Quirkology

The New Scientist website has an article by Richard Wiseman, the author of Quirkology: The curious science of everyday lives. (Alerted by a post on Boing Boing.) The author defines quirkology as “the use of scientific methods to study quirky human behaviour, or quirky methods to probe weightier topics.” In the article, he enumerates his eight favorite studies of the quirky. One is of a British study of speed-dating, in which Wiseman was a co-author, similar to the one noted previously, see Desperado. He observes,

The results showed that the secret of a good chat-up line is to encourage someone to talk about themselves in a quirky, fun way. So the best line from the top-rated man was “If you were on Stars In Their Eyes, which celebrity would you be?” On a similar theme, the top-rated female asked “If you were a pizza topping, what would you be?”. And what shouldn’t you say? One of the least successful lines was “I have a PhD in computing.”

Other studies on the list include one about the comedic properties of the “k” sound, which may offer an explanation for why Pepsi will always be second to Coca Cola:

The hard “k” often forces the face to smile (say “quack”), which may explain why the sound is associated with happiness. Whatever the explanation, if you want to make someone feel happy, offer them a cookie, not a sandwich, and a Coke, not a Pepsi.

Another explores our superstitious fear of contagion.

One of the key categories of superstitious thinking is the “law of contagion”, which says that when an object has been in contact with someone, it somehow acquires their “essence”. Psychologist Paul Rozin and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania have investigated how common such thinking is today.

They asked people to rate how they would feel about wearing a nice, soft, blue jumper that had been freshly laundered – but previously worn by someone else. As they varied the fictitious previous wearers of the jumper, it became clear how strongly people follow the age-old belief in magical contagion.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the volunteers were unhappiest about wearing the jumper if they were told it had previously belonged to a serial killer. On the whole they would rather have worn a sweater that had been dropped in dog faeces and not washed – raising genuine health concerns – than a laundered sweater that had been worn by a mass murderer.

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One response to “Quirkology

  1. Pingback: Yellow fever « The Gleaners

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