Category Archives: Reasoning

To catch a thief and fool a scientist

If you only listen to one radio programme this month, make it this one. The BBC Radio 4 programme Fingerprints on Trial explores how identifying people at crime scenes by their prints is subject to serious psychological biases and is not the exact science that we, and ironically, the forensic fingerprint community, like to believe. […]

A victim of metaphor

A gripping piece from Not Exactly Rocket Science describes how simply changing the metaphors used to describe crime can alter what we think is the best way of tackling it. The article covers a new study on the power of metaphors and how they can influence our beliefs and understanding of what’s being discussed. In […]

Sniffing out the unconscious

The illusion that a horse could do maths may be behind sniffer dogs falsely ‘detecting’ illicit substances according to an intriguing study covered by The Economist. The horse in question was called Clever Hans and he was rumoured to be able to do complicated maths, work out the date, spell German words – all from […]

A place downtown where the freaks all come around

Kellogg Insight has a fantastic article on how nightclub bouncers make instant status judgements to decide whether to let people into exclusive clubs. It’s a curious insight into perception of social status that both relies on some social stereotypes and turns others completely on their head. The article is based on the work of sociologist […]

Over-precautionary measures

I’ve just read a wonderfully revealing article from the Journal of Risk Research that compares the assumptions behind planning for modern-day terrorist attacks and the actual reactions of civilians from the intense bombing raids during World War II. It notes, contrary to popular belief, that both bombing raids and contemporary terrorist attacks rarely cause panic […]

The psychology of the 7 deadly sins

The Psychologist has an engrossing article on the psychology behind the ’7 Deadly Sins’ and how they relate to modern life. The piece is full of fascinating and counter-intuitive snapshots from the science of social emotions. For example: Whereas the success and status of others can provoke envy, pride is what we feel when the […]

And I’m telling you you’re dead

Two delusional patients who believed that friends and relatives had died, despite them being around to prove otherwise, are described in an amazing 2005 journal article from the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Although the Cotard delusion is well studied in psychiatry, where patients believe themselves to be dead, the report names the novel belief […]

Ted Hughes On Thinking

Editor of The Psychologist and man about town, Jon Sutton, just sent me a fantastic monologue by poet Ted Hughes on the experience of thinking. I’ve uploaded the piece to YouTube where you can hear Hughes’ remarkable analysis in his own characteristic voice. The piece is almost nine minutes long but in this part Hughes […]

The power of loss

The Frontal Cortex blog has a fantastic piece on ‘loss aversion’ – the cognitive bias where try to we avoid losses more than we try to obtain gains – and its origin in the Allais Paradox. The crucial thing about loss aversion is it is not about just losing things – it’s also about the […]

I’m only racist when I’m drunk

In the light of several celebrities who have excused racist comments by saying they were drunk, tired or under stress, Time magazine has an excellent article examining how we can indeed become more prejudiced when run-down. Contrary to what some might think, this is not a get-out card for racism but may be key to […]

The unconscious expert

Expertise seems to work most effectively in the unconscious mind. An intriguing new study on predicting the outcome of football matches suggests that a period of unconscious thought, at least for experts, is most effective for accurately calling the result. The research was led by Dutch psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis and involved asking hundreds of Dutch […]

Language as a thought magnet

Today’s New York Times has a wonderful feature article on how language shapes our perception of the world. The infamous Sapir-Whorf hypothesis claimed that our understanding was limited by language and has long been used as an example of a ‘dead theory’ but new evidence is suggesting that certain aspects of a language can indeed […]

When justice fails

I’ve just read a jaw-dropping Slate interview with the co-founder of the Innocence Project, an organisation that has uncovered hundreds of wrongful convictions on the basis of DNA analysis techniques which weren’t available when the case was prosecuted. The interview is repeatedly astounding and has some terrifying insights into personal conviction, group think and the […]

A gut reaction to moral transgressions

The Boston Globe has an excellent article on whether ‘gut feeling’ emotions, particularly disgust, are the unrecognised basis of moral judgements and social customs. It’s an in-depth feature article that gives a great overview of the idea that social judgements may have an emotional basis, and, more controversially, that this tendency may have developed as […]

A bit of all right

An interesting point made in a new book about the psychology of being wrong, appropriately called Being Wrong by author Kathryn Schulz. Taken from The New York Times book review: Schulz begins with a question that should puzzle us more than it does: Why do we love being right? After all, she writes, ‚Äúunlike many […]

The illusion of progress lights a fire

Psychologists have longed talked about ‘goal gradient’ which describes how we work harder to achieve a goal as we get closer to it. I just came across a fantastic study published in the Journal of Marketing Research which shows that we can be convinced to shift into a higher gear of work and spending, even […]


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