November 13 – Frightfully Fun

Today’s Factismal: Fear of Friday the 13th is known as paraskevidekatriaphobia or friggatriskaidekaphobia .

One of the more interesting things about humans is that if something exists, there’s someone out there who is unreasonably afraid of it; in layman’s terms. they have a phobia. (Phobia is one of those words that started out being used with precision and grace by scientists before it was stolen by the popular press and used in every situation, appropriate or not. See “-gate” and “green” for more examples.) And in honor of Friday the 13th, here is a list of twenty-five phobias. Enjoy – unless you have pinaciphobia (a fear of lists)!

If you have Then you fear
Anthophobia Flowers
Barophobia Gravity
Chiroptophobia Bats
 

It's Bat-Banyan! (My camera)

It’s Bat-Banyan!
(My camera)

Decidophobia Choosing
Ergophobia Work or functioning
Frigophobia Becoming too cold

Definitely NOT the place for a frigiphobic! (My camera)

Definitely NOT the place for a frigophobic!
(My camera)

Gephyrophobia Bridges
Hierophobia Priests
Ichthyophobia Fish
Koumpounophobia Buttons
Lipophobia Fats in food
Melissophobia Bees

Who could be afraid of such a cute little - OUCH! (My camera)

Who could be afraid of such a cute little – OUCH!
(My camera)

Nyctophobia Darkness
Ombrophobia Rain
Pogonophobia Beards
Radiophobia Radioactivity or X-rays
Selenophobia The Moon

I'm only afraid that we might never make it back! (My camera)

I’m only afraid that we might never make it back!
(My camera)

Uranophobia Outer space
Workplace phobia The workplace
Xerophobia Dryness
Ylophobia Trees, forests or woods
Zoophobia Animals

October 26 – The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether

Today’s factismal: Pavlov used both children and dogs in his famous experiments.

If there’s one joke that all Introductory Psychology students know, it is “Do you know Pavlov? The name rings a bell!” That’s because Pavlov was one of the founders of modern psychology who helped change it from a purely descriptive and qualitative science into an experimental and quantitative one. But what many of those students don’t realize is that Pavlov did his work on children as well as dogs!

To understand how Pavlov could have used children in an experiment, you first need to remember that he worked in the late 1800s and early 1900s when experimental conditions were much looser and “informed consent” wasn’t even a gleam in a regulator’s eye. (And he was hardly the worst offender; consider Watson’s “Little Albert” experiment or the even more problematic Tuskegee Syphilis experiment.) Indeed, Pavlov’s work was considered to be a giant step forward because he didn’t kill his animals as part of the work!

Pavlov during his heyday (Image courtesy National Institute of Medicine)

Pavlov during his heyday
(Image courtesy National Institute of Medicine)

And his work produced amazing results. As with so many scientific discoveries, it happened when he noticed something odd while looking for something completely different. Pavlov was researching the chemical makeup of saliva in dogs when he noticed that they would begin to salivate before they got the food. He reasoned that they had begun to associate the sounds of food preparation with the food itself (anyone who has ever opened a can of tuna near a cat will understand this), which then led to the salivation. He tested his idea by presenting the dogs with a variety of stimuli, ranging from the clang of tuning forks to the sight of a picture; in every case, the dogs soon began to associate the stimulus with the food and would salivate on cue.

Pavlov then took his work to the next level by running the same tests on children. Sure enough, they would associate the stimulus with the promise of food and begin to salivate before the food actually arrived (anyone who has heard kids complain about being hungry after they’ve seen the “Golden Arches” on a road trip can understand this). In essence, Pavlov proved that some things that had been thought of as involuntary reflexes in people could actually be created or destroyed by the appropriate training.

