Fun Psychological Facts

Sep 03

Sleep immediately after learning aids memory recall. 

This is because it allows the information to be consolidated without interference from other material, and the information is isolated in time in memory. 

So when you’re studying, I give you permission to take regular naps in-between topics!

Aug 21

What comes first, smiling, or happiness?

I know it can be quite tough to tell, but a bit like the chicken and the egg question, it can go both ways: “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

I know it’s fairly common sense that people smile when they’re happy, I don’t need to tell you that. I’m here to tell you how smiling MAKES you happy!

So before I get started, I would like you all to place a pen or pencil in your mouth, and I need you to hold it there with your teeth – your lips are not allowed to touch it. And I’ll explain why you’re doing this, and the effect it has as I go along. I promise, you’ll thank me for it later.

Every time you smile, you throw a little ‘feel-good party’ in your brain. And there’s none of this BYO nonsense. The act of smiling provides all the feel good drugs, called neurotransmitters, that you need. A little dopamine. A hint of endorphins. And an open-bar of serotonin. And these chemicals all work together to increase pleasure and make you happy. In fact, the serotonin release brought on by your smile serves as a natural anti-depressant/mood lifter. Many of today’s pharmaceutical anti-depressants also influence the levels of serotonin in your brain, but with a smile, you don’t have to worry about negative side effects – and you don’t need a prescription from your doctor!

But studies have shown that you don’t even need to really smile to gain these benefits.  These benefits all arise thanks to the muscle movements that smiling causes. So if you move your muscles in the same way as smiling, it produces the same response in the brain. And THAT’S why you’ve been holding your pencils in your mouth without letting your lips touch it – because this forces your face into the general position and muscle movements of a Duchenne smile, raising the corners of your mouth while also crinkling the corners of your eyes into crow’s feet. And this releases those chemicals and makes you feel good.

Many studies have used this technique, where they’ve gotten participants to hold a pencil in their mouth just as I’ve requested you to do, and in a control condition they held the pencil with their lips (so the face muscles weren’t being pulled in such a way to release the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters). The participants were then shown short film clips and were asked how much they enjoyed the clip, and how happy they felt. And what they found is that participants who had been holding their pencil just like you have, responded to enjoying the clip more, and feeling happier. Crazy, right!? Just from the way they held a pencil in their mouth.

Some experimenters weren’t happy with just these self-report results, and instead decided to investigate the activation of the brain. So participants brain waves were recorded when they consciously forced their face into the ‘genuine’ smile position. And indeed, the resulting electric signals were indistinguishable from those sent in the course of a genuinely amused response to a well-told joke.  So even a ‘fake’ smile causes the same electrical response and chemical release as a full-hearted smile.

This whole idea is explained by Charles Darwin’s ‘Facial Feedback Response Theory.’  In 1872, Charles Darwin wrote “even the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds.” The act of smiling itself actually makes us feel better rather than smiling being merely a result of feeling good.  This is why some psychologists urge depressed or angry patients to smile more. A study showed how smiling actually sends enough endorphins and serotonin to the brain where it can potentially change a person’s overall mood. Some people may find it hard to smile because they are always looking at the bad in various situations, and so they don’t get these natural high feelings that a smile may cause. If a person that typically thinks negative thoughts can learn to smile more, they may be able to change their mood naturally. Simply forcing yourself to physically smile, even without actually being happy in that moment, or having a reason to smile, still has many of the same benefits.  

So whether you’re happy, sad, angry, stressed or frustrated: smile – because smiling makes you happy! :)

Jun 13

Ways to get people to comply

Door in the Face technique - if you go for a large request that you know will be refused, then smaller requests seem more reasonable than if you’d just gone for the smaller request to begin with, so are more likely to be accepted.
Foot in the Door technique, think about those annoying salesmen in the middle of shopping centres trying to sell you makeup. At first they say “can I ask you a question?” or get you to accept a free sample. But it’s not just because they want to ask you a question. It’s because they’re getting you to first accept a small request. So that you’re more likely to comply with their larger requests ($$$!) They’ve got their foot—in-the-door, so to speak.
Low Ball technique - is just tricking people, really. Asking them one thing, which they are really likely to agree to. But then saying that the thing they’ve agreed to is no longer available, and so they change the original agreement. This works, because people are unlikely to back out once they’ve already agreed to something, so they’re more likely to follow along with the change in agreement and continue to agree.

