Category:
Psychology

The Glass Delusion

An unusual psychiatric disorder swept through Europe during the late Medieval period. Many people came to believe they were made of glass "and therefore likely to shatter into pieces." Historians call this the Glass Delusion.

A typical sufferer might have believed he was "a urinal, an oil lamp or other glass receptacle, or else he might himself be trapped within a glass bottle." (A "urinal" during the middle ages referred to a small flask... essentially a glass pee pee bottle.)

One famous early sufferer: the French king, Charles VI, who refused to allow people to touch him, and wore reinforced clothing to protect himself.

A 1561 medical account describes a patient "who had to relieve himself standing up, fearing that if he sat down his buttocks would shatter... The man concerned was a glass-maker from the Parisian suburb of Saint Germain, who constantly applied a small cushion to his buttocks, even when standing. He was cured of this obsession by a severe thrashing from the doctor, who told him that his pain emanated from buttocks of flesh."

In modern times, the glass delusion has disappeared. "Surveys of modern psychiatric institutions have only revealed two specific (uncorroborated) cases of the glass delusion. Foulché-Delbosc reports finding one Glass Man in a Paris asylum, and a woman who thought she was a potsherd was recorded at an asylum in Meerenberg."

One sign of the glass delusion's vanishing is that there's not much information about it on the internet. Not even a wikipedia entry about it. The above factoids came from "An odd kind of melancholy: reflections on the glass delusion in Europe," by Gill Speak, published in 1990 in the History of Psychiatry.

Posted By: Alex - Thu Oct 09, 2008 - Comments (5)
Category: History, Psychology

Tongue Jutting

The FiveThirtyEight blog noted the frequency with which McCain stuck out his tongue during last Friday's debate. The behavior is known as "tongue jutting." It's a well-known "tell" that professional interrogators and poker players look for. According to retired FBI agent Joe Navarro, this is what it means:

Tongue-jutting behavior is a gesture used by people who think they have gotten away with something or are “caught” doing something... This behavior has several meanings – depending on specific situations – but is usually associated with one of these: I got caught (taking candy from a drawer), gleeful excitement (look at what I just did, Mom), I got away with something (and I didn’t get caught), I did something foolish, or I am naughty.

I'll add that tongue jutting (or tongue protrusion) is also a behavior often seen in the animal world. Reptologists have developed the "tongue flick attack score" which is "a common method for quantifying predatory behavior in squamate reptiles." A higher score (i.e. more tongue flicks) indicates a greater predatory response.

Tongue protrusion is also a form of sociosexual behavior that has been observed in nocturnal Owl Monkeys. It is part of a range of mating behavior that includes lip-smacking, squinting, partner-marking, and urine-drinking.

So the question is, was McCain's tongue jutting more reptilian or primate? i.e. was it more predatory in nature, or sociosexual? I'll leave that to you readers to decide.

Posted By: Alex - Wed Oct 01, 2008 - Comments (2)
Category: Animals, Psychology

Dion Fortune

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Collecting novels of the fantastic as I do, I eventually and inevitably came across those of Dion Fortune, and bought a few. To this day, they remain untracked by my eyes. Nonetheless, I was sensitized to her name, and could spot her non-fiction selection Psychic Self-Defence readily on the shelf of a used-book store and snatch it up. A bargain at $5.00, I'm sure!

I haven't read it yet, but I'm much looking forward to learning how to protect myself against various types of intrusive mind assaults. Sample a few pages yourselves below.

And thanks to Google Books, you can read the whole thing online here.




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Posted By: Paul - Fri Sep 26, 2008 - Comments (8)
Category: New Age, Paranormal, Self-help Schemes, Psychology, Books, 1930s

World D

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Here's another strange book I purchased but have not yet read. The real author is Joseph K. Heydon, using the pen-name of Hal Trevarthen. Time has swallowed up all details related to Heydon and his book, leaving us only with the text itself.


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Here's the description from the amazingly ugly dustjacket.


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Here's the title page, followed by a sample of the actual bafflegab inside.


image Posted By: Paul - Thu Sep 11, 2008 - Comments (11)
Category: Aliens, Eccentrics, Government, Inventions, Literature, Books, Science Fiction, Writers, Nature, New Age, Paranormal, Pop Culture, Science, Psychology, Self-help Schemes, Foreign Customs, 1930s, Yesterday's Tomorrows

One Touch of Homer Makes the Whole World Kin

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In this NEW YORK TIMES article from today, scientists reveal their latest findings about which brain cells are excited during the recall of memories, and how closely memory tallies with literally re-enacting the events. And they use a tantalizing example:





After briefly distracting the patients, the researchers then asked them to think about the clips for a minute and to report “what comes to mind.” The patients remembered almost all of the clips. And when they recalled a specific one — say, a clip of Homer Simpson — the same cells that had been active during the Homer clip reignited. In fact, the cells became active a second or two before people were conscious of the memory, which signaled to researchers the memory to come.


Why is Homer Simpson singled out as the test case? Obviously because the human brain has specific neurons that emulate or actually induce and compel Homer-Simpson-style behavior.

And there in a nutshell you have the whole basis for ninety-nine percent of the contents of WEIRD UNIVERSE.

Posted By: Paul - Fri Sep 05, 2008 - Comments (13)
Category: Celebrities, Science, Experiments, Psychology, Stupidity, Television, Husbands, Cartoons

Candid Camera

Candid Camera was, in my opinion, the greatest TV show about psychology ever made, and this is one of its classic segments: Group behavior in elevator. It speaks volumes about the human need to conform.



