Behavioral and Brain Sciences



Self-experimentation as a source of new ideas: Ten examples about sleep, mood, health, and weight


Seth Roberts a1
a1 Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-1650 roberts@socrates.berkeley.edu

Abstract

Little is known about how to generate plausible new scientific ideas. So it is noteworthy that 12 years of self-experimentation led to the discovery of several surprising cause-effect relationships and suggested a new theory of weight control, an unusually high rate of new ideas. The cause-effect relationships were: (1) Seeing faces in the morning on television decreased mood in the evening (>10 hrs later) and improved mood the next day (>24 hrs later), yet had no detectable effect before that (0–10 hrs later). The effect was strongest if the faces were life-sized and at a conversational distance. Travel across time zones reduced the effect for a few weeks. (2) Standing 8 hours per day reduced early awakening and made sleep more restorative, even though more standing was associated with less sleep. (3) Morning light (1 hr/day) reduced early awakening and made sleep more restorative. (4) Breakfast increased early awakening. (5) Standing and morning light together eliminated colds (upper respiratory tract infections) for more than 5 years. (6) Drinking lots of water, eating low-glycemic-index foods, and eating sushi each caused a modest weight loss. (7) Drinking unflavored fructose water caused a large weight loss that has lasted more than 1 year. While losing weight, hunger was much less than usual. Unflavored sucrose water had a similar effect. The new theory of weight control, which helped discover this effect, assumes that flavors associated with calories raise the body-fat set point: The stronger the association, the greater the increase. Between meals the set point declines. Self-experimentation lasting months or years seems to be a good way to generate plausible new ideas.


Key Words: breakfast; circadian; colds; depression; discovery; fructose; innovation; insomnia; light; obesity; sitting; standing; sugar.