has to be hugely damaging to babies' tiny, developing brains.
That's a study I'd get behind. After all, even though my son has never met television or fruit juice, he will be spending the rest of his life interacting with children, and then grown-ups, who did. Seemingly simple parenting decisions like this can have unforseen and enormous consequences. Without a study -- confirming what, to me, seems to be common sense -- it seems that we can't change people's behavior.