Author Archives: tomstafford

Why you think your phone is vibrating when it is not

Most of us experience false alarms with phones, and as Tom Stafford explains this happens because it is a common and unavoidable part of healthy brain function. Sensing phantom phone vibrations is a strangely common experience. Around 80% of us have imagined a phone vibrating in our pockets when it’s actually completely still. Almost 30% […]

‘digital dementia’ lowdown – from The Conversation

The Headlines The Telegraph: Surge in ‘digital dementia’ The Daily Mail: ‘Digital dementia’ on the rise as young people increasingly rely on technology instead of their brain Fox News: Is ‘digital dementia’ plaguing teenagers? The Story South Korea has the highest proportion of people with smartphones, 67%. Nearly 1 in 5 use their phone for […]

The Connected Brain: Edinburgh

I’m giving at talk at the Edinburgh festival on August 9th, called The Connected Brain. It will be at Summerhall (Fringe Venue 26 during the festival), cost £3, and here is the blurb: Headlines often ask if facebook is making us shallow, or google eroding our memories. In this talk we will look “under the […]

Workout music and your supplementary motor cortex

Why do we like to listen to tunes when we exercise? Psychologist Tom Stafford searches for answers within our brains, not the muscles we are exercising. Perhaps you have a favourite playlist for going to the gym or the park. Even if you haven’t, you’re certain to have seen joggers running along with headphones in […]

Is social psychology really in crisis?

My latest ‘behind the headlines’ column for The Conversation. Probably all old news for you wised-up mindhacks.com readers, but here you go: The headlines Disputed results a fresh blow for social psychology Replication studies: Bad copy The story Controversy is simmering in the world of psychology research over claims that many famous effects reported in […]

When giving reasons leads to worse decisions

We’re taught from childhood how important it is to explain how we feel and to always justify our actions. But does giving reasons always make things clearer, or could it sometimes distract us from our true feelings? One answer came from a study led by psychology professor Timothy Wilson at the University of Virginia, which […]

Does brain stimulation make you better at maths?

The Headlines Brain stimulation promises “long-lasting” maths boost Mild electric shocks to brain may help students solve maths problems Electrical brain boost can make you better at maths What they actually did Researchers led by Roi Cohen Kadosh at the University of Oxford trained people on two kinds of maths skills, rote learning simple arithmetic […]

Why you might prefer more pain

When is the best treatment for pain more pain? When you’re taking part in an experiment published by a Nobel prize winner and one of the leading lights in behavioural psychology, that is. The psychologist in question is Daniel Kahneman; the experiment described by the self-explanatory title of: When More Pain Is Preferred to Less: […]

Did the eyes really stare down bicycle crime in Newcastle?

This is the first fortnightly column I’ll be writing for The Conversation, a creative commons news and opinion website that launched today. The site has been set up by a number of UK universities and bodies such as the Wellcome Trust, Nuffield Foundation and HEFCE, following the successful model of the Australian version of the […]

The ‘unnamed feeling’ named ASMR

Here’s my BBC Future column from last week. It’s about the so-called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, which didn’t have a name until 2010 and I’d never heard of until 2012. Now, I’m finding out that it is surprisingly common. The original is here. It’s a tightening at the back of the throat, or a tingling […]

Race perception isn’t automatic

Last week’s column for BBC Future describes a neat social psychology experiment from an unlikely source. Three evolutionary psychologists reasoned that that claims that we automatically categorise people by the ethnicity must be wrong. Here’s how they set out to prove it. The original column is here. For years, psychologists thought we instantly label each […]

What does it take to spark prejudice?

Short answer: surprisingly little. Continuing the theme of revisiting classic experiments in psychology, last week’s BBC Future column was on Tajfel’s Minimal Group Paradigm. The original is here. Next week we’re going to take this foundation and look at some evolutionary psychology of racism (hint: it won’t be what you’d expect). How easy is it […]

Why money won’t buy you happiness

Here’s my column for BBC Future from last week. It was originally titled ‘Why money can’t buy you happiness‘, but I’ve just realised that it would be more appropriately titled if I used a “won’t” rather than a “can’t”. There’s a saying that people who think money can’t buy happiness don’t know where to shop. […]

When your actions contradict your beliefs

Last week’s BBC Future column. The original is here. Classic research, digested! If at first you don’t succeed, lower your standards. And if you find yourself acting out of line with your beliefs, change them. This sounds like motivational advice from one of the more cynical self-help books, or perhaps a Groucho Marx line (“Those […]

The essence of intelligence is feedback

Here’s last week’s BBC Future column. The original is here, where it was called “Why our brains love feedback”. I  was inspired to write it by a meeting with artist Tim Lewis, which happened as part of a project I’m involved with : Furnace Park, which is seeing a piece of reclaimed land in an […]

The Master and His Emissary

I’ve been struggling to understand Iain McGilchrist’s argument about the two hemispheres of the brain, as presented in his book “The Master and His Emissary” [1]. It’s an argument that takes you from neuroanatomy, through behavioural science to cultural studies [2]. The book is crammed with fascinating evidential trees, but I left it without a […]

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