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Bad Press For Psychics; I TOTALLY Predicted That!

September 20, 2011 2 comments

I recently wrote a post about ‘Psychic Nikki’, a Toronto-area psychic who said she would be interested in taking the $1 million psychic challenge from the James Randi Education Foundation.

She has since backed away from that statement.

Now, The Guardian reports that a British psychic by the name of Sally Morgan has also gotten herself into a bit of a media firestorm.

It would seem that Ms. Morgan, Britain’s “best-loved psychic” (according to her website) did a show at the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin on September 11.

The next day, Ms. Morgan was on a radio show called Liveline on RTE Radio 1.

A woman named Sue called into the radio show and claimed she was at Ms. Morgan’s show the previous evening, and asked about a something strange she experienced.

No, it was not a ghostly, eerie psychic experience. Instead, it seems that Sue was sitting near the rear of the theater and became aware of a small room behind their seats.

Sue claims she heard a man’s voice coming from this room. Not only that, but Sue says that 

“everything that the man was saying, the psychic was saying it 10 seconds later.”

For example, the voice would say something like “David, pain in the back, passed quickly” and a few seconds later Sally would claim to have the spirit of a “David” on stage who – you’ll never guess – suffered from back pain and passed quickly.

A staff member realized that this voice was being heard by spectators, and promptly shut the window to the room.

A few other people also called into the radio show and corroborated Sue’s story.

This is a common trick used by “psychics” who do live shows. They will either have people placed in the crowd to gather information from the spectators about which spirits they would like to hear from, or use microphones to eavesdrop on conversations and gather information that way.

Someone will then feed the “psychic” this information through an earpiece, making it look like they predicted or “sensed” the information themselves.

Chris French, the writer of The Guardian article, points out that this is much like James Randi’s debunking of faith healer Peter Popoff in the mid-1980s.

Popoff, it seems, was getting information from “Prayer Cards”, information cards he asked his spectators to fill out before the show with name, address, and afflictions they would like to have “healed”.

This information was then fed to Popoff via an earpiece by his wife. And why not? They were pulling in a cool $4 million A MONTH by bilking these sick and needy people.

Sally Morgan isn’t doing too badly either; she is currently out promoting her third book and filming a third season of her TV Show, Psychic Sally on the Road.

But this isn’t the first time Ms. Morgan’s abilities have fallen under criticism. In 2007 she did a reading for Big Brother winner Brian Dowling, claiming she had never met him before.

In fact, she had done a reading for him in 2005. When questioned about this by The Independent, she simply said that she did it

because the director told me to.

But even though her techniques are getting exposed, she is going to continue to rake it in. Psychics benefit from that fact that people want to believe. So desperately do people want to speak to their dead relatives, or hear that they are going to find love that they will believe, and pay, anything to have that happen.

And there will always be those willing to take advantage of whomever they can for a few bucks.

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The Science of Your Political Views

April 18, 2011 Leave a comment

While Canadian politics could never match the emotional idiocy of American politics, I’ve seen some pretty heated discussions in the past few weeks.

The Canadian federal election is a couple of weeks away, and with the debates over and done, we are in the home stretch of campaigning.

But how much do attack-ads and party platforms really affect our decision of whom to vote for? Is it possible that our political leanings are more influenced by ‘nature’ than ‘nurture’?

An article in The Globe today discusses the neuroscience behind political viewpoints. As it turns out, the brain of a conservative works differently than that of a liberal.

Dr. David Amodio, Assistant Professor of Psychology at New York University, discussed what these differences were, and how they affect what political party we support.

According to a 2007 paper Dr. Amodio published in Nature Neuroscience:

on average, conservatives show more structured and persistent cognitive styles, whereas liberals are more responsive to informational complexity, ambiguity and novelty.

So conservatives tend to be more, shall we say, stubborn in their political viewpoints than liberals, who tend to gather more information and can be more flexible with their views.

While this may conjure up a stereotypical image of the crotchety old man, so set in his ways that he refuses to vote for anyone but the Conservatives, you should take these studies with a grain of salt.

It is only fair to point out that most of these studies are designed by liberals and may have some bias, and there are certainly many exceptions to these “rules”.

One very interesting study discussed in The Globe conducted at Princeton University:

people were shown black-and-white photographs of the faces of rival political candidates. After viewing each pair of photos for a mere half a second, they were asked which candidate looked more competent. In fact, the candidates they judged to be more competent had won their races two-thirds of the time.

This indicates that, regardless of political leanings, people tend to vote with their emotions as much, if not more, than with their brains. As much as I hate attack ads and staged photo-ops, it would seem the strategists are using science to their advantage.

So whether you identify yourself as a Liberal or a Conservative, NDP or Green, it couldn’t hurt any of us to be aware that the way our brains work can influence how we vote, and we should make an extra effort to stay informed on all the issues; instead of voting for the same party every time just out of habit.

