David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Mon 7 Jan 08 16:09
For our next conversation, we're very pleased to welcome Professor Richard Wiseman to Inkwell to discuss his book "Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things". Psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman started his working life as a professional magician and currently holds Britain's only Professorship in the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He frequently appears on the media, and has written over 60 academic articles and several books, including The Luck Factor. Leading the discussion with Professor Wiseman is our own Linda Castellani. Linda Castellani has been a member of the WELL since 1991. She is one of the past hosts of inkwell.vue, and one of the former co-hosts of the crafts and mirrorshades conferences. Currently, she co-hosts with <augur> the miscellaneous conference, a casual, cozy little place on the WELL where topics are about anything and everything. She has been a media buyer, public relations director, technical writer, jewelry designer, glass artist, and is currently a fabric design student. She is not a little quirky herself, greatly appreciates the quirks of people in general, and is delighted to be having this conversation with Richard Wiseman. Thanks for joining us, Richard and Linda!
Richard Wiseman (r-wiseman) Mon 7 Jan 08 16:34
Great to be here.
Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 7 Jan 08 16:45
Hello Richard, and welcome to all of our readers. In the next two weeks we are going to focus primarily on Richard Wiseman's latest book "Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things," and what led Dr. Wiseman to write this book. The book not only includes experiments that he developed and conducted, but he also reports on the experiments of many other notable researchers whose work is not familiar to those of us outside the field of experimental psychology. The experiments themselves and the resulting conclusions offer a very interesting, often astonishing, window into human nature. During the course of this discussion we will be talking about birth dates, astrology, time twins, the Barnum Effect, luck, lying and how to know if someone is lying, the "Basking in Reflected Glory Effect," dying, the mystery of the human smile, memory and remembering, superstition and magical thinking, seances, lotteries, the Law of Contagion, coincidence, the Law of Large Numbers, the Small-World Phenomenon, walking on hot coals, ghosts and the psychology of haunting, infrasound, South Park and the brown note, the science of decision-making, subliminal stimuli, the psychology of names, words and aging, decision-making, polls, physical characteristics and life events, the world's funniest joke, the secret behind speed-dating and personal ads, and a whole lot more. Richard, you relate a story about you and your grandfather when you were eight years old. Would you tell our readers that story and how it led to the subject of your doctoral dissertation on the psychology of deception?
Richard Wiseman (r-wiseman) Tue 8 Jan 08 03:26
no, i refuse. Oh, OK then. I was 8 years old and my grandfather had me to write my initials on a coin. He put the coin in his hand and it vanished. Next, took out a small tin box from his pocket - it was sealed with several elastic bands. he had me to remove the elastic bands and open the box. Inside was a small red bag, and inside the bag was my initialled coin. I became fascinated, became one of the youngest members of The Magic Circle, worked as a professional magician. Then I became interested in psychology, so did an undergad degree at UCL in London, and eventually a doctorate in the psychology of deception at Edinburgh University in Scotland. And all because of a small box covered in elastic bands. In fact, over Christmas I was going through my old magic stuff and came across the 'secret something' that makes the trick work, so it brought back lots of memories.
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 8 Jan 08 07:57
I realize that question required you to sum up about two decades of your life experience; I am impressed that you were able to do it in two paragraphs! I remain curious about your doctorate. I would never have dreamed that a degree in the psychology of deception even existed. Could you tell us about the work you did to receive that degree, and how what you learned impacted you, personally? Did it make you a better magician? A better liar? Better at relationships?
Richard Wiseman (r-wiseman) Tue 8 Jan 08 16:10
Yes, I am very good at summing up my life like that. Anymore than 2 paras and people start to yawn. The PhD mainly looked at the psychology of deception in terms of how magicians and fake psychics use it to deceive people. So we showed people videoclips of tricks and had them recall what they had seen, tested a few psychics, and generally messed around. None of this had any impact on my life. However, since then I have carried out work looking at the verbal and nonverbal signals that people give away when they lie. When you do that work you become much more sensitive to these signals. So, if I go to a party and tell a joke, I am often able to tell that the laughter is fake. The signal here is not so much in the laughter itself but the speed with which people walk away from the group. In terms of relationships, I tend not to take my work home with me. There is some work showing that couple that are unable to tell when one another are lying stay together much longer.
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 8 Jan 08 17:07
I guess that explains why I have been so effective at clearing the room at various parties I attended. Clearly, I have to find better jokes. You've developed a number of fascinating experiments designed to detect whether people are telling the truth or lying. What were those experiments, and what did you discover that we can use to discern that for ourselves? And, if you would, please explain how you arrived at the conclusion that couples who can't tell whether the other is lying stay together longer.
