Category Archives: Reasoning

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 […]

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 […]

Deeper into forensic bias

For the recent Observer article on forensic science and the psychological biases that affect it, I spoke to cognitive scientist Itiel Dror about his work. I could only include some brief quotes from a more in-depth exchange, so for those wanting more on the psychology of forensic examining, here’s Dror on how evidence can be […]

A psychological bias in DNA testing

I’ve got a piece in today’s Observer about how psychological biases can affect DNA testing from crime scenes. It seems counter-intuitive, but that’s largely because we’ve come to accept the idea that DNA is a sort of individual genetic ‘serial number’ that just needs to be ‘read off’ from a biological sample – but the […]

BBC Column: Can glass shape really affect how fast you drink?

My latest column for BBC Future. The original is here. I was hesitant to write this at first, since nobody loves a problemmatiser, but I figured that something in support of team “I think you’ll find its a bit more complicated than that” couldn’t hurt, and there’s an important general point about the way facts […]

Does social psychology have a prejudice problem?

The Weekly Standard has a scorching article that takes ‘liberal psychopundits’ to task for suggesting that science supports their view that conservatives are ‘heartless and stupid’. It comes on the heels of a new study that found that social psychology professors were more likely to be liberal (no surprise there) but rather more shockingly were […]

Sleight-of-hand causes a moral reversal

Just over half of participants in survey of moral opinions argued for the reverse of what they first claimed when their answers were secretly switched. The thoroughly delightful study is open-access from PLOS One but is also described in a news piece for Nature. The researchers, led by Lars Hall, a cognitive scientist at Lund […]

BBC Column: auction psychology

My BBC Future column from last week. The original is here The reason we end up overspending is a result of one unavoidably irrational part of the bidding process – and that’s ourselves. The allure and tension of an auction are familiar to most of us – let’s face it, we all like the idea […]

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. […]

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