What is interesting is that language is one of those things that can train a person. (If you doubt this, consider what happens when you hear your mother call you by your entire name.) And there is a group of scientists trying to describe the verbs in speech so that they can do a better job of training computers; they do it by getting citizen scientists like you to play games with words. If that sounds like fun, then head over to VerbCorner and give it a go!
http://www.gameswithwords.org/VerbCorner/loginSuccess.php

May 16 – All Mixed Up

Descartes once famously declared “I think therefore I am” (actually, he wrote “cogito ergo sum”, but it works out to the same thing). His thought was that if we can’t trust our senses, we are truly lost. Today, Mary and Peter discover exactly how far they can trust their senses as they explore the world of psychology in the Secret Science Society!

 

Mary was more than a little annoyed with Peter. They’d made plans to go down to the creek and search for dragonflies as part of his merit badge requirements (she was much better at spotting them than he was), but he was more than half an hour late. Since she was waiting in the clubhouse, normally she wouldn’t have minded; there was plenty to keep her interested while she waited. But the late afternoon heat was making the clubhouse less a place to discover the secrets of the universe and more a place to torture your worst enemy. Finally, she decide to go over to Peter’s house and see what the delay was.

Given that the clubhouse was in Peter’s garage, it didn’t take her long to get to his backdoor. Knocking on it, she called out “Peter! Where are you?”

“Come in!” came Peter’s reply, muffled somewhat by the door.

As Mary stepping in, she suddenly shivered.

“Brr!” Mary exclaimed, he annoyance with Peter’s tardiness momentarily forgotten. “Do you have a parka or something? It’s freezing in here!”

“What do you mean?” Peter asked. “It’s 80 degrees! I keep trying to push the thermostat down, but Mom won’t let me,” he added.

“I don’t wonder,” Mary replied. “It is like an ice cave in here.”

“That’s weird,” said Peter. “It feels warm to me. How can the same temperature feel so different to two people?”

“I dunno – maybe there’s a physics explanation for it? Let’s ask you Mom. Is she doing any experiments right now?”

Peter’s mother, who was an expert astrophysicist, was always willing to explain things to Peter and Mary but if she was working on an experiment, she might forget to use words and just absentmindedly write an equation on the whiteboard in her study.

“No, she’s just balancing the checkbook; we’d be doing her a favor to ask a science question!”

Quickly, the two went into the study where, sure enough, Peter’s mother sat in front of a pile of bills, matching the checks to the bank statement on the screen in front of her. As Peter and Mary entered the room, she turned with a bright smile.

“I thought you two would be out chasing the wild dragonfly,” she said.

“We were supposed to but Peter never showed up,” Mary said. “But we’ve got something else to ask. How come I feel cold and Peter feels hot when we’re in the same room?”

“Peter, you know better than to make another scientist wait,” his mother chided. “You owe Mary an apology -”

“Sorry,” Peter said.

“As for your question, that’s a good one. Would you believe that psychologists are still arguing over it?” As the two shook their heads, she added “maybe we can do an experiment to show part of why it happens.”

At that, the two brightened up. Since they both wanted to be scientists some day, one of their favorite things to do was to perform experiments. Peter’s mother smiled at the sudden interest on their faces.

“OK, let’s go into the kitchen.”

Leading the two young scientists into the kitchen, Peter’s mother took out three large bowls. She then took the bowls to the sink where she filled one with warm water, one with cold water to which she added a couple of ice cubes, and then filled the third with some water from each of the other two bowls.Finally, she placed the bowls on the kitchen table within easy reach of the scientists.

Turning back to Mary and Peter, she said, “you’ve seen my fill the bowls. When I say go, you’ll put one hand into the bowl of warm water and one hand into the bowl of cold water. You’ll leave your hands in there for a minute or so, and then you’ll put both hands into the middle bowl. What do you think you will feel?”

Mary said “Both hands will be in the same water, so they should feel the same thing; it will be lukewarm.”

“I’m not so sure,” Peter said. “You and I are in the same room and we feel different temperatures.”

“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” Peter’s mother said. “Put your hands in the outer bowls now!”

