Author Archives: tomstafford

Talk, 28 Oct 2014: The power of reason

I am giving a talk on 28th October at Off the Shelf, Sheffield’s festival of words. Here is the blurb: Is it true that “you can’t tell anybody anything”? From pub arguments to ideology-driven party political disputes it can sometimes people have their minds all made up, that there’s no point trying to persuade anybody […]

Implicit racism in academia

Subtle racism is prevalent in US and UK universities, according to a new paper commissioned by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education and released last week, reports The Times Higher Education. Black professors surveyed for the paper said they were treated differently than white colleagues in the form of receiving less eye contact or requests […]

How to speak the language of thought

We are now beginning to crack the brain’s code, which allows us to answer such bizarre questions as “what is the speed of thought?” When he was asked, as a joke, to explain how the mind works in five words, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker didn’t hesitate. “Brain cells fire in patterns”, he replied. It’s a […]

Why bad news dominates the headlines

Why are newspapers and TV broadcasts filled with disaster, corruption and incompetence? It may be because we’re drawn to depressing stories without realising, says psychologist Tom Stafford. When you read the news, sometimes it can feel like the only things reported are terrible, depressing events. Why does the media concentrate on the bad things in […]

Are women and men forever destined to think differently?

By Tom Stafford, University of Sheffield The headlines The Australian: Male and female brains still unequal The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis: Gender disparities in cognition will not diminish The Economist: A variation in the cognitive abilities of the two sexes may be more about social development than gender stereotypes The story Everybody has […]

Why do we bite our nails?

It can ruin the appearance of your hands, could be unhygienic and can hurt if you take it too far. So why do people do it? Biter Tom Stafford investigates What do ex-British prime minster Gordon Brown, Jackie Onassis, Britney Spears and I all have in common? We all are (or were) nail biters. It’s […]

Motherhood, apple pie and replication

Who could possibly be against replication of research results? Jason Mitchell of Harvard University is, under some conditions, for reasons described in his essay On the emptiness of failed replications. I wrote something for the Centre for Open Science which tries to draw out the sensible points in Mitchell’s essay – something I thought worth […]

Do we really hate thinking so much we’d electrocute ourselves rather than do it?

By Tom Stafford, University of Sheffield The headlines The Guardian: Shocking but true: students prefer jolt of pain than being made to sit and think Nature: We dislike being alone with our thoughts Washington Post: Most men would rather shock themselves than be alone with their thoughts   The story Quiet contemplation is so awful […]

Brains in their feat

Footballers skills seem light years from our own. But, Tom Stafford argues, the jaw-dropping talents on the World Cup pitch have more in common with everyday life than you might think. The first week of the 2014 World Cup has already given us a clutch of classic moments: Robin Van Persie’s perfect header to open […]

How often do men really think about sex?

Every seven seconds? Probably not. But rather than wonder about whether this is true, Tom Stafford asks how on earth you can actually prove it or not. We’ve all been told that men think about you-know-what far too often – every seven seconds, by some accounts. Most of us have entertained this idea for long […]

Nostalgia: Why it is good for you

The past is not just a foreign country, but also one we are all exiled from. Like all exiles, we sometimes long to return. That longing is called nostalgia. Whether it is triggered by a photograph, a first kiss or a treasured possession, nostalgia evokes a particular sense of time or place. We all know […]

Happy Birthday Tetris!

Released on 6th of June 1984, Tetris is 30 years old today. Here’s a video where I try and explain something of the psychology of Tetris: All credit for the graphics to Andrew Twist. What I say in the video is based on an article I wrote a while back for BBC Future. As well […]

The best way to win an argument

How do you change someone’s mind if you think you are right and they are wrong? Psychology reveals the last thing to do is the tactic we usually resort to. You are, I’m afraid to say, mistaken. The position you are taking makes no logical sense. Just listen up and I’ll be more than happy […]

Using rational argument to change minds

I have a longer piece in the latest issue of Contributoria: What’s the evidence on using rational argument to change people’s minds? Here’s a few snips from the opening: Are we, the human species, unreasonable? Do rational arguments have any power to sway us, or is it all intuition, hidden motivations, and various other forms […]

Research Digest #3: Getting to grips with implicit bias

My third and final post at the BPS Research Digest is now up: Getting to grips with implicit bias. Here’s the intro: Implicit attitudes are one of the hottest topics in social psychology. Now a massive new study directly compares methods for changing them. The results are both good and bad for those who believe […]

Research Digest post #2

My time in the BPS Research Digest hotseat continues. Today’s post is about a lovely study by Stuart Ritchie and colleagues which uses a unique dataset to look at the effect of alcohol on cognitive function across the lifespan. Here’s the intro: The cognitive cost or benefit of booze depends on your genes, suggests a […]

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