Morph your personality

I recently attended the annual meeting of the Experimental Psychology Society in London and equipped with my PAA (personal analogue assistant, i.e. paper + pencil) got busy sucking up what was said. This is the first of a few posts looking at some of the new research presented there. Since much of this is genuinely new, it won’t have jumped through all the hoops normally traversed by science printed in a journal or re-reported in the media. But it’s sound stuff from respected researchers, and I figure all of you are as eager as me to get the news before it’s news. Right? Today I’ll be working from a talk given by Ian Penton-Voak called “Personality dimensions in the social face”. I hope you’ll understand the title I’ve given presently.

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2005-01-21 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:

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More news on developments in ‘lie detector’ technology – a mix of informed journalism and wild speculation.

A journalist’s personal experience of synaesthesia, the experience of having information in one sense, cross over to another (tasting words, for example).

A recent study suggests a drink a day seems to be protective against mental decline in older women.

Howard Rheingold on the psychology of texting.

Polygraph hacking

A report on the deception of polygraph tests (commonly called “lie detector tests”) has just been released by the British Psychological Society.

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The section that most caught my eye was the discussion of polygraph countermeasures, and particularly a section on a fellow, who after being wrongly convicted for murder on polygraph evidence, took it on himself to hack the polygraph test to help prove his innocence, all while being wrongly imprisoned.

The most famous countermeasures test was probably conducted by Floyd ‘Buzz’ Fay, a man who was falsely convicted of murder in the USA on the basis of a failed polygraph examination. He took it on himself to become a polygraph expert during his two-and-half years of wrongful imprisonment. He coached 27 inmates, who all freely confessed to him that they were guilty, in how to beat the control question polygraph test. After only 20 minutes of instruction, 23 of the 27 inmates were successful in defeating the polygraph examination.

The report discusses empirical evidence on how well these tests detect potential mistruths (not brilliantly it seems) and contains summaries of research which shows the percentages of hits and misses each sort of test is likely to make.

For example, in a form of polygraph test known as the Control Question Test (where responses to direct questions about the crime are compared to responses to indirect questions) over 26% of innocent suspects were scored as lying, although in the Guilty Knowledge Test (where responses to items of information only a guilty person would know are compared to responses to other information) only 4% of innocent suspects were wrongly scored as lying, but guilty suspects were correctly identified only 59% of the time.

Link to BPS report on ‘Polygraphic Deception Detection’.

Size and selection times: Fitts’s Law

Oo Oo – Just when I thought I was settling down to do some of the work i’m actually paid to do, I discovered a bit of psychology that is relevant to interaction design:-
Did you know that the time it takes you to point your mouse, or your finger, at something is predictable from the size and distance of the object using an equation known as Fitts’s Law?

Nope, neither did I till today. But if you apply it right it shows how you can get a big gain in how quick and easy it is to select something with just a small change in the selection interface.

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Oxford Companion To The Mind, 2nd Edition

companiontothemind.gifThe second edition of The Oxford Companion to the Mind has been published and I didn’t even notice. It’s been ten years since the first edition, and I’m sure that for the second editon editor Richard Gregory has preserved and nurtured all the breadth and good humour of the first. The book has it’s own site here, along with some sample PDFs of entries on everything from tickling to memes to attachment theory. This book will keep you company with wit and information as you explore all the myriad shores that make up psychological science. At ¬£40 it’s not cheap, but if you’ve got the money spare it is truly worth it.

Successful psychopaths at work

If you suspect your boss is a psychopath, you may be onto something.

Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon of the University of Surrey compared personality traits of successful business managers and patients at Broadmoor Hospital, one of Britain’s highest security psychiatric hospitals.

The researchers found that the business managers scored, on average, more highly on measures of histrionic, narcissistic and compulsive personality than samples of former and current patients. These personality traits are thought to reflect characteristics such as superficial charm, lack of empathy and perfectionism. All of which could be potentially useful in the cut-throat business world.

However, unlike the Broadmoor patients, the business managers scored lower on antisocial, borderline and paranoid personality traits, reflecting lower levels of aggression, impulsivity and mistrust. Exactly the sort of personality traits that are likely to cause problems with senior managers and the law.

The authors of the study suggest that the business managers may be examples of ‘successful psychopaths’ – “people with personality disorder patterns, but without the characteristic history of arrest and incarceration”.

Link to study summary (via BPS research digest).