'Quirkology' Uncovers Science Behind Life's Quirks

Even the making of tea caught Galton's attention; he spent months scientifically determining the best way to brew the perfect cup of tea. He constructed a special thermometer that allowed him constantly to monitor the temperature of the water inside his teapot, and after much rigorous testing, Galton concluded that ?the tea was full bodies, full tasted, and in no way bitter or flat...when the water in the teapot had remained between 180 degrees and 190 degrees Fahrenheit, and had stood eight minutes on the leaves."

Satisfied with the thoroughness of his investigation, Galton proudly declared, "There is no other mystery in the teapot." On the surface, Galton's 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 that I have called "quirkology." Put simply, quirkology uses scientific methods to study the more curious aspects of everyday life. This approach to psychology has been pioneered by a few researchers over the past hundred years who have followed in Galton?s footsteps and had the courage to explore the places mainstream scientists avoid. These brave academics have examined how many people it takes to start a Mexican wave in a football stadium; charted the upper limits of visual memory by having people try to remember 10.000 photographs accurately; indentified the perceived personality characteristics of fruits and vegetables (lemons are seen as dislikable, onions as stupid, and mushrooms as social climbers); secretly counted the number of people wearing their baseball caps the right way or back to front; stood outside supermarkets with donation boxes quietly measuring how different types of requests for donations determined the amount of money given (simply saying "Even a penny helps" almost doubled donations); discovered that children's drawings of Santa Claus grow larger in the build-up to Christmas Day, and then shrink during January.

For the past twenty years, I have carried out similarly strange investigations. I have examined the telltale signs that give away a liar, explored how our personalities are shaped by month of birth, uncovered the secret science behind speed dating and personal ads, and investigated what a sense of humor reveals about the innermost workings of the mind. The work has involved secretly observing people as they go about their daily business, conducting unusual experiments at art exhibitions and concerts, and even staging fake séances in allegedly haunted buildings. The studies have involved thousands of people all over the world.

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