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The Hoax Museum Blog
Category: Psychology
Do hoaxes tell us anything about the character of their victims?
Posted by The Curator on Wed Sep 10, 2008
On the New York Times opinion page Stanley Fish recently offered some thoughts about the Wine Spectator hoax, comparing it to the Sokal hoax of the 1990s. After musing about the two hoaxes, he draws this lesson about hoaxes in general: a hoax that is sufficiently and painstakingly elaborated can deceive anyone if the conditions are favorable. This means that the success of a hoax reflects on the skill of the hoaxer and says nothing about the substantive views of those who were fooled by it. One can relish and even admire the cleverness of…
Categories: Psychology Comments (8)
Placebo Walk Buttons
Posted by The Curator on Thu May 08, 2008
I've previously posted about the issue of placebo walk buttons -- that is, the widespread suspicion that the walk buttons at intersections don't have any effect on traffic lights. (There's also a separate theory that you can control the traffic lights by pushing the button in a special way.) An article on canada.com addresses the issue of placebo buttons at some length. They insist the idea of placebo buttons is a myth (at least for the city of Victoria), and they interview a traffic planner to discover what really happens when the button is pushed:
Categories: Psychology, Urban Legends Comments (11)
Missing Child Experiment
Posted by The Curator on Tue May 06, 2008
Local 6, an Orlando news station, recently conducted a "missing child experiment." They plastered posters all over a mall claiming that 8-year-old Britney Begonia was missing. Then they had Britney herself sit down alone a few feet from some of the signs. The question was: would anyone notice the poster and offer to help Britney? The predictable result: Of the hundreds of people who walked past and saw the posters, only two stopped to ask Britney if she was OK. Many people, questioned later, said they noticed Britney's resemblance to the girl in the poster, but were "fearful of getting involved." It's the
Categories: Psychology Comments (11)
The Turn Test
Posted by The Curator on Wed Apr 09, 2008
The image shows the silhouette of a woman turning round and round. (She seems to be naked, but I'd say it's safe for work.) The text says: Which way is the woman turning? Clockwise or anticlockwise? After a while, you will be amazed to find that not everyone will agree about which way she is turning! Even more amazingly, some people find that when they ask her, in their mind, to "change", the woman in the image responds by changing direction! I stared at the spinning woman for a while, but I could…
Categories: Psychology Comments (42)
Thief Hypnotizes Checkout Staff
Posted by The Curator on Sun Mar 23, 2008
The BBC reports that police in Italy are searching for a thief who hypnotizes checkout staff and orders them to hand over money. In every case, the last thing staff reportedly remember is the thief leaning over and saying: "Look into my eyes", before finding the till empty... A female bank clerk reportedly handed over nearly 800 euros (£630)... Italian police believe the suspect could be of Indian or North African extraction. The BBC has a video of the thief in action. It's interesting, because he pulls off his heist in full view of other customers,…
Unresponsive Bystanders
Posted by The Curator on Tue Feb 26, 2008
Local 6 News in Orlando recently conducted a test to see how quickly people would respond to a crime. They arranged for an undercover police officer to pretend to be a burglar trying to break into cars and homes in plain view of bystanders. The results: most bystanders ignored or just watched the crime -- and some even helped the thieves... people were ready to help the mystery man break into a car. A third test had the fake burglar enter a home through a window and then go out the front door. During the staged crime,…
Why do we encourage children to be gullible?
