Author Archives: tomstafford

noob 2 l33t: now with graphs

Myself and Mike Dewar have just had a paper published in the journal Psychological Science. In it we present an analysis of what affects how fast people learn, using data from over 850,000 people who played an online game called Axon (designed by our friends Preloaded. This is from the abstract: In the present study, […]

Why Christmas rituals make tasty food

All of us carry out rituals in our daily lives, whether it is shaking hands or clinking glasses before we drink. At this time of year, the performance of customs and traditions is widespread – from sharing crackers, to pulling the wishbone on the turkey and lighting the Christmas pudding. These rituals might seem like […]

How sleep makes your mind more creative

It’s a tried and tested technique used by writers and poets, but can psychology explain why first moments after waking can be among our most imaginative? It is 6.06am and I’m typing this in my pyjamas. I awoke at 6.04am, walked from the bedroom to the study, switched on my computer and got to work […]

Are men better wired to read maps or is it a tired cliché?

By Tom Stafford The headlines The Guardian: Male and female brains wired differently, scans reveal The Atlantic: Male and female brains really are built differently The Independent: The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are ‘better at map reading The Story An analysis of 949 brain scans shows significant sex […]

Why the stupid think they’re smart

Psychologists have shown humans are poor judges of their own abilities, from sense of humour to grammar. Those worst at it are the worst judges of all. You’re pretty smart right? Clever, and funny too. Of course you are, just like me. But wouldn’t it be terrible if we were mistaken? Psychologists have shown that […]

Do violent video games make teens ‘eat and cheat’ more?

By Tom Stafford, University of Sheffield The Headlines Business Standard: Violent video games make teens eat more, cheat more Scienceblog.com: Teens ‘Eat more, cheat more’ after playing violent video games The Times of India: Violent video games make teens cheat more The story Playing the violent video game Grand Theft Auto made teenagers more aggressive, […]

How muggers size up your walk

The way people move can influence the likelihood of an attack by a stranger. The good news, though, is that altering this can reduce the chances of being targeted. How you move gives a lot away. Maybe too much, if the wrong person is watching. We think, for instance, that the way people walk can […]

Does studying economics make you more selfish?

When economics students learn about what makes fellow humans tick it affects the way they treat others. Not necessarily in a good way, as Tom Stafford explains. Studying human behaviour can be like a dog trying to catch its own tail. As we learn more about ourselves, our new beliefs change how we behave. Research […]

The effect of diminished belief in free will

Studies have shown that people who believe things happen randomly and not through our own choice often behave much worse than those who believe the opposite. Are you reading this because you chose to? Or are you doing so as a result of forces beyond your control? After thousands of years of philosophy, theology, argument […]

It is mind control but not as we know it

The Headlines The Independent: First ever human brain-to-brain interface successfully tested BBC News: Are we close to making human ‘mind control’ a reality? Visual News: Mind Control is Now a Reality: UW Researcher Controls Friend Via an Internet Connection The story Using the internet, one researcher remotely controls the finger of another, using it to […]

Drug addiction: The complex truth

We’re told studies have proven that drugs like heroin and cocaine instantly hook a user. But it isn’t that simple – little-known experiments over 30 years ago tell a very different tale. Drugs are scary. The words “heroin” and “cocaine” make people flinch. It’s not just the associations with crime and harmful health effects, but […]

Why the other queue always seem to move faster than yours

Whether it is supermarkets or traffic, there are two possible explanations for why you feel the world is against you, explains Tom Stafford. Sometimes I feel like the whole world is against me. The other lanes of traffic always move faster than mine. The same goes for the supermarket queues. While I’m at it, why […]

Are classical music competitions judged on looks?

Looking at the evidence behind a recent news story The headlines The Los Angeles Times: People trust eyes – not ears – when judging musicians Classic FM: Classical singers judged by actions not voice Nature: Musicians’ appearances matter more than their sound The story If you wanted to pick out the musician who won a […]

The deafening silence

All silences are not equal, some seem quieter than others. Why? It’s all to do with the way our brains adapt to the world around us, as Tom Stafford explains A “deafening silence” is a striking absence of noise, so profound that it seems to have its own quality. Objectively it is impossible for one […]

What makes the ouija board move

The mystery isn’t a connection to the spirit world, but why we can make movements and yet not realise that we’re making them. Ouija board cups and dowsing wands – just two examples of mystical items that seem to move of their own accord, when they are really being moved by the people holding them. […]

What makes an extravert?

Why do some people prefer adventure and the company of others, while others favour being alone? It’s all to do with how the brain processes rewards. Will you spend Saturday night in a crowded bar, or curled up with a good book? Is your ideal holiday adventure sports with a large group of mates and, […]

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