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Comment Re:"Distracting effect"? Citation please (Score 1) 294

I'm not aware of any credible evidence that as a general principle that monitoring workers reduces ability to perform tasks.

"Complex" is the key term. Generally speaking, there is an optimal level of psychological arousal for performing given tasks. For tasks that are simple, rote, and/or well-learned, that level is higher than it is for tasks that are difficult or novel. In the specific case of knowing that you are being observed, it tends to decrease performance on difficult tasks and have varying results on simple tasks. See Social facilitation.

The question here is whether or not the job of train operator qualifies as simple and rote, or difficult. I could easily see it being the former, where the tasks are not difficult, and the challenge is to maintain attention or vigilance. If that is the case, then the awareness of being monitored could well improve performance in itself.

Comment Re:Monopole Magnets (Score 1, Insightful) 156

You ivory tower intellectuals must not lose touch with the world of industrial growth and hard currency. It is all very well and good to pursue these high-minded scientific theories, but research grants are expensive. You must justify your existence by providing not only knowledge but concrete and profitable applications as well.

Comment Re:"I WILL have a third cup!" (Score 2) 123

Certainly; with a high enough dose, the subject would die.

That aside, the finding is interesting. Based on the summary, I thought that it might just be helping the subjects get closer to the ideal level of psychological arousal for what is probably a simple, routine, and possibly slightly boring task. However, the article states that the subjects were given the pills after having been shown the images, not before, in order to control for that possibility.

There is still one alternative explanation that I can see to a direct chemical effect of caffeine. For the subjects given caffeine after doing the first task in the experimental setting, an association was formed between the setting and getting caffeine. When the subjects returned to do a similar task in the experimental setting again, they received a slight boost in psychological arousal in anticipation of receiving the caffeine. (This kind of effect is commonly seen with many drugs, although I don't know if 200mg of caffeine would induce the effect with a single exposure.) The increased arousal during the follow-up task could explain the increased performance. If they wanted to control for it, one way would be to administer the follow-up task in a different environment than the one in which they did the first task, thereby reducing the impact of any associations with the original setting.

Comment Re:I think you've missed something . . . (Score 2) 161

While I will agree that 65 million years is not long in geological time, any novel life forms trying to develop on Earth have to compete for limited resources with existing organisms that are already well-adapted to their environments. It is probably much less likely for some alternative to cellular life as we know it to develop here in parallel with existing life than it is somewhere that we seed a supply of proteins and amino acids and watch to see what happens.

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