All posts filed under: Anthropology

The study of humans, past and present.

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 […]

Scaling great heights

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Anthropology / Evolution / Genetics / Health / Myths

Sherpas – sometimes called superhumans – are extraordinary mountaineers who are at home in the peaks of the Himalayas. What is it about Sherpas that enables them to power on at such high altitude? The top of the world Standing at 8,848 m above sea level, the peak of Mt. Everest is not a welcoming place for humans. We need oxygen, and up there, oxygen levels are only a third of those found at sea […]

Early learning

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Anthropology / Evolution / Myths / Zoology

Love spicy food? Find certain songs calming? You started developing preferences for flavours and sounds while you were still in the womb.  And it’s not just us: many animals begin learning about the world around them before they’re even born. Listening from the inside Before you were born, you had a lot to listen to. There was the regular thumping of your mother’s heart, the blood whooshing through her body, and even the rumbling and […]

Seeing in the dark

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Anthropology / Evolution / Myths / Zoology

You’ve probably heard of echolocation. Whales, dolphins and bats all use it to find their way around when their eyes just aren’t up to the task. But did you know some blind humans have learned to do it too? Seeing with sound In the late 1700s, Italian scientist Lazzaro Spallanzani surgically blinded bats in an attempt to work out how they navigate when flying in the dark. He was amazed to discover blind bats could […]

A new you

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Anthropology / Health / Myths / Psychology

Think back to how you behaved as a teenager. Are you cringing? Many of us feel very different to the person we were ‘back then’. But are you different? And what will you be like in old age?   Who are you? Have you ever done a personality test? I have: I was intrigued to find out if answering a few dozen questions could give an accurate picture of who I am. Whether Myer-Briggs, the Big Five, […]

Are we seeing eye to eye?

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Anthropology / Evolution / Myths / Psychology

Making eye contact with someone is powerful: at the very least, it shows you’re listening attentively. But how long before holding someone’s gaze starts to feel uncomfortable? And why is it hard to maintain eye contact and think at the same time?   Can’t take my eyes off you From birth, we prefer looking at faces that look directly at us. And from a very early age, our brains respond more to a face looking […]