What do you think will happen? Try the experiment!

 

 

 

 

 

Peter and Mary put their hands into the two bowls. As they waited for Peter’s mother to give the signals to switch, Peter said “My left hand is cold and my right hand is warm. This isn’t much of an experiment.”

“Wait for it,” his mother replied. “Patience is the hallmark of a good researcher. In five, four, three, two one, NOW move both your hands into the center bowl!”

Quickly the two put their hands into the center bowl and got the shock of their lives. The hand that had been n the warm water felt cold, but the hand that had been in the cold water felt warm.

“Wow! This is weird!” Mary exclaimed. “What is going on?”

“This has to do with how your body senses temperature. You see, we don’t have little thermometers in our skin telling us what the absolute temperature is. Instead, we’ve got sensors that tell us what the change in temperature is. When the temperature is constant, then your sensors don’t notice any change and everything just feels ‘normal’. But if you go from a hot place to a cold one, then they feel the change and tell you that it has gotten colder. And if you go from a cold place to a hot one, then they tell you that the relative temperature has changed and you feel hotter.”

“So that’s why a swimming pool feels cold at first and then you get used to it!” Mary said.

“That’s right,” Peter’s mother replied. “And it is why you can go outside and it will feel hotter than blazes for a bit but before long you are used to it.”

“Cripes!” Peter said. “Outside! Let’s go find those dragonflies!”

“OK,” Mary said,” but then you owe me a cold soda for making me wait so long!”

“Deal!”

And with that, the two young scientists ran outside, eager to do more experiments.

April 4 – Seeing Red

One of the hardest lessons to learn is that not everyone is nice and kind; some folks are just plain jerks. Today, Mary and Peter run into one of those folks – but they also meet Daniel, who will become another member of the Secret Science Society. And it all happens when they start seeing red…
It was early Thursday morning, and Peter and Mary had just walked into their school when they saw something horrible going on. An older student was standing by one of the younger students and was making fun of him.

“Hey! That’s Daniel!” Mary exclaimed. “He just moved here; I showed him around the school last week.”

“Nyah, nyah – can’t read!” the bully chanted. “Can’t read, you’re a fool, shouldn’t even be in school!”

“Hey!” Peter said. “That’s not nice!”

“I’m going to get a teacher!” Mary added as the bully took up his chant again. As she started to go, the bully stopped and stared behind her.

“No need,” came Mr. Medes’ voice from just behind her. His normally cheerful face was creased in a frown. “I’m already here. Just what do you think that you are doing, young man?”

“Nothin'” the bully replied. “I’m just sayin’ what every body knows. Everyone knows that Dumb Danny here can’t read. He’s always stammering in class and getting the words wrong.”

“What everybody knows is wrong,” came Mr. Medes’ flat denial. “And what I know is that you need to go to the principal’s office, right now. I’ll be along in a minute, and you can explain yourself to your parents once we bring them here.”

Looking more than a little chastened, the bully slowly walked up the hallway toward the principal’s office.

“About time!” Peter whispered to Mary. “That bully has been picking on kids all year!”

Turning to Danny, Mr. Medes asked “Are you OK, Daniel?”

“Sure,” Daniel replied. “Mary and Peter stopped him before he could do anything but call me names.”

“Thank you, Peter, Mary. If you will excuse me, I must go see to our young miscreant.” With that, Mr. Medes turned and headed for the principal’s office.

“Why did that bully say you can’t read?” Peter asked. “Every time I see you, you’ve got your nose buried in a book!”

“I’ve got dyslexia,” Daniel replied. “It makes words look funny to me. So I have to practice reading, lots.”

At that moment, the homeroom bell rang.

“Oops!” Daniel said. “Gotta run!”

The three friends went their classrooms and didn’t see each other again until lunchtime. During lunch they sat together as Peter and Mary told Daniel about their club and some of the experiments that they had done.

