How to get rid of ear worms

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Annoying song stuck in your head? This BrainCraft video explains that listening to it from beginning to end may free you from its burden. It's a technique based on the Zeigarnik effect, the tendency we have to remember things which are uncompleted.

To try it yourself, listen to this first:

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This person designs alarm sounds to wake,warn, annoy, or otherwise alert you

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Carryl Baldwin, a professor of cognition and applied auditory research, designs and tests sounds for "use as alarms in household, aviation, medical, and automotive settings." Atlas Obscura explores the art and science of making sounds that convey a spectrum of urgency:

One of the main considerations is the annoyance factor. To test for annoyance in the lab, says Baldwin, “we’ll construct sounds and we’ll look at all of the different acoustic parameters, so we might vary, for instance, intensity, frequency, the number of harmonics, how fast it ramps up and down, the temporal characteristics—like whether it’s going d-d-d-d-d-duh rapidly or duhhhh-duhhhhh-duhhhh.”

The faster an alarm goes, the more urgent it tends to sound. And in terms of pitch, alarms start high. Most adults can hear sounds between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz—Baldwin uses 1,000 Hz as a base frequency, which is at the bottom of the range of human speech. Above 20,000 Hz, she says, an alarm ”starts sounding not really urgent, but like a squeak.”

Harmonics are also important. To be perceived as urgent, an alarm needs to have two or more notes rather than being a pure tone, “otherwise it can sound almost angelic and soothing,” says Baldwin. “It needs to be more complex and kind of harsh.” An example of this harshness is the alarm sound that plays on TVs across the U.S. as part of the Emergency Alert System. The discordant noise is synonymous with impending doom.

"An Alarm Designer on How to Annoy People in the Most Effective Ways" (Atlas Obscura) Read the rest

Altruistic people have more sexual partners

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Research suggests that people who do nice things for others, often at a cost for themselves, are more sexually attractive. From an evolutionary perspective, this might be because altruism indicates that a potential mate is more cooperative and caring. Evolutionary psychologists Steven Arnocky, at Nipissing University, and Pat Barclay, at the University of Guelph, conducted a fascinating study to explore whether altruistic people really do have more sexual partners. From Scientific American:

This theory suggests that altruism may serve, in part, to convey one’s value as a mating partner, including one’s concern for others and likelihood of cooperating with future mates. Research has shown that we prefer altruistic partners, all else being equal; especially for long-term mating (the evidence for altruism being preferred in short-term mates is mixed). Not surprisingly, then, the pull to demonstrate one’s altruism can be strong. Some research has shown that men will actively compete with one another (termed competitive altruism) by making charitable donations to women. Interestingly, these charitable donations increase when the target of one’s altruism is physically attractive...

Previous findings from hunter-gatherer populations have shown that men who hunt and share meat often enjoy greater reproductive access to women. But do these links hold up in other cultural and contextual arenas, such as in contemporary North American society? To find out, we conducted a set of two studies. In our first study, undergraduate men and women completed an altruism questionnaire (involving questions like “I have donated blood”), along with a sexual history survey. Participants also completed a personality inventory, given the possibility that those with certain personality characteristics (such as being extroverted) might happen to engage in both more altruism and more sexual activity.

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Honest mimicry vs. dishonest mimicry

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I learned that there are two forms of mimicry in nature -- honest mimicry (e.g., bees and wasps look similar and advertise that they can sting) and dishonest mimicry (e.g., some flies look like bees and wasps to trick predators into thinking they can sting).

Inés Dawson, a graduate and PhD student at the University of Oxford, is the creator of this video, which is part of a science series on YouTube called Draw Curiosity. Read the rest

Haunting an X-rated movie screening... for science!

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In 1960, parapsychologist Anthony Donald Cornell donned a bed sheet and attempted to scare an audience watching an X-rated film in a movie theater. Why? Cornell, a believer in ghosts himself, wanted to understand how people reacted during "apparitional experiences." Today at the BBC, University of Oxford experimental psychologist Matthew Tompkins explores Cornell's strange experiments and considers how his methods may have contributed to the study of "inattentional blindness." Indeed, the ghost in the movie theater experiment is not unlike Daniel Simons and Christopher Chablis's classic "Selective Attention Test" from 1999. If you're not aware of that experiment, the video below is a must-see. From the BBC:

For Cornell, the experiment was another failure. None of the audience reported anything remotely paranormal. Many saw nothing unusual at all: 46% of the respondents had failed to notice the Experimental Apparition when Cornell first passed in front of the screen, and 32% remained completely unaware of it. Even the projectionist, whose job was to watch for anything unusual, reported that he had completely failed to notice the apparition. Those that did see ’something’ were not particularly accurate in their descriptions....

