Richard Wiseman
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Buy *Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things* by Richard Wiseman online

Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things
Richard Wiseman
Basic Books
336 pages
September 2008
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Author Richard Wiseman describes ‘quirkology’ as the use of scientific methods to study the curious aspects of everyday life:

“On the surface, … investigations into boredom, beauty, prayer, and tea-making may appear to have nothing in common. But in fact they are all excellent and early examples of an approach to investigating human behavior…”
Wiseman gives us a quick example in his prologue, in which he encourages readers to try the Q test. I won’t spoil the fun of it for those who’ve never heard of the Q test; it’s definitely pop psychology, but then, most of the book can be described that way. Nevertheless, Wiseman’s conclusions drawn from dozens of studies in a range of areas are surprising and sometimes even enlightening. Covering topics from the Mars Effect (the discovery of a nineteenth-century phenomenon that showed an inordinately high proportion of successful people were born under the same astrological sign) to coincidence, anagrams, and the well-known six degrees of separation, Wiseman’s lighthearted tone keeps us turning pages.

While much of the book is purely entertainment, he hits on some significant and even troubling truths at times. He recounts a televised experiment in which

“everyone saw exactly the same evidence about a crime in which the defendant had allegedly broken into a house and stolen a computer. However, half the pubic saw a defendant whose face showed characteristics of the stereotype of a criminal …. The other half saw a defendant whose face matched a stereotypical innocent person.”
Viewers were asked to serve as the jury for this experiment. Despite having been presented with identical evidence,
“ About 40 percent returned a guilty verdict on the man who… fit the stereotype of a criminal. Only 29 percent found the blue-eyed, baby-faced man guilty. People had ignored the complexity of the evidence and made up their minds on the basis of the defendants’ looks.”
That sort of bias may come as no surprise, but readers may be stunned by photos of the Presidential Composite – composite photos of the last six Democratic and Republican presidents, which look remarkably like Barack Obama and John McCain! Does this mean that we elect our presidents based solely on their appearance?

Some of the other fun and revealing examples deal with baseball caps, female van drivers, Mother Teresa, even our choice of greeting cards. Have you ever wondered why some people are luckier than others? Would you like to improve the attraction power of your personal ads? And if you aspire to a career in stand-up comedy, do you know which letter of the alphabet will draw more laughs from an audience? These are just a few of the tidbits you’ll find addressed here.

There’s something to fascinate anyone in Quirkology, and Wiseman’s presentation shows his own delight in discovering the quirkiness inherent in humans. Unfortunately, there is no explanation for the one line in this book that I found most intriguing : “Although Freud claimed to be a scientist, many of his ideas are completely untesticle.” Is that a typological quirk, and if so, what does it tell us about Richard Wiseman?

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Deborah Adams, 2008

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