Promotion for The Intelligence Trap
I am an award-winning writer and editor, who specialises in writing in-depth articles probing the extremes of the human mind, body and behaviour.
My first book, The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Stupid Mistakes and How to Make Wiser Decisions, is out now (Hodder & Stoughton/WW Norton).
If you like what you see here, please visit my website www.davidrobson.me, or get in touch on Twitter or LinkedIn (links below).
Promotion for The Intelligence Trap
A high IQ and expert knowledge can’t always protect you from flawed thinking, reports David Robson
Those with the highest qualifications can be quite stupid, explains the science writer David Robson. Try his quiz to see if you’re caught in the Intelligence Trap
Thanks to a new discipline of evidence-based wisdom, we know the right and a wrong ways to go about self-reflection
In this edited excerpt from his new book, The Intelligence Trap, David Robson explains why a high IQ and education won't necessarily protect you from highly irrational behavior - and may sometimes amplify your errors.
Whether its political lies or dangerous medical advice, we are inundated by misleading information every day. Here are the best ways to protect yourself.
Hidebound views on subjects such as the climate crisis and Brexit are the norm – but the appliance of science may sway stubborn opinions
This is an edited extract from The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes. Iceland should never have made it to the Euro 2016 men's football tournament. Four years previously, they were ranked 131st in the world.
Research shows that smart people are more susceptible to fake news and conspiracy theories - but why?
Some people are smart, but make all sorts of mistakes in their lives. Is that you? Here are four thinking traps clever people fall into.
An in-depth interview on ABC's All in the Mind on the nature and implications of the intelligence trap.
In this fascinating study, Vincent examines how our attitudes to being alone — physically and mentally — have changed over time
From their academic success to their social skills and mental health, the pandemic is a crisis for today’s children – and the fallout may follow them for the rest of their lives.
Absurd art can be so unsettling that the brain reacts as if it is feeling physical pain, yet it ultimately sharpens the mind as we look for new ways to make sense of the world.
Could a potential new treatment for the most common form of dementia be delivered by simply watching television?
David Robson on psychological efforts to achieve ‘herd immunity’ against the spread of misinformation in pandemic times.
Blue zones have the highest percentage of centenarians anywhere in the world. Can they tell us the secret to a long and healthy life? A film by David Robson and Pierangelo Pirak.
Rediger suggests that alternative treatments, including prayer, might help cure some terminal illnesses — but mistakes anecdote for data
From students to politicians, many smart people have fallen for dangerous lies spread about the new coronavirus. Why? Psychology explains why we are vulnerable to this flood misinformation - and how we can stem the tide.
Millions of users are signing up for free courses taught by professors from Harvard and other top universities. Here's how to make the most of the experience.
The threat of contagion can twist our psychological responses to ordinary interactions, shaping our political and social outlook in surprising ways.
Is your sleeplessness all just a terrible dream?
The mysterious Liangzhu civilisation rivalled ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia with its engineering marvels
It’s said that the key to work success is finding your passion. But what is passion - and how does our mindset govern whether or not we feel it?
Science is only starting to explain why slow breathing is so beneficial to our mental and physical health - and the secret lies in the vagus nerve.
The most effective adverts we encounter on a daily basis use certain principles that we could all apply in our daily lifes.
Whether you’re taking up the oboe or finessing your Finnish, scientific research offers tips to aid learning
The “gambler’s fallacy” - which can affect everyone from athletes to loan officers - creates deceptive biases that lead you to anticipate patterns that don’t really exist.
Arachnid intelligence is challenging our ideas about brains and consciousness – and their minds may even stretch into their webs, finds David Robson
Evidence-based strategies to improve your happiness and inner worth, from expressive writing to self-affirmation
From the etiquette of eye contact or how much personal space is appropriate, to the most tactful way to make an exit should the conversation go south, these findings will help you to present your best self at any social occasion.
We can now amplify the restorative benefits of sleep. Could this help us cope with later nights and early mornings?
Women athletes are twice as likely as men to get concussed – and the effects are more severe. But with research focusing mainly on men, what can we do to make sure women with concussion aren’t left behind?
Polymaths excel in multiple fields. But what makes a polymath – and can their cross-discipline expertise help tackle some of society’s most pressing challenges?