Posted by The Curator on Wed Feb 20, 2008
Tom Bell, in the Agoraphilia blog, asks an interesting question. Why does children's fiction promote credulity as a virtue? Children's fiction employs this trope so often that it fits a formula. A wise character tries to convince the protagonist that something wonderful will happen if only he or she will earnestly believe an improbability. Consider, for instance, how Yoda tells Luke to cast aside all doubt if he wants to levitate his x-wing from the swamps of Dagobah. "Do, or do not. There is no try," Yoda explains. Following the usual script, Luke resists, courting disaster, before he finally…
Bluffing on Exams
Posted by The Curator on Thu Nov 29, 2007
I came across an interesting article, published in the New York Times on June 11, 1950, that discusses a series of experiments examining how likely it is that college students will bluff their way through exams. For instance, when Professor Samuel Fernberger, of the University of Pennsylvania, gave his students their final exam, in one of the questions he asked them to define "psychoterminality." It was a meaningless term, but the students didn't know that. According to the NY Times: Only two students honestly stated they did not know what the term meant. Six left the question blank. But…
Categories: Psychology Comments (17)
Fake Photos Alter Memories of Real Events
Posted by The Curator on Tue Nov 27, 2007
Researchers from UC Irvine and the University of Padua in Italy have found that doctored photos can alter our perceptions and memories of public events. The researchers showed subjects either an actual or an altered photo of one of two historical events, the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest in Beijing and the 2003 anti-war protest in Rome. The Tiananmen Square photo was altered to include a crowd, and the Rome photo was altered to show riot police and a masked protester. LiveScience reports: When answering questions about the events, the participants had differing…
Categories: Photos/Videos, Psychology Comments (7)
Hypnotist Robbers
Posted by The Curator on Tue Oct 02, 2007
A New Hampshire convenience store clerk claims that he was robbed. However, the thieves didn't use any weapons or threats. Instead, they used hypnosis and mind control to make the clerk not notice that they were taking more than $1000. First coast news reports: It started with a simple mind game. Think of a wild animal, they say, and we'll write down what's in your mind. but it escalates quickly to very personal information about a former girlfriend, and finally, says Patel, mind control. Even investigators are persuaded. Patel says that the…
Man hits head - Suddenly knows English
Posted by The Curator on Mon Sep 17, 2007
Cranky Media Guy forwarded me this article on Ananova.com about a Czech speedway rider who suffered a concussion during a race, was knocked out, and woke up speaking perfect English, with a posh British accent... even though he barely spoke a word of English before. His command of English only lasted for 48 hours, at which point his memory returned, as did his native Czech, and his English disappeared. CMG is skeptical. He says, "The Foreign Accent Syndrome mentioned in the last paragraph is a real phenomenon but that's very different from a guy who doesn't speak a language suddenly acquiring the ability to speak it, which I can't see could be possible."
The Difficulty of Debunking
Posted by The Curator on Wed Sep 05, 2007
The Washington Post has a depressing article about the difficulty of myth-busting. Experiments by Norbert Schwarz at the University of Michigan reveal that a few days after telling people a rumor is false, many of those people will have misremembered what they were told and think the rumor is true. The crux of the problem is that: Denials inherently require repeating the bad information, which may be one reason they can paradoxically reinforce it. Other psychologists have found that hearing the same thing again and again from the same source can actually trick the brain into thinking information is more…
Categories: Psychology Comments (8)
The Comforting Machine
Posted by The Curator on Thu Aug 02, 2007
This has nothing to do with hoaxes, but I thought it was interesting, so I'm posting about it anyway. Also, it reminded me of the Compliment Machine, which I posted about just a few days ago. I received an email from Jennifer Baumeister, who tells me that she's an artist from Berlin working on a project called Comfort XxL, the comforting machine. Here's a description of it: The comforting machine is an art project by the German artist Jennifer Baumeister. She asks people from different…
Categories: Art, Psychology Comments (5)
The Compliment Machine
Posted by The Curator on Fri Jul 27, 2007
No form of deception is more ubiquitous in modern life than the cheery platitudes we constantly exchange: "How are you?" "Fine!" or "Have a nice day." Washington DC based artist Tom Greaves has created a work of art designed to hold a mirror up to this culture of shallow, saccharine pleasantries. It's the compliment machine -- a red-and-white striped box that sits on a street corner and delivers compliments all day. As pedestrians pass by, it continuously shouts out words of encouragement: "People are drawn to your positive energy." "You are always there when needed." "Your eyes are…
Categories: Art, Psychology Comments (13)
Phantom Vibration Syndrome
Posted by The Curator on Thu Jun 14, 2007
Many cellphone users are reporting that they often feel their cellphone vibrating, when it's not vibrating at all. The phenomenon is being called Phantom Vibration Syndrome (an allusion, I assume, to Phantom Limb Syndrome, in which amputees feel sensations in their missing limbs). Psychologists attribute these phantom vibrations to cellphone users' brains becoming over-alert to the sensation of vibration, and therefore experiencing false alarms: Alejandro Lleras, a sensation and perception professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, adds that learning to detect rings and vibrations is part of a perceptual learning process. "When we learn…
Categories: Psychology, Technology Comments (16)
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