Category Archives: Human development

Bike and psychology (3/3)

I can not conclude this post series (which started here) without writing about an undesirable piece in the bicycle world. I am talking about the bike thieves. Millions of bikes are stolen every year by mainly young males in gangs. Then, they sell the bikes both on the street and online.

Why stealing bikes is so prevalent? According to police services, it is attractive because represents a low risk and cost activity. However, most of stolen bikes are sold at low, sometimes ridiculous, prices. Thus, the psychology here lies in the economic thinking of earning some money with low risk.

The reasons of bike thieves are varied and range from envy to experience a shot of adrenaline. But I think the most important facts is poverty and sometimes related to drug addiction. In fact, this is closely linked to the low cost point that I have mentioned in the previous paragraph. And I reckon, it is partially and indirectly motivated by the shameful fines this action is punished in most countries. Even in relapses, thieves just spend few months in jail. If only politicians feel the importance of having a bike for whatever need (going to college, university, etc., going to work or to buy, practicing sport, fight against climate change, feeling better, you name it).

Few psychological studies have being carried out in this field. One of them was conducted at the Newcastle University campus. Here, the researchers analyzed the impact of installing signs with images of “watching eyes” with a written message as it comes to bike theft. They monitored thefts for 12 months after an before the signs installation. Several location were divided as control (no signs were installed) and experimental (signs were installed). While experimental locations thefts were reduced by 62 per cent, they increased in control ones by 65 per cent. This suggested the importance of signs, but also that crime was displaced to the control locations. Nevertheless, the importance of surveillance was shown.

According to the report, humans have fast, automatic psychological mechanisms which have evolved to respond to eye-like stimuli, and that even mere representations of eyes affects us. We are eye-animals.

On he other hand, it would be great if thefts perception changes towards a more punishable, risky and highly economic cost activity. Fines and prison sentences should increase in bikes thefts as well as bicycle parts.

Bike and psychology (2/3)

Continuing with the post series about bikes and psychology that I started here, this time I am going to write about the benefits of cycling at mental level. Generally speaking, pedaling helps build a better brain, structurally and functionally, no matter if you do it indoors or outdoors.

Beneath the brain‘s there is the white matter, which has been likened to a subway system connecting different regions of the brain. A reduction in the activity in this system can slow thinking and provoke other cognitive deficits. Some scientific studies (like this) show the benefits of pedaling. In this case, two populations were compared: healthy individuals and schizophrenia patients. In turn, they were divided into two groups, half of they were randomly selected for a six-month exercise program using a stationary bike, whereas the other half continued with its lives. Brain scans demonstrated that the group who pedaled on a regular basis increased the integrity of white matter in both healthy and schizophrenic brains.

We have a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that helps maintain existing neurons and create new ones. Moreover, BDNF collaborates in restraining some neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Studies like this one brought to light increases in BDNF levels in volunteers with either type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome, both groups practicing regular exercise on a stationary bike for three months.

Using bikes also helps increasing memory and reasoning. In this study young men pedaled a stationary bike at moderate intensity for 30 minutes, and completed a series of cognitive tests before and afterward. As you can imagine, scores were higher on memory, reasoning and planning, and were able to finish the tests more rapidly than before. And after pedaling for just 30 minutes!

Furthermore, a lot of studies have demonstrated that regular physical activity helps prevent stress, anxiety and depression. It also applies to bikes. For instance, this study focused on people with depression who were treated with antidepressants. After using a stationary bike for 15 minutes, their level of cortisol, a stress hormone, declined.

Most studies have been conducted for stationary bikes because of controlling the studies environment. However, cycling outdoors, specially in natural surroundings, enlarges these benefits. It is due to spending time in nature usually reduces stress and decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. What’s more, there is evidence that the green exercise boosts enjoyment and motivation.

Related to the previous paragraph, in this study this effect was demonstrated on pedaling indoors, though this could be ironic. Specifically, scientists encouraged volunteers to pedal a stationary bike while watching a five-minute video of a green, leafy trail. Three forms of the video were shown: unedited, edited to look red and edited to look gray. Those who watched the unedited green video reported a less negative mood overall. In addition, bicyclers expressed that they felt like less work, even their heart rate and breathing remained the same for all conditions.

Additional benefits of riding a bike are:

  • It helps you sleep better: Riders who ride regularly are able to get their circadian rhythm in sync by lowering the levels of cortisol. Besides, it can positively affect brain serotonin to improve sleep cycles.

