Category Archives: General Thoughts

Get Stuffed! The Origins & Power of Ownership

Here is a TEDx talk that I gave last November on the Saturday before the US elections. Boy I wish I had made more of the issues concerning the psychology of ownership. Throughout the campaign and subsequently, it seems that everybody wants to take back stuff that feel has been taken away from them. I’ll be addressing these in my forthcoming book on ownership which is being published by Allen Lane next year. So again, a bit too busy to be blogging but maybe it will be a bit of light relief to dip in here now and then.


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Special Edition of Speakezee Podcast

The Speakezee podcast continues to shape up before our launch in December. The latest pilot episode A Sprinkle of Medicine Upcycling Your Gut is an interesting mix from the Universities of Nottingham, Manchester Metropolitan and King’s College London. In this episode I am joined by medical microbiologist, Dr Kim Jacobson who shares her insights about “MRS A” as well as why your doctor might recommend that you eat shit. If you can hold your stomach, listen to this fascinating podcast and learn at least three things you probably did not know.


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New Functionality on Speakezee

If you are in the habit of giving academic talks then you will know that event organisers often want your slides in advance, or an audience member might want a copy. I usually give them some of the slides but not all. You may also be asked for any papers you can share that you talk about. It could be a work in progress or a finalised PDF. You also want to know what your audience thought about your presentation. This usually comes out in the question time though sometimes audiences are too big, or time is too short. At the very least, I am sure you like a “recommended” in your evaluation.

All of the above functionality is now available to academic speakers who are registered on Speakezee. It is so cool. When you give a talk, simply tell the audience to whip out their smart phones and Google your name with the word “Speakezee.” They will be taken to your talk page  where all the functionality is available. What’s not to like?

If you are an event organiser, then you can contact the events manager at Speakezee and we will list your event for either free or a fee depending on the nature of the event. This gives you same functionality.

Spread the word.


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Speakezee Nite Tickets Go on Sale

unnamedI am not an event organizer or a marketing expert so you can imagine my nervousness today when I launched the ticket sales for the Speakezee Nite which is scheduled for Friday 19th Feb 2016. One of the reasons I have been so neglectful of my blogging is that I have been focusing my spare time of building the world’s largest database of academic expert speakers – Speakezee. Next Feb, the project will be one year old and I have come along way mostly on my own but we are now in 22 countries and have over 1,000 speakers in the UK alone. Time for promotion.

So I had this brainwave to put on a big showcase event to promote speakezee but given I have been basically financing this whole enterprise myself, I do not have a marketing budget. Nevertheless, I have hired the Faraday Theatre in the Royal Institution, London which is the home of public engagement and of course, where I earned my modest popular attention as the 2011 Christmas Lecturer.

As far as Speakezee is concerned, I had hoped that universities and learned societies would jump at the opportunity to support a system that optimizes the process of connecting speakers with audiences and indeed can potentially provide evidence of impact that is so valuable in these accountable times, but alas, support has not been flooding in. With one notable exception – the University of Bristol have been incredibly supportive because I believe they have faith in me and at the very least they know I will work damned hard to make it succeed.

The Speakezee event is a night of stellar speakers & hosts including three former Ri Christmas Lecturers, (myself, Mark Miodownik and Sir Colin Blakemore) Helen Czerski the scientist & TV presenter extraordinaire, Suzi Gage, the rising star of the scientific blogger, Molly Crockett who mesmerizes in her brilliance and to inject some excitement three former finalists and winners of the Three Minute Thesis or Famelab who are going to thrill the audience in their attempt to repeat their thesis presentations against the clock. And the price? Only £12 for early birds and £15 for standard tickets.

Hold on. Shouldn’t tickets be for free? Don’t academics earn salaries from the UK taxpayer? Well venues cost to hire and frankly academics do more than their fair share of giving back to society in my opinion. I am constantly being asked to give my time and expertise for free and very often with no acknowledgement.

What about voluntary organizations such as Cafe Science? Are they really free? I think asking for a whip round to pay travel expenses should be a thing of the past. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

So I am ashamedly hoping to sell enough tickets to cover all the costs and give the speakers a treat for their time and effort.

For that to happen I have to sell out – not in my principles but the number of tickets.

If you want a brilliant evening of wonder, then get your tickets here.

