Ur­ban ex­is­tence does hu­mankind no favours

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

LATE last month, hot new data re­vealed that thor­oughly mod­ern peo­ple were craft­ing so­phis­ti­cated stone tools in Africa nearly 300,000 years ago. Since then the life­style of Homo sapi­ens , though not the phys­i­ol­ogy of the species, changed big time. My African dop­pel­ganger would un­doubt­edly be hor­ri­fied if she stepped into my ur­ban shoes. A lot of fast breath­ing, pulse racing and getme-outta-heres would likely en­sue.

That’s pre­cisely the evo­lu­tion­ary an­gle psy­chol­o­gist John Mars­den ex­ploits in his se­ries Ex­posed, an en­gag­ing look at how mod­ern ur­ban­ites un­con­sciously re­spond to the dic­tates of brains and bodies de­signed for life on the sa­vanna.

Tonight’s episode, Per­suaders , is a case in point. Mars­den in­ves­ti­gates a psy­cho­log­i­cal pres­sure unimag­ined by our lucky pre­cur­sors: the 15,000 or so ad­ver­tise­ments de­signed to ma­nip­u­late be­hav­iour ur­ban dwellers en­dure ev­ery sin­gle day. Mars­den also looks at how mu­sic in shops urges us to spend up, at the way im­ages can con­trol our minds without our knowl­edge, and even at how that age-old per­suad­ing tech­nique, hyp­no­tism, en­ables some folk to get their teeth filled without anaes­thetic.

If the pre­sen­ter’s name sounds fa­mil­iar, it’s be­cause he pre­sented the ear­lier se­ries Body Hits , also for BBC.

As an ex­pert in ad­dic­tive be­hav­iour at Glasgow Uni­ver­sity’s In­sti­tute of Psy­chi­a­try, Mars­den was per­fect for Body Hits . His take on booze, drugs and their ilk was, yes, ad­dic­tive. So is his pre­sent­ing style. He’s comfortable with the cam­era, yet never pre­ten­tious, cutesy or self-in­dul­gent.

Af­ter this episode I sus­pect you’ll agree that Mars­den and co have ex­panded their sights suc­cess­fully

Ex­plor­ing the big smoke: John Mars­den in and will be, well, per­suaded to tune in next week for their in­ves­ti­ga­tion of city life.

By as­sign­ing cou­ples a com­pli­cated task, Mars­den il­lus­trates how quickly they change their coun­try ways.

They learn to fil­ter out de­tails, think quickly but less ac­cu­rately, strug­gle to main­tain con­trol over what they do and when they do it, and build a bub­ble of anonymity around them­selves.

Mars­den shows us how the hu­man brain de­tects sig­nals of vul­ner­a­bil­ity, and its op­po­site, sim­ply from the way peo­ple walk.

Any­one who be­lieves the morn­ing com­mute is merely an­noy­ing will be dis­abused of that fan­tasy when Mars­den dons brain and heart rate mon­i­tors, then joins a po­lice squad tackling a sim­u­lated yet ter­ri­fy­ingly re­al­is­tic riot.

No points for guess­ing that grid­lock and may­hem pro­duce iden­ti­cal stress loads. Well, that’s the good news about next week’s in­stal­ment. The bad news is, it’s the last one. Hav­ing missed the first two, I’m suf­fer­ing enor­mous stress.

Ex­cuse me while I bash out a few ob­sid­ian spear points.

Leigh Day­ton

Ex­posed: Per­suaders

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