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The Hoax Museum Blog
Category: Psychology
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)

Bluffing on Exams — 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:
Posted: Thu Nov 29, 2007.   Comments (17)

Fake Photos Alter Memories of Real Events — 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…
Posted: Tue Nov 27, 2007.   Comments (7)

Hypnotist Robbers — 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…
Posted: Tue Oct 02, 2007.   Comments (11)

Man hits head - Suddenly knows English — 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…
Posted: Mon Sep 17, 2007.   Comments (9)

The Difficulty of Debunking — 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…
Posted: Wed Sep 05, 2007.   Comments (8)

The Comforting Machine — 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…
Posted: Thu Aug 02, 2007.   Comments (5)

The Compliment Machine — 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…
Posted: Fri Jul 27, 2007.   Comments (13)

Phantom Vibration Syndrome — 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…
Posted: Thu Jun 14, 2007.   Comments (16)

Faces in Trees — I was inspired by the news story about the mayor's face in a tree to search out other examples of faces in trees. I knew that stories about faces in trees pop up regularly in the news, but to my knowledge no one had ever collected these stories together in one place. So it seemed like an appropriate thing to waste a couple of hours doing. I posted the results in the hoaxipedia. It's more faces in trees than you can shake a stick at.
Posted: Fri Jun 08, 2007.   Comments (0)

Intention Experiments — Writer Lynne McTaggart has been sponsoring a number of "experiments" to promote her book The Intention Experiment, in which she makes the argument (from what I can surmise without actually having read the book) that we can influence the world around us through our intentions. If we want something to happen, we merely intend for it to happen. Here's a description of the first three experiments: The first experiment was an enormous success when 400 people sat in a hall in London and…
Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2007.   Comments (22)

Best of the Forum – 25th May 07 — As some people receive Museum updates via RSS feed, or just don't frequent the forum, we have decided to round up some of the most interesting threads each week for all to see. Rabbit-Headed Cat (Smerk) Two carcasses discovered in 1988 and 1993 are thought to be a new species – rabbit-headed wildcats. These Kellas cats seem to be rare, and investigators are urging landowners and gamekeepers to help them discover more. Sadly, the rabbit-like ears aren’t as impressive as I’d hoped. Get…
Posted: Fri May 25, 2007.   Comments (13)

Colour-Changing Card Trick — This trick is quite an interesting little demonstration of misdirection. I shan't say more, so as to not give it away, but keep your eyes peeled - there is more to this than just one trick. (Thanks, Nettie and David B.)
Posted: Thu May 10, 2007.   Comments (17)

Quick Links: Honesty, Graffiti, Hindu Goddess, and Mozart — Brits flunk honesty test A credit-card protection firm, Affinion International, conducted an experiment in which they left items such as mobile phones, key, and wallets in city centres (Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, London, and Manchester). All the items were clearly marked with the owner's contact number, but most were never returned. Not surprising. Obscene messages end graffiti experiment Officials in Louisville tried to give graffiti artists a legal place to practice their…
Posted: Tue Apr 17, 2007.   Comments (5)

The Virtual Milgram Obedience Experiment — Back in the early 1960s Stanley Milgram conducted a famous experiment at Yale University. Volunteers were told that it was designed to test the effect of punishment on learning. Would a person learn a list of word pairs better if they were punished every time they got an answer wrong? The volunteer was instructed to deliver an electric shock to the learner every time one of his answers was wrong. The shocks increased in intensity for every wrong answer. Of course, the experiment wasn't…
Posted: Thu Dec 21, 2006.   Comments (28)

Quick Links: Gnomes and Gropers — Yet Another Traveling Gnome Back in the Spring Allen Snyder's gnome disappeared from his garden. Now he's learned that it's been attending Pittsburgh Steelers' games. Next stop an airplane to somewhere far away. Submitted by Big Gary who notes: "Predicatable, but I thought you'd want to keep your gnome section up-to-date." Pretends to be mentally ill to get a grope This is pathetic. William Mucklow has been accused of pretending to be mentally ill so that he can hire nurses to take…
Posted: Thu Sep 21, 2006.   Comments (5)

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