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It’s been awhile and yes, I have been neglecting my blog to pursue other projects. Last year I was galavanting around in the Pacific and movie I was involved in “Breath of Life” premiered at the Maui Film Festival where it won the audience award. My good friend Susan Kucera is coming to Bristol in March where “Breath of Life” will be shown at the Watershed as part of the 2015 European Green Capital which Bristol won. It’s about the psychology (or lack of it) when it comes to averting climate change and uses Hawaii as a comparison to Earth of an isolated community that was self-sustaining in the absence of contact with others. If you think about it, we ain’t about to be vacating this planet in the near future so we really need to get our act together. Susan and I will be doing a Q&A with the audience so if you are in the area, come along.

The other major news is that I have just launched an academic speaker’s bureau called which will connect audiences to experts who are willing to give voluntary talks on just about any area of interest. I got the idea after being invited to give  too many talks than I could possibly accept so this system should make it easier to find others who are just as good (if not more so) in communication. It will also be useful for organizing professional seminars. I am focusing on the UK initially but will be expanding internationally if it works. As with all new projects there are a few glitches that need ironing out. Watch this space.

A  simple interface to register & search for speakers

A simple interface to register & search for speakers


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Waiting for the Marshmallow Man

Me and the Marshmallow Man

Me and the Marshmallow Man

Who would of thought that your life’s academic research would be reduced to waiting for a delightful, spongey, sugary treat? Last night I chaired Walter Mischel’s book talk at the Bristol Festival of Ideas. Unless you have been living in a cupboard for the last 10 years, Mischel is internationally famous for the marshallow test he devised back in the 1960s. He used it to demonstrate the difficulty that young children have in resisting temptation when told that they can have one marshmallow now but if they wait, they can have two. Not only did he reveal that delay of gratification based on how long they wait predicts social adjustment and school achievement but it is also correlated with adult drug abuse some twenty years later.

The so-called marshmallow test is one of the few psychological phenomena that have entered popular mainstream culture along with Milgram’s shocking studies and Zimbardo’s prison studies (though the later is highly contested). Only last year, the confectionary company Haribo ran an ad campaign featuring adults’ inability to resist their sweets.

At 84, Mischel is still a formidable force with an intellect to match. He started off with some of the original videos of children filmed in South America doing the test in the 1980s (he didn’t have access to video recordings back in the 1960s) and asked us not to take pictures or record the films as he was sure that some of the children showing impulsive behaviour may now be heads of state. He explained how he had developed his own technique to quit his heavy smoking habit and that he was still an impulsive individual. His book is full of sound advice and techniques for avoiding temptation and showed data on the power of simply teaching children to count to 10 to control their “hot” drives.

As I said in the question session, I found this re-assuring as a researcher looking at inhibitory control as I too, am known to have impulse issues. Everything was going fine until someone asked him about trust. Recent studies have shown that an alternative interpretation for the link between weak self-control and poor socio-economic environments was that children did not trust the experimenter that they would be rewarded by waiting. They had grown up in environment it was better to take what you can now rather than hope for something better.

At this suggestion, the mild-mannered professor became quite agitated and angry because these studies had knowingly ignored the fact that Mischel had always insured that children fully understood that the experimenter could be trusted. I think the social trust thing is important but I must say the audience was surprised by Walter’s reaction to the question. To be fair, if your life’s work has been unfairly challenged then his reaction was understandable though I do think the new work has acknowledged that there are a variety of factors that contribute to delayed gratification. In any event, after Walter answered, I suggested that he might want to count to 10 before answering such questions in future which got a big laugh.

Anyway, I met a hero of mine.


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Going Back To Basics

I have been absent from this blog for some time now as I have been pursuing other activities and platforms. A new book, “The Domesticated Brain,” a new edition of the textbook “Psychology,” working on a new film documentary, “Breath of Life,” and many, many more projects at various stages of development. I like to keep busy and enjoy my brief moment in the sun – life that is.

Every so often I check back to see who has been commenting and in general, it is mostly autobot marketing which I periodically remove but I have decided to start blogging again even though I HATE the new WordPress platform which is much worse and user-unfriendly than when I first started this blog 5 years ago.

I have started giving talks again and recently gave a TEDx at Salford which was a great meeting. For a TEDx audience, it was very large – apparently much bigger than the crowd at the “real” TED meetings. Salford’s MediaCity where it was held was incredible with both the BBC and ITV establishments there in a futuristic layout of plazas and architecture. The organizers were enthusiastic and very helpful. I only wish that I had the time to stick around to hear the remaining speakers. TEDxSalfordI gave a talk on essentialism and SuperSense – returning to the topics that first got me so interested in public engagement in the first place. I think that so much relevant research has been published since my book was published that it might be time to think about an updated version. What do you think?


