Weird Universe


Hypnotizing High School Principal

Down in Florida, the Sarasota County School Board has agreed to pay a settlement of $600,000 to the families of three high school students who died. One of the students was in a car accident, and the other two committed suicide. But all three had previously been hypnotized by George Kenney, the High School Principal. Kenney had been hypnotizing many students (about 75 in total) in the belief that it would help them with athletic and academic performance.

The case against Kenney is that the hypnosis may have been a causal factor in the deaths because it somehow messed up the fragile brains of the teenagers. Dr. Alan Waldman, a specialist in neuropsychiatry, testified that, "The wires that connect the neurons are still getting the fatty covering that insulates them. It doesn't stop forming till the early 20s. And they're a child's brain. That's a factor."

More info:, Huff Post.
Posted By: Alex | Date: Sun Oct 11, 2015 | Comments (5)
Category: Education, Psychology


Auroratone was a "process for translating music into color" invented circa 1940 by Englishman Cecil Stokes. The music vibrated an emulsion of crystallizing chemicals, and this was then photographed by a color movie camera, producing a kind of psychedelic movie of shifting colors synchronized with music (but this was the 1940s, before the concept of psychedelics was known in popular culture).

The hope was that these auroratone films could be used to treat psychiatric patients, and they were experimentally shown to soldiers in an army hospital suffering from psychotic depressions. Conclusion: "Observation revealed that these patients were intensely absorbed in the films, that their span of attention to the films was appreciably lengthened after exposure to the films. Weeping and sobbing was observed in some patients. Many patients became more accessible to individual and group psychotherapy immediately folllowing exposure to these films."

Their effect was also tested on juvenile delinquents. One kid told the experimenter, "I think God must have painted those pictures."

A company was formed to commercialize Auroratones and guide their development. Investors in this company included the Crosby Brothers (Larry and his famous brother Bing). Bing sang the music for many of the auroratones.

Treating psychiatric patients wasn't very profitable, so there was hope to find more lucrative applications of the auroratone process. One idea was to transfer auroratone color patterns onto textiles and ceramics. Some silk scarfs printed with visualizations of Bing Crosby singing "Home on the Range" were apparently manufactured, but never sold.

Not many auroratones still survive, but an example of one can be viewed on YouTube:

The auroratone process reminds me of the Clavilux (or Color Organ) invented by Thomas Wilfred in 1919 (previously posted about here).

More info about auroratones: Wikipedia and Milwaukee Journal, Dec 6, 1948.

Also see: Rubin, HE & Katz, E. (Oct 1946). "Auroratone films for the treatment of psychotic depressions in an army general hospital," Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2(4): 333-340.
Posted By: Alex | Date: Thu Sep 03, 2015 | Comments (9)
Category: Movies, Photography and Photographers, Psychology, 1940's

Brains and Bust Size — one medical opinion

Back in 1964, Dr. Erwin O. Strassmann of Houston kicked up a controversy by suggesting there was a correlation in women between bust size and I.Q. And he managed to get his opinion published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Kingsport Times-News - Aug 30, 1964

Curious to see exactly what he said, I tracked down his article. Turns out he was an enthusiastic follower of the now-discredited theory of "constitutional psychology." This was an effort to establish a link between body type and personality traits. Critics have dismissed it as an extended exercise in dressing up cultural stereotypes (such as, if you're overweight, you're lazy) in scientific language. For devotees of weird science, the entire field is a goldmine of strangeness.

Here's the relevant section of Strassmann's 1964 article:

Strassmann, E.O. (1964). "Physique, Temperament, and Intelligence in Infertile Women." International Journal of Fertility. 9:297-314.
Posted By: Alex | Date: Thu Aug 27, 2015 | Comments (12)
Category: Body, Brain, Science, Psychology, 1960's

Subconscious Menu

Pizza Hut is testing a new "subconscious menu" in some of its UK restaurants. Just look at the food choices on the screen of the tablet, and the eye-tracking technology will determine which food your eyes are lingering over longest. [wash post]

This made me think of Paul's post from a few days ago about the octopus in the farm yard, which demonstrated that our eyes "dwell on objects that are discrepant with expectations." So if there's an octopus on the menu, you'll just have to eat octopus pizza.

Posted By: Alex | Date: Wed Dec 03, 2014 | Comments (9)
Category: Food, Psychology, Eyes and Vision

Camp Bed Wet

The ad for this camp is via The Retroist, who unfortunately didn't supply a date.

I'm curious what went on at this camp. Was it just like a normal camp but with plastic sheets on the bed? Did it actually help bed-wetters overcome their problem?

Posted By: Alex | Date: Thu Aug 21, 2014 | Comments (8)
Category: Psychology

Kate Smith, the flag-raising rat

Kate Smith was a rat trained to raise a small American flag. It was trained by Kelly Buckwalter of Santa Barbara High School as "an experiment in operant conditioning" for her chemistry and psychology classes.

Do kids still get to do experiments like this in high school? Somehow I doubt it. Source: The Tuscaloosa News - May 22, 1976.
Posted By: Alex | Date: Sat May 24, 2014 | Comments (4)
Category: Animals, Science, Experiments, Psychology, 1970's

Sick Sick Sidney

That is one mentally unstable pachyderm.
Posted By: Paul | Date: Fri Nov 15, 2013 | Comments (5)
Category: Animals, Anthropomorphism, Psychology, Wimps, Milquetoasts and Cowards, 1950's

Saving Money for the Weak of Willpower


I like this idea a lot. Why doesn't any bank offer such a plan today?


Original ads here (scroll down).
Posted By: Paul | Date: Sat Oct 19, 2013 | Comments (8)
Category: Money, Psychology, 1900's

Let Mr. Mouse’s Nightmare Help You!

Psychotherapy via mouse torture. Milwaukee Sentinel - Nov 16, 1941.

Posted By: Alex | Date: Wed May 29, 2013 | Comments (7)
Category: Science, Psychology, 1940's

Personalized Alarm Clock

[Click to enlarge for readability]

Upon a moment's reflection, the creepiness of this product becomes apparent, explaining why it never caught on. The notion of one's own voice pleasantly or angrily cajoling the sleeper to awake is straight out of some Philip K. Dick dystopia, in which the hero's brain has been split into two separate personalities. "Wake up, Paul, wake up! Today is the day you must assassinate the ambassador from Rigel Nine!"

Original ad here.
Posted By: Paul | Date: Mon Aug 20, 2012 | Comments (3)
Category: Domestic, Appliances, Psychology, 1970's
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All original content in posts is Copyright © 2008 by the author of the post, either Alex Boese ("Alex"), Paul Di Filippo ("Paul"), or Chuck Shepherd ("Chuck"). All rights reserved. The banner illustration at the top of this page is Copyright © 2008 by Rick Altergott.