Experimental Psychologist wanted

I mentioned this a few years ago: there is reason to suspect that just as an increased pressures of nitrogen has a narcotic effect, a zero-nitrogen breathing mixture [ presumably heliox] might leave you abnormally sober. On oxygen, I’ve felt something like that – anyone have the same experience?

Anyhow, someone is interested in checking this out. So I need an experimental psychologist.

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27 Responses to Experimental Psychologist wanted

  1. Sandgroper says:

    “anyone have the same experience?” Yes. Not turning blue in the face certainly has a sobering effect.

    But then I am always abnormally sober, thankyouverymuch.

  2. I don’t know what a narcotic effect feels like, but once I was given oxygen in an ambulance, and I remember it as rather pleasant. I was much too distracted to pay much attention to reaction times and the like, though.

  3. TB says:

    Maybe a bit off-topic, at least at a tangent, but what are the physiologic causes of intelligence? I deal with people of ‘altered mental status’ all the time at work, stroke patients and the elderly mainly, and common findings on brain MRIs and Ct scans are arteries described as ‘tortuous’, blockages of various sorts, a wide variety of circulation oddities in the brain. Real human brains don’t look like the nice models in the textbooks. The common arteries and veins are sometimes lacking, or are branched oddly, with more or fewer of the normal numbers of branches.
    Anything that reduces circulation of blood results in decreased mental function. Calcium buildup, cholesterol plaques, clots, weak heart output, lots of things.
    Could smarter people simply be those with better blood circulation from childhood? I seriously think this is at least a part, since people with ‘normal’ intelligence have all these blockages either congenitally or chronically, and I know acute blockages reduce intelligence sharply, from daily observation. Slapping a few liters of O2 on some people perks them right up.
    Besides circulation, what other physiological causes are possible?

  4. Ledfordbot says:

    But what about side effects? What about the morning hangunder?

  5. bob sykes says:

    There is such a thing as oxygen toxicity, which occurs at elevated partial pressures:


  6. James James says:

    Anesthesiology. 1975 Jun;42(6):658-61.
    The anesthetic effect of air at atmospheric pressure.

    Winter PM, Bruce DL, Bach MJ, Jay GW, Eger EI 2nd.

    Nitrogen has recognized narcotic potential at hyperbaric pressures. No narcotic effect of helium has been demonstrated at any pressure. We evaluated the effect of nitrogen in air at one atmosphere on human performance by comparing it with helium-oxygen using a four-alternative divided-attention task that requires rapid response to auditory and visual signal changes. There was a 9.3 per cent decrease in response time when subjects breathed helium-oxygen, a signigicant change (P less than 0.001). This change could not be ascribed to practice since the order of presentation of gases did not have a significant effect. It concluded that the nitrogen in ambient air slightly but measurable impairs human performance compared with a non-anesthetic gas such as helium.

    PMID: 1130736

  7. dain says:

    Finally, I independently came up with a smart thing from this blog. I determined that it would definitely be worth trying, but it would be rather expensive, have severe practical limitations, and could also be lethal if handled incorrectly.

    Either Neon-Oxygen or Helium-Oxygen would do the trick. Preferably Helium-Oxygen because it’s about six times cheaper (~$300/kg vs ~$50/kg). The deluxe version would be Neon, since you could speak without sounding like a chipmunk — this would be marketed towards rich and vain people.

    You would provide the nitrogen-less atmosphere using either a SCUBA-like mask, or by some sort of large airlocked room (I considered an oxygen-tent sort of setup, but it would lead to the Helium/Neon escaping, which you don’t want because it’s expensive stuff). The Helium/Neon could be recycled an arbitrary number of times (modulo losses from the airlock), and oxygen pumped in as needed. For doing brainy work, the room would be preferable, because it’s difficult to concentrate and communicate with a big mask on your face. Then again, the SCUBA equipment would be more mobile, and there have been dumber Silicon Valley fads. The room would have large initial costs, but would be inexpensive to run and would also scale better: so long as you can seal it, you can make it arbitrarily big. This could be a cheap way for impoverished countries to get more bang for their buck from their evil scientists making doomsday weapons — Kim, take note.