One day in 1949, the blues musician BB King was playing a gig in Arkansas when a fight broke out between two men over a woman named Lucille. They knocked over a heater, which started a fire, and soon everyone was evacuated.
Imagine a pilot is taking a familiar flight along a known route, during which the weather takes a turn for the worst. She knows that flying through the storm comes with some serious risks - and according to her training, she should take a detour or return.
From the humble journalist to the big-city planner, people across the globe miss deadlines. But what if we could fix the cognitive bias that causes this to happen?
When you buy a cup of coffee, you might have noticed that of the three size options - small, medium and large - the medium-sized serving often costs almost as much as the large. Given the apparent bargain, have you ever opted for the biggest and most expensive option?
Are our IQs set to increase forever, or are we on the cusp of decline? David Robson explores the past, present and future of intelligence.
Researchers are turning to a rare genetic condition to understand how we evolved to get along. Ben Monkaba's smile stretches from one red sideburn to the other. When I recently spoke to him over Skype, his grin never left his face.
When I meet the cognitive neuroscientist Gina Rippon, she tells me one anecdote that helps demonstrate just how early children can be exposed to gender stereotypes. It was the birth of her second daughter, on 11 June 1986 - the night that Gary Lineker scored a hat trick against Poland in the men's Football World Cup.
The origin of language is one of the biggest mysteries of human evolution, but it looks like we’ve finally cracked it, says David Robson
Can a lobster feel pain in the same way as you or I? We know that they have the same sensors - called nociceptors - that cause us to flinch or cry when we are hurt. And they certainly behave like they are sensing something unpleasant.
Fazekas's previous research focused on the variations in waking consciousness, such as the vividness of a sensory experience. In so-called masking experiments, for example, researchers quickly flash one image, "the target," before the participants' eyes, followed by another picture, "the mask."
Forecasting the future is far from easy, but there is a way to hone your skills no matter who you are.
It can be the smallest event that triggers Donna Penner's traumatic memories of an operation from more than ten years ago. One day, for instance, she was waiting in the car as her daughter ran an errand, and realised that she was trapped inside.
In 1986, millions of Filipinos took to the streets of Manila in peaceful protest and prayer in the People Power movement. The Marcos regime folded on the fourth day. In 2003, the people of Georgia ousted Eduard Shevardnadze through the bloodless Rose Revolution, in which protestors stormed the parliament building holding the flowers in their hands.
A patient's gut may not be the most obvious place to look for the origins of depression. But that was the hunch of George Porter Phillips in the early 20th Century.
If you don't speak Japanese but would like, momentarily, to feel like a linguistic genius, take a look at the following words. Try to guess their meaning from the two available options: 1. nurunuru (a) dry or (b) slimy?2. pikapika (a) bright or (b) dark?3. wakuwaku (a) excited or (b) bored?4.
The search for the "elixir of youth" has spanned centuries and continents - but recently, the hunt has centred on the Okinawa Islands, which stretch across the East China Sea. Not only do the older inhabitants enjoy the longest life expectancy of anyone on Earth, but the vast majority of those years are lived in remarkably good health too.
The Spanish flu killed quickly, and it killed in huge numbers. Other flu pandemics in modern times have been far less deadly. Why?
Our ancient-hominid relatives seem to have had surprisingly sophisticated health care. Neanderthals suffered many gruesome injuries in their day. The precious remains of our ancient-human relatives reveal crushed limbs, fractured skulls, and broken ribs-relics from hunting accidents and warfare. That's not to mention severe tooth abscesses and broken teeth that would have contributed to severe chronic pain.
How do you envisage the pursuit of happiness? For many, it is a relentless journey, and the more you put in, the more you get out. Just consider the following episode from Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling inspirational memoir Eat, Pray, Love, in which she recounts some advice from her Guru.
Imagine, for a moment, that you had no birth certificate and your age was simply based on the way you feel inside. How old would you say you are? Like your height or shoe size, the number of years that have passed since you first entered the world is an unchangeable fact.
If anyone knows how to grab a victory from the jaws of defeat, it's Serena Williams. Just consider her semi-final against Kim Clijsters at the 2003 Australian Open. At 5-2 down in the final set, she was within a hair's breadth of losing her place in the tournament.
