Author Archives: tomstafford

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 […]

BBC Column: Why cyclists enrage car drivers

Here is my latest BBC Future column. The original is here. This one proved to be more than usually controversial, not least because of some poorly chosen phrasing from yours truly. This is an updated version which makes what I’m trying to say clearer. If you think that I hate cyclists, or my argument relies […]

BBC Column: The psychology of the to-do list

My latest column for BBC Future. The original is here. Your mind loves it when a plan comes together – the mere act of planning how to do something frees us from the burden of unfinished tasks. If your daily schedule and email inbox are anything like mine, you’re often left a state of paralysis […]

BBC Column: Are we naturally good or bad?

My BBC Future column from last week. The original is here. I started out trying to write about research using economic games with apes and monkeys but I got so bogged down in the literature I switched to this neat experiment instead. Ed Yong is a better man than me and wrote a brilliant piece […]

BBC Column: when you want what you don’t like

My BBC Future column from Tuesday. The original is here. It’s a Christmas theme folks, but hopefully I cover an interesting research area too: Berridge, Robinson and colleagues’ work on the wanting/liking distinction. As the holiday season approaches, Tom Stafford looks at festive overindulgence, and explains how our minds tell us we want something even […]

BBC Column: political genes

Here’s my BBC Future column from last week. The original is here. The story here isn’t just about politics, although that’s an important example of capture by genetic reductionists. The real moral is about how the things that we measure are built into our brains by evolution: usually they aren’t written in directly, but as […]

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