Category Archives: Reasoning

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 […]

The hot hand smacks back

The idea of the ‘hot hand’, where a player who makes several successful shots has a higher chance of making some more, is popular with sports fans and team coaches, but has long been considered a classic example of a cognitive fallacy – an illusion of a ‘streak’ caused by our misinterpretation of naturally varying […]

Games of Invention

I’ve been collecting card decks. First I got the Oblique Strategies, Brian Eno’s deck of worthwhile dilemmas. When I’m stuck with something I’m working on I sit completely still for a few moments, holding the problem in mind. Then I take a breath, draw a card and apply what’s written to my problem. Trying this […]

Entertainingly mislead me

A beautifully recursive study has shown that viewing an episode of the psychology of deception TV series Lie To Me makes people worse at distinguishing truth from lies. The TV series is loosely based on the work of psychologist Paul Ekman who pioneered the study of emotions and developed the Facial Action Coding System or […]

False confession fishing in the lab

We’ve covered false confessions and how surprisingly common they are several times before on Mind Hacks but a new article from The Economist updates us on the latest lab studies. DNA crime investigators The Innocence Project have discovered that about 25% of DNA exonerations have involved the accused making a false confession at the time […]

When explaining becomes a sin

As the cacophony of politicians and commentators replaces that of the police sirens, look out for the particularly shrill voice of those who condemn as evil anyone with an alternative explanation for the looting than theirs. For an example, take the Daily Mail headline for Tuesday, which reads “To blame the cuts is immoral and […]

Inner visions of seven dimensional space

I’ve just found an amazing 2002 article [pdf] from the American Mathematical Society about blind mathematicians. I was surprised to learn that the majority work in geometry, supposedly the most ‘visual’ discipline, and fascinated to learn that they generally believe the experience of sight puts people at a disadvantage because it locks us into a […]

Slogans trigger resistance while logos slip through

Language Log covers a fascinating study that found that commercial logos unconsciously encourage brand-compliant behaviour but slogans do the reverse and seem to trigger automatic resistance. It seems that while slogans are read as being deliberately persuasive, logos slip under our advertising radar and trigger a series of brain-friendly associations built up by the company. […]

Subtle word change affects election participation

A subtle word change to refer to the self on a pre-election survey seems to significantly boost the number of voters in national elections. A new study led by psychologist Christopher Bryan and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences investigated how the sense of self motivates the public act of voting. […]

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