The science of Ghosts

I am delighted to announce that the third issue of Hocus Pocus is out now!

This colourful comic explores magic and mystery, and this time we enter the spooky world of ghosts.

Discover the truth about Britain’s most haunted house, see a Victorian spirit manifest right before your eyes and encounter the ‘Ghost at 19Hz’.

As ever, Jordan Collver, Rik Worth and Owen Watts have done a wonderful job, and I am especially impressed with their optical illusion cover.

You can purchase the issue from PropDog (they ship anywhere in the world) and find out more on the Hocus Pocus website.

Enjoy!

Magic and Science

I am delighted to launch a new series of videos that use magic to celebrate science. Fab sleight of hand artist Will Houstoun and I produced them, supported by The Royal Society of Chemistry and chemist Dr Suzanne Fergus (University of Hertfordshire). The three videos use sleight of hand techniques to celebrate a different scientist, and do not involve any CGI or camera trickery.

We are excited about this new story telling technique and recently conducted an experiment that showed that it significantly boosted people’s engagement (details here).

I hope that you enjoy them!

How parapsychology changed psychology

I recently co-authored a paper on how a little-known parapsychology journal was years ahead of its time.

Our story starts in 2011, when psychologist Daryl Bem reported several experiments that appeared to support the existence of psychic ability. Soon after, Stuart Ritchie, Chris French and I tried to replicate the studies but obtained null results. Several other academics also criticised Bem’s statistics and procedures. This type of ‘I have evidence for psychic ability – Oh no you don’t’ back and forth has occurred many times over the years. However, this time, something odd happened.

Several researchers noted that the criticisms aimed at Bem’s work also applied to many studies from mainstream psychology. Many of the problems surrounded researchers changing their statistics and hypotheses after they had looked at their data, and so commentators urged researchers to submit a detailed description of their plans prior to running their studies. In 2013, psychologist Chris Chambers played a key role in getting the academic journal Cortex to adopt the procedure (known as a Registered Report), and many other journals quickly followed suit.

However, many academics are unaware that a little-known parapsychology journal – The European Journal of Parapsychology – implemented an early version of this concept in the 1970s. For 17 years, around half of the studies in the paper were registered in advance. If the critics were right, these papers should be less likely to contain problems with their statistics and methods, and so be more likely to report spurious positive results. To find out if this was the case, I recently teamed up with Caroline Watt and Diana Kornbrot to examine the studies. The results were as expected – around 8% of the analyses from the studies that had been registered in advance were positive, compared to around 28% from the other papers. Other academics are now conducting the same sort of analyses in psychology and medicine, and finding the same pattern.

Academics often criticise parapsychology, but this episode is a good example of how the field is sometimes ahead of the game and can help to improve mainstream psychology. 

The full paper describing this work is here.

And Diana is now looking more broadly at openness in science. If you are a researcher with an interest in the area, you can take part in her survey here.

It’s Competition Time!

Psychology at The University of Hertfordshire is turning 50 this year. To help celebrate, we’re holding two competitions, which could see you win Amazon vouchers worth up to £100.  

The first competition involves completing the statement, “Why I love psychology….” in a maximum of 10 words. In the second competition, we are inviting everyone to help shape the field over the next 50 years by completing the statement  ‘In the next 50 years, I hope that psychology …’ using a maximum of 20 words.

There will be 5 winners in each category, so come over to the competition website and send us your entries!

Hocus Pocus Issue 2

#2 Front Cover FINALI am delighted to announce the arrival of the second issue of Hocus Pocus!

And this time we have created a comic that communes with the dead!

This issue delves into the strange world of spirit communication! Join Houdini’s chief investigator, Rose Mackenberg, as she uncovers the secrets of the seance room. Travel through time to discover the trickery used by Fox sisters and the Davenport brothers to fool the world. Uncover the scientists and scoundrels behind the strange history of the Ouija Board.

Beautifully illustrated, printed in full colour on heavy card stock, and limited edition.

Illustrated by Jordan Collver, written by Rik Worth and coloured by Owen Watts.

You can get a copy from PropDog here or from Travelling Man here

And the magazine website is here.

Praise for Issue One:
‘An utterly magical read ….. one of the most inventive and gorgeous comics we have read this year.’ – Pipedream Comics

Festival of Ideas

The University of Hertfordshire have just launched a great online Festival of Ideas. There’s lots of amazing and wonderful content focusing around how the arts and sciences can help to tackle Covid-19, and thoughts about how the world will change post-virus.

I have contributed a talk about the making of a free online computer game that encourages social distancing. The game was created with Martin Jacob and can be played here.  The game received lots of media coverage, made the BBC national news and went viral. We have now had over 75,000 people play it and the feedback has been amazing!