Are you curious, conscientious and competitive? Do you also have the more mysterious qualities of "high adjustment", "ambiguity acceptance" and "risk approach"? If so, congratulations! According to new psychological research, these six traits constitute a "high potential" personality that will take you far in life. The truth, of course, is a little more nuanced.
When trying to memorise new material, it's easy to assume that the more work you put in, the better you will perform. Yet taking the occasional down time - to do literally nothing - may be exactly what you need.
It sounds like the perfect summer blockbuster. A handsome king is blessed with superhuman strength, but his insufferable arrogance means that he threatens to wreak havoc on his kingdom. Enter a down-to-earth wayfarer who challenges him to fight. The king ends the battle chastened, and the two heroes become fast friends and embark on a series of dangerous quests across the kingdom.
Tesla is in turmoil. The electric car-maker's shares have fallen by over 25% in value since last September, and analysts are predicting further losses. One reason is the increasing concern over its productivity: the company has consistently failed to meet the manufacturing forecasts for its "Model 3" cars.
Feeling scute with your on fleek eyebrows or with your new balayage? Or are you rekt and baeless? The English language is forever in flux, as new words are born and old ones die. But where do these terms come from and what determines whether they survive?
Lubna Yaseen was a student in Baghdad when death threats forced her into exile. Her crime was to think the unthinkable and question the unquestionable-to state, openly, that she was an atheist. Growing up in Hillah, a city in central Iraq, she developed an independent mind at a young age.
Nestled in a grassy valley of north-eastern Namibia, Opuwo may seem like a crumbling relic of colonial history. With a population of just 12,000, the town is so small that it would take less than a minute to drive from the road sign on one side of town to the shanty villages on other.
If you are ever lucky enough to visit the foothills of the Himalayas, you may hear a remarkable duet ringing through the forest. To the untrained ear, it might sound like musicians warming up a strange instrument. In reality, the enchanting melody is the sound of two lovers talking in a secret, whistled language.
In H. G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau , the shipwrecked hero Edward Pendrick is walking through a forest glade when he chances upon a group of two men and a woman squatting around a fallen tree.
For most of us, memory is a kind of scrapbook, a mess of blurred and faded snapshots of our lives. As much as we would like to cling on to our past, even the most poignant moments can be washed away with time.
James Flynn is worried about leaving the world to millennials. As a professor at the University of Otago in New Zealand, he regularly meets bright students with enormous potential, only to find that many of them aren't engaging with the complex past of the world around them.
Silvano was on a cruise ship when the family curse struck. An elegant 53-year-old with striking red hair who enjoyed wearing a tuxedo at every possible occasion, he tried to present himself with the poise of the film stars he admired.
Derek's wife had put up with more than most people could stand before she finally decided to call the doctor. Almost every night, her husband would wake her up from sleep to tell her another bon mot that had just come to mind.
If you ever need proof of human gullibility, cast your mind back to the attack of the flesh-eating bananas . In January 2000, a series of chain emails began reporting that imported bananas were infecting people with "necrotizing fasciitis" - a rare disease in which the skin erupts into livid purple boils before disintegrating and peeling away from muscle and bone.
When we think of our memories, it's natural to imagine a kind of personal library, a bit like Sherlock Holmes's memory palace, where we have stored the most precious events of our lives. Along the shelves, you can pull out that fifth birthday when you dressed up as Superman, or that family picnic when you found a worm in your sandwich.
If ignorance is bliss, does a high IQ equal misery? Popular opinion would have it so. We tend to think of geniuses as being plagued by existential angst, frustration, and loneliness. Think of Virginia Woolf, Alan Turing, or Lisa Simpson - lone stars, isolated even as they burn their brightest.
A few months after his brain surgery, Matthew returned to work as a computer programmer. He knew it was going to be a challenge - he had to explain to his boss that he was living with a permanent brain injury.
Concetta Antico has a rare mutation that lets her see "impossible" colours. And her artwork means we can now get a glimpse of her world
The small room feels a little like a spaceship cockpit. In front of me, a group of scientists are sitting in front of a series of monitors, deep in concentration as they fine-tune their equipment. There is a hushed silence, save for the gentle chugging and churning sound of powerful motors rotating around us.
