Ivory Towers: Judges are on thin ice

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DOES watching ice skating give you nightmares? Did Torvill and Dean really come first last week? Two papers in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills at the end of last year throw some light on these important questions. Leaving the nightmares on ice for the moment, we begin with the rather confused scoring system that gave the gold medals to Torvill and Dean.

Robert Whissell, Scott Lyons, Derek Wilkinson and Cynthia Whissell have been analysing judges' scores in Olympic skating competitions and report their conclusions in a paper entitled 'National Bias in Judgments of Olympic-Level Skating'. The results confirm our suspicions that judges tend to give higher marks to skaters of their own nationality.

The data for the analysis were judges' assessments of skaters at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, with attention concentrated on scores given by each judge to his or her co-nationals. In each case such scores were compared with the average of the other judges. Statistical analysis revealed an overall national bias of considerable proportions. Of nine contestants judged, the average placing of an individual skater should be fifth, but the average for each judge's compatriots was almost two places higher.

When they looked at the individual judges to see who were the worst offenders, the figures revealed that 'bias of some sort seems to be present for every nation from which there were three or more skaters competing'. We look forward to a similar analysis of voting trends in the Eurovision Song Contest which could pinpoint some disturbing underlying tensions within Europe.

However, if you find that Torvill and Dean have only a soporific effect, you may be interested in 'Snoring and Nightmares' by Robert A Hicks and Jose Bautista. Following earlier research on such topics as 'Snoring and anxiety dreams', 'Nightmares in post-traumatic stress disorder' and 'Cognitive affective correlates of lucid, archetypal and nightmare dreaming', they asked 199 undergraduates whether they snored and whether they had nightmares.

Subjects were required to assess the item 'I snore during sleep' on a five-point scale: never (or almost never), seldom, occasionally, frequently, and always (or almost always). They also completed the 'Spadafora and Hunt Dream Type Scale', one item of which refers to Fantastic Nightmares, which are defined as 'very vivid, upsetting dreams that you remember in detail upon awakening and that can involve a wide range of negative emotions.'

While previous research on Second World War veterans had revealed a correlation between snoring and nightmares, the present study found no such tendency. The researchers point to a significant problem in studies of this type: you only remember dreams if you wake up immediately after them. They appear to suggest that in the case of nightmares and snoring, it is important to consider whether it is the snoring or the nightmare which has awoken the sleeper.

Don't blame Torvill and Dean for giving you nightmares, blame your snoring for making you remember them.