Archive for August, 2007

Audio-Visual Stimulation used for evil?

You would be surprised by how often we get calls from people thinking that there is someone in their life – their boss, their neighbor, an ex lover – using audio-visual stimulation (AVS) on them with less than kind intentions. For most of them it is a confusion between AVS and “mind control”, which is really not how brainwaves work. One person was convinced that her boss was using the intercom to control her mind. Another was determined to bring down a nearby factory that was emitting mind-controlling sound waves to half the town. Of course, the best we can do in these cases is explain more about AVS and subtly recommend that the caller seek counsel.

However, there ARE non-therapeutic uses for audio or visual stimulation.

This flashlight will make you throw upRecently there was some news about a nausea-inducing flash light being developed for the Department of Homeland Security, called the “LED Incapacitator”. The device uses pulses of light that are constantly changing in duration, color and brightness level. The disorienting effect this produces causes nausea and vomiting.

“There’s one wavelength that gets everybody,” says IOS President Bob Lieberman. “Vlad [IOS top scientist Vladimir Rubtsov] calls it ‘the evil color.'”



Sound can also be used to produce similar effects. In 2005, a cruise ship warded off pirates off the coast of Africa using a sonic weapon called the LRAD, or Long Range Acoustic Device, which sends high energy beams of acoustic wrath down upon its target.

In 2006, a device called the “Mosquito” was used to disperse a group of rowdy youngsters from gathering near a theater in Swindon, England. The device emits extremely annoying high frequency sound that is usually audible only to people under the age of 25 (younger people typically have higher thresholds for hearing). This is an effective-sounding concept for crowd control, but I have also read about it being used by grumpy old men who don’t want those pesky youngsters stomping on their lawn or skating on the sidewalk, causing younger neighbors nearby to have to endure this acoustic deterrent on a constant basis.

Take a listen to what the Mosquito sounds like here. Can you hear it?

Supposedly, there is even a frequency of tone or pulse that can cause diarrhea (or something very similar), amusingly dubbed the “brown note“. However, it is most likely a myth. The idea was explored on MythBusters a few years ago, and they could not find a way to reproduce the effect.

Brain Video: Inducing “Out-Of-Body” experiences using virtual reality goggles

This video describes a fascinating new way to induce a kind of out of body experience. Here is how it works:

In the Swiss experiments, the researchers asked volunteers to stand in front of a camera while wearing video-display goggles.

Through these goggles, the volunteers could see a camera view of their own back – a three-dimensional “virtual own body” that appeared to be standing in front of them.

When the researchers stroked the back of the volunteer with a pen, the volunteer could see their virtual back being stroked either simultaneously or with a time lag.

The volunteers reported that the sensation seemed to be caused by the pen on their virtual back, rather than their real back, making them feel as if the virtual body was their own rather than a hologram.

Even when the camera was switched to film the back of a mannequin being stroked rather than their own back, the volunteers still reported feeling as if the virtual mannequin body was their own.


The researchers say their findings could have practical applications, such as helping take video games to the next level of virtuality so the players feel as if they are actually inside the game.

Music based on mood, emotions – Pandora for auditory stimulation

Many of us have already become hopelessly addicted to Pandora ( which utilizes the Music Genome Project technology. The idea is to provide Pandora with the name of a band or song you enjoy. From this Pandora will suggest an array of similar musical works for your enjoyment, kind of like an advanced version of Amazon’s product recommendation system.

These days I pretty much rely solely on Pandora to expand my music collection. It’s a fantastic tool for people who are short on hip, audiophile friends.

Today I came upon a new site with a similar concept, but a much different approach, called Musicovery.

Instead of seeding the service with a song or band you like, with Musicovery you choose the mood or emotion behind the music you would like to hear.

Pick somewhere between the moods “Energetic” and “Positive”, and you get songs by ABBA, Prince and Moby. Choose a spot between the moods “Dark” and “Calm”, and you get songs by Portishead, Sheryl Crow and the Cranberries.

Being able to choose the mood of your music is an intriguing concept, and I’m curious as to how people will apply it. Like most people, my musical selections usually tend to more or less match my mood, but there are exceptions. Maybe I’m an oddity, but sometimes when I’m in a exceptionally good or energetic mood, I’ll feel the urge for slower, sappier music. Maybe I’m subconsciously looking for something to balance out all that energy.

There are also some other useful features to Musicovery such as the ability to choose between genres and eras of contemporary music.

I’m disappointed that – like Pandora – Musicovery doesn’t seem to offer the option to listen to the customized stream in an external player. This type of system could be an incredibly useful tool in Mind Stereo. Hopefully in the future we’ll see this, but I understand that such services often have very restricting deals with the ever-nefarious RIAA.

External influences on the subconscious mind

Judging from the title of this post, you probably think I’m going to be talking about indirect hypnotic suggestions, or covert mind control experiments. It is the opposite. In fact, the most interesting part about some of this new research is how incredibly banal and ordinary these external triggers can be. It can certainly make you consider how your own environment is subtly influencing your thought patterns and behavior.

In a 2004 study at Yale, students were asked to compete in an investment game while sitting alone in a room with one of two objects: either a backpack or a briefcase. Comparing the results, students in the room with a briefcase were significantly more greedy and aggressive than those sharing it with a backpack.

A recent article in the New York Times shed light on some of this new research, and offered up some theories as to why such ordinary objects can hold such sway on our subconscious:

… New studies reveal a subconscious brain that is far more active, purposeful and independent than previously known. Goals, whether to eat, mate or devour an iced latte, are like neural software programs that can only be run one at a time, and the unconscious is perfectly capable of running the program it chooses.

…The mere presence of the briefcase, noticed but not consciously registered, generated business-related associations and expectations, the authors argue, leading the brain to run the most appropriate goal program: compete.

In another study outlined in the NYT article, a lab assistent with his hands full asked participants to hold a cup a coffee on the way to the laboratory. It was a set up. Half of the participants held iced coffee and the other half held coffee that was piping hot. Later at the lab, they were asked to read a story and make judgements  about a fictional character’s personality.  The participants that had held the cold beverage for the lab assistent turned out to be more likely to rate the fictional character’s personality as cold, less social and selfish, and it was the opposite for participants who had held the hot cup! That was all it took to influence the judgement of a stranger.

In a Dutch experiment in 2005, participants were exposed to the smell of a citrus cleaning fluid while filling out a questionnaire. Later, as a supposed reward for their time, they were given a crumbly biscuit which they ate and cleaned up while still under observation. Participants exposed to the citrus smell cleaned 3 times as many crumbs from the table as those who had not.

External stimuli can also affect cognitive performance:

In 2007, a 2 year extensive study was concluded  at the University of Minnesota, examining how ceiling height affected individual performance. Higher ceilings, it was found, stimulated more “out of the box”, creative thought patterns, while lower ceilings encouraged attention and focus.

In a study conducted at Dartmouth College, it was found that showing the name of a lover or a passionate hobby increased cognitive performance results on subsequent tasks.

A briefcase, a cup of coffee, the height of the ceiling – these are not hypnotic, or technologically advanced. These are stimuli we are exposed to every day. Yet, they can have a tremendous impact on our subconscious and our behavior.