I’ve resorted to participating in consumer panels and clinical studies in order to make money. That’s not really true – I’ve always found such activities intriguing, and have suddenly found myself with some spare time. Last week, I went to a fancy office to participate in what they called a “health and wellness study.” Upon my arrival, they offered me a candy bar and some soda and then led me into a room. A woman sat across the table from me. I could see faint silhouettes of people in the huge one way mirror behind her. The woman had me close my eyes, and I spent the next hour with them shut. She asked me to imagine a time that I ate Triscuit crackers and describe it in as much detail as possible. What was the light like? Was I feeling happy? Were there any smells or sounds? I did this for food after food, concentrating hard to conjure up the images. Leaving there, I felt just like I do after a yoga class, despite the fact that I had probably just assisted some evil corporation learn how to better manipulate me (and you – sorry).

My appointment at the University of Minnesota’s psychology department today was no yoga-like experience. I sat in a chair in a small, cluttered room while experimenters covered my entire head with gel and electrodes. Other electrodes were attached sporadically over my body. It actually felt nice having them attached – gentle touching. While they hooked me up, I filled out pages and pages of personality surveys. Then the experiment began. They turned off the lights and left me alone in the room with a computer screen in front of me. Headphones in my ears would emit a very loud, very harsh buzzing sound every 30 seconds or so. Images started flashing on the computer screen. Puppies, a man pointing a gun toward me, a snake about to bite, a happy family, people having sex – these were all ok, but there were also incredibly gory pictures of dead and injured people – pictures worse than anything I could have imagined before this point in my life. Then a picture of a umbrella. I looked at pictures like this for almost two hours. It was awful.

I always make it a point to look away when gory scenes appear in movies. I avert my eyes from roadkill. I want such images to forever remain shocking to me – shocking to remind me of my humanity and connection to other beings, shocking to warn me when I’m in danger. I did become a little bit accustomed to the pictures today, and I felt like, in doing so, I lost a little bit of something that I had guarded so carefully. I now also have a cache of horrific images in my head. I should have left once I knew what was going on. I don’t have anything against the experiment or experimenters – they are working on determining why certain personality types run into certain stress-related problems and what can be done about that. However, my personality type would have liked to avoid this study altogether. And, damn it, I got paid way more to do the close-your-eyes-and-describe-eating-soup study.

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