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David Robson

Science writer and editor

Location icon United Kingdom

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).

Portfolio

Promotion for The Intelligence Trap

New Scientist
23/02/2019
The stupidity trap

A high IQ and expert knowledge can’t always protect you from flawed thinking, reports David Robson

Popular Science
Why the smartest people can make the dumbest mistakes

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.

the Guardian
06/30/2019
The science of influencing people: six ways to win an argument

"I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters of religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's," wrote Mark Twain. Having written a book about our most common reasoning errors, I would argue that Twain was being rather uncharitable - to monkeys.

BBC Worklife
08/07/2019
The science of creating a dream team

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.

ABC Radio National
05/21/2019
Why smart people do stupid things

An in-depth interview on ABC's All in the Mind on the nature and implications of the intelligence trap.

Journalism

Mosaic Science
12/06/2019
Men and women aren't equal when it comes to concussion

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?

BBC Worklife
11/18/2019
Should we aim to be polymaths?

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?

The Psychologist
Taking ownership: Review of Possessed by Bruce Hood

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.

BBC Worklife
10/02/2019
The bias that can cause catastrophe

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.

BBC Worklife
08/01/2019
The trick that makes you overspend

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?

Bbc
10/02/2019
The myth of the gendered brain

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.

BBC Future
03/27/2019
Are we close to solving the puzzle of consciousness?

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.

The Atlantic
04/16/2019
The Dreams You Can't Remember Might Never Have Occurred

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."

New Scientist
05/02/2019
COVER FEATURE: Our first words

IN THE beginning was the word, and the word was... what? At least since biblical times, we have puzzled over the origins of language. It is, after all, one of the few traits that distinguishes humans from all other animals.

Mosaic Science
03/12/2019
This is what it's like waking up during surgery

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.

Bbc
05/04/2019
The '3.5% rule': How a small minority can change the world

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.

BBC Future
02/12/2019
How your belly could heal your brain

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.

BBC Future
01/07/2019
A high-carb diet may explain why Okinawans live so long

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.

BBC Future
12/07/2018
Why the quickest route to happiness may be to do nothing

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.

The Atlantic
10/15/2018
Neanderthals Suffered a Lot of Traumatic Injuries. So How Did They Live So Long?

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.

BBC Future
07/19/2018
The age you feel means more than your actual birthdate

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.

BBC Future
06/28/2018
Why athletes need a 'quiet eye'

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.

Bbc
01/27/2016
The blessing and curse of the people who never forget

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.

BBC Future
02/19/2018
An effortless way to improve your memory

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.

Bbc
09/06/2016
Our IQs have never been higher - but it hasn't made us smart

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.

Bbc
01/21/2016
The tragic fate of the people who stop sleeping

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.

Bbc
03/19/2016
The curse of the people who can't stop making puns

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.

Bbc
03/29/2016
Why are people so incredibly gullible?

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.

Bbc
09/06/2016
Four ways that other people warp your memory

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.

Bbc
04/23/2015
The surprising downsides of being clever

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.

Bbc
04/29/2016
This is how it feels to learn your memories are fiction

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.

BBC Future
09/04/2014
The women with superhuman vision

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

Bbc
11/26/2015
A blueprint of the emerging mind

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.

Bbc
05/23/2015
How to learn 30 languages

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.

BBC
08/20/2015
The man who has never felt an emotion

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."

Bbc
07/20/2015
'My dentist saved my tooth, but wiped my memory'

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.

Anthropology

BBC Future
05/19/2017
The beautiful languages of the people who talk like birds

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.

The Atlantic
01/18/2018
The 'Underground Railroad' To Save Atheists

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.

BBC Culture
05/09/2018
Our fiction addiction: Why humans need stories

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.

BBC Future
03/07/2017
The astonishing vision and focus of Namibia's nomads

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.

Bbc
01/02/2017
The 'untranslatable' emotions you never knew you had

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?

Bbc
06/13/2017
Should the world eat more like the Cantonese?

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.

Bbc
02/18/2016
The secret "anti-languages" you're not supposed to know

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".

