Psychology Experiments

Scott Adam’s blog is very, very funny. He is often thought provoking and usually hilarious on subjects ranging from the frivolous – such as the ethics of walking naked from the shower (and is it OK to twirl?) – to the serious – like the question of whether Iran is trying to build nukes.

A lot of the fun comes from reading the comments. He even has funny readers and Scott has a particular talent for riling them up by taking non-stands on issues where clearly, according to his readers, he should taking a stand.

Scott recently formulated an Adamesque set of rules for debating. The highlight was a rule that says, if someone asks a question and the respondent tries to change the question before answering, the questioner wins by a knockout. That was pretty funny until Scott started asking some questions of the form :

Hypothetical parody of a serious contemporary issue with only two possible responses

  • First answer is immoral
  • Second answer is illogical

The knockout rules preclude changing the question and so Scott provided a valuable service to psychology (and dictators) by demonstrating that most people would rather be seen as immoral than illogical. A few killjoys (including me, I am ashamed to say) missed the point and thought it was an exercise in debating or politics or philosophy or science.

A follow-up experiment to see whether people are willing to justify their immorality precisely because the only alternative is illogical would be interesting.

Since reading Opening Skinner’s Box, Jeff and I have often fantasized about a school science experiment that is ostensibly about one thing but is actually about another. A favorite idea would be a project that tests my theory that if an object is about to fall from a table, men are more likely to try to catch it and women are more likely to put their hands in the air and say “eek!” A few isolated experiments seem to confirm the theory but we need more data to be sure.

Spoken like a Portuguese

I find the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis – the idea that thought is constrained by language – to be fascinating.

Here’s a variation on it from The Guardian

Take the Portuguese president of the European commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, for example. Barroso has an extraordinary knack: when he speaks English he not only talks but thinks like an Englishman; when he speaks French, he not only talks but thinks like a Frenchman. To hear him alternate from one to the other can be quite disconcerting, almost as if he’s switching between a left and right brain.

A Man for All Seasons

Andrew Sullivan just watched A Man for all Seasons which tells the tale of Thomas More’s struggles with Henry VIII over the relationship between religion, the law and executive power.

Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you – where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast – man’s laws, not God’s – and if you cut them down – and you’re just the man to do it – d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

I have the DVD at home. Need to watch it again.