Read Quirkology Online

Authors: Richard Wiseman

Quirkology

Table of Contents
 
Table of Figures
 
To MUM AND DAD
 
What is the use of such a study? The criticism implied in this question has never bothered me, for any activity seems to me of value if it satisfies curiosity, stimulates ideas, and gives a new slant to our understanding of the social world.
—STANLEY MILGRAM,
THE INDIVIDUAL IN A SOCIAL WORLD
 
PROLOGUE
 
The Mysterious Q-Test
 
Before we begin, please take a few moments to complete the following exercise.
 
 
 
Using the first finger of your dominant hand, please trace the capital letter
Q
on your forehead.
 
There are two ways of completing the exercise. You can draw the letter
Q
with the tail of the
Q
toward your right eye like this:
 
In this case,
you
can read it, but someone facing you can’t.
 
Or you can draw it with the tail of the
Q
toward your left eye.
 
In this case, someone
facing you
can read it, but you can’t.
 
As we will discover later, the way in which you completed the task reveals a great deal about an important aspect of your life.
 
INTRODUCTION
 
Exploring the Backwaters of the Human Brain
 
I
have long been fascinated by the quirky side of human behavior. When I was a psychology undergraduate, one of my very first experiments involved standing for hours in London’s King’s Cross railroad station looking for people meeting partners who had just gotten off a train. The moment they were locked in a passionate embrace, I would walk up to them, trigger a hidden stopwatch in my pocket, and ask, “Excuse me, do you mind taking part in a psychology experiment? How many seconds have passed since I just said the words ‘excuse me’?” After querying around fifty such couples, I discovered that people greatly underestimate the passing of time when they are in love, or, as Albert Einstein once said, “Sit with a beautiful woman for an hour and it seems like a minute, sit on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour—that’s relativity.”
 
An interest in the more unusual aspects of psychology has continued throughout my career. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I traveled north to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and spent four years working on a doctorate examining the psychology of deception. Once that was completed, I accepted an academic position at the University of Hertfordshire, and set up my own research unit to examine unusual areas of psychology. I am not the first academic to be fascinated by this approach to examining behavior. Each generation of scientists has produced a small number of researchers who have investigated the strange and unusual.

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