    There would be dangers though. Helium is well-known for being a silent killer, which is why it’s used in DIY “exit bags” for painless suicides. If the oxygen supply were disrupted or ran out, you wouldn’t know it before you fell unconscious. These setups would need to either be run by trained professionals, or at least there’d be stringent training and licensing before you’d be allowed to operate one.

    But if it boosts your effective IQ by 2-3 points, it would all be worth it, and the benefits would magnify with scale.

    • realist says:

      ANY breathable gaz which lets you exhale CO2 without providing oxygen is a silent killer; nitrogen itself does that pretty well, argon is also a risk for welders.

  8. harpersnotes says:

    Re: Low-O2 sobriety, dive-reflex as possible confound? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diving_reflex .. (shifts blood to brain, etc..)

  9. Jerome says:

    Jacques Cousteau’s conshelf experiments;

    They were among the first to breathe a mixture of helium and oxygen, avoiding the normal nitrogen/oxygen mixture which when breathed under pressure can cause narcosis. The deep cabin was also an early effort in saturation diving, in which the oceanauts’ body tissues were allowed to become totally saturated by the helium in the breathing mixture, a result of breathing the gases under pressure. Normally, this would prove fatal when the team returned to the surface, at which time reduced pressure would cause the helium to bubble out into the diver’s joints and tissues, afflicting them with the bends. The conventional solution would have been to subject the divers to lengthy and complex decompression; however, in this case the divers’ instead breathed an oxygen-rich mixture of gases for a few hours before returning to the surface in order to purge the excess helium from their tissues. They suffered no apparent ill effects.

  10. vaniver says:

    So when I polled some psychologists about this, they had good suggestions for reaction time measurements and similar things, but as far as quantitative effects go this is just replicating the literature. Potentially more interesting is Seth Roberts-style mental arithmetic, but even that isn’t pointing at the sobriety axis.

    If you have any interesting tests, let me know; I’m probably going to go ahead with a reaction-time flavored experiment with 10-20 people in the next six months if we don’t find anything better.

  11. MawBTS says:

    Apparently the Apollo astronauts breathed pure oxygen after launch. It was at a lower pressure, to minimize toxicity. Apollo 1 was supposed to be a 100% oxygen mix, but during a training exercise a spark ignited the air, burning all three astronauts alive. They died, but look on the bright side: they died smart.

  12. Jake Bell says:

    After a night of merriment at the NAS Key West O-Club, we walked out to our helicopter and were offered, by some jet jocks, to breath O from there aircraft system, They swear it kills the hangover, and it seemed to work. Maybe suggestion but I’ve heard this before from others.

  13. Dallas Cowboy cheerleader with a PHD in algebraic topology and a gun rack in her pickup Wanted.

    (I keeeed, I’m sure they exist)

  14. helenahankart says:

    Advanced divers often breathe Nitrox mixes which have more oxygen (not loads, just a bit) this enables us to stay under for longer without headaches etc. Never noticed a “Knurd” effect–but the reverse (nitrogen narcosis ) most definitely happens at certain depths where folk can get very silly. They test you as a diver to get you sued to being daft and make sure you dont give your reg to a passing shark

  15. bombexpert says:

    Blood (red blood cells) are almost 100 % saturated by oxygen at all times (excluding extreme conditions). Increasing oxygen levels/partial pressure in breathed gas won’t do anything.

  16. Archandsuperior says:

    But does it improve reasoning ability of alligators?

  17. Would talking while on helium gradually ruin your larynx, or is that an urban legend?

  18. josh says:

    People who are smarter than me and know more about guns and shooting than me: does it seem possible that a single shooter using automatic rifles was responsible for the Vegas massacre?

