Just as some women can look forward to their monthly dose of gossip under the hairdresser’s dryer (“only at the salon”), I also look forward to my weekly dose of science. I can’t help it, but I am simply obsessed with scientific research. There are worse disorders in the world.
The studies that affect me the most are the ones with a zany twist. It is precisely this fun factor that enhances the power of scientific research. For example, my favorite study, which has been number one in my personal top ten for years, is a study in which the researchers taught themselves a magic trick. I could tell you all about it, but the best thing to do is just to take a look at it: watch and marvel. The first time I heard of this ‘choice blindness’ study, I almost fainted with amazement: how could a simple magic trick teach us so much about human nature?
We are just all talk
What this research teaches us is that we are simply blind to the choices we make and that our reasoning for these choices is more of an afterthought, dubbed the chic term ‘post-rationalization’. So we’re just all talk. The reasons why I bought that house or those new trainers? I may tell you a wonderful story, but it is actually just all talk. And this magisterial insight into human nature was gleaned from a magic trick. Brilliant.
Choice blindness is the finding that participants both often fail to notice mismatches between their decisions and the outcome of their choice and, in addition, endorse the opposite of their chosen alternative.”Johansson, Hall, et al (2014) in Behavioral Decision Making
Wise lessons learnt from a fart spray
The other day I stumbled upon another research project that immediately made it into my top ten. Not a magic trick this time, but rather a fart spray. This research shows that morality does not necessarily spring from applying the categorical imperative of Kant or from a sentiment or feeling, as David Hume purported, but can easily be influenced by something natural, something biological. The researchers show that your moral considerations are affected when you find yourself in a room that smells because it has been sprayed with fart spray. In other words, when we experience stench we are also more likely to find that the idea of having sex with a cousin stinks, or any other kind of situation that we are quick to find morally wrong.
Success or trust?
Personally, I also like to add a somewhat wacky, quirky layer to my research. For example, in one of my studies, I examined the effect of a male consultant’s face width on the likelihood that you would invite that consultant to discuss a business matter with you. It does indeed turn out that men with wide faces are successful: they achieve higher profits when you make them a CEO, score more home runs when you put them on the baseball field, and survive sooner when you put them in a war situation. So a broad male face communicates success.
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But there is also a downside to that broad face. In fact, men with broad faces are also more likely to lie and cheat (maybe that’s how they achieve that success?). Consequently, for a “one-night-stand”, women prefer a man with a broad face, but for a long-term relationship they prefer a man with a narrow face. My research showed that when it comes to hiring a consultant, most people prefer trust over success and therefore prefer a consultant with a narrow face to one with a broad face. So you can see that even in a business context, we are influenced by the strangest things.
Nobel Prize for crackpot research
Did you know that there is even a special prize for wacky scientific research? The Ig Nobel Prize is awarded every year, a week before the announcement of the real Nobel Prize winners, to research that raises eyebrows, makes you laugh, but ultimately teaches you a lot. For example, researchers who won an Ig Nobel Prize studied the correlation between the BMI of a minister and his or her propensity for corruption, or the stress that people experience when they hear others make smacking sounds when eating. The Ig Nobel Prize has now passed its cult status and is no longer considered satire but a prestigious award nowadays. It is precisely the wacky side to this type of research that lingers and makes you think. That is why the best scientists are just plain crazy.
I wish you all a mind-blowingly crazy 2022! May many brilliant ideas be born in that wonderful brain of yours!
About this column:
In a weekly column, alternately written by Willemijn Brouwer, Eveline van Zeeland, Eugène Franken, Helen Kardan, Katleen Gabriels, Carina Weijma, Bernd Maier-Leppla and Colinda de Beer, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, sometimes joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way to find solutions to the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous articles.
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