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Back to the Scene of the Crime


Today there is an auction in West Sussex with the peculiar Lot 202 – ‘felon’s skull’ and newspaper cutting. The item is a human skull mounted inside a glass dome that has been partially dissected to use as an anatomical display. It belonged to John Parker from Langley near Chippenham, Wiltshire, who was hanged alongside another burglar at the top of ‘Glocester Gaol’ in the ealy 19th century.

Generally I would not pay much attention to these common macabre trophies but the information from the cutting stopped me in my tracks.

 “Execution – On Saturday John Parker, aged 36, and Thomas Rodway, aged 30, were executed at the drop, on the top of the lodge at Glocester Gaol, pursuant to the sentence at the late Assized, for a burglary in the dwelling-house of Mrs Grey, at Clifton, near Bristol. Although obdurate at first, they at last became more sensible of their awful situation, and died with due penitence.”

I happen to live in Clifton and for one momentary moment of madness, I thought it would be a good idea to own this relic to put on the mantelpiece. It felt that it was important to return this skull to the location that was the scene of the crime.

Clearly no logic to this whim whatsoever but I am sure that many think that there is a sense of order and closure when remains are reunited to locations where events took place that eventually led to their death. It is irrational because that location could have been anywhere – the scene of the crime, the location of the gallows and so on. We have brains that seek out patterns that are relevant to us and so when a place is significant to us we are inclined to pay attention to events that are related. There again, at an estimated sale value of £2-3,000, I think that is one curiosity that I will leave for others.



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East versus West When it Comes to Celebrity Collectibles

Darren Julien, founder and president of one of Julien’s Auctions, a Beverly Hills based auction house, specializing in high-profile celebrity auctions and the only celebrity auction house with a license to trade in mainland China has noted that Asian interest in memorabilia is driven by different motivations than Western collectors – one that is primarily as investment. However, anyone who has ever been to a collector’s convention in the West knows that there are obsessional fans who want to own personal objects that they believe can put them in touch with their idols. Even Brittany Spears’s used wads of chewing gum famously reached outrageous prices when they were put up for sale on the web. Many obsessional collectors have no intention of selling on their prized collectibles.

 We’ve been studying the phenomenon of memorabilia and collectibles for some time now and next week, we are presenting our recent PlosOne paper, “Individualism and the extended-self:  Cross-cultural differences in the valuation of authentic objects,” to academics gathered at Yale to discuss the psychology of art collecting at meeting at the International Center for Finance in the Business School.

Our research is motivated by two separate strands of work, essentialism and the extended self that you can read about in SuperSense and The Self Illusion. Essentialism is the idea that authenticity is inferred by a hidden dimension or “essence” that defines the true nature of objects. It has its origins in the classical philosophy of Plato and is best captured by thought experiments such as the Ship of Theseus problem (you know the one – if you replace every plank of wood of a ship, when does it cease to remain original?). The Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit has conjured up similar scenarios with duplicating humans. We have shown that children reject duplicated teddy bears, think that cutlery that was belonged to Queen Elizabeth II is worth more than identical duplicates and touching the clothing of a killer can morally contaminate oneself.

We think that all of these diverse areas of research findings can be explained by naïve psychological essentialism that operates through the mode of contagion similar to Paul Rozin’s seminal (ha!) work on disgust which explains why washing celebrity clothing is believed to significantly devalue the object.

The second strand of research into collectibles is the extended self hypothesis whereby we use objects to signal to others our status which is why they become extensions of our self worth. As William James noted,

‘‘A man’s Self is the sum total of all that he CAN call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses, and yacht and bank-account.’’

(James, 1890, p. 291)

Manifestation of the extended self is the well-known endowment effect whereby individuals believe their personal possessions are worth more that identical objects owned by others. However, both the endowment effect and possibly the extended self are reflections of cultural norms where personal possessions are given elevated status. For example, there is one report of a hunter-gather tribe that do not show the endowment effect and it has not been found in children below the age of 5 years though they do show preferences and have sentimental personal objects which are probably rudimentary forerunners of the adult endowment effect. 