Out on a sunny Berlin balcony, Tim Keeley and Daniel Krasa are firing words like bullets at each other. First German, then Hindi, Nepali, Polish, Croatian, Mandarin and Thai - they've barely spoken one language before the conversation seamlessly melds into another. Together, they pass through about 20 different languages or so in total.
Caleb is telling me about the birth of his son, now eight months old. "You know you hear parents say that the first time they looked at their kid, they were overcome with that feeling of joy and affection?" he asks me, before pausing. "I didn't experience any of that."
William's internal clock is eternally jammed at 13:40 on 14 March 2005 - right in the middle of a dentist appointment. A member of the British Armed Forces, he had returned to his post in Germany the night before after attending his grandfather's funeral.
A couple of years ago, the neuropsychologist Rosalind Ridley was browsing through a friend's bookshelf when she came across JM Barrie's original Peter Pan stories.
Have you ever felt a little mbuki-mvuki - the irresistible urge to "shuck off your clothes as you dance"? Perhaps a little kilig - the jittery fluttering feeling as you talk to someone you fancy? How about uitwaaien - which encapsulates the revitalising effects of taking a walk in the wind?
Sitting down in this small Hong Kong restaurant, I assume that the white chest of drawers behind me are filled with tea leaves, herbs, and fungi. So I'm rather perturbed when my guide Cecilia Leung tells me that they are not filled with dried plant life - but live snakes.
Editor's Note (December 21, 2017): Through to the end of the year, BBC Capital is bringing back some of your favourite stories from 2017. Imagine meeting someone for the first time who comes from a distant country but is fluent in your language.
Could you erectify a luxurimole flackoblots? Have you hidden your chocolate cake from Penelope? Or maybe you're just going to vada the bona omi? If you understand any of these sentences, you speak an English "anti-language".
As Horace Capron first travelled through Hokkaido in 1871, he searched for a sign of human life among the vast prairies, wooded glades and threatening black mountains. "The stillness of death reigned over this magnificent scene," he later wrote. "Not a leaf was stirred, not the chirping of a bird or a living thing."
Like it or loathe it, many see the class system as a quintessential element of British life, together with our obsession for tea and cake and talking about the weather. "Class distinctions do not die; they merely learn new ways of expressing themselves," the British sociologist Richard Hoggart once wrote.
For millions of years, the pangolin's natural reserve had been its best defence. The only mammal with hard, plate-like scales, it looks something like a badger in chainmail - and at the merest hint of danger, the pangolin simply roles up into a tight ball that is nearly impossible for a predator to penetrate.
At first, it feels almost too easy. Against the gentle rustling of leaves, I walk through the back gate, across the lawn, and open the door, all of it unnoticed. I am committing a crime in broad daylight - and no one can stop me. My glee soon turns to a kind of mental fog.
If the Queen's governess were still alive today, she may have noticed a few discordant notes in her charge's formerly crystal clear diction. OK, she ain' exactly droppin' her Ts and her Gs like Russell Brand, but linguists have nevertheless found that her enunciation today might have been considered a little, well, common in her youth.
From how often we do it to what we do, BBC Future's latest SmartList explores the wide spectrum of sexual desires and behaviours.
Soon after Suzanne O'Sullivan had left medical school in Dublin, she met a patient named Yvonne, whose mysterious illness appeared to bear little relation to any of her previous studies. Yvonne, she was told, had been stacking the fridges in a supermarket when a colleague had accidentally sprayed a fine mist of window cleaner in her face.
In the French quarter of New Orleans, John Edgar Browning is about to take part in a "feeding". It begins as clinically as a medical procedure. His acquaintance first swabs a small patch on Browning's upper back with alcohol. He then punctures it with a disposable hobby scalpel, and squeezes until the blood starts flowing.
It was a case that baffled everyone involved. The 74-year-old woman had initially been troubled by a rash that wouldn't go away. By the time she arrived at the hospital, her lower right leg was covered in waxy lumps, eruptions of angry red and livid purple.
It was the early 1890s, and Ernest Hankin was studying cholera outbreaks along the banks of the Ganges. As the locals dumped their dead in the holy water, the river should have quickly transformed into a poisonous spring of the disease, with an epidemic sweeping through towns and villages down the valley.
Human life is so precious, it seems crass to put a price on it. How can a pile of coins, paper or gold bars match a year on Earth? Life should be, quite literally, invaluable. Yet that is the morbid question that health services, everywhere, inevitably have to ask.
