Derek Sivers

Quirkology - by Richard Wiseman

Quirkology - by Richard Wiseman

ISBN: 0465090796
Date read: 2016-03-02
How strongly I recommend it: 2/10
(See my list of 320+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Cute stories about surprising research on curious aspects of everyday life. I loved these stories the first time I heard them : in everyone else's books. If I would have read this book first, I might have loved it. This author is the one who did the original studies, but his work has been so quoted by others that I found myself quickly skimming through, too familiar.

my notes

Quirkology uses scientific methods to study the more curious aspects of everyday life.

High self-monitors tend to be concerned with how other people see them. They are happy being the center of attention, can easily adapt their behavior to suit the situation in which they find themselves, and are skilled at manipulating how others see them.

We don’t smile simply because we are happy, but rather to let others know that we are happy.

Only 4 percent of bowlers smiled when they obtained a good score, but they were facing away from their colleagues. However, when the bowlers turned around and looked at their friends, 42 percent of them had a huge smile.

Many people become superstitious to help them cope with uncertainty.

Almost every week in Britain, a truly amazing coincidence takes place, an event that we know is extremely unlikely to happen by chance alone. In fact, the odds of this event’s happening are 15 million to one: Someone wins the lottery jackpot. Why does this unlikely event routinely happen week after week? Because a huge number of people buy lottery tickets. It is exactly the same with other coincidences. There are millions of people in the world living complex lives, and so it is not surprising that once in a while someone wins the coincidence jackpot and experiences a genuinely unlikely event.

The room contained a low-frequency sound wave that fell below the human hearing threshold. These waves, usually referred to as “infrasound,” can’t be heard, they carry a relatively large amount of energy, and so are capable of producing weird effects. The potential to vibrate the chest, affect respiration, and produce gagging, headaches, and coughing. Additional research suggested that certain frequencies can also cause vibration of the eyeballs and therefore the distortion of vision. The waves can also move small objects and surfaces and even cause the strange flickering of a candle flame. Vic speculated that some buildings contain infrasound (perhaps caused by strong winds blowing across an open window, or the rumble of nearby traffic), and that the strange effects of such low-frequency waves might cause some people to believe that the place is haunted.

People whose hearts were already beating faster would be more likely to find someone attractive.

When the men on the high bridge were approached by the female market researcher, they unconsciously attributed their increased heart rates to her rather than to the bridge.

Two ducks were sitting in a pond. One of the ducks said: “Quack.” The other duck said: “I was going to say that!”

Those who had their faces forced into a smile felt happier. Words featuring the k sound force the face into a smile. This may account for why we associate the sound with happiness: the “comedy k” effect.

Woody Allen once remarked: “Most of the time I don’t have much fun, the rest of the time I don’t have fun at all.”

Man goes to a psychoanalyst. The analyst gets out a stack of cards containing ink blots, shows them to the man one at a time, and asks him to say what the ink-blots remind him of. The man looks at the first ink blot and says, “Sex.” Then he looks at the second ink blot and says, “Sex,” again. In fact, he goes through the whole stack of images, saying the word “sex” in response to every one. The psychiatrist looks concerned and says, “I don’t wish to worry you, but you seem to have sex on the mind.” The man looks surprised, and answers, “I can’t believe you just said that—you are the one with all the dirty pictures.”

There is a natural incompatibility between religious fundamentalism and humor. The creation and appreciation of humor requires a sense of playfulness, an enjoyment of incongruity (“Two fish in a tank . . . ”), and a high tolerance for uncertainty. Humor also frequently involves mixing elements that don’t go together, that threaten authority, and that contain sexually explicit material. In addition, the act of laughter involves a loss of self-control and self-discipline. All these elements, argues Saroglou, are the antithesis of religious fundamentalism.

Humor is the shortest distance between two people.

A dog goes into a telegraph office, takes a blank form, and writes: “Woof Woof. Woof Woof Woof. Woof Woof Woof Woof.” The clerk examines the paper and politely tells the dog: “There are only nine words here. You could send another ‘Woof’ for the same price.” The dog looks confused and replies, “But that would make no sense at all.”

One shopper managed to get twenty-nine items through the express line.

About 80 percent of the transgressors were female van drivers. 96 percent of female van drivers exceeded the speed limit, compared to just 86 percent of male van drivers. 94 percent of motorists failed to comply with the sign, versus 99 percent of female van drivers. People parking their vehicles in a prohibited fire zone at a shopping center. Again, female van drivers were the least compliant, accounting for about 35 percent of all violations. He has speculated that women are still getting used to their newfound power in society, and may have developed an unconscious need to outdo behaviors previously associated with men, such as breaking speed limits, parking in restricted areas, and ignoring traffic signs.

1997, U.S. News and World Report conducted a poll in which they asked Americans who was “somewhat likely” to go to heaven. Bill Clinton didn’t do too badly, with 52 percent of respondents thinking that he would be welcome at the pearly gates. Diana, Princess of Wales, fared a little better with 60 percent of the vote, and in second place came Mother Teresa with 79 percent. But who won the poll, scoring a massive 87 percent? Most people placed themselves on top.

People in high-population cities tend to experience a greater amount of “sensory overload.” They are constantly being bombarded with information from other people, their cell phones, traffic, and advertising. As a result, they do what all systems tend to do when receiving too much information—they set priorities, and they spend less time dealing with the sources competing for their attention.

Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and San Jose (Costa Rica) heading the list of highly helpful countries. Lilongwe (Malawi) in Africa came in third. Singapore (Singapore), New York (United States), and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) filled the bottom three places. The differences were far from trivial. In Rio de Janeiro and Lilongwe, “blind” experimenters were helped across the street on every occasion, whereas in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur they encountered only a 50 percent success rate.

Zimbardo secretly filmed what happened when he left a used car unlocked with its hood up on a street opposite New York University. After just ten minutes, a passing car stopped and a family got out. The mother quickly removed items of value from the interior of the car, the father removed the radiator with a hacksaw, and their child rooted through the trunk. About fifteen minutes later, another two men jacked up the car and removed its tires. Over the next few hours, other people stripped the vehicle until nothing of value remained. In just two days, Zimbardo secretly filmed more than twenty instances of destruction (mostly committed by middle-class white adults in broad daylight), and the resulting carnage was so bad that two trucks were required to remove the wrecked car from the street. Zimbardo then left a similar car (again with its hood raised) in a location that had a much greater sense of community—opposite Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. In stark contrast to the events that took place in New York City, not one instance of vandalism was recorded over the course of a week. When it started to rain, one passerby lowered the car’s hood to protect the motor. When Zimbardo eventually went to remove the car, three people called the police to report that an abandoned car was being stolen.

---- 2nd reading in 2019:

The universal horoscope:
You have a need for other people to like and admire you.
You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.
You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage.
While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them.
Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside.
At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing.
You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations.
You pride yourself as an independent thinker, and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof.
But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others.
At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved.
Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.

Chronopsychology: study of time and mind.

Lucky people were optimistic, energetic, and open to new opportunities and experiences.
Unlucky people were more withdrawn, clumsy, anxious about life, and unwilling to make the most of the opportunities that came their way.

Novelty and sensation seeking are fundamental aspects of our personalities.
High sensation seekers can’t stand watching movies that they have seen before, enjoy being around unpredictable people, and are attracted to dangerous sports such as mountain climbing or bungee-rope jumping.
Low sensation seekers like to see the same movies again and again, enjoy the comfortable familiarity of old friends, and don’t like visiting places that they haven’t been to before.

The month in which people are born exerts a small, but real, influence over the way in which they behave.
Those with summer births were the risk takers.
Those born in the summer (March to August) also rated themselves as luckier than those born in the winter (September to February).
The resulting levels of luckiness across the twelve months showed an undulating pattern that peaked in May and was at its lowest in October.
Only June failed to fit the pattern - something that we put down to a statistical blip.
Those born in the summer months of the Southern Hemisphere (September to February) considered themselves significantly luckier than those born in winter (March to August).

The rich and famous were prepared to misreport their birthdays so that they could bask in the reflected glory of well-known days of the year.
Louis Armstrong claimed to have been born on July 4. However, he was actually born on August 4.
Some parents deliberately misreported the dates of their children’s births to make the events seem astrologically “auspicious.”
Such parents could have then subsequently provided their children with the schooling, and other resources, required to turn these alleged “heavenly predictions” into self-fulfilling prophecies.

Three American presidents, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe, all died on July 4, thus raising the intriguing possibility that they held on long enough to ensure an auspicious date of death.
Chinese death records around the event showed that the death rate dipped by 35 percent in the week before the festival and peaked by the same amount in the week after.
A woman is more likely to die during the week after her birthday than at any other time of the year.
A man is more likely to die during the week before his birthday.

Men in the “pessimistic” group were far more likely to die from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and accidents than those in the “neutral” group.
Men in the “optimistic” group exhibited a far lower mortality rate than those in the other two groups.

Most people tell about two important lies each day.
A third of conversations involve some form of deception.
Four in five lies remain undetected.
More than 60 percent of adults have cheated on their partners at least once.

High self-monitors tend to draw the letter Q in a way in which it could be seen by someone facing them.
Low self-monitors tend to draw the letter Q in a way in which it could be read by themselves.
High self-monitors tend to be concerned with how other people see them. They are happy being the center of attention, can easily adapt their behavior to suit the situation in which they find themselves, and are skilled at manipulating how others see them. As a result, they tend to be good at lying.
Low self-monitors come across as being the “same person” in different situations.
Their behavior is guided more by their inner feelings and values, and they are less aware of their impact on those around them. They also tend to lie less in life, and therefore are not as skilled at deceit as high self-monitors.

People tried their best to identify lies. None of the groups performed better than chance.

On lying:
Body language is often so misleading.
Use of language becomes a far more reliable guide to the truth.
Liars tend to say less, and to provide fewer details, than truth-tellers.
Liars include fewer references to themselves, and their feelings.
Truth-tellers know that they have forgotten certain details and are happy to admit it.

We don’t smile simply because we are happy, but rather to let others know that we are happy.

Subliminal messages: The lack of evidence to support a link between televised subliminal messages and behavior has not stopped present-day politicians from worrying about the possible effect of subtle signals on voters.

Those with unusual names were significantly more likely than the control group to be diagnosed as psychotic.

Online dating profiles:
70 percent “this is me” versus 30 percent “this is what I am looking for” balance attracted the greatest number of replies.

A serious work in philosophy could be written entirely of jokes.

We help people who are like us - similar in age, background, and fashion sense.
It all makes sense from an evolutionary viewpoint. People who look and behave like us are more likely than others to be genetically related to us, or at least from the same tribe.