Weird Psychology: The science behind strange phenomena

Kelly Auty reports from a public event at the Society's Annual Conference.
The Society’s Annual Conference has a tradition of holding a public lecture in association with conference to bring psychology to society and celebrate the BPS presence in the conference town or city. This year, instead of a public lecture at the conference venue, the Society hosted a public event at the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham city centre on the eve of Annual Conference.
Professor Chris French, Goldsmiths University of London, and Dr Roger Newport, University of Nottingham, put reality on trial and outlined different aspects of weird psychology to a packed Victorian court house. Professor French entertained the crowd with the science behind the myths of diverse topics, from water divining to sleep paralysis to the satanic backwards lyrics of Led Zeppelin (we ALL heard it!). Dr Newport outlined how his research in multi-sensory illusions, whilst being of some theoretical importance regarding sensory integration and body perception, mainly has the gruesome outcomes of people perceiving they have extra fingers, supernumerary limbs and missing hands. Both speakers explained how our understanding of psychology has helped to explain the previously unexplainable and how we can use this knowledge to learn more about how our brains work, why humans can believe some very unusual things and how discoveries in psychological science might help us to develop further experiments to provide greater insight into the perceptions and beliefs of others, in both normal populations and those with neuro-disabilities or non-typical cognitive functions or abilities.
After having some of the secrets of perception revealed to them, the crowds were then able to put their new-found scientific understanding to the test and try out some psychological phenomena for themselves. Teams from the University of Nottingham and the University of York ran a range of demonstrations and chatted to the visitors about all aspects of psychology. Visual and multi-sensory illusions made people question their senses, the velvet hand illusion produced, in many people, an odd feeling of their hands melting into one another and the Beuchet Chair allowed people to have fun with forced perspective, all in the spooky setting of one of Nottingham’s historic venues. After a packed interactive event, visitors left wondering whether they could trust their senses, not quite believing their eyes and questioning reality.
Kelly Auty is Policy Advisor (Psychology Education) at the British Psychological Society.

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