Take a deep breath, and exhale. Depending on where you live, that life-giving lungful of air might just be pushing you towards diabetes and obesity. Two people can eat the same foods, and do the same exercise, but one may put on more weight thanks to the air around their home The idea that "thin air" can make you fat sounds ludicrous, yet some extremely puzzling studies appear to be showing that it's possible.
Just 30 years after the publication of Moby Dick, a group of Alaskan whalers attempted to tame their own ocean giant. Their target was a male bowhead whale, the second largest mammal on Earth. The species were already famed for their amazing longevity: according to Inuit folklore, they could live "two human lifetimes", and they were known to escape harpoons with their great strength.
Once upon a time, animal courtship was thought to run something like a Barbara Cartland novel. The rakish males battle it out for a chaste female, who sits around choosing the prince charming to father her young. While her mate may sow his wild oats far and wide, she patiently tends her brood.
A butterfly perching on a lettuce leaf is not normally a cause for marvel. But I am standing on the roof the Bank of America Tower, a 39-floor building in the heart of Hong Kong's busiest district, to see one of its highest farms. The butterfly must have flown across miles of tower blocks to reach this small oasis amidst the concrete desert.
"Do you know Edwina didn't even cry when that crocodile popped off her leg? She didn't even cry, Edwina. She was fascinated, just fascinated. Her mother fainted dead away, and her father fainted dead away. Half the attendants fainted dead away. And Edwina just stood there and watched him chew up her leg...
Are you tired? Plagued by migraines? Or suffering from anxiety? Then Isaac Pulvermacher had the answer with his famous "hydro-electric belt". Shaped like a cowboy's bullet belt, the device was really a series of small batteries with two clasps at either end.
As with many nightmares, Mary Arnold-Forster was being chased. She seemed to be in London around the First World War, and she had somehow become embroiled in dangerous espionage. "I had succeeded in tracing the existence of a complicated and dangerous plot against our country," she noted in her diary.
A few years ago, Anna Katharina Schaffner became the latest victim of the exhaustion 'epidemic'. It began with a kind of mental and physical inertia - as she put it, a "sense of heaviness" in all that she did. Even the most mundane tasks would sap her of all her energy, and concentrating on her work became increasingly difficult.
In March 1941, a New York audience gathered outside a Broadway theatre to experience one of the more unusual concerts the city had ever seen. The 13-piece orchestra was led by Raymond Scott (whose tunes would feature heavily in Warner Bros' cartoons), and made a great show of playing their instruments.
The dead pigeons should have been James Glaisher's warning. On 5 September 1862, the scientist was taking one of his first balloon flights - and alongside the compass, thermometers and bottles of brandy, he had decided to bring along six birds. "One was thrown out at the height of three miles," he later wrote.
Long before Bugs Bunny came along, a cheeky rabbit terrorised Mayan gods. With speech bubbles, stink lines and naughty jokes, they are uncannily similar to graphic novels.
A few days into my first job, a colleague walked into my team's office to complain about a "situation" with the toilet. I won't go into the messy details; let's just say that someone's potty-training must have been a little askew.
Soon after Andrew Lees embarked on his medical career at University College Hospital London, one of his superiors gave him a rather strange reading list. Rather than the usual fusty anatomical volumes, it included The Complete Sherlock Holmes. What on earth could the fictional detective teach an aspiring neurologist?
If you are ever overcome by feelings of self-doubt, just remember Agatha Christie. In April 1958, her play The Mousetrap became the longest-running production in British theatre, having given 2,239 performances to date. Her producer had arranged a party at the Savoy Hotel to celebrate her success.
Sometimes music strikes the body like a bolt of lightning. "I was in a friend's dorm room in my third year as an undergraduate," Psyche Loui remembers. "Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 came up on the radio and I was instantly captivated."
An interactive quiz that measures the "dark triad" of personality traits.
When I first see Nick Middleton, he is surrounded by globes and atlases showing the most exotic places on the planet. We are in the basement of Stanfords, London's largest travel bookshop, visited by such intrepid explorers as Florence Nightingale, Ernest Shackleton and Ranulph Fiennes.
