What is the slowest music humanly possible?

While the typical answer is 33 beats per minute, musician Adam Neely's answer morphs into a great primer on the "perceptual present," a concept widely discussed in both the philosophy of music and of consciousness. Read the rest

Why incompetent people think they're amazing

People have a tendency towards "illusory superiority," that is, they imagine themselves to be better than others. Interestingly, the more incompetent you are, the more superior you feel. It comes down to the fact that people who are bad at something "lack the very expertise needed to recognize how badly they're doing." This phenomenon is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, and is explained in this TED-Ed video.

[via Open Culture] Read the rest

Scientist builds remote-controlled collapsing chair to study fear in people

At the University of Chicago in the early 1920s, psychology grad student William Blatz built a remote-controlled trick chair that would collapse when he pressed a switch. (It was padded to avoid injury.) Then he had subjects sit in the chair while wearing electrodes to measure heart rate and other vital signs. Blatz's goal was to "study the physiology of fear under controlled, repeatable conditions." I think he also probably just wanted to build a remote-controlled trick chair. From Weird Universe:

Blatz offered this description of their reactions:

"The observations of the subjects after the fall, of course, varied, but they were sufficiently in agreement to indicate the arousal of genuine fear in naive subjects. Some examples of these remarks were, 'startled,' 'surprised,' 'frightened,' scared,' etc. In most cases the subjects cried out, and some called the experimenter by name. They all made some effort to escape, thinking an accident had happened. In all cases they acknowledged that they had not anticipated 'anything like it at all.' From these statements, it was concluded that the stimulus was wholly unexpected, and unsuspected."

The electrodes registered the effect of the fright. The hearts of the subjects began hammering, and their breathing rapidly increased. Blatz also observed "striking changes in the electrical conditions of the body in the nature of an increased development of the electromotive force."

"Dr. Blatz’s Trick Chair of Terror" (Weird Universe) Read the rest

Algorithms analyze brain scans to identify people with suicidal thoughts

In a small-scale study, researchers have shown that algorithms can analyze brain scans to determine whether an individual has suicidal thoughts. During the study, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University scientists mentioned words like "death," "trouble," and "carefree" to individuals undergoing fMRI scans of their brains. Apparently those kinds of words spur different brain activity in people who have suicidal thoughts compared to those who don't. The hope is that a better understanding of brain function in suicidal people could lead to better tests to assess risk of suicide and improved psychotherapy. From IEEE Spectrum:

For the study, the researchers recruited 34 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 30—half of them at risk, and the other half not at risk, of suicide. They showed the participants a series of words related to positive and negative facets of life, or words related to suicide, and asked them to think about those words.

Then the researchers recorded, with fMRI, the cerebral blood flow in the volunteers as they thought about those words, and fed the data to the algorithms, indicating which volunteers were at risk of suicide and which weren’t. The algorithms then learned what the neural signatures in the brain of a suicidal person tend to look like.

Then they tested the algorithms by giving them new neural signatures to see how well they could predict, based on learning from other subjects, whether someone was suicidal or not. The classifier did it with 91% accuracy. Separately, the classifier was able to identify, with 94% accuracy, which volunteers had actually made an attempt at suicide, versus having only thought about it.

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New gamblers who see a short video about slot-machine psychology don't get tricked

Video slot machines pull a lot of tricks to make it hard to tell how fair the game is; one of them is to ring up "wins" that are actually losses (you put in $1 and get $0.75 back, say), with a lot of fanfare and hoo-rah. These tricks are calculated to hook players into the game by stimulating their reward centers with intermittent stimulus, a powerfully addictive combination. Read the rest

Some thoughts on whether intelligence is linked to anxiety and depression

In High intelligence: A risk factor for psychological and physiological overexcitabilities, a group of academic and industry neuroscientists survey a self-selected group of 3,715 MENSA members about their mental health history and find a correlation between high IQ and clinical anxiety and depression disorders, an effect they attribute to "overexitabilities" -- "the same heightened awareness that inspires an intellectually gifted artist to create can also potentially drive that same individual to withdraw into a deep depression." Read the rest

Psychological asymmetry - why we feel lonley and odd

This new video from the School of Life present the concept of psychological asymmetry, and why we aren't as odd or special as we might think.

The solutions to psychological asymmetry lie in two places -- art and love art provides us with accurate portrayals of the inner lives of strangers, and with grace and compelling charm shows us how much they share in troubles and hopes we thought we might be alone in experiencing. And love gives us an occasional deeply precious sense of security to reveal who we really are to another person and the opportunity to learn about their reality from a position of extreme secure proximity. To overcome the effects of psychological asymmetry we must constantly trust, especially in the absence of any evidence, that everyone is likely to be far closer to what we are -- that is, far shyer more scared more worried and more incomplete than they are to resemble the personas they show to the world.

