Why people believe things you don't believe

Why do Holocaust deniers, young Earth creationists, people who think they’ve lived past lives as famous figures, people who claim they’ve been abducted by aliens, and people who stake their lives on the power of homeopathy believe things that most of us do not? David McRaney investigates.

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Willpower as a rechargeable battery

In this episode of You Are Not So Smart David McRaney explores ego depletion and all the things that can cause it, from feeling rejection to holding back tears to avoiding the temptation of cookies.

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Oxytocin: "the biological basis for the golden rule"

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Here's the transcript at Medium of a deeply fascinating Aspen Ideas lecture by neuroeconomist Paul Zak, author of The Moral Molecule, about the chemical reason why the vast majority of us feel good helping others. Those who don't? Psychopaths, mostly.

Why do you sabotage yourself when trying to break bad habits?

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Why do we bite our nails?

Over at Mind Hacks, Tom Stafford looks at the scientific literature around onychophagia, aka nail-biting:

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Why did we blow on Nintendo game cartridges?

And what are the ramifications of rubbing a beard with an infected chicken before conducting lab work? Tune in to the latest episode of You Are Not So Smart to find out!

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Cognitive bias in software development considered harmful


Books like Predictably Irrational (and its sequel, Upside of Irrationality) painstaking document the ways that we fall victim to our own cognitive biases, tripping over our own brains.

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Study: People prefer electric shocks to being alone with their thoughts


Matthew writes, "A new paper in Science reports that when people are asked to entertain themselves with their own thoughts for 15 minutes, many resort to giving themselves painful electric shocks they'd previously said they'd pay to avoid."

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Why people have the urge to squeeze cute animals to death


When I was a kid my friend and I caught some little frogs. My friend liked his frog so much he smothered it to death in his hand. Lenny, the mentally challenged giant in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, squeezed living creatures to death because he loved them so much. Why do people do this? Two Yale graduate students, Oriana Aragon and Rebecca Dyer, are conducting experiments to find out.

Dyer's hypothesis:

Some things are so cute that we just can't stand them. We think it’s about high positive-affect, an approach orientation and almost a sense of lost control. It’s so adorable, it drives you crazy. It might be that how we deal with high positive-emotion is to sort of give it a negative pitch somehow. That sort of regulates, keeps us level and releases that energy.

"This aggression may be the brain’s response to the overwhelming joy incurred by such creatures (similar to how some people cry when intensely happy)."

Why Do We Smother Cute Things?

Facebook's massive psychology experiment likely illegal


Researchers from Facebook, Cornell and UCSF published a paper describing a mass-scale experiment in which Facebook users' pages were manipulated to see if this could induce and spread certain emotional states.

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Monitoring a computer transistor to understand why a YouTube video is funny

Even though we are learning more and more about what is “under the hood” of human consciousness, it might not tell us what we most want to know about ourselves. It could be like monitoring a transistor in a computer to better understand why a YouTube video was funny. David McRaney explores the dangers of reductionism in the You Are Not So Smart podcast.

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Job interviews reward narcissists

Self-presentation style in job interviews: the role of personality and culture, a UBC study presented in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that job interviews were optimized for self-aggrandizing narcissists, while people from cultures that value modesty and self-effacement fared poorly (it probably helps that everyone conducting a job interview had to pass a job interview to get that job, making them more likely to have confidence in the process). (via Reddit)

Psychology of risk

The Economist interviewed cognitive scientist professor Gerd Gigerenzer of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, author of a new book called Risk Savvy: How To Make Good Decisions, about how we frequently make terrible choices based on misinterpreted information:

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What's it like to be hypnotized?

When Carla Sinclair was offered a free hypnotism session, she jumped at the chance. “I wanted to see if a hypnotherapist could actually put me in an altered state of some kind. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but romanticized about meeting a bearded man in a white lab coat swinging a pendulum in front of my face.”

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Happynomics versus econobollocks


Tim Harford investigates the field of "happynomics" through which economists attempt to devise policies that make people happier, and does an excellent job of sorting the evidence-based approaches from the trendy rubbish that's part ideology and part wishful thinking. Bottom line: beware the "focusing illusion"; count your blessings to reverse your habituation to the good things in life; set things up so that doing the things you want is easier than doing the things that make you unhappy, and, finally, understand that you probably can't be happy all the time.

If this stuff interests you, I strongly recommend Stumbling on Happiness, an excellent book about the state of psychiatric research into happiness by Daniel Gilbert, head of Harvard's psych department.

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