It was Rachel Winograd, at the University of Missouri, who first came up with these four distinct types of drunk, as she started exploring the way that alcohol can alter our character. Existing experiments, she says, had looked at the way that alcohol influences clear-cut measures, like reaction time or self-control - but never the messier question of personality.
Once upon a time, your origins were easy to understand. Your dad met your mum, they had some fun, and from a tiny fertilised egg you emerged kicking and screaming into the world. You are half your mum, half your dad - and 100% yourself.
It begins as surely as the leaves dropping off the trees. As the mercury drops and the sunlight fades, the sniffles set in. At best, it's just a cold that leaves us with the strange feeling that we've swallowed a cheese grater; if we're unlucky, our body is wracked with a high fever and aching limbs for up a week or longer.
When Daniel first walked into London's National Hospital, ophthalmologist Michael Sanders could have had little idea that he would permanently alter our view of human consciousness. Daniel turned up saying that he was half blind. Although he had healthy eyes, a brain operation to cure headaches seemed to have destroyed a region that was crucial for vision.
Food was once seen as a source of sustenance and pleasure. Today, the dinner table can instead begin to feel like a minefield. Is the bacon on your plate culinary asbestos, and will the wheat in your toast give you "grain brain"? Even the bubbles of gas in your fizzy drinks have been considered a hazard.
You'd have thought Sandi Mann was offering people a slap in the face - not a steaming cup of coffee. She'd been visiting her local cafe with her children, where they often enjoyed a cheap and cheerful breakfast as a treat before school.
As soon as I was born, I was already destined to die earlier than half the babies in my maternity ward - a curse that I can do little to avoid. The reason? My sex. Simply due to the fact that I am male, I can be expected to die around three years earlier than a woman born on the same day.
As we sip our lattes and espressos and read the daily headlines, climate change can seem like a distant threat. But travel a few thousand miles to the source of your caffeine fix, and the turbulence is all too real. Consider the coffee farmers in Chiapas, Mexico, recently interviewed by researcher Elisa Frank from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Thomas Ormerod's team of security officers faced a seemingly impossible task. At airports across Europe, they were asked to interview passengers on their history and travel plans. Ormerod had planted a handful of people arriving at security with a false history, and a made-up future - and his team had to guess who they were.
How much sex is equivalent to a slice of cheese? And how hard is it to make up for a donut? BBC Future examines just how much exercise is needed to offset your favourite snacks.
Can you be too beautiful? It is hardly a problem that most of us have to contemplate - as much as we might like to dream that it were the case. Yet the blessings and curses of beauty have been a long-standing interest in psychology.
Mental arithmetic can be stressful for many people, causing a lifelong fear of numbers. What makes the brain freeze up when calculating hard sums? David Robson reports.
Renate Smallegange is something of a connoisseur of smelly feet - and she goes to surprising lengths to study their odours. Sometimes she'll collect worn nylon socks that have become imbued with the fragrance. If that's not good enough, she asks people to rub their feet on glass beads and wipe their sweaty skin on the surface.
Björk is at it again with a science-themed album and a suite of apps. David Robson met the Icelandic singer to find out more, and enjoyed a sweet music lesson to boot
Time is money - and never was this clearer than at 09:59:59.985 Eastern Time, on 3 June 2013. Due to a glitch in its time-keeping, the news agency Reuters accidentally released trading data just 15 milliseconds early. The result was $28m of transactions, as robot traders started dealing before others could get a look in.
The plus-sized comedian Dawn French would be unlikely to describe herself as a sex symbol, but was she simply born at the wrong time? "If I had been around when Rubens was painting, I would have been revered as a fabulous model," she once quipped. "Kate Moss?
You might expect a great philosopher to look past our surface into the depths of the soul - but Ancient Greek thinkers were surprisingly concerned with appearance. Aristotle and his followers even compiled a volume of the ways that your looks could reflect your spirit. "Soft hair indicates cowardice and coarse hair courage," they wrote.
Julie Matthias's family have a game they sometimes like to play after she comes home, disappointed, from another doctor's appointment. During dinner, they pick a foreign accent, and challenge each other to speak in the strange voice. The playful jokes help to distract from the distress of a condition that her doctors have struggled to treat.