Read the rest

Trump and the psychology of doom and gloom

Even if people are content with their own lives, their "a collectively shared sense of doom and gloom about society" is a major influence on their "decisions about divisive societal issues, such as voting for extremist parties" and Trump, according to psychological research from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. From Scientific American:

Commentators have argued that people voted for Trump because of economic anxiety, negative attitudes toward immigration, religion and race, and “a class rebellion against educated elitists.” While many of these insights may contribute to an explanation, they do not reveal the whole story. For instance, the popular belief that Trump’s voters were mainly working class turns out to be inaccurate.

Instead, new psychological research suggests that it is not necessarily citizens’ personal (dis)content with their lives that matters as much as the perceived Zeitgeist of our time: a powerful shared feeling that society is taking a turn for the worse...

Recent research has found a way to capture, at least in part, the “spirit of the time.” We proposed that while Zeitgeist was originally a concept used by philosophers, it essentially describes a psychological experience. As such, in its broadest sense, the Zeitgeist can be defined as a collection of shared values, attitudes, norms, and ideas that exist within a society at a certain time. Measuring such a general phenomenon is difficult, but we found a way to capture the one aspect we were specifically interested in: our collectively shared awareness about the state of society, which currently is characterized by a sense of doom and gloom.

Read the rest

People buy products with faces to stop from feeling so lonely

People prefer products that have faces on the packaging, especially when they are lonely, according to a study published online this month in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

From University of Oregon:

This finding, published online this month in the European Journal of Social Psychology, is rooted in people’s fundamental need to belong and their desire to form and sustain relationships. When humans lack these social connections, they often attempt to fill the void in other ways, including through their purchasing habits.

“Previous research linked our need for social connection with consumer behavior and judgment, but very little was understood about the role that visuals play in social connection and brand likability,” [Prof. Dr. Ulrich] Orth explained. “Our study builds on prior research by demonstrating that seeing a face in a brand visual increases a consumer’s liking of the brand, especially if they feel lonely.”

To be effective, the face on the label does not need to be as obvious as the one smiling back at [University of Oregon professor Bettina] Cornwell from the bag of potato chips in the hotel gift shop. Consumers often imagine humanlike characteristics in nonhuman visuals, a process also known as anthropomorphism. Orth explains that loneliness can enhance people’s tendency to exhibit this kind of “wishful seeing” and is most apparent in the case of faces.

“A lack of interpersonal relationships motivates people to actively search for sources of connection,” Cornwell said. “Individuals who are lonely are more likely to find faces in visuals because they so greatly desire this social connection.”

Image: Kevin Harber/Flickr Read the rest

Great deal on book about cognitive biases: You Are Not So Smart

If you like David McRaney's You Are Not So Smart podcast, which explores human psychology in all its quirkiness, I think you'll enjoy his book, You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself.

You believe you are a rational, logical being who sees the world as it really is, but journalist David McRaney is here to tell you that you're as deluded as the rest of us. But that's OK- delusions keep us sane. You Are Not So Smart is a celebration of self-delusion. It's like a psychology class, with all the boring parts taken out, and with no homework.

Based on the popular blog of the same name, You Are Not So Smart collects more than 46 of the lies we tell ourselves everyday, including:

Dunbar's Number - Humans evolved to live in bands of roughly 150 individuals, the brain cannot handle more than that number. If you have more than 150 Facebook friends, they are surely not all real friends.

Hindsight bias - When we learn something new, we reassure ourselves that we knew it all along.

Confirmation bias - Our brains resist new ideas, instead paying attention only to findings that reinforce our preconceived notions.

Brand loyalty - We reach for the same brand not because we trust its quality but because we want to reassure ourselves that we made a smart choice the last time we bought it.

Read the rest

Religious leaders tripping balls... for science

Psychologists at Johns Hopkins University are currently giving two dozen religious leaders psilocybin, the psychedelic drug in magic mushrooms, to, y'know, see what happens. From The Guardian:

Despite most organised religions frowning on the use of illicit substances, Catholic, Orthodox and Presbyterian priests, a Zen Buddhist and several rabbis were recruited. The team has yet to persuade a Muslim imam or Hindu priest to take part, but “just about all the other bases are covered,” according to (study co-leader Dr. William) Richards....

“It is too early to talk about results, but generally people seem to be getting a deeper appreciation of their own religious heritage,” he said. “The dead dogma comes alive for them in a meaningful way. They discover they really believe this stuff they’re talking about.”

