Is this article a joke? “When Truisms are true”


I saw this article in the Sunday New York Times today which starts promising but then becomes a bit ridiculous and makes a mockery of serious research, in my humble opinion.

It starts with a claim that sounds plausible:

“Recent advances in understanding what psychologists call “embodied cognition” indicate a surprisingly direct link between mind and body. It turns out that people draw on their bodily experiences in constructing their social reality.

Studies show, for example, that someone holding a warm cup of coffee tends to perceive a stranger as having a “warmer”€ personality. Likewise when holding something heavy, people see things as more serious and important – more –€ œweighty” (from When Truisms are True)

But then as they go into the studies they are doing to demonstrate some of their ideas. Just casually I think of many simpler explanations than the far out conclusions they seem to be coming to:

“For example, we asked 102 undergraduates at New York University to complete a task designed to measure innovative thinking. The task required them to generate a word (“tape,” for example) that related to each of three presented clue words (“measure,” “worm” and “video”). Some students were randomly assigned to do this while sitting inside a 125-cubic-foot box that we made of plastic pipe and cardboard. The rest got to sit and think outside (and next to) the box.

During the task we tracked the number of correct responses suggested by the students. We found that those thinking outside the box were significantly more creative: compared with those thinking inside the box, they came up with over 20 percent more creative solutions.” (from When Truisms are True)


“Then we asked them to think of original uses for the objects, either while walking along a fixed rectangular path indicated by duct tape on the floor (marking out an area of about 48 square feet) or by walking freely as they wished. The differences were striking: students who walked freely were better at generating creative uses for the objects — coming up with over 25 percent more original ideas. Such creativity was assessed in terms of fluency (the number of ideas generated), flexibility (the number of unique categories that described the generated ideas) and originality (as judged by independent raters).” (from When Truisms are True)

Really? It was at this point that I looked back at the article’s start to check if this was Humor or Satire.

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