Author: Jen Martin

Trumped-up confidence

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Anthropology / Myths / Psychology

Know anyone whose confidence in their own ability far outweighs their actual skills? It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. A question of confidence The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are so sure of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubt. –Nobel Prize Winner Bertrand Russell A lack of confidence is extremely common: seventy percent of us experience the imposter syndrome. Despite good evidence to the contrary, we worry we’re too […]

Hearing accents

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Anthropology / Myths / Psychology

We all speak with an accent, and we judge each other by our accents. Our accents can change gradually, or sometimes dramatically. But if you want to speak an additional language without any foreign accent, you may be facing an uphill battle. Accent, accents everywhere Everyone has an accent. And I’m not just talking about humans. The clicking sounds sperm whales use to communicate with each other vary by region, and Japanese Macaques have local […]

There’s a face in there

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Anthropology / Evolution / Myths / Psychology

Ever seen Elvis in a corn chip? How about a face in a building or a cloud? Spotting faces – even ones that don’t exist – is something your brain is very good at. Do you see what I see? One of my favourite Twitter accounts is Faces in Things. You’d be amazed where people have spied faces and other human and animal shapes. You’ve probably heard about Jesus on a banana peel, the Man […]

How to rock paper and scissors

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Anthropology / Mathematics / Myths / Psychology

We’ve all used rock-paper-scissors to resolve a dispute. Is there a foolproof winning strategy? The earwig and the elephant When all else fails, rock-paper-scissors (also known as RPS) is an excellent way to make a decision. The rules are simple. At an agreed moment – usually after two or three ‘primes’ to get in sync, two people each make a symbol with their hand. The symbols are rock (closed fist), paper (flat hand) and scissors […]

Imposters are us

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Health / Myths / Psychology

Have you ever felt like a fraud? That you aren’t good enough, experienced enough or smart enough to be doing what you’re doing? Join the club. Feeling like a phoney On the outside you appear confident, composed and on top of your game. But on the inside you are wracked with self-doubt. You feel like a fraud and as though someone is about to tap you on the shoulder and ask you what you think […]

It’s a seasonal thing

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Health / Myths / Psychology

We all know horoscopes are bunk. But research suggests the season you were born may say something about you after all. What’s your star sign? Is checking your horoscope a guilty pleasure? Most of us agree: there’s no science behind the star sign columns that abound in newspapers, magazines and online. But that doesn’t mean people don’t read them. One study found more than 20% of adults read their horoscope often. There’s also been plenty […]

To eat it or not to eat it?

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Biology / Health / Myths

We’ve all heard the five-second rule: as long as the food has been on the ground for less than five seconds, you’re  safe to eat it. But are you? Birth of an urban myth When it comes to the origin of the five-second rule, stories abound. Genghis Khan often stars in these accounts, with claims it was originally known as the Khan rule. This rule apparently came into play at 13th-century victory banquets when Khan […]

Who is watching you?

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Health / Myths / Psychology

Ever had the creepy feeling someone was staring at you, only to turn around and discover it was true? Is it possible to ‘feel’ someone watching you? I see you They say the eyes are the windows to the soul: eye contact is one of the most powerful forms of human communication. Unlike all other primates, human eyes make it extremely obvious which direction we are looking: the exposed white area around the coloured iris gives […]

Itchy and scratchy

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Evolution / Health / Myths

We all know the sweet relief that comes from scratching an itch. But why does scratching feel so good? And why does it make the itch worse? Why so itchy? An itch is simply a sensation on the skin leading to the desire to scratch. But the science of itching is far from simple – it’s been the subject of decades of research (there’s even a scientific research journal called Itch). Researchers discovered the first […]

By the light of the full moon

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Astronomy / Health / Myths / Psychology

Known as the Transylvania Effect, many people believe a full moon triggers strange behaviour. Crime rates, psychiatric hospital admissions, emergency room visits, dog bites and hyperactivity in kids are all said to increase during a full moon. Is there any truth to the rumours? Bad moon rising We can thank the Roman goddess of the moon, Luna, for the words lunatic and lunacy. Why the link between the moon and erratic behaviour? Aristotle and Pliny […]