Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lies, Quirkology

I got a book yesterday as I was being herded out of Waterstone's at closing time because the cover looked interesting. The back cover teased me with, How does your surname influence your life? What does the way you walk reveal about your personality? How can you be persuaded to remember events that never actually happened? And other such great questions that are hugely interestingly to me.

After buying the booking Quirkology by Richard Wiseman, and reading the first chapter, I began flouting the book. As a person who did a research project on technical analysis and data mining, I was highly attuned to poorly constructed arguments (I also took high school statistics...) and discredited all the latter chapters that I skimmed.

However, there were some good nuggets. I'll strain it for you and serve it on a plate here:

His research suggest "most people tell about two important lies each day, that a third of conversations involve some form of deception, that four in five lies remain undetected, that over 80 percent of people have lied to secure a job, and that over 60 percent of the population have cheated on their partners at least once". (As you can see "most" people is very vague. Even the nuggets contain some MSG, I'm sorry. Ref. The work is review in A. Vrij - Detecting lies and deceit. John Wiley & Sons: Chichester, 2000.)
His advice on detecting lies. They use less "I" in their stories and are shorter. We can detect lies best over the phone when we can just hear voice, then in print, and worst on TV. Basically, there are more aural cues.

"A year-long study of 1,200 examples of laughing in everyday conversation revealed that about 71 percent of women laugh when a man tells a joke, but only 39 percent of men laugh when a woman tells a joke." (R. Provine- Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. Viking: New York, 2000. "Some scholars believe that the difference can be attributed to the fact that women avoid jokes because they may be of sexual nature, or involve acts of aggression. Others think that the difference has its roots the link between laughter, jokes, and status. People with high social status tend to tell more jokes than lower down the pecking order. Traditionally, women have had a lower social status than men, and thus may have learnt to laugh at jokes, rather than tell them. (Again sorry for the MSG. He's just postulating the idea with no real evidence. Why doesn't he just conduct the study in a country where women are the matriarch?This book aint no Freakonomics...)

I think I'll go return the book.... like ... it's like I just watched TV. That's how I felt after reading the book. That's probably the best way to describe it. Interesting, but clearly just brain numbing entertainment with plausible statistics.

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