Tell your piteous heart there's no harm done. (krome) Wed 9 Jan 08 09:24
I am a little over halfway through the book and will try to finish today, but just wanted to say that in reading about birthdays I immediately thought of my best and oldest friend. We have known eachother for 30 years and I still miss him as we haven't lived in the same city for over 20. But we do email and talk on the phone. Anyway we met when I was 12 and he was 15 and became very fast friends. I was born May21(first day of Gemini) and he was born May 20 3 years before. Most of the people I have ever known would quickly associate me with all the qualities with which we endow Geminis and he is very, very Taurus. In the back of my mind I have always thought that maybe there was something to our b-days in that we both have just enough of the other qualities to compliment eachother. And as I was reading this bit and thinking of Frank, he called.
Lisa Harris (lrph) Wed 9 Jan 08 09:40
<scribbled by lrph Wed 9 Jan 08 09:41>
Lisa Harris (lrph) Wed 9 Jan 08 09:42
There seems to be so many possible factors that can not be taken into consideration in some of the experiments. How can you account for that? For example, you say the letter k is a funny sounding letter and that is why "duck" and "quack" get the bigger laugh than "cow" and "moo". But the k sound is only one factor. There is also the actual difference between the duck and the cow that may be what makes one funnier than the other.
Public persona (jmcarlin) Wed 9 Jan 08 09:49
I'm new to your book but I just discovered a quirk in your web site. I entered the US site and did the pet survey. At the end, I was redirected to the UK site. They look REALLY different and I'm wondering why. Even the book covers are drastically different. I do love the chicken on the UK version and wonder if that makes me a closet Brit or if I need to look at both editions to discover some US versus UK quirks? Another one I just noticed. The US site http://www.quirkology.com/USA/Experiment_AnalyseYourself.shtml uses the British 'whilst' versus the US 'while'. Am I going to far? There are two ways of completing this exercise. Some people draw the tail of the Q on the right hand side of their forehead whilst others draw it on the left. I hope I'm not kvetching too much.
Tell your piteous heart there's no harm done. (krome) Wed 9 Jan 08 10:06
"...that is why "duck" and "quack" get the bigger laugh than "cow" and "moo"." Of course, 'duck' can be very serious as well.
Richard Wiseman (r-wiseman) Wed 9 Jan 08 14:17
hi sorry about not replying before now. Had a big event at the science museum in London last night on new year resolutions and just packing to go on the road again tomorrow. Anyway, re lying - the basic point is listen rather than look - all of the pointers are in the words people say and how they say them. The experiments involving couples had people coming into the lab and lying to one another - the couple who had been together for years were unable to spot their partners lies, whereas strangers were more accurate. So the message is, if you want a long term relationship, make sure you cannot tell when you partner is lying.
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 9 Jan 08 15:08
Please tell us more regarding the New Year's resolutions experiments! Was the science museum involved in the experiments?
Richard Wiseman (r-wiseman) Wed 9 Jan 08 15:59
re #10: That particular experiment got a lot of coverage in the UK press, so at the time it was more appropriate to have it link back to the UK site, as that was where most of the traffic was coming from. However, as some time as passed, we will redirect it to the main page. The UK and USA sites look different because the books themselves have different covers, and also because different markets require different styles. In February, we will be launching a Spanish-language version of the site which will have its own unique design. Thanks for your interest!
Daniel (dfowlkes) Thu 10 Jan 08 03:58
<scribbled by dfowlkes Tue 3 Jul 12 10:14>
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Thu 10 Jan 08 08:51
(NOTE: Offsite readers with questions or comments may have them added to this conversation by emailing them to <email@example.com> )
Tell your piteous heart there's no harm done. (krome) Thu 10 Jan 08 10:01
Likely that people with a vested interest in maintaining the relationship learn how to lie to their partner. I have known pathological liars which lied constantly about inconsequential things. Because they are lying to people with whom they have no relationship(outside work that is) they are much less likely to care if we believe them and they exhibit all the qualities which Richard has described, eg way too much information.
Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 10 Jan 08 12:10
In the book he talks briefly about the experiment that was done with couples. He says that: "When it comes to lie detection, the public might as well simply toss a coin. It doesn't matter whether you are male or female, young or old, few people are able to detect deception with any degree of reliability." And he goes on to talk about one of a series of experiments exploring romantic deception, in which one member of a long-term couple was shown a series of slides of attractive people of the opposite sex and then asked to try and convince their partner that they found the person unattractive. He concludes: "The finding suggest that most people in long-term relationships are dreadful at telling when their partners are lying." We aren't given much more information about that.
Andrew Alden (alden) Thu 10 Jan 08 12:18
That jibes with Paul Ekman's research into the facial expressions of liars (and many other types of people). Accomplished lie-detectors are very rare people.
Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 10 Jan 08 12:22
About lying in general, and what krome refers to as too much information, for the benefit of those who have not read the book, here's what krome is referring to. Two experiments were conducted, in which well-known people, one of them Leslie Nielson, were filmed responding to a question. In one case it was what is your favorite movie, and in Nielson's case, what is your favorite food. The book goes into some detail analyzing their specific responses, but in general he reports, as he did, briefly above, that it's in the words we use and the way we use them: "When it comes to lying, the more information you give away, the greater are the chances that some of it will come back to haungt you. As a result, liars tend to say less, and to provide fewer details, than truth-tellers." He asks the reader to go back and re-read the first experiment where the person was asked their favorite movie. "...His lie about Gone with the Wind contains about forty words, whereas the truth about Some Like it Hot is nearly twice as long," and continues by saying that level of detail is another indicator. In the example of the first film, which he hated, he provides a very general description of the film, but when he tells the truth, he goes into far more detail, including describing a scene from the movie. Further, Wiseman goes on to say that "Liars often try to distance themselves psychologically from their falsehoods, and so they try to include fewer references to themselves to themselves and their feelings in the stories. In the case of the favorite movie, he says: "...when he lies, [he] mentions the word "I" just twice, whereas when the tells the truth, he says "I" seven times...[when describing] Gone with the Wind, [he] only once mentions how the film makes him feel, compared to the several references to his feelings when he talks about Some Like it Hot."
Richard Wiseman (r-wiseman) Thu 10 Jan 08 14:14
hi Thanks for the comments about the lying experiments - as with most psychology, most results are open to several interpretations. It has been a travel day, but now up in sunny scotland to meet up with various people about forthcoming projects. As mentioned in the book, some of my work has been carried out with the edinburgh science festival, and we are planning another experiment this year. Quirkology is also the cover story on the new issue of The Skeptic here: http://www.skeptic.com/ and some of the interviews that i recorded on the Australian trip have just been posted here: http://www.cli.nsw.edu.au/cli/sciencetalk/index.htm have fun
Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 10 Jan 08 16:36
Thanks for the links! We are looking forward to hearing more about what you're doing as the fair progresses. Any chance of us participating in this experiment or upcoming experiments during our talk here?
Rick Brown (danwest) Thu 10 Jan 08 20:25
I enjoyed the book, a nice rambling narrative with lot's of interesting bits of information. I am still digesting it, and have re-read a few bits. As an experimentalist, have you developed any theory as to some of the why's? It's interesting that one sex writes a better romance advertisement -- but why is that? Have you done any experimentation or read anything about Darrin Brown's favorite buzzword, NLP? I think, as an explanation, it seems to be mostly hooey, but is there anything to it? (Trying to stay away from methods here...) Your stuff about horoscopes and the Barnum Effect was a good catalog of what every magician who call themselves a "mentalist" knows -- and uses. The fact that some folks actually believe in this stuff vexes me -- even when I am using that belief for entertainment reasons. Those who use it, claiming to be real, bother me. Conversly, I have done mentalist performances -- and had folks come to me after saying that they knew my disclaimers were "fake" and that they were sure I really had some of the powers that I played at. Again, the "why" of these beliefs are interesting. What would you say is the reason for your work? Is there something you are trying to prove, is it just exploration -- knowledge for knowledge's sake? Or is it entertainment?
Rick Brown (danwest) Thu 10 Jan 08 20:27
Heh, that was a bit all over the place -- but the book hit me that way.
Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 11 Jan 08 16:50
I was wondering what Richard thought of Darrin Brown also. I watched a couple of episodes of his TV show and was completely astounded at what he was able to get people to do. The one I found most astonishing was getting everyone in a shopping center to raise their right hand on command, as they were apparently unaware of doing so. Also, Richard, I am now a subscriber to The Skeptic, thanks to you, and while subscribing from that Web site became aware of a book by Martin Gardner called The New Age, Notes of a Fringe Watcher, which I then promptly ordered from amazon.com for considerably less. I am looking forward to both of those, and I hope that my subscription starts with the issue containing the story about you. I need to get back to the issue of lying and deception here for a moment. As I mentioned earlier in this discussion, you related a story in your book about how a coin trick that your grandfather showed you when you were eight led to your lifelong fascination with magic. However, in the interview you posted above that you recorded on your Australian trip, a high school girl asks you "What made you interested in magic?" You reply "The real thing that made me interested in magic was a magician coming to my school when I was about eight and showing some tricks I thought were incredible." These are two different answers, although what they have in common is that both occurred at the age of eight, unless the magician who came to the school is your grandfather. So I tried to figure out which was the true story and which was the lie, using the guidelines you mention in your book. You used many fewer words in the filmed interview than you did in describing the answer in your book, which might lead me to believe that the true story is the one you told about your grandfather and the coin. But, since one is written and one is filmed, it leads me to wonder if it's possible to discern a lie when the source material you have to work with exists in different media, as in this case.
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