Category Archives: Reasoning

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. […]

BBC Future column: Why we love to hoard

Here’s last week’s column from BBC Future. The original is here. It’s not really about hoarding, its about the endowment effect and a really lovely piece of work that helped found the field of behavioural economics (and win Daniel Kahneman a Nobel prize). Oh, and I give some advice on how to de-clutter, lifehacker-style. Question: […]

BBC Future column: Why I am always unlucky but you are always careless

From lost keys to failed interviews, we blame other people for mishaps but never ourselves, because assuming causes helps us to make sense of the world. When my wife can’t find her keys, I assume it is because she is careless. When I can’t find my keys I naturally put it down to bad luck. […]

Less thinking biases in a foreign tongue

A fascinating study just published in Psychological Science has found that solving problems in a foreign language reduces cognitive biases. The Foreign-Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases Psychological Science, Published online before print, April 18, 2012 Boaz Keysar, Sayuri L. Hayakawa, Sun Gyu An Would you make the same decisions in […]

The lie detector paradox

I’ve got an article in today’s Observer about the unreliability of ‘lie detectors’ but why people still tend to spill the beans when wired up to them. It turns out that polygraphs have a sort of placebo effect, where people are more truthful because they believe that they work. In fact, studies show that people […]

Works like magic

The New York Times has a short but thought-provoking piece on the benefits of supersition and magical thinking. This part particularly caught my eye: For instance, in one study led by the psychologist Lysann Damisch of the University of Cologne, subjects were handed a golf ball, and half of them were told that the ball […]

Group sync

The New Yorker has a fantastic article on how creativity and innovation spring from group structure and social interaction. The piece is framed as tackling the ‘brainstorming myth’ – as the well-known idea generation method has been comprehensively but unknowingly debunked many times – but the article is really much wider and explores what sort […]

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