Hoax Museum Blog: Psychology

IQ Challenge —
Status: Practical joke
I evidently don't spend enough time on LiveJournal, because if I did I would have known about the IQ Challenge sooner. (It was evidently quite popular on LiveJournal.) As it is, I completely missed out on it, and now it's over.

What it was (or claimed to be) was an IQ test offered by IQ-Challenge.com. Once you completed the test, it produced a small graphic showing your score that you could post on your site. The joke was that the test gave everyone a high score. But the graphic that you posted on your site would (unbeknownst to you) show a low score. You can imagine the results this produced. Here's one person's description:
a lot of people got really cocky about how they scored on the IQ test. I saw one woman post the results on her blog and beneath the image she wrote something like: “Wow, I scored a 155! [My friend] only scored a 70. I guess I scored so much higher due to life experience and being a good test taker.” But the image said she only scored a 70-something as well.
Someone else’s blog post said, “I’m superior! I always knew I was brilliant!”
Just check out Google blogsearch…there are a ton of posts, mostly on Livejournal, of people proudly showing off their phony IQ scores. A few people even said, “This is a much better and more accurate IQ test than the one at Tickle.com!” Even though you could have guessed any question wrong on the phony test and have scored a 150+.
The weird thing is that I bet those people who believed they scored well on the test will continue to believe they have above-average intelligence, even after finding out that the test results were meaningless. That's just the way the mind works.

The test is no longer online, although I think whoever created it should keep it up. It would be like a permanent trap for the gullible.
Posted: Tue May 09, 2006.   Comments (36)

Feng Shui For Cars —
Status: Pseudoscience
Aon Private Clients, a British insurance broker, has commissioned the first ever study of how to improve the feng shui of cars. They note that implementing these recommendations "could improve the flow of energy in vehicles and help drivers alleviate the negative feelings which lead to road rage." Suggestions offered by the study include:
  • A driver should park his or her car facing away from the driver’s home. According to feng shui, cars are ‘predatory tigers’. If parked facing towards a house or office building, they create a threat to the occupants of the building.
  • Remove clutter from the car: it ‘sucks the life force out of the driver’.
  • If using wi-fi connections such as Bluetooth, drivers and passengers should drink regular quantities of still water to flush out the effects of this negative and draining energy from their bodies.
  • To get rid of negative energy inside the car, which could affect the driver’s mood, the owner should sit in the car and sing, clap their hands or play music to make a statement that it is now your cleared space and will go forward refreshed and free from past events.
  • Keep the windows clean: this allows chi energy to enter the car from outside. In feng shui terms, the windows are the eyes for the car.
  • Tie a small blue ribbon on the satellite navigation or the rear-view mirror: the colour blue is a representation of Water, the perfect driving state of mind: clear, thoughtful, flowing and clear.
  • Keep a bottle of water in the car for the same reason
  • Sprinkle sea salt crystals on the carpets: they absorb passengers’ negative energy and can be cleaned out regularly taking the negativity with them.

Posted: Mon Apr 17, 2006.   Comments (11)

Brain Gym —
Status: Highly dubious
Based on the description on the Brain Gym website, Brain Gym sounds like a pretty good idea. It's "a program of physical movements that enhance learning and performance in ALL areas." The program, which consists of 26 different exercises, is now being used in a lot of schools to help kids learn. Exercise can definitely improve mental acuity, so having kids do something like this would seem to make sense. But as Ben Goldacre revealed in a recent Bad Science column, the concept is a lot more bogus than it appears at first blush. The reason is that all kinds of dubious and pseudoscientific claims are made on behalf of these exercises. Take, for example, this exercise called "Brain Buttons":

“Make a ‘C’ shape with your thumb and forefinger and place on either side of the breast bone just below the collar bone. Gently rub for 20 or 30 seconds whilst placing your other hand over your navel. Change hands and repeat. This exercise stimulates the flow of oxygen carrying blood through the carotid arteries to the brain to awaken it and increase concentration and relaxation.”