“Gosh, I wish I could do an experiment!” Daniel said. “But what could we do before class?”

“Let’s go to Mr. Medes,” Mary said. “He’s got lots of ideas for experiments.”

Cleaning up their lunch trays, the three headed for Mr. Medes’ classroom.

“Mr. Medes,” Mary started, “we were talking about experiments at lunch and Daniel would like to try one. Do you have any ideas?”

“I wish there were an experiment that would let you see what its like to be dyslexic,” Daniel added.

“That’s a great idea, Daniel!” Mr. Medes said. Turning to the board, he quickly wrote with four different colors of marker:

Test 1 Test 2
RED GREEN BLUE BLACK GREEN BLUE BLACK RED
BLACK RED GREEN BLUE BLUE BLACK RED GREEN
BLUE BLACK RED GREEN BLACK RED GREEN BLUE
GREEN BLUE BLACK RED BLACK BLUE GREEN RED

“Why are you writing a bunch of colors?” Daniel asked. “And why are they in different markers?”

“Because this Stroop test will let Peter and Mary see what it is like to be dyslexic,” Mr. Medes replied. “Tell me, Peter, can you tell me what colors used to write those words?”

“Sure,” Peter said. “You used red, green, blue, and black marker. What kind of a question is that?”

“A very important one. You see, we’re going to see what happens when your brain gets a little confused. All you have to do is tell me which color each word is written in, as quickly as possible. Do you think you can do that without making a mistake?”

“Sure,” Peter replied.

“How about you, Mary?”

“I don’t know; it looks kind of tricky,” she said.

“Well, the only way to find out it to do the experiment,” Mr. Medes said as he handed Daniel a stopwatch. “Daniel, would you time them, please? What you have to do is read each test as quickly as you can. Daniel will time you on each one. Will you read one of them faster than the other or will you take the same amount of time for both?”

“I think that test two will take longer,” Mary said.

“No, they’ll both take the same amount of time,” Peter contradicted.

“Well, let’s find out!” Daniel said, excited to be taking part in his first experiment.

What do you think will happen? Do the experiment!

 

 

 

Staring at the board, Peter quickly read out the colors in test one without a mistake. But the second test was very different.

“Red, green, blue, black, red, green, blue, black, red, blue, blue, black, I mean red, green, no blue,” Peter said. “I give up! Nobody can do this!”

“Welcome to my world,” Daniel said.

Mr. Medes just smiled and pointed at Mary. “OK, Mary. You are up. Ready? Set, go!”

Mary started calling out the color names in test one. Like Peter, she was able to read them out without making a mistake.But like Peter, she also bogged down on the second test. Though she was able to go one line further than Peter had before making a mistake, it took her nearly twice as long to read the colors in test two as the first one.

“Wow!” Daniel said. “Why did they get so confused on the second test?”

“What happened is that different parts of their brains were fighting,” Mr. Medes replied. “When you learn to read, your brain gets programmed to think of the color red every time it sees the word red. Because the colors and the words matched in the first test, it was easy to read them out. But the words and the colors didn’t match in the second test, so it takes just a little extra time to remember that you want the color the word was written in and not the color the word names.”

“That’s like what happens when I read!” Daniel exclaimed. “I have to pay extra attention so that I see the words right.”

“I told you that they’d walk a mile in your shoes,” Mr. Medes said. “Though nobody knows for sure what causes dyslexia, it has effects that are a lot like those that Peter and Mary just experienced. As a matter of fact, there are some neurologists that use this Stroop test to help diagnose dyslexia.”

“Gosh!” Peter said. “That must be tough!”

“Yeah,” Daniel replied. “I have to read everything twice to be sure I read it right. And I have to do extra homework to do to improve my reading. But I can read, and I’m getting straight A’s.”

Mary let out a low whistle. “Wow – that’s better than either Peter or I am doing!”

