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Crushedy Crushedy Crush

Andres Rueda

When it comes to pain and suffering, drugs, surgery and other tools of modern medicine play an indisputable part in relieving that pain.  But KUNC commentator Dr. Marc Ringel believes the human mind can be an equally powerful remedy…

A rube is drafted into the army during World War I.  He arrives at weapons training without a firearm.  So he asks the combat instructor what to do. 

The sergeant holds out his arms and says, “Here, take this imaginary rifle and go ‘Bangedy bangedy bang.  Bangedy bangedy bang.  Bangedy bangedy bang.’” 

Which is what the private does at the rifle range from then on.  When it’s time for bayonet drill the sergeant extends his hand explaining, “Take this imaginary bayonet.  Affix it to your imaginary rifle.  Then go ‘Stabbedy stabbedy stab.  Stabbedy stabbedy stab.  Stabbedy stabbedy stab.’”

And so it goes until the recruit completes basic training and departs for the front with his imaginary arsenal.

I’ll tell what happened to the soldier at the end of this piece. 

For now I’d like to turn my attention to a study that appeared in 2009 in the journal CyberPsychology and Behavior.  The researchers recruited 91 adult volunteers to participate in a smoking cessation program.  Subjects received a bit of the usual psychological support at a dozen clinic visits spread over three months.  The main activity at these appointments, though, was a half-hour spent in front of a computer, playing a game in a virtual medieval castle. 

For half of the subjects the object of the exercise was to find and squeeze 60 balls hidden in and around castle.  For the other half, the goal was to find and snuff out 60 burning cigarettes. 

The balls and the cigarettes had no more material reality than our soldier’s rifle and bayonet.  Squeezing the balls or crushing the cigarettes with the click of a mouse required even less physical effort than saying “Bangedy bangedy bang” or “Stabbedy stabbedy stab.”

By the twelfth week of the experiment 15% of those who’d sought and crushed virtual cigarettes weren’t smoking, compared to just 2% of those who’d hunted and squeezed virtual balls.  At 6 months 39% of the crushers said they had not smoked in the last week, double the abstinence rate of the squeezers.

Serum measurements of nicotine metabolites confirmed these results. 

Great believer though I am in the power of the human mind, I’m still surprised to find that spending six hours total playing a computer game where the object is to find unreal cigarettes and crush them out with the click of a mouse, can so powerfully affect such a deep-seated habit as cigarette smoking. 

This report makes me believe more strongly than ever that, when it comes to relieving human suffering, psychological wisdom is as important a tool as drugs and surgery.

Back to our soldier.  His side has been under such relentless attack at the front that he is the last man alive in the trenches.  He peers out over the edge and sees a line of enemy soldiers advancing toward him.  So this brave man stands up and aims his imaginary rifle at the oncoming troops, shouting repeatedly, “Bangedy bangedy bang.” And enemy soldiers drop like flies. 

Those few of the opposing troops who have not fallen under the fire of the imaginary rifle succumb to thrusts of our hero’s imaginary bayonet, wielded with a loud cry of “Stabbedy stabbedy stab.”

The battlefield now appears to be devoid of human life, except for our man and a speck that appears on the horizon in the direction of the other side’s now-empty fortifications. That speck turns out to be a single enemy combatant, marching relentlessly forward. 

When the adversary comes within rifle range, the private targets him with his imaginary weapon.  “Bangedy bangedy bang, etc.” 

The opponent is unimpeded.  Now at close quarters, our soldier bayonets him.  “Stabbedy stabbedy stab.”

But the enemy advances inexorably, until he treads right over the hapless private.  As our man lifts his head out of the dust to watch the retreating back of his opponent, he hears the other guy saying, “Tankedy tankedy tank.  Tankedy tankedy tank.  Tankedy tankedy tank.”

Such is the power of the mind.

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