Pavlov's Couch

A Psychology Student's Mental Experience

Archive for the tag “experiment”

Memory Experiment

Yesterday and today I took part in an experiment that looks at memory. I can’t go into much detail because the experiment is still being carried out with other participants, but I would like to give you an idea.

At the start of the experiment I was read twelve words, then asked to recite them. If I missed any I was reminded of them then asked to recite the list again until I could reel off all the words twice without missing any. I actually used a memory technique to help me remember: I turned the list of words into a story which I visualized in my head.

Next I was shown a series of pictures, each depicting an object. I think there were about fifteen to twenty. Once I had seen them all I was shown another series of pictures and for each one I was to indicate whether I had seen the presented object in the previous set or not. I got a perfect score on this one, once again helped out by a bit of storytelling. Next this was repeated with faces and I didn’t do as well – I didn’t “recognise” any I hadn’t seen but I did fail to recognise several I had seen!

Up next came a drawing task. I was shown a drawing, something called a Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure which was designed as a test of “visuospatial abilities, memory, attention, planning, and working memory”. First I cold copy out the figure while looking at it, then I had to do so from memory, and finally again after performing another task in meantime. I would love to learn more about this test and how it is scored!

The final test on that day was based on memorising objects and positions. A 2×2 grid was laid out on a table and two chairs in front facing diagonally on to the table. I was then asked to sit in one of the chairs and close my eyes while two objects we’re laid out somewhere on the grid. I was then instructed to open my eyes and was told what category the objects fit into such as “kitchen” or “animals”. This was repeated a number of times with different objects, categories, positions, and with me sat in a different of tho two seats. At the end I was given a category name and asked to remember what the objects were, where I was sat, and where on the grid the objects were placed. I did surprisingly well at this, managing to remember everything for almost all the trials and even remembering a lot of details that were not necessary, such as “there was a green and black tractor there with a man inside wearing a blue and black outfit” or “there was a Palmolive Naturals hand soap there, milk and honey”.

The next stage of the experiment came the next day when I was fed into an fMRI scanner (which had been upgraded since my last visit!) this time I was shown photos of objects on the 2×2 grid taken from the position of one of the two chairs, and I had to indicate whether it was the same as I had previously seen, and how confident I was in my answer. Despite being so tired that day that I actually fell asleep in the machine and missed at least one question (I suddenly woke up to see the screen asking me how confident I was in my answer when I hadn’t consciously seen any scene!), I did rather well.

The strange thing is I am sure I have a poor memory. I forget a LOT of things, and have particularly poor retention for faces, names, and dates. Yet for objects and scenes, particularly in short term or working memory, I seem to perform fairly well. I think part of it may come down to focused attention – I was actively trying to notice and memorise details whereas usually I wouldn’t even notice them.

It got me thinking about my memory quite a bit. And it doesn’t hurt that I earned £15 and get a copy of my brain on disc!

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My taste-twisting “party” with Miracle Frooties

I first discovered Miracle Fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum) randomly while poking around Amazon, and the idea immediately caught my interest. The berries of the miracle fruit plant have a rather amazing effect on your taste buds – they make sour things taste sweet! The upshot of this is you can suck on a fresh lemon and it tastes like lemonade, among many other strange effects.

Being obsessed with food and tastes as I am, I decided I had to give them a go. And as you know from a previous post, my partner was kind enough to buy me a pack for Easter. Head over to Miracle Fruit World to learn more about them and to find where to buy them!


As you will see in the video, miracle fruit does nothing good for cola or pepsi (as confirmed by two other tasters off camera). It is also known to utterly destroy wine, so bear that in mind if you are thinking of hosting a taste-twisting party! We finally figured out what the taste of the tablets is: they taste very much like multivitamins. As one person said “It’s like sucking on cardboard”. In fact the taste of the tablet was so unpleasant for my two co-experimenters that it put them off the rest of the experience, although I had no such issue myself. I did notice that there is considerable room for individual differences in the way the berries affect you and whether you enjoy the results. I absolutely loved the goats cheesecake, but my fellow tasters were not nearly as impressed. My partner however, who is a massive lover of grapefruit, was completely thrilled with the effect the tablets had on it and said it meant she could eat the grapefruit as-is rather than covering it with three tablespoons of sugar as she normally has to. As you can see in the video the tablets worked well with a number of foods, but there were some it did not work so well with that we tried. Mustard and pickle sauce, olives, feta, and tomato sauce all had minimal difference in taste.

Although the experience was loads of fun, and I would love to repeat it with more people and more variety of foods, there are caveats. The first was that the excessive acid consumption did make my mouth and lips sore as seen in the video. However a bigger problem was that all that acid and those strange foods all mixed together did not sit comfortably in the stomach – despite taking some gaviscon. A friend said she felt a bit unwell all night afterwards. So when you do come to try these, remember that you are still mixing all these things together and no matter how tasty they may be and how large the temptation to try everything, it may not settle well.

The key ingredient of miracle fruit is something called miraculin, which to be honest sounds like something from a Harry Potter novel but it seems to do the trick. Apparently molecules of miraculin bind with your taste buds and distort the sour taste buds to respond to sweet instead. Or something. There is an article on Wired that explains the science a bit better.

In America it has become quite a craze in certain trendy circles. Taste twisting parties are being thrown, where a number of people are invited to come try the berries and presented with a buffet of assorted foodstuffs. The craze isn’t entirely unknown in the UK either, with Miracle Fruit appearing on both the Richard and Judy (YouTube) show and Graham Norton (YouTube).

Image source: Wikipedia

There’s an interesting history behind the product as well. Robert Harvey founded the Miraculin company in the 60’s after seeing the massive potential it had in the marketplace as an artificial sweetener that had the potential to allow us to enjoy sweet treats without the calorie-laden sugar. However just before the product was to receive FDA approval and be released a suspicious break-in occured at the company, and although nothing was stolen important documents were found laid around the floor (as if for photographing). The next day Harvey received a phone call from the FDA who had done a complete u-turn from indicating that the product was going to be approved to rejecting it. In the economic climate of the time this was a death bell for the company and it folded. “I honestly believe that we were done in by some industrial interest that did not want to see us survive because we were a threat. Somebody influenced somebody in the FDA to cause the regulatory action that was taken against us.” You can read more about this potential conspiracy in an article over at the BBC website– it certainly makes for interesting reading!

Miracle fruit has had some attention in other areas, including in dieting (The Guardian) as a substitute for sugar, for diabetes sufferers (Phytotherapy Research Journal), and for chemotherapy patients – it seems to help fight the metallic taste that many patients experience “The berry seems to work differently with chemo patients. Instead of turning sour foods into sweet ones, it simply restores the normal flavors of food to patients.” (Wired).

In closing I would like to say once more that I really enjoyed the experience – being able to chomp on raw lemons and limes and them taste so deliciously sweet was just surreal! I will certainly be taking these along to my next social gathering, although I have yet to decide if I will hand them out to friends to try or use them secretly in a bet that I can suck on a Toxic Waste sweet without flinching 😛 I would also like to thank Miracle Fruit World for sending me out a free large pack to try, and I highly recommend you check out their miracle fruit recipes (some interesting cocktails!). You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter so get over there and start talking about this very weird berry!

Nothing has Changed

If you’ve not heard of Stanley Milgram’s “obedience to authority” experiment, then glance over the wiki page before you watch the below (embedded is first of three videos).

It’s alarming that despite what was learned from the original experiment, and despite how far we think we’ve come, nothing much seems to have changed.

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