There is also a suggestion that after their psychedelic journey, the leaders’ notions of religion shifted away from the sectarian towards something more universal. “They get a greater appreciation for other world religions. Other ways up the mountain, if you will,” said Richards.

“In these transcendental states of consciousness, people seem to get to levels of consciousness that seem universal,” he added. “So a good rabbi can encounter the Buddha within him.”

"Religious leaders get high on magic mushrooms ingredient – for science" (The Guardian) Read the rest

Here’s why people hate the word “moist”

Mashable explains why so many people can’t stand the word “moist.” It turns out it has to do with both word association and the bandwagon effect. Read the rest

The freaky tricks your memory can play on you

If there’s one thing this video from AsapSCIENCE taught me, it’s that I have a terrible memory. Thankfully (or then again, maybe not), it turns out a lot of other people do too. Read the rest

Giving vegetables seductive names gets people to eat them

Boring vegetables need better marketing. That's the gist of a new study from Stanford university psychologists who gave cafeteria vegetables more "indulgent" names to see if students would buy them more often. Healthy labels ("wholesome," etc) didn't do well but indulgent labels ("sizzlin'", "dynamite," etc.) boosted vegetable sales by 25%. From the BBC:

The experiment took place over the whole of the autumn academic term. Each day, a vegetable dish was labelled up in one of four ways:

• basic - where the description was simply "carrots", for example

• healthy restrictive - "carrots with sugar-free citrus dressing"

• health positive - "smart-choice vitamin C citrus carrots"

• indulgent - "twisted citrus-glazed carrots"

...The indulgent labels came out top and included "twisted garlic-ginger butternut squash wedges" and "dynamite chilli and tangy lime-seasoned beets".

Seductive names resulted in 25% more people selecting the vegetable compared with basic labelling, 41% more people than the healthy restrictive labelling and 35% more people than the healthy positive labelling.

"Association Between Indulgent Descriptions and Vegetable Consumption: Twisted Carrots and Dynamite Beets" Read the rest

Seven ways to be miserable, and how to avoid them

People often do things that make them miserable. CPG Grey presents seven of the most effective misery makers:

Stay still - don't go outside, don't exercise. Screw with your sleep - vary your bedtime and sleep in a day or two a week. Never sleep or wake up at the same time. Maximize your screentime - let the screen keep you awake. Let a screen be the first thing you look at when you wake up. Use your screen to stoke your negative emotions - feed your anxiety and anger about things over which you have no control. Set v.a.p.i.d. goals - vague, amorphous, pie-in-the-sky, irrelevant, delayed. Do not set s.m.a.r.t. goals, which are specific, measurable, actionable, (goals for which you are) responsible, time-bounded. Pursue happiness directly - Expect that unending bliss is possible. Follow your instincts - do what makes you immediately happy even when you know it will make you sadder in the long run.

The video is based on Randy Paterson's book, How to Be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use. Read the rest

Scientists think they are more rational and objective than others think they are

Apparently scientists tend to think of themselves as more rational, objective, and intelligent than non-scientists. Makes sense. And laypeople tend to think that of scientists too. But the scientists surveyed in a new study from Tilburg University in the Netherlands apparently see themselves as much more rational, objective, and intelligent than non-scientists. Are they overconfident or, well, right? From Scientific American:

The team surveyed both scientists and highly educated nonscientists and asked them to rate the two categories of people in terms of objectivity, rationality, integrity, open-mindedness, intelligence and cooperativeness.

Both groups rated scientists higher on every one of these measures, yet scientists perceived bigger differences between the two groups than laypeople did. “That surprised us,” says psychologist Coosje Veldkamp, the study's lead author. “We expected scientists to have a more realistic picture, but they see a larger difference,” she says. (Some of these perceptions may be accurate, of course, but other research would be needed to determine that.)

The scientists' positive self-ratings may be partly explained by the human tendency to judge members of groups we belong to more favorably than others. Further investigation showed that established scientists judged their established peers more positively than those at earlier career stages, and female scientists rated researchers of their own gender more highly. “People who identify more strongly with their group display more in-group bias,” Veldkamp explains. “Women are still a minority in science, and minority-group members have been found to identify more strongly with their group.”

Read the rest

The strange, mutating story of "willpower" and what we think it might be as of right now

"Willpower" began as an element of philosophical/theological arguments, used to explain riddles like how humans could commit sin even though they were created by a perfect, all-powerful god -- but it took on new meanings through the Enlightenment and then the Victorians imbued it with mystical, all-important significance, as a kind of synonym for morality and goodness. Read the rest

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