Hungry Eyes See More Cookies: Food Deprivation and Perceptual Discrimination

Are you hungry, yet? How long has it been since you have eaten? Are you cranky and tired? I am as I write this piece.  I went on an unexpected food deprivation plan, thanks to a recent trip to Central America. I can’t wait to eat more than toast, applesauce, and bananas again. Food deprivation […]

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Muslims, Gays, and Vowels: Psychophysics Explains Biases in Demographic Estimates

What percentage of Americans are Muslim? What percentage of Americans are LGBT individuals? What percentage of Americans are Christian? Think about it and take real guesses. If you are like the average person, your guesses were likely overestimates of the real numbers for the smaller percentages (for Muslims; for LGBT), and underestimates for the larger […]

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Asking questions like an Italian: Get quick answers with your hands

What’s the first thing that comes to mind in response to “Italian”? Lots of things probably, from Lamborghini to cannelloni and Bertolucci. Perhaps you also thought of how Italians talk. Even if we don’t speak Italian, we probably know that Italians do a lot of talking with their hands: in case you have any doubt, […]

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How long till today’s cigarette will make me ill? Time estimation revisited

Today’s cigarette may yield considerable satisfaction to a smoker, although that satisfaction will likely pale in comparison to the disutility arising from that person’s lung cancer in the future. Likewise, today’s Big Mac and extra-large bag of potato chips may gratify the consumer but the long-term consequences—from obesity to diabetes to heart attacks—are unlikely to […]

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Open but not rugged: The awe-inspiring vastness of the Nullarbor

Have you ever experienced “vastness”? Have you driven across a vast expanse of space that stretches from horizon to horizon seemingly without limit? If not, then I can recommend the Australian Nullarbor (pronounced “null-ah-bore”), the treeless arid expanse of red soil and scrubs in between Eucla in Western Australia and Ceduna in South Australia. It […]

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Bob better had a round face and Kirk a square jaw: People are liked better if their names go with their faces

What does Bob look like? … Bob who? … No, just Bob, any Bob. And while you are at it, what does Kirk look like? At first glance those questions appear absurd. How could anyone infer an unknown person’s looks from their name? Why would the average Bob look any different from the average Kirk? […]

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When too much inhibition freezes ducks and bunnies into their perceptual place

Our perception of the world is flexible and depends on our expectations, our experience, and on cues around us. Ambiguous images, whose identity can change depending on our interpretation, offer a striking illustration of this flexibility. Perhaps the best-known and best-studied ambiguous image is the rabbit-duck, first brought to psychologists’ attention by Jastrow in 1899. […]

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From scatter (plot) to statistical perception: you can see a lot by looking

Yogi Berra once famously said that “You can observe a lot by watching”. Yogi Berra observed and said a lot of things, but this line has a lot going for it. The idea that information can be gathered by “just looking” entered statistics many decades ago. For example, John Tukey, one of the 20th century’s […]

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2 eyes, 4 targets, and 8 moving disks: Lagging gazes in object tracking

We keep track of multiple objects every day. When we drive, we need to keep track of the cyclist near the curb, the dump truck bearing down on us from behind, and the lost tourist in front of us who is signaling turns at random. When we are on the beach on a family outing, […]

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