1. Which of these actions could help you improve your health? A) Reduce your cholesterol B) Drink eight glasses of water a day C) Reduce your blood pressure D) Find more friends
All except the eight glasses of water. For healthy people it’s a myth.
Find more friends? Yes. It's a biggie. Psychologists talk about 'social connectedness'. A stream of research papers has linked loneliness to heart disease, depression, more infections and shorter life spans.
One study has shown that feeling isolated from others does more harm to our health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.
2. You have 10 days to prepare for an exam. Would it be better to schedule one intensive session of study over a weekend or spread the same number of hours over the previous week?
Spread the same number of hours over the previous week. Spaced learning is much more efficient. Even two study sessions with a gap between them can be twice as effective as one intensive session of the same length.
3. The party is so noisy you are struggling to hear your colleague on your cellphone. Which would work best?
A) Putting your finger in your other ear. B) Covering the mouthpiece C) Pressing the back of your other ear behind the lobe.
B) Covering the mouthpiece. It makes more sense than you might think.
Phones are designed to mix the sound around you with the sound of the person at the other end. (Geeky people know it as 'full duplex'.) Covering the mouthpiece stops your brain receiving the mixed sounds through the phone. Now you can screen out your background while you focus on your colleague's news of the office crisis.
Your brain's surprising ability to screen out background sounds is sometimes called the 'Cocktail Party Effect'. Imagine: The party is crowded, you have a glass in hand, pinky raised and you are struggling to hear the person next to you. Then people several metres away begin talking about you. How's your hearing now?
4. How much fuel does a jumbo jet take? (Some people think it's about one million litres.)
It's just over 200,000 litres. But here's the real point: Were you influenced by the ridiculous one million-litre hint? Even suggesting it provides a benchmark as your brain dreams up some more credible guess.
Any starting figure can be a powerful anchor. It's like the infomercials. 'How much would you expect to pay? Not $400, not $200, but just two easy payments of $49.95.' What a bargain!
5. A bat and ball cost $1.10. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
Five cents. Did you think it was 10 cents? When researchers asked the same question of students at Harvard, MIT and Princeton, more than half thought 10 cents was the correct answer. It's another intuitive response but those first-impression intutitive responses often let us down.
Think of it this way. If you chose the intuitive response of 10 cents for the ball, the difference in price between bat and ball would only be 90 cents. If you chose five cents, the difference would be $1.00 – five cents for the ball and $1.05 for the bat.
6. You've set up an honesty box next to the sweets in the office kitchen. Which poster would encourage your colleagues to do the right thing? A) Colourful flowers B) Eyes
B) Eyes. Researchers at a British university tried it. They changed the posters of flowers and eyes regularly over ten weeks and the amount paid for the sweets matched the change – up on eye weeks and down on flower weeks.
Even a symbolic, 'We're watching you' message was enough to encourage significantly more honest behaviour. Is that creepy?
7. Your switchboard stops working, causing inconvenience to hundreds of customers. You decide to put an apology in the paper. Should you mention that a power surge burned out a printed circuit board, or keep it simple?
Mention the power surge and the printed circuit board. The research shows that if you don't mention the technical cause your customers are likely to assume the cause was human error and be far less forgiving.