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Psychological Scientists Honored for Improbable Research

APS Fellow Carol A. Tavris cited the Ig Nobel-winning “dead salmon” study in her talk on pseudoneuroscience at the 24th APS Annual Convention.

For the second year in a row, research published in Psychological Science is being recognized with the, erm, prestigious Ig Nobel Psychology Prize for scientific achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.”

This year’s Ig Nobel–winning research was published in the December 2011 issue of Psychological Science. Anita Eerland, Rolf Zwaan, and Tulio Guadalupe of Erasmus University, the Netherlands, reported that “Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller.”

The researchers conducted their study — which involved asking participants to stand on a Wii Balance Board tilted to the left, tilted to the right, or positioned upright — to test the mental-number-line theory. The theory suggests that people mentally represent numbers along a line with smaller numbers on the left and larger numbers on the right.

APS Members Abigail Baird of Vassar College and George Wolford of Dartmouth College were also honored with the Ig Nobel Neuroscience Prize. Baird, Wolford, and their coauthors demonstrated that a “brain researcher, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere — even in a dead salmon.” Performing a brain scan on a dead fish may seem unworthy of an award (even an Ig Nobel), but this study demonstrated that neuroimaging researchers must use strong controls to make sure the brain activity they’re observing is actually brain activity.

For more “improbable research,” watch The 22nd First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony for yourself.

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