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The Hoax Museum Blog
Category: Psychology
The Cyranoid Illusion — The Cyranoid Illusion, named after the French play Cyrano de Bergerac, refers to a person who is not speaking their own thoughts, but rather the thoughts and words of another person fed to them via radio transmitter. A recent experiment has found that people can't tell when they're speaking to a Cyranoid, probably because our brains haven't evolved to detect when a person is speaking through the body of someone else. The problem is, the online world is full of Cyranoids. "From online games to online dating sites, people act through virtual versions of themselves (or assumed virtual identities) more and more." [wired.com]
Posted: Tue Sep 30, 2014.   Comments (0)

Why do people cling to false beliefs? — According to Dartmouth professor Brendan Nyhan (as reported by Maria Konnikova in the New Yorker), "persistently false beliefs stem from issues closely tied to our conception of self." So in order to change deeply held misperceptions, it's useless to present people with facts and information. Instead, you need to "target people’s beliefs about themselves." This recalls what's long been known by hoaxers, that it's easy to fool people if you just tell them what they want to believe. That is, people readily accept ideas that complement their pre-existing view of the world and of… Continue…
Posted: Sat May 24, 2014.   Comments (1)

The Candy Witch — In 2004, the researchers Jacqueline Woolley, Elizabeth Boerger, and Arthur Markman conducted a study at the University of Texas at Austin in which they told young children (ages 3 to 5) at a childcare center about the "Candy Witch." This was the script they used: 'Let me tell you about the Candy Witch. I have never seen the Candy Witch so I don't have a real picture of her. But somebody made a doll that looks like her, and I have a picture of that. Here it is. This is what she looks…
Posted: Thu Oct 31, 2013.   Comments (0)

Dr. Phil’s Personality Test — A brief personality profile test has been circulating online, where it's identified as having been authored by "Dr. Phil" (Dr. Phillip McGraw). However, Dr. Phil has disavowed any connection with the test. So the question is, where does this test come from? Sleuths on the Snopes message boards tracked down a version of it that was posted on USENET back in 1994, at which time it was attributed to a Dr. Charles Vine. With that info, it was relatively simple to do a google search and…
Posted: Thu Sep 26, 2013.   Comments (0)


Questions about the Milgram experiment — Gina Perry has authored a new book about Stanley Milgram's famous obedience experiment (Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments) in which she argues that Milgram fudged his data and conclusions. Boing Boing reviews it. Perry suggests the fudging happened in several ways: First, although Milgram claimed his experiment always followed a set script, Perry reviewed the original audio tapes and found this wasn't the case. Instead,…
Posted: Thu Sep 12, 2013.   Comments (0)

Do not push this button! — Here's a prank that's also an interesting experiment in social psychology. In the middle of a busy public square, a big sign over a red button says, "DO NOT PUSH THIS BUTTON." Of course, random people walking by inevitably do push the button. At which point, everyone in the square appears to drop dead. So what does the person who pushed the button do? Does he/she try to help the people? No. Every single person who pushed the button runs away, as if trying to escape being found out.
Posted: Wed Feb 20, 2013.   Comments (4)

The Problem With Being Polite — Little white lies are part of the lubricant that keeps the cogs of the social machinery running. For instance, if someone tells a bad joke, we usually smile. We don't tell them they're not funny, because that would be rude and might hurt their feelings. The problem (according to Joyce Ehrlinger, a professor of psychology at Florida State University) is that sometimes these little white lies can be dangerous if people take them too seriously and become overconfident in their abilites. In…
Posted: Mon Jul 30, 2012.   Comments (5)

Honesty Cafes — As part of an ongoing effort to battle a culture of corruption, the Indonesian government is opening Honesty Cafes, designed to teach people the value of honesty. Snacks and drinks are available, and you pay on the honor system, putting your money into a clear plastic box. From the NY Times: The attorney general’s office says the honesty cafes will nip in the bud corrupt tendencies among the young and straighten out those known for indulging in corrupt practices, starting with civil…
Posted: Thu Jun 18, 2009.   Comments (5)

Free Flattery — Too close to a fake thing. Brett Westcott and Cameron Brown like to stand on a corner in Times Square and compliment people walking by. They say they're doing this in a genuine attempt to spread good cheer. The problem is, many people have difficulty judging their sincerity: Brown admits some students think they're playing a practical joke. "Some people question our sincerity, but we're 100 percent sincere. We wouldn't be doing this for two hours every Wednesday for eight months if we…
Posted: Mon Mar 16, 2009.   Comments (10)

What are women thinking? — A new study published in Psychological Science reveals that women are far more skilled at faking romantic interest than men. The experiment involved a speed-dating session. Observers were asked to guess how the men and women felt about each other. Turns out it was easy to guess how the men felt, but no one had a clue how the women felt. The researchers could have simply asked any average guy who would have told them that, most of the time, we have no clue what women are thinking. That's…
Posted: Tue Feb 03, 2009.   Comments (3)

Rejects spot fake smiles — A study published in the October issue of Psychological Science has found that people who feel rejected are significantly better at spotting fake smiles than are other people. (Link: US News & World Report.) Those who feel rejected can accurately detect fake smiles 80% of the time, versus only 50% for other groups. According to the author of the study, "It's not clear why rejection may boost the ability to figure out when someone else is faking an emotion. It may have something to do…
Posted: Wed Nov 19, 2008.   Comments (8)

Rumormongering Traders — Britain's Financial Services Authority has found a new group to blame for the financial crisis: naive traders spreading rumors. It cites one example of a trader who "spread a piece of 'hot news' to 10 to 12 of his friends over a messaging system without making clear that it was a rumour. One of his contacts then did not hesitate to spread the message on to 150 of his contacts." To counter the problem, the FSA is urging companies to adopt policies "on how to deal with rumours and…
Posted: Wed Nov 19, 2008.   Comments (2)

Nintendo Wii Truth Experiment — University of Memphis psychologist Rick Dale used a Nintendo Wii in an experiment to show that the human brain is wired to believe before it doubts. I don't think this is a new finding. It makes sense that the brain has to assume all incoming info is true, in case a quick reaction is needed. For instance, it wouldn't be wise to stand around debating with yourself whether the tiger leaping out of the jungle is real or fake. Doubt, therefore, takes second place in the brain's hierarchy of…
Posted: Mon Nov 17, 2008.   Comments (3)

Do hoaxes tell us anything about the character of their victims? — 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…
Posted: Wed Sep 10, 2008.   Comments (8)

Placebo Walk Buttons — 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…
Posted: Thu May 08, 2008.   Comments (11)

Missing Child Experiment — 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…
Posted: Tue May 06, 2008.   Comments (11)

The Turn Test — 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,…
Posted: Wed Apr 09, 2008.   Comments (42)

Thief Hypnotizes Checkout Staff — 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…
Posted: Sun Mar 23, 2008.   Comments (9)

Unresponsive Bystanders — 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…
Posted: Tue Feb 26, 2008.   Comments (13)

Why do we encourage children to be gullible? — 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.…
Posted: Wed Feb 20, 2008.   Comments (27)

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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.