Huh? Then there's another exercise called "The Energizer," which involves shaking your head, because "this back and forward movement of the head increases the circulation to the frontal lobe for greater comprehension and rational thinking."

It sounds to me like the schools should save whatever money they're paying to the Brain Gym organization, and just have the kids go outside and run around for a while.
Posted: Mon Apr 10, 2006.   Comments (18)

Twenty Phobias —
Status: Bogus fears
The BBC invited its readers to tell them what their greatest fears were, and has posted a selection of 20 of the responses. Some of them are hard to take seriously. Especially this one:

The letter Y: "M phobia is all about the letter . Ever time I tr to press it on the ke board, it makes me want to cr . I know it seems sill to ever one else, but it all started when I was a bab , and I swallowed a magnetic letter. At least that's what My mumm and dadd told me an wa ."
Paul Davies, Swindon, UK

This one also seems a bit tongue-in-cheek:

Computers: I'd like to comment, but I'm scared of computers.
Tony Gallagher, Oamaru, New Zealand

(via The Presurfer)

Related Post:
Nov 21, 2003: Bizarre Phobias

Posted: Thu Apr 06, 2006.   Comments (21)

Fake Smiles May Cause Depression —
Status: Medical study
New research by Dr. Dieter Zapf of Frankfurt University suggests that workers who constantly have to pretend to be friendly to customers suffer from higher rates of depression and illness. The Advertiser reports:

Flight attendants, sales personnel and call centre operators are most at risk, say psychologists at Frankfurt University. People in these jobs are more likely to suffer from depression, according to the study released yesterday ahead of publication in consumer magazine Good Advice. "Every time a person is forced to repress his true feelings, there are negative consequences for his health," said Professor Dieter Zapf, a researcher into human emotions.

I'm a little surprised that it was a German professor who did this study, because it's my subjective impression that fake happy workers seem to be more of an American phenomenon than a European one. American waiters, for instance, always want to act as if they're your new best friend, whereas European waiters tend to be a little more formal in how they interact with diners. Though maybe this is changing.
Posted: Fri Mar 17, 2006.   Comments (23)

Fredding —
Status: Undetermined (is it a joke or meant seriously?)
image David Mocknick has written a self-help book that describes a novel new form of stress therapy: Fredding. This involves saying the phrase "Fred! Who's Fred? Ha!" It's not clear to me whether he's serious about this, or if it's all an elaborate joke (in which getting people to think he's serious is part of the joke). An article about his book explains:

Fredding (which can be done in solitaire but works best in a group setting) begins when someone "baits" another person by getting him or her to say a word that rhymes with Fred. When the target -- a waitress in a diner who suggests bread when asked for an alternative to rolls, for example -- falls into the trap, the Fredder calls out, "Bread! Fred! Who's Fred, ha!"

Fredding strikes me as the kind of thing Alan Abel, or someone like him, would dream up. So I'm inclined to classify it as a hoax. But on the other hand, it might actually work as a stress reliever. Though if you actually did this, people would probably think you had Tourette's.
Posted: Thu Jan 12, 2006.   Comments (17)

Indigo Children See The Future —
Status: New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Indigo Children is a new-age term for children whose aura is indigo colored. These are the kids whom medical science would diagnose as being hyperactive or having ADD (and many lay people might diagnose as spoiled brats). But according to the indigo-child theory, these are actually children with very special powers. Nancy Ann Tappe, the psychic who first described the concept, says that Indigo Children are "souls with an evolved consciousness who have come here to help change the vibrations of our lives and create one land, one globe and one species. They are our bridge to the future." The Skeptic's Dictionary has some good info on the subject.