  • Creative thinking and problem-solving are also improved by cycling.

  • Studies have shown that employees who ride a bike to work are more productive. Moreover, a quick afternoon bike ride can boost energy levels and help have a more productive evening.

To sum up, mental health highly benefits from riding a bike that every person should do it on a regular basis.

Bike and psychology (1/3)

I open a three-post series dedicated to psychology and bicycle. The subject of psychology is a field so large that it can not be explained in detail here. Rather, I am going to give some broad brushstrokes.

The first one is the use of psychology as a trick to teach someone to ride a bike. In particular, I am writing about the use of operand conditioning for such a purpose. Operand conditioning is the use of rewards and punishments effectively to encourage and teach whatever behavior to anyone. This theory was explained by the behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner in the midst of the 1900s. Specifically, he claimed that learning involves changes in behavior in response to external stimuli. Do not confound this theory with the classical conditioning which involves reflexive, involuntary behaviors.

In operand conditioning, a reinforcement is anything that encourage or strengthen a desired behavior. A positive reinforcement may be giving something that a person really enjoys after the target behavior is done. On the other hand, negative reinforcement means stopping or removing something that the person does not want. For instance, when teaching how to ride a bicycle to a child, a negative reinforcer could be a day without chores, whereas a positive reinforcer is encouraging words.

Moreover, operand conditioning contemplates punishment. Again, punishment can be positive (introduction of something unenjoyable after a behavior: use of angry words) or negative (restricting access to something enjoyable such as taking away TV or play time).

Overall, punishments are less effective and desirable than reinforcements, being positive reinforcement the most effect conditioning method. Thus, you could try to minimal punishment (better: no punishment) while teaching to ride a bike. The better strategy is reinforce each small step because every step makes a path with teaching how to ride a bike as the finish line. Such action allows teaching to ride a bike faster since the novice gets encouraged and enjoys the process. Furthermore, reinforcements should be sincere, otherwise the learner will not take it seriously.

Learning how to ride a bike

The traditional way of maintaining the equilibrium when pedaling consists in using training wheels when you are a child, and once you dominate it move to just two wheels. This target can take more or less time, but ultimately we all reach it. Fortunately, you will never forget it.

Apart from the most used technique I have indicated, there are some others probably innovative methods that have demonstrated their effectiveness. Some of them are:

  • Using a balance bike instead of a bicycle with training wheels: This way the kid gets use to a bike shape and weight, as well as she develops the equilibrium needed to ride a bicycle.

  • Taking the pedals off a bike and lowering the seat: Here, the target is convert the traditional bicycle into a balance bike. The goals are the same as in the previous point.

  • Tell your child to turn in the direction that she is falling: This maneuver allows her straighten out and helps dominating her body and the bike when a falling is about to happen.

  • Raising the training wheels a little at a time, so that she thinks her bike uses such wheels, but in reality it does not. When she realizes that she does not use training wheels, she will not use they anymore.

There are additional techniques to learn riding a bike that have been developed thoroughly by experts in the field like this one.

Youngest cyclists

After writing the post about the oldest bikers, my intention was to reflect who were the youngest cyclist in the world. I could not find the answer on the net, so I am going to explain a little about the process a lot of us have experienced with great pleasure.

Learning to ride a bicycle, a two-wheeled bike without training wheels, mostly occurs sometime between the ages of 3 and 8 (although some adults learn it because they did not have the opportunity when they were young, and fortunately, people do not forget how to ride). The average age is 5. Indeed, most kids just learn when they are ready if their families can provide them with bikes. Curiously, a systematic review found that children who started biking at ages between 3 and 5 suffer higher injuries than those who were 3 to years old.

Sliding the 3 to 5 group, kids between 3 and 4 years are in significant gross motor skills development. For example, they learn to balance on one foot, walk on their tiptoes, climb, hop and skip. A 3 years old child can pedal, use a handlebar and ride a tricycle, but she does not have the balance required to ride a two-wheeled bicycle. Better, she can ride a bike with training wheels and after she dominates it, increases coordination and muscle, move to a bike without training ones. It is a good idea use foot brakes instead of hand brakes in this age group.

Regarding the 4 and 5 group, these children are ready for two-wheeled bicycles. Most 5-year-old kids have balance and coordination enough to ride a bike without training wheels. However, they might not understand the risks of riding near traffic or without paying attention to crossings. Then, adult supervision is required to avoid falls and injuries.