Author Archives: tomstafford

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 […]

Sampling error’s more dangerous friend

As the UK election results roll in, one of the big shocks is the discrepancy between the pre-election polls and the results. All the pollsters agreed that it would be incredibly close, and they were all wrong. What gives? Some essential psych 101 concepts come in useful here. Polls rely on sampling – the basic […]

When society isn’t judging, women’s sex drive rivals men’s

Men just want sex more than women. I’m sure you’ve heard that one. Stephen Fry even went as far as suggesting in 2010 that straight women only went to bed with men because sex was “the price they are willing to pay for a relationship”. Or perhaps you’ve even heard some of the evidence. In […]

An instinct for fairness lurking within even the most competitive

It stings when life’s not fair – but what happens if it means we profit? As Tom Stafford writes, some people may perform unexpected self-sabotage. Frans de Waal, a professor of primate behaviour at Emory University, is the unlikely star of a viral video. His academic’s physique, grey jumper and glasses aren’t the usual stuff […]

Mind Hacks excerpts x 2

This month, Business Insider have republished a couple of chapters from Mind Hacks the book (in case you missed it, back before the blog, Mind Hacks was a book, 101 do-it-at-home psychology experiences). The excerpts are: 1. Why one of these puzzles is easy and the other is hard – which is about the Wason […]

Radical embodied cognition: an interview with Andrew Wilson

The computational approach is the orthodoxy in psychological science. We try and understand the mind using the metaphors of information processing and the storage and retrieval of representations. These ideas are so common that it is easy to forget that there is any alternative. Andrew Wilson is on a mission to remind us that there […]

Downsides of being a convincing liar

People who take shortcuts can trick themselves into believing they are smarter than they are, says Tom Stafford, and it comes back to bite them. Honesty may be the best policy, but lying has its merits – even when we are deceiving ourselves. Numerous studies have shown that those who are practised in the art […]

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