According to an article from the Orange-County Register, one of the powers being attributed to Indigo Children is the ability to see the future. Take this example:

When Carolyn Kaufman was getting her daughter, Ariel Carreno, ready to go, Ariel had an unusual request.
"Mom, we need to take an orange," Ariel said.
"Why?" Carolyn asked. Carolyn explained that this was a pizza party, and that an orange would probably be out of place.But when Ariel insisted, Carolyn grabbed an orange and took it to the party... So Ariel carried her orange into Chuck E. Cheese. The party went just as planned. The kids ate pizza. The kids played games. The parents endured the noise. Then, the birthday girl asked for the strangest thing. An orange.

Wow! The kid brought an orange to a party. Try to explain that, skeptics! Carolyn Kaufman also offers an example about her sony Tomy:

After fights with his sister over what to watch on TV, Tomy has broken five VCRs in the family home using only his energy force, Kaufman said. In some families, kids might get grounded for breaking expensive electronics. Not in Kaufman's house.

I'm sensing it would be great to be a kid in the Kaufman house. You could get away with anything. "It wasn't my fault, Mom. It was my energy force."
Posted: Tue Dec 13, 2005.   Comments (141)

Sexsomnia —
Status: Real (though difficult to accept as an excuse for criminal behavior)
I first reported about the phenomenon of sleep sex over a year ago. It's a rare disorder that causes people to engage in sexual behavior while asleep. It's also potentially one of the greatest excuses for sexual impropriety ever devised. Now there's a case in Canada in which a guy successfully defended himself against charges of sexual assault by arguing that he's a sexsomniac:

Jan Luedecke, 33, met his victim at a party on July 6, 2003, and both had been drinking, the Toronto Sun reported. The woman, who can't be named, fell asleep on a couch and said she awoke to find him having sex with her. She pushed him off, then called the police. Luedecke claimed he fell asleep on the same couch and woke up when he was thrown to the floor. Sleep expert Dr. Colin Shapiro testified Luedecke had sexsomnia, which is sexual behavior during sleep, brought on by alcohol, sleep deprivation and genetics. The judgment outraged women's groups, the newspaper said.

I'm willing to bet that as popular awareness of sexsomnia grows, it'll begin to be used as a defense more and more often. It'll be like the mirror image of the repressed memory mania (i.e. a mania of not remembering, instead of remembering). The phenomenon itself may be real, but it sure seems like it's a malady tailor-made for con artists.
Posted: Wed Nov 30, 2005.   Comments (34)

Fake Smile Test —
Status: Psychology test
image I've linked to a fake smile test before, but this one hosted by the BBC (and designed by Professor Paul Ekman, from the University of California) is more elaborate since it allows you to see actual video clips of people smiling. I did quite badly at differentiating the real from the fake, scoring only 9 out of 20. The blurb at the conclusion of the test notes that "Most people are surprisingly bad at spotting fake smiles. One possible explanation for this is that it may be easier for people to get along if they don't always know what others are really feeling." That made me feel a bit better. The blurb also explains that "when a smile is genuine, the eye cover fold - the fleshy part of the eye between the eyebrow and the eyelid - moves downwards and the end of the eyebrows dip slightly." However, I don't think knowing that will significantly improve anyone's score on the test.
Posted: Tue Nov 15, 2005.   Comments (37)

By-Accident.com —
Status: Hoax Website
image By-Accident.com claims to be a company that will "deliver customized accidents such as rape, assault and past traumatic experiences. All personally tailored to suit your special needs." The idea is that you can fake a traumatic experience in your past, and thereby get all kinds of attention as a victim. The company will even provide (optional) Aesthetic Scar Surgery to make your past "accident" more believable: "You can have any physical damage you want, our trained surgeons promise it won't hurt and the result will be exactly as you wish."

By-Accident.com is a hoax. Satirical elements such as the Christmas Mugging Special make this fairly obvious: "Your chance to avoid stress and become the center of attention during the holiday season!... Get mugged and make sure to have a warm and happy winter!" In addition, the creator of the site didn't do much to hide their identity. The site is registered to someone called Barbara Nordhjem. A quick Google search finds a poster called Malach on pixelex.com stating that: "the page is a prank.. girl making it is a danish artist. Was working for me as a production assistant some time ago."