Foot in the Door and Low Ball both involve asking small requests first, and then large requests. The difference is that foot in the door involves separate requests, for different things. Low Ball involves retracting the small request and changing it to a large request, so people have already agreed and feel like they can’t back out.
Jun 13

Why People Fail to Act to Reduce Climate Change

Climate change can be defined as changes that can be attributed to human activity that has changed the composition of the atmosphere, and thereby, the functioning of the Earth’s climate system. An important barrier to public action on climate change may be that it often fails to activate our moral judgement system. Research has shown that individuals who consider the ethical implications of climate change report greater support for a variety of mitigation policies aimed at reducing climate change. There are several psychological principles that prevent climate change from registering as a moral imperative, which causes a failure to act to reduce climate change. 

Although climate change is the direct result of intentional, goal-directed behaviour (e.g. use of energy for luxury cars), it is perceived by many individuals as an unintentional, unfortunate side effect of such actions, that they can’t be blamed for. Studies suggest that unintentionally caused harms are judged less harshly than equally sever but intentionally caused ones. Therefore, recognising climate change as the result of intentional action is a highly motivating cue for corrective action, and unintentional action explains why people fail to act. 

The spatial and temporal distance of the victims of climate change is another explanation for why people fail to act. Many individuals living in developed nations correctly believe that climate change will most negatively affect individuals who live faraway in place, time, or both. This makes victims of climate change seen as less similar to oneself, and out-group members, who are seen as less deserving of moral standing. Research has found that treatment of out-group members is worse than that of in-group members, even when membership is arbitrary, and especially for sins of omission. For example, a Swedish study found that although US citizens are hesitant to engage in acts that directly harm either fellow US citizens or foreigners, they are significantly more comfortable harming foreigners through inaction than fellow US citizens. This directly relates to climate change - through failing to act to reduce climate change, we are harming out-group members indirectly. Therefore, this research suggests that the more dissimilar and socially distant the victims of climate change seem to be, temporally and spatially, the less morally obligated people will feel to act on their behalf.

The uncertainty of the effects of climate change lead to optimistic biases that reduce behaviours to eliminate climate change. Studies have found that uncertainty promotes optimistic biases. For example, a study found that the carefully chosen verbal labels used to describe different levels of the (un)certainty (e.g. very likely) in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report led people to systematically interpret the outcomes as less likely than intended by the experts. This demonstrates how people optimistically misinterpret the intended messages conveyed regarding the outcomes as less likely than intended by the experts. Other studies have shown that optimistic biases cause a failure to act to issues. For example, optimistic biases are evident for many health- and life-threatening problems, such that people consider their chances to be below average, and that this undermines their interest in risk reduction indirectly, by reducing worry. Therefore, as optimism towards climate change having an impact reduces the gravity of the issue, it may also reduce the motivation to act.

The moral framing of climate change targets the moral priorities of liberals more than conservatives, leading liberals to act. Liberals tend to base their moral priorities on two foundations of individual welfare - harm and fairness. Conservatives supplement these with foundations focused on protecting the in-group. The moral framing of climate change has typically focused on only the first two values; harm to present and future generations, and the unfairness of the distribution of burdens caused. As a result, the justification for action on climate change holds less moral priority for conservatives than liberals, making them less likely to act. 

Messages that hold people accountable for causing climate change as an unintended side effect f their behaviour often encourages people to engage in cognitive biases to minimise perceptions of their own complicity. Such biases involve derogating evidences of ones role in causing the problem and challenging the significance of the issue. For example, research shows that individuals actively work to avoid feelings of responsibility in part by blaming inaction on others and increasing focus on the costs of mitigation. The consequences of this reaction to perceived blame is that those responsible, who behavioural changes would be the most beneficial, are motivated to deny their complicity and fail to act to reduce climate change. 

In conclusion, there are many psychological explanations as to why climate change does not register as a moral imperative. These include cognitive biases to avoid guilt, moral framing, optimistic biases, victims seen as less similar to oneself and climate change being perceived as an unintended side effect of our lifestyle. As climate change does not register as a moral imperative, people fail to act. 