Bbc
01/02/2017
How East and West think in profoundly different ways

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."

Bbc
04/08/2016
How important is social class in Britain today?

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.

BBC Future
05/09/2018
Feeling litt? The five hotspots driving English forward

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?

Bbc
06/22/2015
The strange expertise of burglars

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.

Bbc
02/18/2016
Has the Queen become frightfully common?

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.

Medicine

BBC Earth
01/06/2017
The birth of half-human, half-animal chimeras

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.

Bbc
02/19/2016
What is a 'normal' sex life?

From how often we do it to what we do, BBC Future's latest SmartList explores the wide spectrum of sexual desires and behaviours.

Bbc
04/08/2016
The very real pain of 'imaginary' illnesses

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.

Bbc
10/22/2015
The people who drink human blood

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.

Bbc
03/23/2015
Cancer: The mysterious miracle cases inspiring doctors

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.

Bbc
11/03/2016
The viruses that may save humanity

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.

Bbc
12/02/2015
How much would you pay to live for an extra year?

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.

Bbc
12/09/2015
The air that makes you fat

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.

Bbc
09/27/2015
The secrets of living to 200 years old

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.

And the rest...

BBC Capital
05/09/2018
The secrets of the 'high-potential' personality

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.

BBC Capital
05/09/2018
Do Elon Musk's radical work ideas add up?

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.

Bbc
06/21/2016
We have the wrong idea about males, females and sex

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.

Bbc
05/18/2017
An inside view of Hong Kong's hidden rooftop farms

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.

Bbc
10/19/2017
The 'hidden talent' that determines success

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.

Bbc
04/18/2017
How to save the world's most trafficked mammal

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.

Bbc
02/19/2016
The dark tales of the world's most epic sleep-talker

"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...

Bbc
02/02/2017
The strange Victorian fashion of self-electrification

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.

Bbc
08/20/2015
A dream-traveller's guide to the sleeping mind

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.

Bbc
07/21/2016
The reasons why exhaustion and burnout are so common

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.

Bbc
03/08/2016
The mysterious appeal of 'silent music'

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.

Bbc
04/21/2016
The Victorians who flew as high as jumbo jets

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.

Bbc
02/18/2016
Did the Maya create the first 'comics'?

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.

Bbc
01/10/2016
The surprising perks of being easily embarrassed

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.

BBC
01/10/2016
What Sherlock Holmes taught us about the mind

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?

Bbc
08/20/2016
Why we should celebrate shyness

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.

Bbc
07/20/2015
The strange phenomenon of musical 'skin orgasms'

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."

Bbc
11/26/2015
The countries that don't exist

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.

Bbc
12/09/2015
Quiz: Find out what kind of drunk you are

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.

Bbc
09/28/2015
Is another human living inside you?

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.

Bbc
10/22/2015
The real reason germs spread in the winter

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.

Bbc
09/28/2015
The strangest form of consciousness

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.

Bbc
10/26/2015
Are any foods safe to eat anymore? Here's the truth

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.

Bbc
11/26/2015
Does it pay to be kind to strangers?

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.

Bbc
10/22/2015
Why do women live longer than men?

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.

Bbc
07/20/2015
Coffee in crisis: The bitter end of our favourite drink?

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.

Bbc
09/28/2015
The best (and worst) ways to spot a liar

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.

Bbc
10/21/2015
How far do you have to run to burn off a burger?

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.

BBC Future
02/13/2015
The surprising downsides of being drop dead gorgeous

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.

BBC Future

Bbc
06/23/2015
Do you have 'maths anxiety'?

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.

Bbc
07/20/2015
The disgusting secrets of smelly feet

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.

New Scientist
09/014/2011
Björk: I was always a bit of a nerd

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

BBC Future
02/18/2015
Time lords: The clocks that rule our world

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.

Bbc
06/23/2015
The myth of universal beauty

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?

Bbc
03/23/2015
How your face betrays your personality and health

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.

Bbc
05/23/2015
The mind-bending effects of foreign accent syndrome

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.

Bbc
05/23/2015
How to supercharge the way you learn

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.