Of course, even though the site is a hoax, it does have a core of truth to it in that a company offering such a service definitely would find customers. Witness all the fake victims that popped up after 9/11. Victimhood is very appealing to a lot of people. (Thanks to Bob Pagani, aka Cranky Media Guy, for the link.)
Posted: Sun Nov 13, 2005.   Comments (3)

Gene Guess —
Status: Hoax (supposedly a magic trick, but it doesn't work)
I received this polite request this morning:

Dear web master ,
Please review this website that is able to determine a persons sex just by four visual questions.
Name : Gene Guess .com
Link : http://www.geneguess.com
Thank you ,
Pras Til

So here goes: it worked for me, correctly guessing my gender. I suppose it was an interesting ten-second time waster. I don't know why it worked. Obviously it has a 50/50 chance of getting the answer right (unless you're a hermaphrodite, which might trip it up a bit). My theory is that the color choice question must be an important clue, since guys probably tend to pick darker colors than women.

Update: Based on everyone's comments, the gender guesses it makes appear to be totally random. The trick is apparently that it will be right half the time, thus half the people will think it works. And yet it did fool me into wasting time with it.
Posted: Thu Nov 10, 2005.   Comments (37)

Mindbending Software —
Status: Art Project
image Mindbending Software claims to offer programs that will insert subliminal messages into the favorite computer games of your kids, thereby reprogramming them, as they play the games, to do as you wish. Their website states:

Mindbending Software Inc. is a company specialized on psychological conditioning software packages for children. With the newest technologies our products infiltrate the computer games of your kids and mingle various subconscious or conscious conditiong messages and images in the game contents. The technology can be compared with the subconscious pictures in the TV program, and if you don’t know about them, ask yourself why are you buying all those things you don’t need. You see it works ! Our software uses the same and some other patented methods to condition your kids. Try it out, if you aren’t satisfied you’ll get your money back!

Their subliminal control programs include the Tranquilizer™, Intellectualizer™, Selfesteemizer™, and Professionizer™. So is this real? Not really. It's an art project created by Robert Praxmarer. But what gets me is that he actually will allow people to buy the products listed on the site. Or, at least, he'll take their money. Click on the 'Add to Cart' button, and you'll be taken to a PayPal screen that will transfer money to his account. Most hoax sites, by contrast, carefully avoid taking anyone's money, because if they do take money and don't deliver what they've advertised, that's fraud. So maybe Praxmarer really will send some kind of "subliminal" software to people who pay for it. (He wants, on average, over $1000 per program.) But he could still be opening himself up to charges of fraud if the software doesn't work as advertised.
Posted: Thu Nov 03, 2005.   Comments (6)

HETRACIL Anti-Effeminate Medication —
Status: Hoax
image According to the HETRACIL website, "HETRACIL is the most widely prescribed anti-effeminate medication in the United States, helping 16 million Americans who suffer from Behavioral Effeminism and Male Homosexuality Disorder." In other words, it's supposedly a drug to treat homosexuality. The look and feel of the site is pretty convincing, perfectly imitating the bland soothing nature of other pharmaceutical sites. And it's plausible that some drug company could try to devise such a product, given that up until the late 1960s the American Psychiatric Association actually did list homosexuality in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders as a psychiatric disorder. However, as far as I know, no drug company is currently developing a treatment for homosexuality. In other words, HETRACIL is a hoax. This is revealed on homomojo.com in an interview with Benjamin, the creator of the HETRACIL site. The interview explains that "What he intended with these creations was to spur conversation on a “what if” scenario in which a cure for homosexuality (or at least feminine tendencies) becomes a reality. What would be the ramifications to society if sexual orientation could be manipulated?"
Posted: Mon Oct 31, 2005.   Comments (25)

