Irradiated by LabRat
From the department of wild speculation, a thread I have noticed and wonder about.
One of the world’s oldest infant-care practices is swaddling, the practice of wrapping up an infant tightly enough to stop it moving its limbs around. While the potential risks and benefits of the practice are hotly debated (the practice fell out of favor for a few centuries and is now coming back), one thing just about everybody agrees on is that swaddling has an interesting tranquilzing effect on babies- wrap them up so they can’t move, and they stop crying/fall asleep/calm themselves faster. If done with regularity they get used to it and the effect seems to wear off/be less dramatic, but either way the effect on a baby who has never been swaddled is counter-intuitive: rather than struggling against restraint, their heart rates drop, their EEG pattern changes, and they are lulled. The effect is more dramatic and more consistent over the long term on premature babies, whose motor systems have developed less.
Speaking of motor impairment, one of Temple Grandin’s most famous innovations is the squeeze machine, initially developed to help her (and later, far more autistic children) cope with the severe overreaction to being touched that is often characteristic of autism*. I recommend reading the link, by the by; Grandin goes as well as she can into the sparse and scattered research out there on the effect of what she terms “deep touch pressure” on humans and other mammals. Swaddling falls under such pressure, as does the odd “rolling up in a gym mat” practice of calming autistic and hyperactive children that preceded the squeeze-machine idea, as does firm stroking and presumably massage as well. It’s never been an area of rigorous and intense research, but the general idea investigated is that such pressure, applied correctly (especially in a firm-release pattern, as in massage) has a reflexively tranquilizing effect on mammals. Given that the theory put into practice in the squeeze-machine form has a dramatic effect on autistic children and still a notably calming/relaxing one on adult college students not told what the machine was supposed to do, there may well be a real underlying physiological effect here that simply hasn’t been rigorously studied.
Which makes me wonder about other uses of the concept of partially restraining an individual in something that applies consistent, nonfocused pressure. A good shooting coat, for competitive high-power rifle shooting, provides stabilizing pressure when adjusted properly for any position the shooter takes; when in position, he is rigid and restrained, out of it, the pressure loosens. This is, of course, the point: the more stable a platform for the rifle the shooter’s body forms, the more precisely and consistently placed his shots can be.
This makes me wonder: rifle marksmen already practice self-calming techniques to counter the adrenaline of competition and make their heart rate and breathing steady and slow to better place shots, but are they getting more physiological benefit out of the jacket than just the stable platform? What would happen (other than a lot of fiddling trying to get the thing adjusted properly) if you stuck a much more novice rifle shooter in one, that had done essentially no work in independently self-calming before shooting?
Either way I suspect it would be easier to test the idea than it would be to test and popularize the concept of shooting prone while wrapped in a gymnastics mat.
*This is attributed to slightly impeded cerebellar development in the case of the autistic children. For what it’s worth, the cerebellum, which goes through a growth spurt during late gestation, is one of the areas a premature infant is most likely to have long-term problems with.