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Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things Paperback – September 30, 2008
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If you enjoy these kinds of conversations, you will love this book. (It even includes a list of the factoids most likely to prompt discussion). Psychologist Richard Wiseman has conducted a number of studies over the years looking into the ways that people behave and also reports on some other people's experiments. Some of the things that I learned while reading this book were:
- How asking people to trace the letter Q on their forehead is a good predictor of how good a liar they are.
- How our memories can be tricked into creating false memories and why this happens.
- How a waiter can dramatically increase his chances of getting a tip.
- Why you are more likely to be attracted to people when you're in a precarious situation that elevates your heart-rate (so maybe Hollywood storylines aren't so far-fetched after all)
- That words containing the "K" sound are especially likely to make people laugh, because of the way they contort the facial muscles.
The book is written in a lively and entertaining fashion and in parts is very amusing. While it's quite disjointed, it held my interest throughout. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest why people behave the way they do. Our behavior is more predictable than we think.
Each experiment is described in as little as a paragraph, or as much as a chapter. Old favorites like the Milgram "Obediance to Authority" experiments make an appearance, and some of the recent experiments discussed got a lot of press ("what is the funniest joke in the world"), but most of the content will be new to most readers.
Topics include studies of personal ads and pickup lines, determining which are most effective, how to detect liars, manifestations of prejudice and hypocrisy (are religious people or priests more honest or generous than others? it has been tested). Wiseman even ran tests to see which experiments in the book are the most interesting, to help the reader know what would be the best conversation starters at parties.
Unusually for a mass market book, it is copiously footnoted.
I should point out, in fairness, that I already knew a lot of the information Wiseman offers here. For another reader, this book might be a revelation. Maybe.
Overall, I'd say this is a fun book that will give you some good talking points for dinner parties, and which might give you a new perspective on a few things. But it's really just an entertainment. I think Wiseman would be a wonderful lecturer for one of those lite intro courses that fulfill your university science requirement. He'd be great fun as a drinking buddy. But I'm hard pressed, after reading this book, to think of him as a serious academic. All of which shouldn't keep you from reading the book, of course. Just don't expect too much.