Author Archives: tomstafford

The Cognitive Science Safari

Just a quick note to anyone who ends up here because of the Wall Street Journal article, more info about the ‘cognitive science safari’ in Berlin can be found here.

BBC Column: stopped clocks and dead phones

My column for BBC Future from last week. It’s another example of how consciousness isn’t just constructed, but is a construction for which the signs of artifice are hidden. The original is here   Ever stared at a second hand and think that time stands still for a moment? It’s not just you. Sometimes, when […]

BBC Future column: What a silver medal teaches us about regret

Here’s my column from last week for BBC Future. The original is here The London 2012 Olympic Games are almost over now, and those Olympians with medals are able to relax and rest on the laurels of victory. Or so you might think. Spare a thought for the likes of Yohan Blake, McKayla Maroney, or […]

BBC Future column: Wear red, win gold?

My latest column for BBC Future, a cautionary tale of scientific research, with an Olympic theme. Original here. Studies show that wearing a particular colour increases the chances of winning a gold medal. Why this is the case serves as a timely reminder that we should always be wary of neat explanations for complex phenomena. […]

BBC Future column: Why we love to hoard

Here’s last week’s column from BBC Future. The original is here. It’s not really about hoarding, its about the endowment effect and a really lovely piece of work that helped found the field of behavioural economics (and win Daniel Kahneman a Nobel prize). Oh, and I give some advice on how to de-clutter, lifehacker-style. Question: […]

Berlin cognitive science safari: report

So I’m back from my time in Berlin at the BMW Guggenheim Lab. As announced previously, I was there to give a talk about how perception works, and how cities control our perception. If you’re a regular reader nothing I said would have been earth-shattering – it was a tour through some basics of […]

BBC Future column: Why I am always unlucky but you are always careless

From lost keys to failed interviews, we blame other people for mishaps but never ourselves, because assuming causes helps us to make sense of the world. When my wife can’t find her keys, I assume it is because she is careless. When I can’t find my keys I naturally put it down to bad luck. […]

BBC Future column: why are we so curious?

My column for BBC Future from last week. The original is here.   Evolution made us the ultimate learning machines, and the ultimate learning machines need to be oiled by curiosity. I hate to disappoint you, but whatever your ambitions, whatever your long-term goals, I’m pretty sure that reading this column isn’t going to further […]

BBC Column: What makes us laugh?

This is my BBC Future column from a couple of weeks ago. You can find the original here   A simple question with a surprisingly complex answer – understanding laughter means understanding fundamental issues of human nature. Why do we laugh? Well it’s funny you should ask, but this question was suggested by reader Andrew […]

Berlin plan #3: Instant social knowledge through unconscious perception

So I think I’ve figured out the third and final intervention I want to run for the cognitive science safari I’ll be leading in Berlin on the 11th of July. Regular readers will recall that I first wanted to try a field test of the change blindness phenomenon, and to follow that up with an […]

Berlin plan #2: Contagious attention

As I’ve mentioned, I’ll be leading a ‘cognitive science safari’ in Berlin on 11th of July. We’ll be generating some experiences based on classic psychology experiments, experiments which tell us important things about how cities organise our perceptions. Previously I described how I’ll be trying to revive a classic change blindness experiment. For my next […]

Berlin Plan #1: The Change Blindess Experiment

I’m giving a talk and leading an ‘experience treasure hunt’ in Berlin on July 11th (see here). The aim will be to show how our perception works, using examples from city life. Cities, like all environments, channel our attention. One of the things I’m planning on doing is to recreate a classic experiment which shows […]

Meet me in Berlin

On July 11th I’ll be running a workshop as part of the BMW Guggenheim Lab in Berlin. The lab is a temporary public space, in the neighbourhood of Prenzlauer Berg, dedicated to encouraging ‘open dialogue about issues related to urban living’. I’ve been invited by Corinne Rose, a psychologist and artist who has an interest […]

BBC Future column: Hypnic Jerks

Here’s my column at BBC Future from last week. You can see the original here. The full listof my columns is here and  there is now a RSS feed, should you need it As we give up our bodies to sleep, sudden twitches escape our brains, causing our arms and legs to jerk. Some people […]

BBC Future column: why your brain loves to tune out

My column for BBC Future from last week. The original is here. Thanks to Martin Thirkettle for telling me about the demo that leads the column. Our brains are programmed to cancel out all manner of constants in our everyday lives. If you don’t believe it, try a simple, but startling experiment. The constant whir of […]

BBC Future column: Does the internet rewire your brain?

My column for BBC Future from a few days ago. The original is here. readers will have heard most of this before, thanks to Vaughan’s coverage of the Baroness and her fellow travellers. Being online does change your brain, but so does making a cup of tea. A better question to ask is what […]


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