For me, these failures to see are by far the most exciting part of the experimental series. The pleasure of reading Cornell’s original reports, which were published in 1959 and 1960 in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, is that he writes in matter-of-fact academic prose. He dutifully reports numbers and exact quotes from participants, and walks the reader through the details of his experimental designs without a glimmer of apparent irony.

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Using the science of group conflict to understand Trump's campaign

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In Five Beliefs That Propel Groups Toward Conflict, published in American Psychologist, a pair of researchers lay out the five beliefs that, when transmitted by leaders to their followers, creates a "group conflict" that propels the group forward. Read the rest

"Power Poses" are bullshit

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In 2010, three psychologists published a paper on "power poses", with their finding that people who adopted "power poses" -- think of superheroes on skyscrapers -- felt more powerful and took more risks. Read the rest

Climate denial's internal contradictions spring from a need to defend economic doctrine

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A trio of scholars who study the psychology and philosophy of science have written a fantastic paper for Springer's Sythese looking at the way that climate change conspiracy theorists construct their view of the world, and how these conspiracy theories contain self-contradictory theses (like the idea that climate change can't be predicted and the idea that the data shows we're actually headed for an ice-age). Read the rest

Psychology's reproducibility crisis: why statisticians are publicly calling out social scientists

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Princeton University psych prof Susan Fiske published an open letter denouncing the practice of using social media to call out statistical errors in psychology research, describing the people who do this as "terrorists" and arguing that this was toxic because of the structure of social science scholarship, having an outsized effect on careers. Read the rest

Using Benjamin Franklin's behavioral economics maxim in magic

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When Benjamin Franklin wanted someone to like him, he'd ask that person to do him a favor, because he noticed that people who'd done him a nice turn would rationalize this by assuming that they'd done so because they liked him, and so they'd continue to do him other favors in the future based on that affection. Read the rest

"Anger Release Machine": a coin-op for shattering fine breakables

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In 2008, the Swiss/Danish design team Yarisal & Kublitz created their "Anger Release Machine," a vending machine stocked with "crystal glasses, plates, porcelain, various items" (the catalog helpfully adds "70 x 77 x 182 cm") -- insert coin, shatter breakables, feel better. Read the rest

Bad trips may be good for you

A "bad trip" on psychedelic mushrooms may lead to "enduring increases in well-being," according to a new study from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Neuroscientist Roland Griffiths and colleagues surveyed nearly 2,000 adults about their psilocybin experiences. Those who experienced bad trips had taken, on average, a powerful dose of 4 grams. From Psypost:

A majority of the participants — 62 percent — said their bad trip was among the top 10 most psychologically difficult situations of their lives. Eleven percent said it was their number one most difficult experience.

But 34 percent of participants said the bad trip was among the top five most personally meaningful experiences of their life and 31 percent said it was the among the top five most spiritually significant. And 76 percent said the bad trip had resulted in an improved sense of personal well-being or life satisfaction. Forty-six percent said they would be willing to experience the bad trip all over again.

"Survey study of challenging experiences after ingesting psilocybin mushrooms: Acute and enduring positive and negative consequences" (Journal of Psychopharmacology) Read the rest

Psychobook – psych tests used throughout the centuries

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Psychobook: Games, Tests, Questionnaires, Histories by Julian Rothenstein (editor) Princeton Architectural Press 2016, 192 pages, 8.9 x 12.1 x 0.9 inches (hardcover) $40 Buy a copy on Amazon

I am not afraid of toads. I do not like to see men in their pajamas. Someone has been trying to get into my car. I think I would like the work of a librarian. I do not always tell the truth.

The above statements are examples of what could appear on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, a “psychometric test” in which psychology patients must answer with only a “yes,” “no,” “true,” “false,” or “cannot say.” There is no place on the test to expand or explain your answers. The results of the exam help determine whether a test-taker is “normal” or “deviant.” This test has been helping to sort out the “crazies” from the “normals” since 1943, and yes, according to Psychobook, it’s still being used by some doctors today!