Tom Cruise Lectures on Modern Science of Mental Health —
Status: Hoax
A press release that appeared during the past week on pressbox.co.uk declared that Tom Cruise would be delivering a series of four lectures at a scientology centre in Los Angeles on "topics related to 'The Modern Science of Mental Health.'" The press release turned out to be a hoax, getting a stern response from Cruise's lawyer: "It's totally phony... Tom is not giving any lectures... I'm going to look into it, because, in my view, it's forgery, wire fraud and apparently committed on an interstate basis. So, if I can find out who did this, I certainly intend to pursue every remedy I can find." The press release has now been removed from pressbox, so in the interest of posterity, here it is:

Continuing his vigorous advocacy for Scientology's solutions to mental health problems, Tom Cruise will deliver a series of four lectures on topics related to "The Modern Science of Mental Health" beginning next month. Co-sponsored by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, the lectures will be held at Scientology's Celebrity Centre International in Los Angeles. All lectures will be free to the public. Due to limited seating at the Celebrity Centre, tickets will be available only to Scientology parishioners and selected members of the press, but the lectures will be simulcast on the web, and a live video feed will be available for broadcasters who wish to cover these highly informative presentations.

The first lecture, set for October 15, is titled "How Psychiatry Invented Schizophrenia, and What Scientologists Can Do About It".

The second lecture, tentatively scheduled for October 22, is on "Handling Sexual Dis-Orientation: Out of the Closet and Into the Auditing Room".

The topic of the third lecture, in early November, will be "Diagnosis and Treatment of So-Called Clinical Depression with the Hubbard Mark Super VII Quantum Electropsychometer".

The fourth lecture is "Neuroanatomical Changes Resulting from Chronic Methamphetamine Abuse: Can Narconon's Sauna and Niacin Treatment Program Help?"

Transcripts of each lecture will be made available after the broadcast.

(via A Socialite's Life)
Posted: Wed Sep 28, 2005.   Comments (13)

Cheese Can Cause Nightmares —
Status: Old wives' tale disproven by science
At last I can return to my nocturnal cheese-eating ways, now that I know eating the stuff won't cause me nightmares... Actually I had never heard any rumor associating cheese with nightmares, but apparently researchers at The Dairy Council had, because they designed an experiment to disprove the fallacy. With the help of 200 volunteers they determined "cheese may actually help you have a good night's sleep." But stay away from Stilton, which caused an uptick in odd and vivid dreams. Cheddar made people dream about Jordan and Johnny Depp (which sounds to me like nightmare material).
Posted: Tue Sep 20, 2005.   Comments (30)

Fake Memories Fight Flab — Here's an ingenious way to lose weight: give yourself false memories to trick yourself into believing that you actually hate all the food you love. This technique is being pioneered by memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus, of UC Irvine:

In her latest work, her team convinced volunteers that they had been sick after eating strawberry ice cream as a child. Loftus and her colleagues gave 228 undergraduate students questionnaires about food. The volunteers subsequently received feedback on their questionnaires that suggested they had had an unpleasant experience related to food in the past. The researchers told them this conclusion had been generated by a sophisticated computer program. A control group of 107 received no feedback.
It was found that 41 per cent of the first group took on the false childhood memory and were more averse to eating strawberry ice cream afterwards.

