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Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

IgNobel Prize Winners!

September 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, the IgNobel Prizes wrapped up not too long ago. Scicurious was live blogging the event and there was also a live webcast.

And the winners are:

A group from Europe won the Physiology award for demonstrating that yawns are not contagious in Red-Footed tortoises.

A group from Japan won the award for Chemistry by demonstrating the ideal amount ofwasabi to put in the air in order to wake people up. The purpose? A wasabi fire-alarm!

A couple of studies demonstrating how people make decisions when they really, really have to pee won the award for Medicine.

A group from Oslo won the Psychology prize for studying why people sigh. 

The Literature prize was given to John Perry of Stanford University for his theory of “Structured Procrastination“.

The Biology prize was given to a couple guys hailing from Canada, Australia and the USA for discovering a type of beetle that mates with stubby beer bottles.

A bunch of loons (e.g. Harold Camping) won the Mathematics prize for predicting the world would end and being wrong.

The Peace prize was awarded to Arturas Zuokas, the mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, for driving over an illegally parked luxury car with an armored tank.

The Public Safety prize was given to John Senders of the University of Toronto for conducting a driving safety study by having someone drive down the highway and have avisor repeatedly hit them in the face.

And finally, (and most importantly!) the Physics prize was given to a group from France and the Netherlands for studying why discus throwers get dizzy, but hammer throwers don’t. Very important with the 2012 Olympics coming up!

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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.

Simple Writing Exercise Boosts Grades of Female Physics Students

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Although men and women are equal in their abilities concerning math and physics, women still seem to lag a bit when it comes to grades in the Physics classroom.

Consider the classroom of Akira Miyake from the University of Colorado. Female students got grades, on average, 10% lower than male students. A significant difference. Miyake knew that this had nothing to do with ability, so how does one fix it?

Well he tried a technique that had been shown to increase the exam scores of black students in American high schools. These students were victims of the “stereotype threat“, which is when an unfair stereotype is applied to a group to which you belong (i.e. black students do worse in school than white students). However, after utilizing a technique called “values affirmation”, the scores of the black students dramatically increased. In fact, the increase was greatest amongst the poorest students. What happened?

The technique involves a writing exercise in which the student writes a few sentences about their core values (family, religion, creativity etc.) and write why those values are important to them. The exercise takes no more than 15 minutes. This was done twice at the start of the school year, and the results show a large increase in the students scores.

So could it work for women too? Women also suffer from the unfair stereotype that they are not as good at math/physics as men. Therefore, they don’t have as much confidence and don’t do as well. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But Miyake did an experiment. He divided his introductory Physics class into 2 groups, with equal amounts of males and females in each group.

At the start of the year, he asked Group 1 (the “values affirmation” group) to write about their core values and why they are important to them. He then separately asked Group 2 (the “control” group) to write about the values of someone else and why they might be important to another person. Both groups were told that this was an exercise in writing ability, not physics grades.

He then compared the results of the 2 groups with their final marks in the course, as well as how well they did on the Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation (FMCE), which is a standardized test about basic physical principles. These were the results:

As you can see, the women’s scores increased, whereas the men’s scores remained largely unchanged.

This is quite a result. With a simple writing exercise designed to instill confidence and reduce the effect of the stereotype threat, exam scores in the class increased by an average of about 5%, and about 13% for the FMCE.

So what we find is that it’s not enough to debunk the myth that men are better than women at physics, we have to get women to believe it as well. To believe in themselves.

Why am I so interested in this issue? I have written about it a couple of times. Mainly because it frustrates me. I tutored during my time in University and many more girls asked for tutoring than guys, because they didn’t do as well. This was mainly because, in my opinion, they simply didn’t have as much self-confidence when it came to the exams.

“I’m no good at Physics, I just want to pass,” was a phrase I heard more than once.

“No, you will not just pass,” I told them, “you will do well.”

But making them believe it was tough, because of all the stereotypes they no doubt encountered through their lives. So I would tell them about these kinds of studies, how girls are just as good as guys at science/math. I even told them how I came in 3rd place in my senior year research project class. 1st and 2nd place went to two girls.

So it’s an uphill battle, but progress is being made. If I ever have a daughter, you can be damn sure she will not grow up thinking that she is not as good as guys at science or math.

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.

The Science of ‘Beer Goggles’

August 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Oh yes, we’ve all been there.

You knock back a few pints, maybe a few jager bombs and the party really gets started. You think maybe it’s the dimly lit dance floor, or maybe its because you have no idea what time it is, but that girl (or guy) your are dancing with suddenly seems a lot more attractive.

Colloquially, it is known as the Beer Goggle effect. Alcohol is making everyone in the room seem more attractive than if you were sober. It is a well documented effect, and psychologists are trying to nail down what exactly is happening to our brains when this happens.

A study recently published in the journal Alcohol (they have a journal for everything these days, even *guh* homeopathy) may shed some light on whats going on here.

Many studies have shown that when humans rate a person’s face as “attractive”, this is largely due to high levels of symmetry in the person’s face. For example, their nose isn’t crooked (like mine) or their eyes aren’t at different heights, things like that. Any asymmetries will cause attractiveness scores to fall.

So the way this study worked was the experimenters went to a bar after everyone had a chance to down a few drinks. They showed 64 students a series of pictures, some of whom were sober (the control group), and some were intoxicated. The students then rated a series of photos of faces, symmetric and some asymmetric, as attractive or not attractive.

The conclusion was that alcohol worsens our ability to detect symmetry in a peoples faces, consequently making them appear more attractive (not surprising).

What WAS surprising about this study though, was that alcohol affected women’s abililty to detect symmetry more than men. So women actually have a stronger “Beer goggle” affect than men. Crazy.

Of course, guys tend to get much more rambunxios when they are drinking than women, so that’s why this result may be surprising.

But cool stuff. Next time at the bar if you are worried about bringing home an ugo just make sure you look at them in bright light, before turning out the light.

Cheers everyone!