Psychobook, just released today, is a fun, fascinating, image-heavy book that looks at all kinds of ridiculous psych tests used throughout the centuries (some cancelled long ago, others still quacking along). Read about mental test kits such as: Lowenfeld Mosaic tests (make a design with colorful geometric toy pieces to see how carefree, thoughtful or anxious you are); the Szondi Test (see how your mind works by looking at portraits of men and guessing whether they’re homosexual, a psychopath, a maniac, or some other such type); Pictorial Completion Test (find out if your kid has delinquent tendencies by having them fill in a drawing with objects that are missing from the scene), and dozens more. Read the rest

How to behave in an elevator

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Psychologist Lane Longfellow is the go-to expert on how people behave in elevators. After years of research, Longfellow came up with a simple guide to "How to Behave in an Elevator," including suggestions like "face forward," "watch the numbers," and "stop talking with anyone you do know when anyone enters the elevator." While learning about Longfellow, Alex at Weird Universe compiled a collection of fascinating nuggets from ongoing research in this area:

• Studies of elevator body placement show a standard pattern. Normally the first person on grabs the corner by the buttons or a corner in the rear. The next passenger takes a catercorner position. Then the remaining corners are seized, and next the mid-rear-wall and the center of the car. Then packing becomes indiscriminate.

• "When the sixth person gets on you can watch the shuffle start," says Longfellow. "People don't quite know what to do with the sixth person. Then another set of rules comes into play governing body contact."

• In an uncrowded elevator, men stand with hands folded in front or women will hold their purses in front. That's called the Fig Leaf Position. Longfellow says, "As it gets more crowded you can see hands unfold and come down to the sides, because if you have your hands folded in front of you in a really crowded elevator, there's no telling where your knuckles might end up. So out of respect for the privacy of other people you unfold them and put them at your side."

• High-status individuals are given more space.

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Circuitry found linking cerebral cortex to body's stress response

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Our autonomic nervous system influences internal organs and governs key functions such as heart rate, digestion, and temperature regulation. Psychosomatic diseases are those without clear physical basis, and are presumed to have a mental component. They are often viewed with suspicion by modern medicine because a neural link between brain areas of cognitive function and the autonomic nervous system has been lacking. Until now.

In a paper appearing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dum et al. have identified a neural network linking the adrenal medulla to areas of the cerebral cortex in monkeys. These cortical areas are involved in motion planning and control, cognitive function, and emotional regulation. The authors believe this circuitry can provide top-down control of the adrenal gland's release of stress hormone which govern "fight or flight" responses. They state that:

Taken together, these findings raise the possibility that the areas of the cerebral cortex that influence the adrenal medulla also are key cortical nodes of a “stress and depression connectome.”

An approachable summary of this work can be found here. Read the rest

Police officer swallowed 40 knives because he "felt like eating" them

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In Amritsar, India, surgeons removed 40 knives from a police officer complaining of stomach pain.

"Patient's ultrasound revealed a growth in his stomach," Dr. Jatinder Malhotra, managing director of The Corporate Hospital, told the Times of India. "To confirm the diagnosis, an endoscopy was done which showed a few metallic knives inside the stomach. After that a CT Scan of the abdomen was done, which showed multiple knives inside the stomach."

During the last two months, said the 40-year-old patient, "I felt like eating knives and ate them."

The surgery took five hours and the patient is expected to make a full recovery. The news report references that he has a "psychological problem" but does not specify if it is pica, a disorder in which an individual is compelled to eat material that isn't food, such as paper, hair, or rocks.

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Take this test to find out if you are a "super recognizer" of faces

Image: Paulo Philippidis/Flickr

Josh P. Davis, a psychology professor at the University of Greenwich estimates the 1% of the population are "super-recognizers" of faces.

From Science Alert:

In 2009, a team of neuroscientists from Harvard did one of the first studies of super-recognisers. In it, they looked at just four people who claimed to have an unusually good ability to recognise faces.

All four subjects told the researchers about instances when they'd recognised practical strangers: family members they hadn't seen for decades or actors they'd glimpsed once in an ad and then seen again in a movie. They felt like there was something wrong with them.

One of the people in the study told the researchers that she tried to hide her ability and "pretend that I don't remember [people] ... because it seems like I stalk them, or that they mean more to me than they d.".

I've always felt that I'm sometimes a super-recognizer and sometimes nearly face blind. I just took the five-minute online test. I scored 11 out of 14. My results said, "If you scored above 10 you may be a super recogniser, but you would need to do more tests to find this out." Read the rest

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