Face to face with the world's leading memory experts, my mind is beginning to feel very humble. Ben Whately, for instance, tells me about the famous mnemonist Matteo Ricci, a 16th Century Jesuit priest who was the first westerner to take China's highest civil service exams. The exam was an excruciating ordeal that involved memorising reams of classical poetry - a task that could take a lifetime.
Scientists are using hypnosis to understand why some people believe they’re inhabited by paranormal beings. To find out more, David Robson lost his mind.
If you ever doubt the idea that the very clever can also be very silly, just remember the time the smartest man in America tried to electrocute a turkey. Benjamin Franklin had been attempting to capture "electrical fire" in glass jars as a primitive battery.
Is ageing an inevitable decline - or are there unexpected perks to getting older? David Robson reports.
"You know you were told to be nice and not to heckle?" Sophie Meekings asks her audience in the dingy cellar of the North London pub. "Well, you can heckle me if you want - it's just there's not much point, because I won't be able to hear you."
Is coffee much deeper than it appears? David Robson meets a philosopher who certainly thinks so - he's attempting to use the drink to probe the human mind.
You may have already met Slender Man - the preternaturally tall, spectral being wearing a black suit and tie, with a white and featureless face. He is often seen in the shadows of photos, stalking small children, and some say that he can drive you insane with terror.
Lewis Carroll was remarkably modest about his masterpiece. "The heroine spends an hour underground, and meets various birds, beasts, etc (no fairies), endowed with speech," he wrote in Punch. "The whole thing is a dream, but that I don't want revealed till the end."
Beware the scaremongers. Like a witch doctor's spell, their words might be spreading modern plagues. We have long known that expectations of a malady can be as dangerous as a virus. In the same way that voodoo shamans could harm their victims through the power of suggestion, priming someone to think they are ill can often produce the actual symptoms of a disease.
Few experiences are as maddening as a restless night. Sleep should, in theory, be the most natural and effortless activity in the world, yet insomnia is common to many of us. To add to the frustration, it is now becoming clear that the hours you spend in bed are just as important to your physical and mental health as those spent walking, talking and eating.
If you had the opportunity to feed harmless bugs into a coffee grinder, would you enjoy the experience? Even if the bugs had names, and you could hear their shells painfully crunching? And would you take a perverse pleasure from blasting an innocent bystander with an excruciating noise?
The sleeping mind enters a time warp, says David Robson
How did we evolve from a single cell to thinking beings? This is the story of the most complex object in the universe
Eric Robinson has a surprising tool for weight loss. It's something we all have, but perhaps don't use it as much as we'd like: our memory. Dieters often feel that they are waging war with their stomachs, but psychologists like Robinson believe that appetite is formed as much in the mind as our guts.
It changed his body - and his mind
With neuroscience developing so fast, what are the perils of reading the brain for secrets about human nature?
A small group of people have a surprising knack for correctly predicting the course of world events – and you could be one of them, says David Robson.
Psychologist and comics obsessive Neil Cohn believes cartoons have a sophisticated language all their own
The beginning of Armageddon, or an alien invasion? Over the weekend, people in the UK and parts of the US were awoken by loud, rumbling noises. David Robson explores the possible explanations?
How do our brains create the dream world, with its eerie mixture of the familiar and the bizarre?
One day, a man saw time itself stop, and as David Robson discovers, unpicking what happened is revealing that we can all experience temporal trickery too.
Why should we take the idea of colonising space seriously? Because they are closer than you think.
How did we become the smartest creatures on Earth? David Robson finds that we can reconstruct our ancestors' intimate thoughts - and even their emotions - from their stonework
Robin Williams' death has caused many to reassess the way we think about depression. But can science tell us better ways to predict and treat people who are at risk of killing themselves?
What do "kiki" and "bouba" mean? The sounds of words can have hidden meanings that might give us glimpse of our ancestors' first utterances
Should we have a limit to the human lifespan? And if so, when is the best time to die?
Modern dream research has a lot to learn from the century-old exploits of an eccentric French marquis, says David Robson
Should artificial intelligence try to be more human, with jokes and humility? Or will they become an annoying co-worker?
The discovery of huge temples thousands of years older than agriculture suggests that culture arose from spiritual hunger, not full bellies
The mind-warping effects of space travel
One of science's surprising mysteries
From the time of Socrates to today, people have worried that technology is making us more stupid. But there are good reasons to think we are only getting smarter
Given the rapid change in language in just a few millennia, what will it be like tens of thousands of years from now?
