Monday, August 12, 2013

Quirkology


Before you begin reading, see if you can figure out what's wrong / quirky about the cover page on the left.

I admit - I'm a sucker for these kind of books. The Malcolm Gladwells and the Nassim Talebs of the world can make all their money off me. I enjoy these 'There's no end to the strangeness of the world' books. I know perfectly well that there's probably a catch to most of the research being quoted in these books, and that some of it may be out of context, but there it is.

Quirkology is a fun read. It's a quick summary of some of the quirky investigations researchers have been doing over the last century or so. Are the religious truly better people than the non-religious? What's the funniest joke in the world? Does astrology actually work? Are some houses really haunted?

The areas covered are vast and eclectic - superstition, decision-making techniques, humour, honesty, altruism, and many more. The research varies from truly quirky to investigations into something we all really wanted to know. The results vary from 'Meh. We all knew that anyway' to amusing.

An example of the former - to differentiate between a fake smile and a real smile, look at the eyes. Right - as if we didn't know that already. An example of the latter - about 50% of priests, when given a cheque 'by mistake', didn't bother to correct the mistake; they went ahead and cashed it! Priests also turned out to be Bad Samaritans, not bothering to help a passer-by who was clearly in need of help.

Apart from such quirky experiments, there's also simple data analysis to find answers to strange questions. For example, there's less traffic on Friday the 13th - people actually stay at home out of superstition! People with unusual first names tend to have unusual lives as well - either they're more successful than other people, or they tend to go to jail more! Another interesting aspect is how suggestibility results in people choosing professions that are linked to their names - for example, Bun the Baker, Peter Atchoo the pneumonia specialist and of course, Richard Wiseman the psychology professor!

Overall, an interesting read. Wiseman, despite being an academic, writes engagingly. The only complaint I had is that sometimes the book felt like nothing more than a compilation of research, with very few linkages in between.
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3 comments:

Igirit said...

Read your review right after my new and improved daily newspaper regimen - and see what I found:

http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/life-is-long-gamma/article5016231.ece

I've had Black Swan in my collection for a long time now, but never gotten around to reading it. You make the genre sound pretty damn interesting, I think I;ll give it a try! :)

Devika Rajeev said...

@Igirit: Haha! Read this: http://www.damninteresting.com/the-baader-meinhof-phenomenon/

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