10 tips to Improve your sleep

A report out today suggests that many people are struggling to sleep right now.  A few years ago I wrote a book about the science of sleep called Night School, and here are ten top tips.

Avoid the blues: When your eyes are exposed to light, your brain produces less of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Some research suggests that light towards the blue end of the spectrum is especially stimulating and computer screens, tablets, smartphones and LED lighting all emit a lot of blue light. Try not to use these devices in the two hours before you go to bed. If you must use them, turn down the brightness or wear amber-tinted glasses designed to block blue light.

Avoid nightcaps: Although a small amount of alcohol helps you get to sleep more quickly, it also gives you a more disturbed night, increases the chances of snoring and disrupts dreaming. Don’t drink alcohol in the hours before bed.

Remember the 90-minute rule: Every night your brain goes through several 90-minute sleep cycles. You feel good if you wake up towards the end of a cycle because then you are closest to your normal waking state. To increase the chances of this, decide when you want to wake up and then count back in 90 minutes blocks to discover the best time to fall asleep. For instance, if you want to wake up at 8am, you should aim to fall asleep around either 11pm or 12.30am.

Distract yourself: Research suggests that you will fall asleep quickly if you tire your mind. Try counting backwards from 100 in threes. Or, if you’re not good with numbers, think of a category (countries or fruit and vegetables) and then come up with an example of that category for each letter of the alphabet. A is for Albania, B is for Bulgaria, or A is for apple, B is for banana, etc.

Condition yourself: Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov famously rang a bell each time he presented a dog with food, and eventually found that the sound of the bell alone was enough to make the dog salivate. The same concept can help you to fall asleep. Choose a soporific piece of music that you like, and fall asleep with it quietly playing. Over time, your brain will associate the music with sleep, and simply listening to it will help you nod off.

Get up!: If you’re awake for more than about 20 minutes during the night, get out of bed and do some form of non-stimulating activity, such as working on a jigsaw or a colouring book. This helps to prevent you associating your bed with sleeplessness. And if the problem arises later in the night, climb back out of bed and distract yourself again.

Relax: Lying awake makes many people feel anxious, and this anxiety disrupts their sleep even more, creating a vicious cycle. If you are struggling to sleep, remember that you are probably getting more sleep than you think (research shows that we all underestimate how much of the night we spend sleeping) and that just relaxing in bed is good for you.

Relaxing music: A few years ago I worked with composer Cameron Watt to use scientific principles to create a very relaxing piece of music. Lots of people have reported finding it helpful and it is free to listen to here:

A version of these tips originally appeared in an article that I wrote for The Guardian, and in a previous blogpost. I hope they help!

Can you save the world?

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I am delighted to launch the first social distancing computer game! Called ‘Can you save the world?’, the game is designed to get children (and adults!) to socially distance, and to also appreciate how this helps to save lives.

I have been working on this with the very talented game designer, Martin Jacob, and you can play it on your laptop or desktop computer (running Chrome or Safari) for free here.

Enjoy!

 

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The future of live events

This post was jointly written by Richard Wiseman and Simon Gage (Director, Edinburgh International Science Festival).

The Coronavirus has made large gatherings impossible at the moment, leading to the cancelling and postponement of lots of live events (including concerts, festivals, shows and talks). Obviously, right now it is vital that everyone observes the lockdown and stays indoors. However, even when restrictions are lifted, large gatherings are likely to prove problematic. Given that this situation may continue for many months, we thought that it would be good to start to brainstorm innovative ways of delivering live content. Live performances will inevitably have to change and so this can be seen as an opportunity to develop new and innovative approaches.  Our background is in science communication, and so the ideas are grounded in that area, but the same general approaches would work for a broad spectrum of live events.

Virtual performances: One obvious approach is to move online, and many performers and speakers have already started to do this. Although this has the advantage of scalability, it’s quickly becoming a crowded marketplace, risking screen fatigue. In addition, digital delivery can be challenging when it comes to generating a genuine sense of connection and engagement.

Streets and gardens: Performers could head onto streets and into gardens, and have audiences watching at a distance and/or through their windows.  Two-way chat could happen via the performer using a hands-free headset and a mobile phone to call people indoors (perhaps with the spectators placing their phone to speaker mode).

Drive-ins: In drive-ins cinemas, people watch films from inside their cars. Exactly the same could happen with live events. People could listen via large speakers, the radio, Bluetooth or a mobile device.

