Wiseman’s book is very similar to Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics, in that he tries to explain the quirks of modern life through experimental psychology, in his case, rather than statistics as in Levitt and Dubner’s books. Wiseman talks about real and false smiles, and why one smiles at all, the language of lying, the mechanics of honesty, the universality (or not) of jokes, what might be causing the feelings of being ‘haunted’, why people are superstitious and how this can be harmful, and other such topics.
It’s a very entertaining book, full of insights into human behaviour – though some of the conclusions Wiseman reaches are unwarranted: for example, his suggestion that the infrasound (sound with very low frequencies below the limit of human hearing) from large organ pipes contributes to sense of spirituality in church is unreasonable, given that organs are more often not played than played, and when they are, organists very seldom tend to use the largest pipes and deepest notes.
The book is written in six main sections, with an introduction and epilogue, namely:
- What does your date of birth really say about you? The new science of chronopsychology;
- Trust everyone, but always cut the cards: the psychology of lying and deception;
- Believing six impossible things before breakfast: Psychology enters the twilight zone;
- Making your mind up: the strange science of decision-making;
- The scientific search for the world’s funniest joke: explorations into the psychology of humour; and
- Sinner or saint? The psychology of when we help, and when we hinder.
If you’ve any interest in why people behave in the ways they do, and why you might have reacted in a certain way to certain things, this book is an excellent de-mystification of experiments undertaken by Wiseman and his colleagues and other experimental psychologists.