BBC Future
07/02/2014
Hypnosis: The day my mind was 'possessed'

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.

Bbc
04/23/2015
A five-step guide to not being stupid

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.

Bbc
05/23/2015
What's the prime of your life?

Is ageing an inevitable decline - or are there unexpected perks to getting older? David Robson reports.

Bbc
04/23/2015
The strangest sounds in the world

"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."

BBC Future
01/26/2015
What makes an urban legend?

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.

BBC Future
02/25/2015
Five things Alice in Wonderland reveals about the brain

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."

BBC Future
02/11/2015
The contagious thought that could kill you

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.

BBC Future
02/04/2015
Dos and don'ts for restful sleep

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.

BBC Future
01/30/2015
Psychology: the man who studies everyday evil

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?

New Scientist
09/24/2011
A brief history of the brain

How did we evolve from a single cell to thinking beings? This is the story of the most complex object in the universe

BBC Future
01/22/2015
How to curb hunger pangs with your mind

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.

New Scientist
06/03/2013
The trouble with neuroscience

With neuroscience developing so fast, what are the perils of reading the brain for secrets about human nature?

BBC Future
06/11/2014
The best way to predict the future

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.

Bbc
12/02/2014
Mystery booms: What's the cause?

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?

Washington Post
02/05/2013
Where do our minds go at night?

How do our brains create the dream world, with its eerie mixture of the familiar and the bizarre?

New Scientist
Sharp thinking: how tools shaped the mind

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

BBC Future
08/13/2014
Should we be treating suicide differently?

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?

New Scientist
07/14/2011
What were humankind's first words?

What do "kiki" and "bouba" mean? The sounds of words can have hidden meanings that might give us glimpse of our ancestors' first utterances

BBC Future
10/20/2014
'Why I want to die at 75'

Should we have a limit to the human lifespan? And if so, when is the best time to die?

BBC Future
10/21/2014
Are we getting smarter?

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

BBC Future
08/25/2014
Is fast food making us depressed?

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.

BBC Future
07/12/2014
World Cup: How to train a bee to play football

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.

BBC Future
11/11/2014
The extreme 'ultra-athletes' aged 60+

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.

BBC Future
03/07/2014
How to learn like a memory champion

Companies are creating learning aids that tap the science of memories, says David Robson. Do they work in the classroom?

The Observer

New Scientist
10/08/2012
Fade to black

Our memories, both good and bad, build a fortress that protects us against trauma, suggesting new treatments for depression and PTSD

New Scientist
05/25/2013
Old dogs, new tricks

You never lose the ability to learn like a child - if only you know how

BBC Future
09/30/2014
Are we hard-wired to doodle?

The secret pictorial language of Australian aborigines might hint at the origins of drawing - and language itself

Bbc
12/30/2014
Psychology: Why does guilt increase pleasure?

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.

BBC Future
12/22/2014
Can you die of boredom?

Boredom slashes years off your lifespan... but is that the price we pay for its surprising benefits?

BBC Future
01/08/2015
Dos and don'ts of a January detox

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.

New Scientist, and the Washington Post
01/03/2013
'Sno myth

Eskimos really do have at least 50 words for snow

BBC Future
07/21/2014
How to learn while you sleep

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.

Bbc
10/22/2014
How 'crowd patronage' could shape music and art

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.

New Scientist
11/24/2012
What's the buzz?

The extraordinary mental feats of bees are forcing us to rethink what we thought we knew about intelligence

BBC Future
08/20/2014
The hidden truth of star signs

Your month of birth could influence your lifespan, mental health and even your eyesight. David Robson explains how

BBC Future
11/20/2014
Why you love to hate your frenemies

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...

Bbc
07/29/2014
Neuroscience: why do we see faces in everyday objects?

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.

New Scientist
12/14/2011
Power of Babel

Humans speak 7000 different tongues – and not just to be difficult. Everything from genes to jungles has played a part

BBC Future
01/16/2015
Why are we short-sighted?

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.

BBC Future
07/30/2014
Ebola: How easily do germs spread on planes?

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.

New Scientist

Bbc
12/21/2014
Why do we fart more on planes?

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.

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