In our recent study conducted via the MTurk platform, we asked Western (mostly US) and Eastern (mostly Indian) adults to estimate the value of four types of collectible, a work of art, a celebrity sweater, a dinosaur bone and moon rock. We then told them about a machine that can create an identical duplicate and asked them to value the copy. In two studies of over 800 adults we found the same basic pattern. Overall, both cultures think originals are worth more than copies but the two cultures diverge on the celebrity clothing. Eastern adults see the duplicate as not significantly different from the original compared to the Westerns adults. These results support the hypothesis that individualistic cultures place a greater value on objects associated with unique persons, which explains why the valuation of certain authentic items may vary cross-culturally.

It’s not that Eastern cultures do not have their idols. They certainly have their superstars in film and music as well, but the desire to collect celebrity possessions may not be such a cultural tradition. Eastern cultures also exhibit essentialist contagion in their rituals and concerns about moral contamination (the caste system being the notable example) but essentialist concerns are primarily heightened for negative contamination as opposed to positive transfer which is what is believed to be operating in celebrity clothing.

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The Strange Case of Mabus

I received an email earlier this week from Dennis Markuze AKA Mabus which I have posted here for readers to consider. For some reason, this chap has singled me out along with Tim Farley, Richard Wiseman and other skeptics in what he perceives as a campaign of persecution against him. I have occasionally reported on his past correspondence with me as frankly, he does seem a bit “nutty” as Richard Feynman would say.

I am not a psychiatrist nor a clinical psychologist but it seems to me that Dennis Markuze has some serious mental health problems. At one point he was sending threatening emails to a number of us which ended up with him being arrested and prosecuted (see below). Personally, I am far enough away from the man and so have never felt under any real threat so I did question the wisdom of prosecuting someone who has a psychiatric condition.  However, I am reminded that there are cases where disturbed individuals have sent threatening correspondence that was unheeded and then they went on to commit attacks. It is not always a clear cut situation.

Anyway, here is the email he sent me. In comparison to most of his earlier messages which were made up of bizarre, unconnected ramblings, punctuated by the occasional “BOOM” written in bold parenthesis, this message seems quite coherent. Maybe Dennis is receiving treatment which is a good thing. On other hand, maybe with more clarity of thoughts and cognitive ability, he may get his act together in seeking revenge!

Anyway, I have never really understood why I am one of his targets but I have no plans to visit Montreal for a while.







Tim Farley vs Dennis Markuze



1.         I am the person named in, and who subscribed, the AFFIDAVIT OF TRUTH dated the 3rd day of February, 2014

2.         To the best of my knowledge and belief, the matters and facts in it are true.

3.         Where matters specifically stated in it are made upon information and belief, I believe them to be true.



For over 40 years a man by the name of James Randi, founder of the James Randi Educational foundation (JREF), has challenged anyone to provide proof of the paranormal and that he would pay them $1,000,000 if they could. Hundreds have tried and all have failed the test.

We accepted the challenge.

Ever since I have been attacked, harassed, and targeted by atheists and skeptics from all over the world. They have made up lies and accusations against me. Threatened me and my family, and done whatever they can to silence me.

I plead guilty last time in court because I was under duress and did not really understand what was going on. The media ran a false story on me even before I was tried, disgracing me publicly. They were building an unlawful case against me even before I was heard.

I am a Christian being charged for my controversial ideas on religion and politics not for any offense. People have published and republished my work all over the internet. Online strangers thousands of kilometers away have misrepresented my words, fabricated threats to silence me, to have me arrested, to seize my property, to imprison me, to take away my rights. The charges laid on me are based on hearsay and conjecture and wish. These are subjective charges, and the only party that has really been injured has been me!

Farley doesn’t like what I have to say about him and his organization, the James Randi Foundation, an atheist group, of which he is a senior member. But most importantly he does not want the public to see how we won the paranormal prize, and is doing everything in his power to prevent us from revealing how we did it.

But here is how we won the paranormal challenge:

Apart from providing proof of the supernatural, my actual ideas center upon the utter waste of intelligence used in the ideology of atheism and the importance of peace and disarmament for the planet, and the terrible costs of war. My real words can be found here not the broken fragments they produce to use as lies to condemn me.

These claims of alleged harassment are unfounded and based on presumption, and I believe no evidence to the contrary and none exists.

AND I make this declaration conscientiously believing it to be true and knowing that it is of the same force and effect as if made under oath.


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