Need A Valentine’s Date? Act Like You Don’t Like Her…

February 10, 2011 1 comment

This is a pickup trick that guys have used for a while now, but science has now backed it up.

If a guy likes a girl, you will often hear his friends tell him to “act like you don’t like her” or “ignore her” or “subtlety insult her”.

It sounds a bit cruel, but most guys will swear that it works. Of course, anecdotes should not be considered evidence, so let’s stick to real science.

This study appears in this months issue of Psychological Science and is entitled “‘He Loves Me, He Loves me Not…’ Uncertainty Can Increase Romantic Attraction”.

The study involved showing a group of women the Facebook profile of 4 guys. The guys were not real, however.

The girls were then told that each of the 4 guys had seen their profile as well, and rated how much they liked them. There were 3 categories:

  1. The guys liked the girl “a lot”
  2. The guys thought she was “average”
  3. The guys were uncertain if they liked her “a lot” or  just “average” (called the ‘uncertain condition’)

And the results?

Participants in the uncertain condition were most attracted to the men—even more attracted than were participants who were told that the men liked them a lot.

Why is this? The authors hypothesize that it is because the women reported thinking about the men in the uncertain condition more than the other men, which ma have led them to be more attracted to them.

I guess we can all relate to this because we’ve all had crushes on people who didn’t reciprocate those feelings. Somehow, that just makes you like them more, doesn’t it?

Stupid feelings.

Looking to Hook Up? Don’t Tell Them You’ve Been Dumped…

November 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Yup, science is your wing-man.

A study published online today in the journal Evolutionary Psychology tests how people react when they hear a potential mate has been dumped.

The study used 198 subjects (102 women and 96 men) with ages around 18-19. They brought them in groups into a computer lab and they did not interact with one another.

Instead, they were told to read the online profile of 3 potential mates. The profiles were set up to look like online dating ads, but did not have photos.

The subjects were then asked to grade, on a scale of 1 to 9, how much they would want to:

  1. Have a dating relationship
  2. Have a long-term relationship
  3. Have a sexual relationship

with the person in the profile. They rated the profile twice; once after reading the first half of the profile (i.e. I am easy-going, fun-loving etc). They rated the profile a second time after reading the second half of the profile, which contained information on how the person’s last relationship ended.

The two ratings were then compared to one another to see how perception changes after learning how the potential mate’s last relationship ended. And the results are…

As you might expect, when the subjects heard that their potential date had been dumped, their scores dropped significantly more than if they were the dumper, or if the information was not available. This was seen for all 3 types of relationships tested (dating, long-term, and sexual).

Additionally, the researchers found that

female participants reported an increased desire to have a sexual relationship with a potential partner after learning he had rejected his last partner. However, while men’s desire to have a sexual relationship with a target was not influenced by her having rejected her last partner, their desire to have a romantic relationship with her decreased significantly. On the other hand, both men and women were put off by a target failing to disclose the circumstances of his or her last break-up.
So if you’re a male, your chances with a new girl increase if you tell her that you dumped your last girlfriend. If you are a female and you want a romantic relationship, you should tell the guy that you were the one who was dumped.
 
Some interesting differences between the sexes there. One limitation of the study is that it only uses subjects around 18 or 19 years old. I would suspect that if you did the same experiment with an older crowd, the results would change. Specifically, I don’t think middle-aged persons would care as much how the potential mate’s last relationship ended.
 
Psychology is pretty interesting, and I regret not taking a couple of psych courses in university as electives.

One of the Funniest Things I Have Ever Seen!

November 21, 2010 2 comments

I’ve watched it a dozen times. It’s still funny. It’s the crowd reaction at Oprah’s Favourite Things 2010!

They literally had to have medics on hand, just in case.

So how am I going to make this about science? Crowd psychology of course.

Why do these people freak out so spectacularly? If they were watching from home and still told that they would receive all of Oprah’s favourite things, would they still jump up and down crying? Probably not.

There are a few theories about crowd behaviour. The one which describes Oprah’s audience behaviour best is probably contagion theory. It states that

crowds exert a hypnotic influence on their members. The hypnotic influence, combined with the anonymity of belonging to a large group of people, results in irrational, emotionally charged behavior. Or, as the name implies, the frenzy of the crowd is somehow contagious, like a disease, and the contagion feeds upon itself, growing with time. This also implies that the behavior of a crowd is an emergent property of the people coming together and not a property of the people themselves. [Wikipedia]

People do tend to act differently when in groups than by themselves. There are several theories as to why that is, and it’s an interesting field of study.

A similar thing happens when a large group of people gathers to see a Faith Healer. Even though they have been widely discredited as con artists, people still fall over after having the ‘laying of hands’ by the healer. Why? Because they are in a crowd that expects it, and they have seen other people do the same thing.

I’m no psychologist though. I just think its funny.