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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Microstory 867: Steadfast

I need money. I need all the money I can get. I’m paying for college myself, so I sometimes walk around campus, looking for opportunities to make a little extra cash. When I was a freshman, I learned that grad students were always looking for people to participate in their research studies, and many of them paid. I’ve worn eye-tracking visors to show how people look at pictures, I’ve gone for days without sleeping, and I’ve even donated my saliva. I still don’t know what they did with my DNA, but hopefully nothing. After all this time, I know a few people in the right departments, and I usually know when something good is coming. The other day, a psychology professor called me up to let me know they would need a handful of people to come and watch a presentation. He said it could pay up to two hundred dollars, which is the highest I will have ever gotten, so I jumped at the chance. I walk in the building and find the right room. There are a lot more people there than the professor led me to believe, but that shouldn’t make a difference; it’s not a competition. Like many of these things, no one comes up to tell us why we’re here, or what they’re looking for. An orator just steps onstage and starts talking about fairly advanced concepts in the field of psychology. I start taking notes, because I take this very seriously, and they may test us on it later in order to understand the principles of comprehension. One by one, beautiful girls start coming up and standing in front of me so I can’t see the stage. With no provocation, they just start flirting, and I realize the study is not about comprehension, it’s about concentration. I’m resolved to get through this, though, so I ignore all their advances. All in all, I estimate there to be fifteen girls, and one guy, over the course of a half hour. Not one of them succeeded in breaking my focus. I watch the whole speech, understand a few things, and learn even more. The speaker says nothing about the girls, or even about the human brain’s capacity to focus on a task at hand. It’s actually about how smart people can often miss very obvious things because they overthink the problems in front of them. But I know that it doesn’t matter. The presentation itself is irrelevant, but how I react to the interruption. After it’s all done, I walk down the steps and approach my professor friend to ask him how I did with the experiment. He frowns and all but throws the stack of cash at me. “That was a ruse,” he says. “We’re all just trying to find you a girlfriend. You worry too much, and we thought a companion could help you relax.” I scoff. That’s a dumb experiment.

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