Floats: In some towns, Santa Claus is driven around on a float and everyone watches from their window or doorstep. The same idea could be used to provide live entertainment. Audiences receive a leaflet letting them know when the float will be coming down their street. The event could be made interactive in all sorts of ways, including the use of technology, advance input, etc..

Hands-on activities: Screen time is dominating our lives at the moment, but research shows that hands on activities are vital for learning, plus promote wellbeing. Material could be delivered to audiences and they could use it to build, create art etc.. Maybe have them watch a live, or pre-recorded, show and follow along? Could the same approach allow them to contribute to these shows in some way (for instance, by carrying out some kind of experiment and submit their data. Or send in their examples of art).

Live spaces: Re-design performance spaces, such that audiences can arrive and enjoy a performance in a safe way. Maybe they sit 2 meters apart? What sorts of immersive experiences could grow from the idea?

So, those are our initial ideas. Any other thoughts?

Good Magic Award

good-magic-768x292I have teamed up with The Good Thinking Society to create a new award designed to promote magic for social good.

Some magicians work with disadvantaged groups, charities, hospital patients, schools, community groups, and those facing physical and psychological challenges. This work can bring lots of benefits, such as building confidence and self-esteem, inspiring happiness and optimism, supporting physical rehabilitation and co-ordination, and tackling loneliness and social exclusion. Within an educational context it can foster a greater understanding of science or mathematics, help develop critical thinking and creativity, and deliver positive messages.

The Good Magic Awards recognizes, rewards and encourages this work. Those who wish to use magic for social good are invited to apply for an award to support work in this area. Nominations will close at 5pm (GMT) on 30th April 2020, so if you think you would like to start working in this area, or need some support for an ongoing project, please head over to the site and take a look.

Further details here.

Puzzle 10 – Can you solve it?

It’s our final puzzle…..

A millionaire tells his two sons to buy two horses and ride to a town 5 miles away. The one whose horse is slower wins and will inherit his fortune. After thinking about the race for days, the brothers ask a wise man for guidance. Upon receiving the advice, they jump on their horses and race to the town as fast as they can.

What did the wise man say to them?

Yesterday I posted this puzzle….

What phrases are represented here….

2 mothers and 2 daughters go out for lunch. They order 6 slices of pizza and can share the slices equally between them.

If you haven’t tried to solve it, have a go now. For everyone else, the answer is below….

If the group consists of a grandmother and her daughter and her granddaughter, then the 3 of them would constitute 2 mothers and 2 daughters. Thus the 6 pieces can be evenly shared between the 3 of them.

I hope you enjoyed the 10 puzzles. Stay safe and I hope to see you soon. Oh, and if you need the answer to the horse puzzle, here it is…..

The wise man told them to swap horses.  Given that the money will go to the slower horse, by swapping horses each son will try to get to the town first, thus creating a proper race.

Puzzle 9 – Can you solve it?

Only two more puzzles to go! Here is today’s puzzle…..

2 mothers and 2 daughters go out for lunch. They order 6 slices of pizza and can share the slices equally between them.

How is this possible?

Yesterday I posted this puzzle….

What phrases are represented here….

1) sta4nce

2) Give Give Give Give Get Get Get Get

3) 1245safety78271

If you haven’t tried to solve it, have a go now. For everyone else, the answer is below….

1) For instance

2) Forgive and forget

3) Safety in numbers

Follow the blog for more daily puzzles. See you tomorrow!

Puzzle 8 – Can you solve it?

Here is today’s puzzle…..

What phrases are represented here….

1) sta4nce

2) Give Give Give Give Get Get Get Get

3) 1245safety78271

Yesterday I posted this puzzle….

Yesterday I went fishing.  I caught a fish that had a length of 30 inches plus half its own length.

If you haven’t tried to solve it, have a go now. For everyone else, the answer is below….

If the fish was 30 inches long plus half its length, then half of the fish must be 30 inches, making the whole fish 60 inches long.

Follow the blog for more daily puzzles. See you tomorrow!

Puzzle 7 – Can you solve it?

I can’t believe that we are into a week of puzzle solving already. I hope you are having fun.  Here is today’s puzzle…..

Yesterday I went fishing.  I caught a fish that had a length of 30 inches plus half its own length.

How long was the fish?

Yesterday I posted this puzzle….

My friend Albert is trying to open a safe.  The following numbers are on the safe door….

77 – 49 – 36 – xx

…the next number in the sequence will open the safe.

What number should Albert use to get inside the safe?

If you haven’t tried to solve it, have a go now. For everyone else, the answer is below….

The sequence involves multiplying the two numbers together to get the next number….

7×7 =49

4×9= 36

… and so the number that Albert was after was 3×6=18

Follow the blog for more daily puzzles. See you tomorrow!