Category Archives: Reasoning

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 […]

Why Christmas rituals make tasty food

All of us carry out rituals in our daily lives, whether it is shaking hands or clinking glasses before we drink. At this time of year, the performance of customs and traditions is widespread – from sharing crackers, to pulling the wishbone on the turkey and lighting the Christmas pudding. These rituals might seem like […]

Why the stupid think they’re smart

Psychologists have shown humans are poor judges of their own abilities, from sense of humour to grammar. Those worst at it are the worst judges of all. You’re pretty smart right? Clever, and funny too. Of course you are, just like me. But wouldn’t it be terrible if we were mistaken? Psychologists have shown that […]

Does studying economics make you more selfish?

When economics students learn about what makes fellow humans tick it affects the way they treat others. Not necessarily in a good way, as Tom Stafford explains. Studying human behaviour can be like a dog trying to catch its own tail. As we learn more about ourselves, our new beliefs change how we behave. Research […]

The effect of diminished belief in free will

Studies have shown that people who believe things happen randomly and not through our own choice often behave much worse than those who believe the opposite. Are you reading this because you chose to? Or are you doing so as a result of forces beyond your control? After thousands of years of philosophy, theology, argument […]

A war of biases

Here’s an interesting take on terrorism as a fundamentally audience-focused activity that relies on causing fear to achieve political ends and whether citizen-led community monitoring schemes actually serve to amplify the effects rather than make us feel safer. It’s from an article just published in Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology by political scientist Alex […]

Why the other queue always seem to move faster than yours

Whether it is supermarkets or traffic, there are two possible explanations for why you feel the world is against you, explains Tom Stafford. Sometimes I feel like the whole world is against me. The other lanes of traffic always move faster than mine. The same goes for the supermarket queues. While I’m at it, why […]

Protect your head – the world is complex

The British Medical Journal has a fascinating editorial on the behavioural complexities behind the question of whether cycling helmets prevent head injuries. You would think that testing whether helmets prevent bikers from head injury would be a fairly straightforward affair. Maybe putting a bike helmet on a crash test dummy and throwing rocks at its […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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