Demand characteristics and body part illusions

Studying cognitive psychology is hard because we have no direct access to people’s minds. As a result, we often have to rely on studies of behaviour and infer what people must be thinking.

But the behaviour may not be authentic. People may not behave as they normally would during an experiment, but instead behave the way they think the experiments are expecting. There is often as subtle desire to try to please the experimenter and give them what they want. This idea is called “demand characteristics” and the this article describes new research that uses this idea to question a common body part illusion.

In psychological experiments the study design must take into consideration the fact that subjects subconsciously try to figure out what the experimenter wants and then gives it to them. Any subtle cue that one response is more desired than another can affect the outcome. So the influence of demand characteristics must be carefully controlled for.

Source: Demand Characteristics in Psychological Research | NeuroLogica Blog

Untangling the myths about Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage is probably the most famous patient in the field of neuroscience. His story has been told over and over in psychology and medical courses. In 1848, Gage was injured when a large steel rod was driven through his skull by an explosion. Gage, the story goes, lived for 12 years following the severe damage to his brain, but he was a changed man. He became a “dirty, scary, sociopathic drifter”, apparently due to the damage to his frontal cortex.

But is that what really happened? This interesting article digs deeper to find out how Gage lived out his life, and attempts to debunk the many myths about his changed behaviour.

Recent historical work, however, suggests that much of the canonical Gage story is hogwash, a mélange of scientific prejudice, artistic license, and outright fabrication. In truth each generation seems to remake Gage in its own image, and we know very few hard facts about his post-accident life and behavior.

Source: Phineas Gage, Neuroscience’s Most Famous Patient – Slate – Pocket

A glitch in the matrix?

Can science explain Deja Vu or is it a glitch in the matrix?

We encounter a situation that is similar to an actual memory but we can’t fully recall that memory. So our brain recognizes the similarities between our current experience and one in the past. We’re left with a feeling of familiarity that we can’t quite place.

Source: Can Science Explain Deja Vu?

Harry Houdini interpreted

Harry Houdini continues to fascinate…

There are daredevils who scale the Eiffel Tower, or leap across the Great Wall of China on a skateboard, or plunge over Niagara Falls in a barrel, but they don’t provoke endless interpretation years after their exploits; most movie stuntmen retire into knobby oblivion. Houdini’s strangeness and ambition—the nakedness, the liberationist triumphs—still fascinate us. A little guy who always escaped, he flourished in a century that saw mass incarceration, mass murder, the humiliation and destruction of entire populations.

Source: Harry Houdini and the Art of Escape

Should we use cell phone tracking during the pandemic?

Another interesting discussion this morning:

I think a lot of people jump to a scenario where someone is identified by their cellphone location and then either ordered into quarantine or people are warned that they may have infected others, leading to stigmatization or hate speech, etc. And yes, if we talk about individual-level identification and personal level use of the location information, then there are reasons to have strong protections and safeguards in place. But if we’re talking about just trying to detect patterns so we can allocate resources and determine whether we are making any progress fighting the pandemic, then we shouldn’t be so quick to just shout “No way!” Or should we?

Canada could track COVID-19 through cellphones: experts

Ban targeted advertising?

This is an interesting discussion: Should we simply ban all behavioural advertising and take away the incentives to collect massive amounts of personal information?


If companies couldn’t use our data to target ads, they would have no reason to gobble it up in the first place, and no opportunity to do mischief with it later. From that fact flowed a straightforward fix: “Ban the right of companies to use personal data for advertising targeting.”

Source: Why Don’t We Just Ban Targeted Advertising?

Junk science in the courtroom

New research on psychological tests has

found that many tests used in courtrooms are considered scientifically unreliable; in the headline, the journal dubbed them “junk science.”

A team of lawyers and psychologists reviewed 364 exams used in the legal system, finding a third of them don’t pass muster with forensic mental health experts.

Source: A New Study Challenges the Reliability of Court Psych Exams

Cell phone services in Canada are too expensive

Canadians continue to pay very high prices for data services. As a result, our data usage is artificially reduced, causing concerns for an economy trying to grow innovative services.

Canadian consumers are being hit with the worst of both worlds: less data use per month than the vast majority of OECD countries alongside over a billion dollars in overage fees.

Source: The Consequence of Uncompetitiveness: Canadians Ration Wireless Data As Monthly Usage Ranks Among the Lowest in the OECD – Michael Geist

A firm stance on ePrivacy regulations in Europe

computerEurope is preparing to take a firm stance on new digital privacy rules. This will likely have a huge impact on online advertising, and any company who wants to expand their services to Europe.

“Would you allow a stranger to go into your bedroom or look through your drawers without your permission?” she asked. “No, you probably wouldn’t.” The same concept, she added, should apply to the online world.