Category Archives: Attention

Why all babies love peekaboo

Peekaboo is a game played over the world, crossing language and cultural barriers. Why is it so universal? Perhaps because it’s such a powerful learning tool. One of us hides our eyes and then slowly reveals them. This causes peals of laughter from a baby, which causes us to laugh in turn. Then we do […]

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% […]

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 […]

2013-01-25 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news: The interesting concept of a ‘possession trance disorder’ diagnosis is discussed by Neurocritic. BBC News video reports on how Brazil is considering a law to forcibly remove crack addicts from the street into rehab. Goodbye PDD-NOS, hello Social Communication Disorder. A sneaked-out DSM-5 change […]

BBC Future column: The Psychology Of Tetris

Last week’s BBC Future column. The original is here. There’s a more melancholy and personal version of this column I could have written called ‘I lost years of my life to Sid Meier’s ‘Civiliation’, but since the game is now out on iphone I didn’t have time to write it. How the secret to the […]

BBC Column: Psychological self-defence for the age of email

My latest column for BBC Future. The original is here. Lots of the points made here apply to technology more generally. Here’s a pretty safe assumption to make: you probably feel like you’re inundated with email, don’t you? It’s a constant trickle that threatens to become a flood. Building up, it is always nagging you […]

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 […]

A misdirection of mind

Scientific American has an excellent video where two neuroscientists and a street magician with remarkable pickpocketing skills explain how illusionists manipulate our attention. It’s a hugely entertaining piece and really highlights how the idea of ‘sleight of hand’ is itself a misdirection, as the most important of the magician’s manipulations is to alter where we […]

Why are overheard phone conversations so distracting?

Psychological Science has a brilliantly conceived study that explains why overhearing someone talk on a mobile phone is so much more annoying than simply overhearing two people in conversation. It turns out that a one-sided conversation (brilliantly named a ‘half-a-logue’) draws in more of our mental resources because the information is less predictable – like […]

Distractingly attractive

Driver distractions are a major cause of road accidents. A new study has found that just a simple conversation with someone else in the car can be enough to increase driver errors and that the risk is greater if we fancy the passenger. The research was conducted in a driving simulator by Cale Whitea and […]

Do the test: change blindness versions, is the Transport for London site which brought you the urbanised inattentional blindness video. Now they’re back with a feast of change blindness-YouTube goodness, here, here, and here. The moral is the same, and evidence-based: even large things can be hard to spot if you don’t know they are there, so look out for […]

Transport for London have combined two of my favourite things: safety for cyclists and classic Psychology experiments. The website provides a test of awareness that Mind Hacks fans will instantly recognise as an updated (urbanised!) version of Hack #41: “Make Things Invisible Simply by Concentrating (on Something Else)”. Fantastic! Link to the awareness test […]

Resisting temptation is energy intensive

Cognitive Daily has just published a great write-up and demonstration of a study that illustrates how self-control is an energy intensive process that puts a big drain on the body’s glucose levels. The article tackles a recent study [pdf] led by psychologist Matthew Gailliot that found that exercising self-control in either conversations or in lab […]

Are attention and consciousness the same thing?

Psychologists have often wondered whether attention and consciousness are the same thing. Can we only be conscious of things we pay attention to? And can we attend to things we’re not conscious of? A paper [pdf] published last year suggests that they are, in fact, separate mental processes. William James, one of the founder of […]

Why email is addictive (and what to do about it)

Email is addictive Like lots of people who sit in front of a computer all day, I am addicted to email. This worries me for two reasons. The first is the sheer strength of my compulsion. I must hit the ‘get mail’ button at least a hundred times a day. Sometimes, if I don’t have […]

Mind Hacking at the gym

Most of the time it feels as though our perception of the world is based on what‚Äôs out there, what psychologists call ‚Äòstimulus-driven‚Äô or ‚Äòbottom up‚Äô processing. But in reality, our perceptual experience is a seamless mixture of both what really is out in the world and what we expect to be out there (so-called […]


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