'Quirkology' Uncovers Science Behind Life's Quirks

Psychologist Richard Wiseman examines the quirky science of everyday life in his book "Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things."

Some of the book's highlights include questions like how a surname influences a person's life, why incompetent politicians win elections and what's the best chat-up line.

Wiseman has spent more than 20 years examining life's quirky science and has even conducted experiments in more than 30 countries.

Read an excerpt of "Quirkology" below.

I have long been fascinated by the quirky side of human behavior. When I was a psychology undergraduate, one of my very first experiments involved standing for hours in London's King's Cross railroad station looking for people meeting partners who had just gotten off a train. The moment they were locked in a passionate embrace, I would walk up to them, trigger a hidden stopwatch in a my pocket, and ask, "Excuse me, do you mind taking part in a psychology experiment? How many seconds have passed since I just said the words, 'excuse me'?" After querying around fifty such couples, I discovered that people greatly underestimate the passing of time when they are in love, or, as Albert Einstein once said, "Sit with a beautiful woman for an hour and it seems like a minute, sit on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour -- that's relativity."

An interest in the more unusual aspects of psychology has continued throughout my career. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I traveled north to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and spent four years working on a doctorate examining the psychology of deception. Once that was completed, I accepted an academic position at the University of Hertfordshire, and set up my own research unit to examine unusual areas of psychology. I am not the first academic to be fascinated by this approach to examining behavior. Each generation of scientists has produced a small number of researchers who have investigated the strange and unusual.

The maverick Victorian scientist Sir Francis Galton might be considered the founding father of this approach because he devoted much of his life to the study of offbeat topics. He objectively determined whether his colleagues? lectures were boring by surreptitiously measuring the level of fidgeting in their audiences, and he created a "Beauty Map" of Britain by walking along the main streets of major cities with a punch counter in his pocket, secretly recording whether the people he passed were good, medium, or bad looking (London was rated the best, Aberdeen the worst).

Galton's work on the effectiveness of prayer was more controversial. He hypothesized that if prayer really worked, then members of the clergy -- who obviously prayed longer and harder than most -- should have a longer life expectancy than others. When his extensive analyses of hundreds of entries in biographical dictionaries revealed that the clergy actually tended to die before lawyers and doctors, the deeply religious Galton was forced to question the power of prayer.

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