All my life I've hated fish because of an unpleasant childhood memory of my German grandfather gouging out the eyeball of a fish at the dinner table and eating it (in Germany they eat all parts of the fish). But what if this memory is a false one? I could become a fish lover. Though I wonder if it's possible to give people fake good memories of food. Or does the memory trick only work in a negative way?
Posted: Thu Aug 04, 2005.   Comments (15)

The Piano Man — In the past few days the 'Piano Man' has been getting a lot of attention. He's a guy who was found "wandering on a windswept road on the Isle of Sheppey". He was dripping wet and very confused. The authorities took him to a hospital where the staff discovered that although the guy refuses to say a word, and they have no idea of his identity, he is an accomplished piano player. He's now been at the hospital for a couple of weeks, during which time he hasn't said a word, but he loves to play the piano. All of this seems very similar to the case of the pianist David Helfgott, who was depicted in the 1996 film Shine starring Geoffrey Rush. The cases seem so similar that some people are suspecting it's some kind of hoax or prank. I really doubt it's a hoax. It sounds like he's been at the hospital long enough that the staff would have seen through it by now if the guy were just putting on an act. (thanks to KJ for forwarding some links about this)
Update: My wife pointed this out to me. Could the Piano Man be a modern-day Princess Caraboo?
Update 2: A Polish mime claims that he knows the Piano Man and says that he's a French street musician named Steven Villa Masson. This has yet to be confirmed.
Posted: Tue May 17, 2005.   Comments (28)

Does Email Cause IQ Loss? — A widely reported story last week stated that a study conducted by Hewlett Packard found that "Workers distracted by email and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers." Sounded like bad news for people like myself who are constantly checking email. But Mind Hacks has examined the study a little more closely and found its results aren't all they're cracked up to be. What the test actually found is that people do worse on IQ tests if they're simultaneously trying to answer email and phone calls. Which isn't surprising. But this 'IQ loss' only lasts for as long as the distractions last. In other words, you're not really losing any intelligence. Reading email simply stopped people from focusing on the test.
Posted: Wed Apr 27, 2005.   Comments (6)

Fake Smiles and Women’s Intuition — A study conducted by Professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire and the Edinburgh International Science Festival has found that women may not be as intuitive as they think they are. In fact, men may be more intuitive than women. Study participants "were asked to look at ten pairs of photographs showing smiling faces. One of the smiles in each pair was genuine and the other was fake, and people had to spot the genuine smile." You can take this fake-smile test yourself and see how intuitive you are. I only scored 5 out of 10, so I must not be intuitive at all. However, I have a few doubts about the study. First of all, how do they judge the difference between a fake smile and a real smile? In all the sets of photos the people are obviously posing, so what makes one posed smile real and another posed smile fake? Also, I'm not sure how much you can tell about intuition by looking at pictures, because body language, which isn't conveyed in these still images, has a lot to do with intuition.
Posted: Sun Apr 17, 2005.   Comments (31)

Paul Harvey Riddle — Gary C. sent me this riddle which has been doing the rounds on email for quite a while, though I had never seen it before. As Gary pointed out, the interesting thing about this is not whether it really is a Paul Harvey riddle (I have no clue), or even the riddle itself. It's the claim that 80% of kindergarten kids got the answer while 83% of Stanford graduates were unable to. Instead of trying to track down whether or not a group of Stanford graduates ever has been tested with this riddle, I thought I'd do the next best thing. Take an unscientific poll of Museum of Hoaxes readers to see how many of you are able to figure out the answer right away vs. aren't able to. That'll give a rough approximation of the percentage of (presumably over-kindergarten age) people able to solve the riddle, assuming people answer the poll honestly.

I have to admit that I couldn't get the answer. I finally gave up and googled for the answer.

If you've seen the riddle before and already know the answer, then base your response to the poll on the first time you ever saw the riddle. Did you figure out the answer immediately? If you were in kindergarten when you first were given the riddle, then don't respond to the poll.

I put the answer in a link below for those people, like myself, unable to figure it out.

Paul Harvey RIDDLE:
When asked this riddle, 80% of kindergarten kids got the answer, compared to 17% of Stanford University seniors.

What is greater than God, More evil than the devil, The poor have it, The rich need it, And if you eat it, you'll die?

Send this to 10 people and then press shift and you will get the answer.
P.S. You won't believe this, but this really does give you the answer!!!!

The Answer
Posted: Sat Feb 12, 2005.   Comments (214)

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