  19. Difference Maker says:

    One day I hope to be on this

  20. savantissimo says:

    Sorry I missed this post, In 2004 I thought of using gas narcosis to extend the range of IQ tests (harder questions become difficult to validate at the high end, but if ability could be reversibly and precisely reduced, then ordinary questions could be used to distinguish between high intelligence levels). I did a little online literature search then, here is part of an email posted on the Ultranet (Mega Society East auxiliary) list:

    The literature on cognitive tests under hyperbaric nitrogen and argon atmospheres
    shows some evidence of a g-loaded effect of higher partial pressures of inert gasses:

    Table of narcotic effects relative to Nitrogen
    [original link broken – new link https://walrussen.nl/sites/default/files/documents/exotic_gases.pdf
    Narcotic factors of gases:
    (Chemical sign, name, factors (divide by / multiply by) )
    He, helium, 4.26 / 0.23
    Ne, neon, 3.58 / 0.28
    Exotic diving gases Seite 3 von 6
    http://www.techdiver.ws/exotic_gases.shtml 21.07.2002
    H2, hydrogen, 1.83 / 0.55
    N2, nitrogen, 1 / 1
    Ar, argon, 0.43 / 2.33
    Kr, krypton, 0.14 / 7.14
    Xe, xenon, 0.039 / 25.64
    (Source: “The Physiology and Medicine of Diving” by Peter Bennett and David Elliott, 4th
    edition, 1993, W.B.Saunders Company Ltd, London.)]

    Overview of the literature:
    From http://www.sportsci.org/encyc/drafts/Nitrogen_narcosis.doc :

    “At 91 msw (300 ft), [using air ~ 80% N2] they further reported that the signs
    and symptoms of nitrogen narcosis amounted to stupefaction

    [90 m = 1MPa total = 10 atmospheres. The equivalent depth for 95% argon
    would be about 26 m, 0.36 MPa total. 31% Xenon at sea level would achieve the same

    arithmetical efficiency has been evidenced to decrease by 25 and 33 % in divers
    performing two figures by one figure multiplication tests at 61 and 76 msw “.

    “Kiessling and Maag (10) have criticized the use of such arithmetic tests. As
    alternatives, they have used choice reaction time, a test of mechanical dexterity
    based on the Purdue Pegboard, and a test of conceptual reasoning. Although these
    studies were carried out at a quite moderate depth of only 30 msw (100 ft), the
    results showed important decrements in performance, as compared to the data exposed
    above, that reach 33 % in conceptual reasoning ability, 21 % in reaction time, and
    8 % in manual dexterity.
    [This appears to support the idea that the effects of narcosis are strongly g loaded]

    “both qualitative observations and quantitative studies supported that experienced
    divers and subjects of high intelligence are less affected by nitrogen narcosis.
    [I think it likely that the high-intelligence subjects were affected but they still
    had enough capacity to meet the threshold needed for the relatively simple tests
    that they were being given.]


    I think that anesthetic range extension of IQ tests ought to be seriously investigated.
    I’m pretty sure the test conditions would be enjoyable. Is anyone else interested?

    [from a follow-up email:}
    Here’s a first try at outlining a potential protocol:

    For test norming, first use subjects having IQs in the test’s range of reliability
    with varying levels of anesthetic to see the dose response up to two or three sigma
    reduction in indicated IQ. Measure the dose curves for both the dosage’s effect
    on individual subjects and the increase in difficulty due to dosage for each question
    in the test pool. This allows a single Rasch measure for the difficulty of all questions
    in the question bank at any point on the dose response curve. [I’ll talk more about
    Rasch measures in a later post.]

    For testing of high-IQ subjects, use adaptive-difficulty questioning at different
    dosage levels until the individual’s dose response is calibrated. Then give the
    actual test using different questions from the same pool at a consistent level of
    IQ depression sufficient to bring the subject into the test’s range of reliability
    rather than just administering a uniform drug dosage to all test-takers. It ought
    to be possible to combine the dose response pretest with the main test, but varying
    one parameter at a time makes the analysis easier to describe.


    [I hope the references are useful.]

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