Jun 12

The Stanford Prison Experiment

Why do bad people do awful deeds?

This experiment explains so much. So fascinating. And this website is a VERY interesting way of presenting an experiment. Much more interesting than a lab report. Check it out!

May 27

Going on a first date?

Take them to a place that will heighten their physiological arousal level. Get them doing some sort of exercise. Rock climbing. Iceskating. Cliff jumping is perfect.

Want to know why? Well, then they’ll find you even MORE attractive!

Thanks to the 2 Factor Theory of Passionate Love (and many studies supporting it), it’s shown that physiological arousal (and its interpretation) is central to the experience of passionate love.

Nov 13

When applying for a job, you should submit your resume on a heavy clipboard, because interviewers will perceive you to be more serious about the job. 

Also, make sure your interviewer is sitting in a hard chair, because research has found that people sitting in hard chairs whilst judging employees see them as more stable and less emotional than when they make the judgements in soft chairs.

Oct 29


So, today at uni I learnt that if I ever I become a lap dancer, not to take birth control pills.

Studies have found that lap dancers who aren’t taking birth control pills earn more in tips than lap dancers who are taking birth control pills?

And for those who aren’t taking them, they earn double what they normally would in tips during their menstrual cycle! Whilst there’s no difference for those who are taking birth control pills.

Jun 14

Filter Theories of Attention

Broadbent’s Theory: 
e.g. 496 (ear one) + 852 (ear two) = 496852, NOT, 489562
- filter located early in processing system
- ONLY physical stimulus characteristics are processed
- filter then chooses one stimulus (on the basis of its physical attirubutes) for further processing, the other remains in buffer for later processing.
- Therefore, the filter prevents overloading of the limited capacity mechanisms beyond the filter
Support: In dichotic listening tasks, only physical changes (such as gender change in voice) was noticed in the unattended ear. Changes in language (meaning) went unnoticed.
- when words associated with electric shock (meaning) were presented to the unattended ear, sometimes there was a physiological reaction.
- a third of people report hearing their own name in the unattended ear
- “who 6 there?” and “4 goes 1” is heard as “who goes there?” suggesting that selection can be based on the meaning of presented information

Triesman’s Attenuation Theory (1964):
- filter located late in the processing stream
- Physical AND Semantic characteristics are processed
- Filter reduces analysis of unattended information
- stimulus analysis occurs through a hierarchy, with physical cues toward the bottom and semantic analysis at the top. When there is insufficient processing capacity, the top of the hierarchy is omitted.
- threshold for expected or salient words (e.g. own name, and FIRE) is lower.

Deutch and Deutch (1963)
- filter located late in the processing stream
- Physical AND Semantic characteristics are processed
- all stimuli are FULLY analysed, with the most important/relevant stimulus determining the response.

Lavie’s Perceptual Load Theory:
- sometimes there is early selection (Broadbent) sometimes there is late selection (Deutsch and Deutsch)
- The perceptual load of a stimulus determines how much attention is devoted to the stimulus. The number of task stimuli and the processing demands of each stimuli determine the load of a stimulus.
- High Perceptual Load = no spare capacity to process distractors = early selection
- Low Perceptual Load = spare capacity to process distractors = late selection

Jun 14

Trajectory of Accident Opportunity

Active errors are unsafe acts that occur at the front line of operations, and the consequences are felt immediately e.g. a truck driver playing a violin whilst driving.
Latent errors are associated with management and design, and its effects lay dormant for long periods of time. There is much potential in everyday life for latent errors to occur.
- Task demands - time pressure, high workload
- Work Environment - distractions, interruptions
- Individual Capabilities - unfamiliarity with task, not trained properly
- Human Nature - stress, habit, assumptions, biases.

The trajectory of accident opportunity, which explains that accidents are caused by a combination of latent errors, active errors, triggering events and a failure of defense systems. Only a hazard that passes through a hole in each of these layers lead to a failure. 
For example, 
Latent Error - management deciding to not service their trucks as often
Active Error - truck driver playing the violin
Triggering Event - atypical condition, such as rain
Defense System Failure