Skateboarders: With their cool tricks, tribal identity and blithe lack of concern about personal injury, they can elicit a sense of envy among regular, non-thrill-seeking folks.
That sense is usually tempered with a smug, self-defending note of disdain - sure, you might think, I can't effortlessly drop slick manoeuvres while cruising city streets on my board, but at least I'm not missing out on vital intellectual development by skipping class to hit the skate park. Right?
Well, it turns out that skaters might have you beat there, too, at least when it comes to physics. In a paper presented at the 52nd annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society in Seattle last week, psychologist Michael McBeath of Arizona State University presented the argument that skateboarders develop an instinctive understanding of the properties of slope and its relation to objects in motion.
McBeath and his team showed 122 college students a basic physics problem: Would a ball travel faster down a long, relatively steep slope that is interrupted by a flat stretch, or down a shorter, unbroken slope with no interruptions? (Visuals were provided.)
It turns out that only 27% of respondents knew the correct answer, which is that the ball would go faster down the longer path, in spite of that flat bit in the middle - a steep incline at the start of a trajectory is way better for speed than an uninterrupted ride, apparently.
Not an impressive result for the respondents as a whole, but things changed when the skaters were separated from the non-skaters: 61% of boarders got the question right, a result that proved even more likely the longer the respondent had been skating. What's more, a group of 41 boarders at a local skate park demonstrated a practical knowledge of this concept. When asked to choose between a flatter slope and a steeper one with bumps in the middle in order to go as fast as possible, 75% of the skaters choice the bumpier - and faster - run.
Mcbeath thinks that this is a result of a body-based knowledge that skaters develop over time, which enables them to intuitively grasp theoretical concepts that the rest of us have to learn the hard way (i.e. through book-learnin' and stuff).
"This is a hard problem, even for physics professors that we quizzed, but skateboarding experience improves estimates of slope speeds," McBeath is quoted as saying in Science News magazine.
If even professors are having trouble with this problem, then we suggest they get caught up on some basic physics. We're more than happy to provide the study materials:
Ryan Shreds Incline Park
Wes Kremer - Sk8mafia AM
Kilian Martin - A Skate Education