Category Archives: Reasoning

Downsides of being a convincing liar

People who take shortcuts can trick themselves into believing they are smarter than they are, says Tom Stafford, and it comes back to bite them. Honesty may be the best policy, but lying has its merits – even when we are deceiving ourselves. Numerous studies have shown that those who are practised in the art […]

The smart unconscious

We feel that we are in control when our brains figure out puzzles or read words, says Tom Stafford, but a new experiment shows just how much work is going on underneath the surface of our conscious minds. It is a common misconception that we know our own minds. As I move around the world, […]

Anti-vax: wrong but not irrational

Since the uptick in outbreaks of measles in the US, those arguing for the right not to vaccinate their children have come under increasing scrutiny. There is no journal of “anti-vax psychology” reporting research on those who advocate what seems like a controversial, “anti-science” and dangerous position, but if there was we can take a […]

What gambling monkeys teach us about human rationality

We often make stupid choices when gambling, says Tom Stafford, but if you look at how monkeys act in the same situation, maybe there’s good reason. When we gamble, something odd and seemingly irrational happens. It’s called the ‘hot hand’ fallacy – a belief that your luck comes in streaks – and it can lose […]

Is public opinion rational?

There is no shortage of misconceptions. The British public believes that for every £100 spent on benefits, £24 is claimed fraudulently (the actual figure is £0.70). We think that 31% of the population are immigrants (actually its 13%). One recent headline summed it up: “British Public wrong about nearly everything, and I’d bet good money […]

Implicit racism in academia

Subtle racism is prevalent in US and UK universities, according to a new paper commissioned by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education and released last week, reports The Times Higher Education. Black professors surveyed for the paper said they were treated differently than white colleagues in the form of receiving less eye contact or requests […]

Why bad news dominates the headlines

Why are newspapers and TV broadcasts filled with disaster, corruption and incompetence? It may be because we’re drawn to depressing stories without realising, says psychologist Tom Stafford. When you read the news, sometimes it can feel like the only things reported are terrible, depressing events. Why does the media concentrate on the bad things in […]

Are women and men forever destined to think differently?

By Tom Stafford, University of Sheffield The headlines The Australian: Male and female brains still unequal The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis: Gender disparities in cognition will not diminish The Economist: A variation in the cognitive abilities of the two sexes may be more about social development than gender stereotypes The story Everybody has […]

Do we really hate thinking so much we’d electrocute ourselves rather than do it?

By Tom Stafford, University of Sheffield The headlines The Guardian: Shocking but true: students prefer jolt of pain than being made to sit and think Nature: We dislike being alone with our thoughts Washington Post: Most men would rather shock themselves than be alone with their thoughts   The story Quiet contemplation is so awful […]

Brains in their feat

Footballers skills seem light years from our own. But, Tom Stafford argues, the jaw-dropping talents on the World Cup pitch have more in common with everyday life than you might think. The first week of the 2014 World Cup has already given us a clutch of classic moments: Robin Van Persie’s perfect header to open […]

How often do men really think about sex?

Every seven seconds? Probably not. But rather than wonder about whether this is true, Tom Stafford asks how on earth you can actually prove it or not. We’ve all been told that men think about you-know-what far too often – every seven seconds, by some accounts. Most of us have entertained this idea for long […]

The best way to win an argument

How do you change someone’s mind if you think you are right and they are wrong? Psychology reveals the last thing to do is the tactic we usually resort to. You are, I’m afraid to say, mistaken. The position you are taking makes no logical sense. Just listen up and I’ll be more than happy […]

Using rational argument to change minds

I have a longer piece in the latest issue of Contributoria: What’s the evidence on using rational argument to change people’s minds? Here’s a few snips from the opening: Are we, the human species, unreasonable? Do rational arguments have any power to sway us, or is it all intuition, hidden motivations, and various other forms […]

Research Digest posts, #1: A self-fulfilling fallacy?

This week I will be blogging over at the BPS Research Digest. The Digest was written for over ten years by psychology-writer extraordinaire Christian Jarrett, and I’m one of a series of guest editors during the transition period to a new permanent editor. My first piece is now up, and here is the opening: Lady […]

What’s the evidence for the power of reason to change minds?

Last month I proposed an article for Contributoria, titled What’s the evidence on using rational argument to change people’s minds?. Unfortunately, I had such fun reading about the topic that I missed the end-of-month deadline and now need to get backers for my proposal again. So, here’s something from my proposal, please consider backing it […]

What’s the evidence on using rational argument to change people’s minds?

Contributoria is an experiment in community funded, collaborative journalism. What that means is that you can propose an article you’d like to write, and back proposals by others that you’d like to see written. There’s an article I’d like to write: What’s the evidence on using rational argument to change people’s minds?. Here’s something from […]

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