Author Archives: tomstafford

No more Type I/II error confusion

Type I and Type II errors are, respectively, when you allow a statistical test to convinces you of a false effect, and when you allow a statistical test to convince you to dismiss a true effect. Despite being fundamentally important concepts, they are terribly named. Who can ever remember which way around the two errors […]

a gold-standard study on brain training

The headlines The Telegraph: Alzheimer’s disease: Online brain training “improves daily lives of over-60s” Daily Mail: The quiz that makes over-60s better cooks: Computer brain games ‘stave off mental decline’ Yorkshire Post: Brain training study is “truly significant” The story A new trial shows the benefits of online ‘brain training’ exercises including improvements in everyday […]

Web of illusion: how the internet affects our confidence in what we know

The internet can give us the illusion of knowledge, making us think we are smarter than we really are. Fortunately, there may be a cure for our arrogance, writes psychologist Tom Stafford. The internet has a reputation for harbouring know-it-alls. Commenters on articles, bloggers, even your old school friends on Facebook all seem to swell […]

Statistical fallacy impairs post-publication mood

No scientific paper is perfect, but a recent result on the affect of mood on colour perception is getting a particularly rough ride post-publication. Thorstenson and colleagues published their paper this summer in Psychological Science, claiming that people who were sad had impaired colour perception along the blue-yellow colour axis but not along the red-green […]

How the magic of cinema unlocked one man’s coma-bound world

An Alfred Hitchcock film helped to prove one patient had been conscious while in a coma-like state for 16 years. The discovery shows that neuroscience may still have lots to learn from the ancient art of storytelling, says Tom Stafford. If brain injury steals your consciousness then you are in a coma: we all know […]

Images of ultra-thin models need your attention to make you feel bad

I have a guest post over at the BPS Research Digest, covering research on the psychological effects of pictures of ultra-thin fashion models. A crucial question is whether the effect of these thin-ideal images is automatic. Does the comparison to the models, which is thought to be the key driver in their negative effects, happen […]

The reproducibility of psychological science

The Reproducibility Project results have just been published in Science, a massive, collaborative, ‘Open Science’ attempt to replicate 100 psychology experiments published in leading psychology journals. The results are sure to be widely debated – the biggest result being that many published results were not replicated. There’s an article in the New York Times about […]

Intuitions about free will and the brain

Libet’s classifc experiment on the neuroscience of free will tells us more about our intuition than about our actual freedom It is perhaps the most famous experiment in neuroscience. In 1983, Benjamin Libet sparked controversy with his demonstration that our sense of free will may be an illusion, a controversy that has only increased ever […]

Critical strategies for free will experiments

Benjamin Libet’s experiment on the neuroscience of free will needs little introduction. (If you do need an introduction, it’s the topic of my latest column for BBC Future). His reports that the subjective feeling of making a choice only come after the brain signals indicating a choice has been made are famous, and have produced […]

Laughter as a window on the infant mind

What makes a baby laugh? The answer might reveal a lot about the making of our minds, says Tom Stafford. What makes babies laugh? It sounds like one of the most fun questions a researcher could investigate, but there’s a serious scientific reason why Caspar Addyman wants to find out. He’s not the first to […]

Are online experiment participants paying attention?

Online testing is sure to play a large part in the future of Psychology. Using Mechanical Turk or other crowdsourcing sites for research, psychologists can quickly and easily gather data for any study where the responses can be provided online. One concern, however, is that online samples may be less motivated to pay attention to […]

Conspiracy theory as character flaw

Philosophy professor Quassim Cassam has a piece in Aeon arguing that conspiracy theorists should be understood in terms of the intellectual vices. It is a dead-end, he says, to try to understand the reasons someone gives for believing a conspiracy theory. Consider someone called Oliver who believes that 9/11 was an inside job: Usually, when […]

For argument’s sake

I have (self) published an ebook For argument’s sake: evidence that reason can change minds. It is the collection of two essays that were originally published on Contributoria and The Conversation. I have revised and expanded these, and added a guide to further reading on the topic. There are bespoke illustrations inspired by Goya (of […]

Phantasmagoric neural net visions

A starling galley of phantasmagoric images generated by a neural network technique has been released. The images were made by some computer scientists associated with Google who had been using neural networks to classify objects in images. They discovered that by using the neural networks “in reverse” they could elicit visualisations of the representations that […]

Power analysis of a typical psychology experiment

Understanding statistical power is essential if you want to avoid wasting your time in psychology. The power of an experiment is its sensitivity – the likelihood that, if the effect tested for is real, your experiment will be able to detect it. Statistical power is determined by the type of statistical test you are doing, […]

Irregularities in Science

A paper in the high-profile journal Science has been alleged to be based on fraudulent data, with the PI calling for it to be retracted. The original paper purported to use survey data to show that people being asked about gay marriage changed their attitudes if they were asked the survey questions by someone who […]


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