Recent advances in medicine have allowed us to do some pretty amazing things. For example, progress in drug development has allowed millions of people to lead healthy, normal lives interrupted only by the constant ads for Prozac via email, television, radio and magazines.
Scanning technology in particular has revealed some very interesting things about the human brain. For instance, Dutch scientists have discovered that when realize you have made a mistake on a task, your brain makes a very distinctive electrical signal. Even more interesting is the fact that when other people watching you realize you’ve made a mistake, their brains make the same signal.
Researchers are excited about the finding because it reveals a number of important things:
1) Apparently the “Oh @#$%^!” response is universal in humans.
2) People may indeed be laughing with you, not at you.
3) It provides a valid, scientific explanation as to why guys, when they see other guys get kicked in the, erm, male region, wince as though they’ve been kicked there as well.
It also may help to explain the appeal of certain experiences. When women watch lots of romantic movies, it may be because they aren’t getting enough romance from their partners and want to experience love through the movie. The men in their lives would do well to notice this and perhaps make some improvements in that department.
When women watch lots of revenge movies, it may because they feel severely wronged by their partners and want to experience vengeance through the movie. The men in their lives would do well to notice this and perhaps take the next flight out of the country.
What it doesn’t explain very well is why people like to seek out negative experiences. There was a game show on television in North America which, among other things, has required its contestants to drink a concoction of [Warning! If you are eating lunch, stop reading this now!] blended maggots and live house flies.
Now, I can almost (almost!) understand why the contestants are willing to do this, because they at least have a chance at winning money for their trouble. But if the Dutch research about experiencing similar brain signals can be extrapolated, this means there are thousands of people out there who deliberately sit down in front of the TV so they can feel like they just chugged a mug of maggots too.
But without being paid.
Consider what this implies for some of our other television programs:
COPS – Viewers either want to feel like A) they’ve been bashed about the head with a baton, been subjected to all sorts of verbal abuse and been thrown in the back of a police car with their hands cuffed behind their back or B) they have to face down yet another half-naked, fully drunk idiot who wants to barf on their shoes in a three a.m. domestic squabble.
FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS – Viewers want to feel like they have fallen off the stage at the school play, broken their backyard swimming pool and surfed the flood wave out on their head, or been bitten by their at/dog/gerbil/rabbit.
ER/CHICAGO HOPE/DIAGNOSIS MURDER – Viewers would like to feel like they’ve just been shot, knifed, in an accident or have acquired a horrible disease and are under the care of staff who are clearly far, far too involved with each other to pay attention to actual, well, medical care.
THE APPRENTICE – Viewers want to feel part of an environment where backstabbing, gossiping, name calling and bad business decisions result in all but one person getting fired.
Why people deliberately seek out bad experiences, I don’t know. It could be that their own lives seem pretty bad, so they look for worse experiences for contrast and to feel better. Frankly, I think a far better way to feel good would be to eat some chocolate cake. Or a chocolate bar.
Or at the very least, watch a TV show about chocolate. Now that’s my kind of reality programming.