Tag Archives: Psychology

Spies and Mannequins

In late December 2010, I went down to Spitalfields market with some other psychologists from UCL to help replicate a variation on Dan Simons’ famous change blindness study for a History Channel documentary about bizarre war tactics.

mannequin preperation

The mannequin in question

Apparently, there was an American spy during the cold war who defected to Russia (and indeed was the first spy to successfully do so). During his escape from the states, he managed to evade the authorities by swapping himself out for a mannequin. So, to illustrate the possibility of swapping someone out for someone else without people noticing, we spent the day fooling passers-by under the guise of looking for directions.

There’s video of it on YouTube (our bit starts three minutes in), and hopefully the History Channel will put it on their website soon.

Do you think you’d notice the change?


Now You See It…

This weekend I’m heading off with the rest of the BARLab to Bellingham for the NOWCAM (NOrthWest Cognition And Memory) conference.  I’ll be presenting a poster summarizing some of the research I’ve been doing.  Here it is:

now you don't!
NOWCAM Poster (click for a bigger, readable version)

You may be aware that I am a magic nerd.  I can’t help but work that into my research.  Basically, magicians do one thing really well: manipulate attention.  It stands to reason that cognitive scientists might learn a thing or two if they study magic.  (I’m not the first person to have this idea)

In this particular research, we’re looking at the effects of asking a question, as well as differences between live and pre-recorded performances of a trick.

Actually, choosing the trick proved rather, well, tricky.  I needed to use something that was simple, short, and crucially: would work as well on video as it would live.  For those interested, we went with the hoary old Princess Card Trick, which some of you may remember from the early days of the internet.

But I digress.  Have a look at the poster, leave any comments you might have – and wish me luck!

[UPDATED] Lecture: The Lying Brain

I’m giving a lecture to the public on Thursday!  It’s sponsored by CFI Vancouver, thanks to Radio Freethinker co-host Ethan being the director of CFI Vancouver and all.  Anyways, I’m going to talk about cognitive psychology: specifically, some research that suggests that our own senses and thoughts aren’t always reliable.  Come have a look!

Here’s the info (UPDATE: I’ve added the room number):


Thursday, April 22nd 2010 at 7:30 pm

Location SFU Harbour Centre (Room 1425)

CFI is proud to present a talk by Radio Freethinker co-host Rob Teszka. Rob is a cognitive psychologist, science promoter, co-host of Radio Freethinker, and self-professed geek.  Currently working at the Brain and Attention Research Lab at UBC, Rob is interested in how people’s perceptions, beliefs, and decisions can be influenced by their environment and unconscious biases.  He worries that people tend not to be aware of these influences, and that our society is based on the incorrect assumption that we cannot fool ourselves.  Through radio, social media, blogging, and research, he hopes to show that most everything is not always as it seems.

How the Brain Lies: We live under the assumption that we are aware of everything around us and that the way we think is reasonable.  However, research in cognitive and social psychology reveals that our eyes lie, our brains make up stories, and our decisions are far more influenced by the environment than we’d care to admit.  This talk (and the lively discussion following) will show the results of some surprising studies into the nature of the mind, and our awareness of its capabilities.

Cost: $5 ($4 for students) Free for Members.

EDIT: There’s now a Facebook event.  See you there!

Bad Ads: Psychology of Vision and Light Healing Therapy

I see a lot of flyers around Kitsilano and Vancouver for a lot of bullshit, so there’s no shortage of Bad Ads to talk about.  I’ll try to make it a weekly thing.  Anyways, have a look at this one:


Given that I know a thing or two about the psychology of vision, my BS detector went off when I saw it being used among words like “divine” and “healing”.  I checked out the “Psychology of Vision” website first.

It’s pretty slick looking: lots of pictures of starry skies and smiling people and stuff that sounds like “Psychology of Vision is both a healing model and a global community of like-minded people teaching and practising that model”.  The also have several mentions of their seminars and products, including online courses for 45 pounds each.  I suppose there’s no harm in making money while helping people heal with your magical model, eh?

Nowhere on the site was there anything to do with what I, or any other actual psychologist, would understand as the psychology of vision.  Instead, they talk about how your life will be improved, how the community is loving, and how it’s based on the principles of Relationships, Leadership and Spirituality.  I don’t know about you, but that sounds kind of cultish to me!

The creators of POV are Chuck and Lency Spezzano.  I quote from Chuck’s bio: “Chuck shares wisdom and insight into the mysteries of the mind using psychological/spiritual language and metaphor. He has authored over 20 books and card decks that have been published in numerous languages worldwide”.  Yeah, card decks – the website sells them, and actually has a link to a 3 card tarot reading (though they obscure that under the guise of using “synchronicity” to “reveal deep insights”).  Anyways, “Chuck has a B.A. in Philosophy and Psychology from Duquesne University followed by a Masters in Sociology and a Ph.D. in Counselling Psychology from the United States International University.”  Duquesne is a private, Catholic institution in Pittsburgh, and USIU is actually in Africa – neither is particularly well known for their psychology programs, or indeed rigorous adherence to the scientific method.  Lency’s bio is even better: “Lency is pioneering Psychology of Vision’s mystical path through her joining method, which utilizes the feminine, direct access to divine love, resulting in the release of emotional pain from the body/mind and the experience of miracles of forgiveness and grace.” That’s a masterful load of crap if I’ve ever read one.

The point is, neither of these people have anything whatsoever to do with the actual psychology of vision, and the whole website appears to be designed to funnel money into the Spezzano’s bank accounts using cleverly dressed up tarot cards and crappy seminars.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was a touch of pyramid scheme to the whole deal, given that they train people to be trainers (the seminar in Vancouver is being put on by some local named Kiara Fine) and harp on about community and leadership.  When the trappings of real science and research are appropriated for this kind of purpose, it further obscures to the public what science is actually about and also bilks people out of their money- and that really riles me.

Kiara also adds a doozy of her own: light healing therapy.  It sounds like yet another version of “this method/machine will change something, magically, in your brain and make you better, no matter what the problem is” – supposedly rewiring your nervous system so that you can “experience your connection to the Divine”.  Sure, there’s ways to rewire synapses in the brain – but it takes a long time, and light isn’t going to be the agent that does it.

The final nail in the coffin?  The link at the bottom to the West Coast Reiki Centre.  Kiara is a member of that group, and according to her bio, “has studied extensively” with masters of theraputic touch, craniosacral therapy, the trager method, and is an inductee of “reiki I and II”.  That is a very large amount of total bullshit that has been debunked repeatedly, and a good reason to toss these flyers in the garbage wherever you see them.

EDIT: Is it just me, or do some of the comments seem like sock puppets?