Another segment I like is "The Interpreter," from the British Candid Camera. Watch as the interpreter never questions the romantic advances the woman makes toward him, even though her "fiancee" is sitting beside him.

Posted By: Alex - Thu Sep 04, 2008 - Comments (1)
Category: Television, Video, Psychology

Help Zimbardo Study Helping

Dr. Phil Zimbardo, famous for conducting the Stanford Prison Experiment which revealed how quickly average college students will embrace the roles of sadistic prison guards and passive prisoners, and most recently author of The Lucifer Effect, is now turning his attention to helping behavior. From the hero workshop blog (via boing boing):

The goal is to discover how individuals perceive the behavior of helpfulness.
The first step is to conduct a survey with as many participants as possible. That’s where you come in. The survey takes about 30 minutes and can be found at www.socialpsychresearch.org.

I took one look at the length of time and thought, "30 minutes! I don't want to take a survey for that long!" I'm basically unhelpul and selfish. But this made me realize that the only people taking the survey will be those that are more helpful than most. It'll be a biased sample.

Zimbardo and his co-researchers are very smart people, so I'm sure they realize this. I'm guessing that the real purpose of the survey may be to find out how many people actually take it, versus how many visit the link. That could provide a quick snapshot of how many helpful people there are on the internet. (Thanks to Joe Littrell!)

Posted By: Alex - Wed Aug 27, 2008 - Comments (1)
Category: Science, Experiments, Psychology

Head Canting


Have you ever noticed that some people, when their picture is taken, tilt their head to the side? The behavior is called head canting. I never knew this until I stumbled upon an article titled "Head Canting In Paintings: An Historical Study" in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior (Spring 2001).

Some factoids about head canting:

• Researchers speculate that it's a submissive gesture. The sociologist Erving Goffman described it as "a form of ingratiation or appeasement achieved by reducing one's overall height."

• The authors of the "Head Canting in Paintings" article examined 1498 figures in the works of 11 painters from the 14th to the 20th centuries. They concluded that, throughout history, head canting has been associated with submissiveness:

religious and mythological figures exhibited much more head canting than commissioned portraits. This finding supports the idea that head canting is strongly connected with the expression of submission, appeasement, ingratiation, and request for protection... In contrast, in paintings portraying nobles, professionals, and artists, head canting was minimal or absent.

Some googling about the subject also uncovered a bit of trivia:

Head-tilting was a signature cue of method actor James Dean. Dean's head-tilts seemed to say, as East of Eden director, Elia Kazan put it, "Pity me, I'm too sensitive for the world."

Posted By: Alex - Tue Aug 26, 2008 - Comments (4)
Category: Photography and Photographers, Psychology

Listening to Reverse Lyrics

Are musicians placing hidden (often Satanic) reverse lyrics in their music? It's an old controversy, but also one that can offer an interesting psychological demonstration of the power of perceptual expectation. Which means, in plain English, that our brain makes our ears hear what it expects to hear.

Check out Jeff Milner's site devoted to backmasking. He has samples of popular songs. First play the songs forward. Then listen to them reversed. They probably sound like gibberish.

But next click the button to reveal the reverse lyrics that you're supposed to be able to hear and listen to the reversed music again. You should now be able to "hear" the reverse lyrics... because your brain is expecting to hear them. The British Psychological Society's blog writes:

Once the expectations for what to hear are in place, they can't be undone. You can't unhear the devilish lyrics once you know about them. This is a powerful demonstration of how our perceptual experiences are based not just on what is served up by our senses, but also on what our brains bring to the table.

My favorite reverse lyric was the one in Pink Floyd's Empty Spaces.

Posted By: Alex - Fri Aug 22, 2008 - Comments (2)
Category: Music, Psychology

The Smoke-Filled Room

If you were sitting in a waiting room and smoke began to billow out of a vent in the wall, you'd probably do something about it. At least, you'd report the problem to someone. Or maybe not.

In a famous experiment conducted by John Darley and Bibb Latané during the 1960s, Columbia University students were invited to share their views about problems of urban life. Those who expressed an interest in participating were asked to first report to a waiting room in one of the university buildings where they would find some forms to fill out before being interviewed. They had no idea that the urban-life study was just a cover story. The real experiment occurred in the waiting room.

As they filled out the forms, smoke began to enter the room through a small vent in the wall. By the end of four minutes, there was enough smoke to obscure vision and interfere with breathing. Darley and Latané examined how the students reacted to this smoke in two different conditions.

In the first condition, the students were alone. When this was the case, they invariably investigated the smoke more closely and then went out into the hallway to tell someone about it.

But in the second condition, the students were not alone. There were two or three other people in the room, who were secret confederates of the researchers. They had been instructed to not react to the smoke. They would look up at it, stare briefly, shrug their shoulders, and continue working on the forms. If asked about it, they would simply say, "I dunno."

In this setting, according to Darley and Latané, "only one of the ten subjects... reported the smoke. the other nine subjects stayed in the waiting room for the full six minutes while it continued to fill up with smoke, doggedly working on their questionnaires and waving the fumes away from their faces. They coughed, rubbed their eyes, and opened the window -- but they did not report the smoke."

That's the power of group pressure.

If you ever get the chance, check out Darley and Latané's book The Unresponsive Bystander: Why Doesn't He Help? It's not easy to find because it's out of print, but it's full of strange experiments like the smoke-filled room one.

Also check out this youtube video based on the smoke-filled room experiment. It's not the original study, but a later replication of it.

Posted By: Alex - Thu Aug 14, 2008 - Comments (0)
Category: Science, Experiments, Psychology

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Who We Are
Alex Boese
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction books such as Elephants on Acid.

Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.

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