Life History & the Persistence of Memory

The idea behind this activity (correct me if I’m wrong, Achsah) is to consider life history implications of cognition.  It’s not immediately obvious how wearing masks facilitates this, but, well it was Halloween, so bear with us.

What is more memorable? Elizabeth as the mouse, Elise as the pilgrim-witch, Ross as the devil, Kara as Frankenstein, or Becca as the kitty?
What is more memorable? Elizabeth as the mouse, Elise as the pilgrim-witch, Ross as the devil, Kara as Frankenstein, or Becca as the kitty?

When we are especially young, familiarity is least stressful.  A mother’s face is least stressful, similar shapes, similar colors, similar voice textures are least stressful.  Masks, on the other hand, stressful-ish.

If you were a baby, mean old Ross would be making you cry right now
If you were a baby, mean old Ross would be making you cry right now

As we age, it is context-specific.  On a day like Halloween, what stands out to you?  In this case, the mouse ears & the axe in the head or the princess tiara on a male but the Frankenstein mask & the pilgrim-witch (?) not so much.

How do we test this?  The masks were distributed, then one person was asked to turn his or her back.  First we exchanged masks, then the person was asked to indicate what switches had been made.

Apparently, watching around smiling with an axe in your skull is a memorable look. Achsah rocking the axe in the skull look this year.
Apparently, watching around smiling with an axe in your skull is a memorable look. Achsah rocking the axe in the skull look this year.

Next, someone turned his/her back & we changed seats.  Then the person had to identify who had moved.  Both of these exercises were relatively easy, since the masks were distinctive & we usually sit in the same seats.

The next task was to test someone when both the masks were switched around & we changed seats.  This was much more difficult & only the memorable masks were easily identified.

Elise as pilgrim-witch (what’s up with the pilgim hat, Elise?), not so scary. Nice try with the scowly eyebrows though.

What if we went outside & asked people to identify what they saw (no, this isn’t the invisible gorilla type of experiment)?  Simply, unlike a baby, who would be agog at all the scary masks, most of us would not be noticable because it was Halloween & the haunting had started.

But on any other day?  It’s just those crazy anthropologists.  They’re always doing weird things like that…No, actually, we’re in a building with the Theater Department & people always think we’re Theater students.

Ol' Matt Spider-face & Princess Kelsey prefer not to show their faces
Ol’ Matt Spider-face & Princess Kelsey prefer not to show their faces

People would probably think we have screws loose.  And why is that scary?  Signaling theory suggests it would indicate poor underlying health.  Bushwick Bill agrees.  He says, “This year Halloween fell on a weekend/Me & Geto Boys were treat or treatin’…Then I felt just like a fiend/It wasn’t even close to Halloween.”

OK, that was scarcely relevant but allowed me to work Bushwick Bill into a blog post, which I couldn’t pass up.

Here’s a question for you.  The behavioral immune system paradigm indicates that priming heterosexual females with disgust leads them to rate masculine males as more attractive than if they are not primed.  What if they are primed with crazy?  With anthropologists wearing Halloween masks WHEN (like Bushwick Bill) IT’S NOT EVEN CLOSE TO HALLOWEEN?!?!?!?!

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