1. Do most people kiss to the right or left?
Right – meaning right cheek to right cheek. And yes, researchers really have spent time on that vital issue – in airports, parks, railways stations and beaches. Believe it or not, the results of their observations have led scientists to useful information about the right and left sides of your pre-frontal cortex competing for dominance. Therapists have been able to help people with brain damage as a result. By the way, see how most painters and sculptors (including Picasso and Rodin) show kissing couples. Maybe they did their own stake-outs at the parks and beaches.
2. Are children these days more impulsive than a generation ago?
Probably not. The latest evidence summarises the results of numerous studies using of the classic test of impulsiveness – the ability of four- year-olds to resist a marshmallow. Over the last 50 years there’s been a consistent improvement in the youngsters’ ability to 'delay gratification', as the psychologists say.
3. The scores are even in your football match and you are coming to the end of the penalty shoot-outs. The crowd is on edge. So are you of course. Should you aim to the goal-keeper’s right or the left?
The left. Dutch researchers have found that under stressful conditions like a shootout goal keepers will dive to the right 70 per cent of the time. When we really want something to happen, the left side of our brain lights up and that activates the right side of our bodies.
4. If your friend reports hearing imaginary voices, is he okay? A) Sure, most of us hear voices like that B) It’s a bit unusual, but he might be okay C) No, he must be sick
B) It’s a bit unusual, but he might be okay. Hallucinations are normally thought to be symptoms of schizophrenia, but estimates suggest that between five and 10 per cent of the population hear voices that aren’t real. The voices cause them no distress and the listeners have no other symptoms of psychosis. Schizophrenia is a serious disorder and can be very distressing – and, by the way, it has nothing to do with ‘split personality’.
5. Is it true that even if you tell people they’re taking a placebo (sugar pill) their health will improve?
Yes. Maybe it goes against common sense, but a study in 2012 showed that it’s not necessary that patients believe they are taking the real medicine. A qualification to note: The patients in the study were encouraged to believe that the placebo effect is powerful – which is true.
6. Let’s say you are about to speak to a large audience. You are starting to sweat, your pulse is up, you feel tension in your stomach. Which strategy would work better? A) Tell yourself you are excited B) Tell yourself to relax and think of a calm scene.
A) Tell yourself you are excited. Our authority is Ian Robertson, a British neuroscientist and former clinical psychologist. Robertson points out that the symptoms of anxiety are almost identical to those of excitement . He says it’s easier and more effective to relabel the anxiety than strive for calmness, which has the opposite symptoms. Other researchers working in a range contexts suggest he’s on to something.
7. Matt Le Blanc (Friends and presenter for the new Top Gear) once said, ‘The more cynical you become, the better off you’ll be.’ Was he right?
The objective evidence says he was wrong. We could justify scepticism so that we are not taken in by one-sided arguments or fraudsters, but not cynicism – the belief that most people are untrustworthy. Researches have linked cynicism to less mental and physical health. A recent study showed that cynics also earn less, probably because they miss out on the benefits of working cooperatively with others.