Do burgers, sugary snacks and other unhealthy foods exacerbate the effects of mental illness? David Robson investigates the evidence, and discovers a surprising new idea to help treat depression.
The World Cup inspired one scientist to see if you could train bees to play football. See what happened in the video above, and what it tells us about bees' amazing intellect.
Sunny McKee was 61 when she competed in her first Ironman triathlon. How she manages to run, swim and cycle extraordinary distances could change the way we look at the ageing body.
A review of "Louder than Words" by Benjamin Bergen
Companies are creating learning aids that tap the science of memories, says David Robson. Do they work in the classroom?
Humans aren’t the only animals that can run into trouble when choosing a mate...
Why you are the final obstacle to the drone invasion
Dan Frost constructs the conditions of the mantle in his lab. There he is buildind diamonds - from peanut butter - to understand the Earth's history.
Our memories, both good and bad, build a fortress that protects us against trauma, suggesting new treatments for depression and PTSD
You never lose the ability to learn like a child - if only you know how
Why marine biologists will brave the depths in our most ancient and fragile material
The secret pictorial language of Australian aborigines might hint at the origins of drawing - and language itself
This year, my New Year's Resolutions are going to take a somewhat different form to those of previous Januaries. I'm forgoing my usual goals to drink less, eat more fruit and to hit the gym rather than bingeing on trash TV.
From mandrill bottoms to the Scarlet Whore of Babylon - the strange psychology of red
There's a powerful medical tool lying right in your pocket, and it could be used immediately to stop the spread of Ebola.
Yawning has puzzled scientists for more than two millennia. But could a new theory settle the question once and for all? David Robson investigates.
A radical procedure that involves replacing a patient's blood with cold salt water could retrieve people from the brink of death, says David Robson.
Boredom slashes years off your lifespan... but is that the price we pay for its surprising benefits?
You ate, drunk, and were merry - but now it's time to wake up and smell the decaffeinated coffee. Each year hails the latest detox fads, but with so much pseudoscience muddying the lifestyle pages, it is difficult to know what to believe.
Eskimos really do have at least 50 words for snow
Sleep learning used to be a pipe dream. Now neuroscientists say they have found ways to enhance your memory with your eyes closed, says David Robson.
How did we come to be the species we are today? David Robson, Dan Jones and Kate Douglas investigate
What links Michelangelo to a musician named Smooth McGroove? Alexis Ohanian, an internet entrepreneur, has a surprising answer - and it suggests a way for you to quit your job and make a load of money while doing something you love.
Seeing a ghost may send shivers down your spine - but belief in the paranomal is a defence against even scarier truths
Many of our popular treatments are based on pseudoscience - so what works, and what doesn't?
The extraordinary mental feats of bees are forcing us to rethink what we thought we knew about intelligence
A review of Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Your month of birth could influence your lifespan, mental health and even your eyesight. David Robson explains how
I have a problem. I have friends that I love to hate. My "frenemies", as they are known. And they could be seriously affecting my health...
The Bard's continuing appeal lies in his intuitive understanding of how the human mind works
It's not often that you look at your meal to find it staring back at you. But when Diane Duyser picked up her cheese toastie, she was in for a shock. "I went to take a bite out of it, and then I saw this lady looking back at me," she told the Chicago Tribune.
Convoys of "zombie" trucks have already hit the roads
Humans speak 7000 different tongues – and not just to be difficult. Everything from genes to jungles has played a part
When I was a teenager, my eyesight slowly began to fail and I had to wear spectacles. What began as tiny slithers of glass soon started to approach double-glazing. "Why is this happening?" I would ask my ophthalmologist as I squinted at the blurry shapes on the eyechart and he upped my prescription.
The Ebola outbreak is stoking fears of a deadly virus spreading across the world through air travel. We talked to experts to discover the risks of catching the disease mid-flight.
Jacob Rosenberg's interest with in-flight flatulence began on a long-haul trip to a New Zealand. He looked down at his stomach and it seemed to have visibly grown since he stepped on the plane. When he opened his bag and saw his empty bottle of water this made sense.
Breaking up is hard to do. If drugs could ease the pain, when should we use them, David Robson asks neuro-ethicist Brian D. Earp