“Well, he’s not alone. Many famous scientists were probably dyslexic, from Leonardo da Vinci to Thomas Edison to Alexander Graham Bell.”

Just then the class bell rang.

“Speaking of bells, it it time for you to get to class, Daniel!” Mr. Medes said as he turned to erase the board. “See you in sixth hour!”

With a wave to his two new friends, Daniel went off to his next class, happy to have been part of his first experiment.

August 5 – Point of View

Today’s factismal: Your retina actually processes images before they are sent to the brain; this is the cause of many optical illusions.

One of the more interesting things to do when you are stuck in a tiled waiting room is stare at the floor. If you are lucky, then the floor tiles will be arranged so that they look like little three-dimensional boxes; they will be an optical illusion. (And with a little training, you can make the boxes flip-flop.) But what drives that illusion? It turns out that optical illusions are great tools for examining how we see and how we think. They reveal our innate preconceptions and our social training, and can (and have!) keep a researcher busy for his entire life.

A tiled floor can look like little boxes popping up (or down), thanks to the way our retinas work (Image courtesy Tino Warinowski)

A tiled floor can look like little boxes popping up (or down), thanks to the way our retinas work
(Image courtesy Tino Warinowski)

A researcher like Ewald Hering, who was born 180 years ago today. Ewald was fascinated by how we perceive things, and invented one of the earliest and best-known optical illusions. Known today as the Hering illusion, his little trick helped show that the retina actually interprets part of the image it sees before sending it on to the brain. Though this may seem surprising, it helps to remember that the retina is actually a very specialized bit of neural tissue that some have called “the only visible part of the brain”. For example, some psychologists say that the retina interprets the radial lines in the Hering illusion as being similar to what parallel lines meeting at infinity; if that is the case, then the two vertical lines must be curved. Of course, they aren’t – but our retinas don’t know that! Because they impose an innate pattern they change a pair of straight lines into curved ones.

The Hering Illusion (Image courtesy Fibonacci {No, not that one})

The Hering Illusion
(Image courtesy Fibonacci {No, not that one})

What is more fascinating is that this sort of misperception happens with all of our senses. We can have audible illusions, tactile illusions, taste illusions, and even prioceptive illusions. We can also have illusions about how we peceive the social world. And that’s what the folks at Project Implicit are testing. They want to find out how our preconceived notions interfere (or don’t) with our abilities to view each other as people. If you’d like to help, then why not head over to the website?
https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

June 28 – Seeing Red

One of the hardest lessons to learn is that not everyone is nice and kind; some folks are just plain jerks. Today, Mary and Peter run into one of those folks – but they also meet Daniel, who will become another member of the Secret Science Society. And it all happens when they start seeing red…

 
It was early Thursday morning, and Peter and Mary had just walked into their school when they saw something horrible going on. An older student was standing by one of the younger students and was making fun of him.

“Hey! That’s Daniel!” Mary exclaimed. “He just moved here; I showed him around the school last week.”

“Nyah, nyah – can’t read!” the bully chanted. “Can’t read, you’re a fool, shouldn’t even be in school!”

“Hey!” Peter said. “That’s not nice!”

“I’m going to get a teacher!” Mary added as the bully took up his chant again. As she started to go, the bully stopped and stared behind her.

“No need,” came Mr. Medes’ voice from just behind her. His normally cheerful face was creased in a frown. “I’m already here. Just what do you think that you are doing, young man?”

“Nothin'” the bully replied. “I’m just sayin’ what every body knows. Everyone knows that Dumb Danny here can’t read. He’s always stammering in class and getting the words wrong.”

“What everybody knows is wrong,” came Mr. Medes’ flat denial. “And what I know is that you need to go to the principal’s office, right now. I’ll be along in a minute, and you can explain yourself to your parents once we bring them here.”

Looking more than a little chastened, the bully slowly walked up the hallway toward the principal’s office.

“About time!” Peter whispered to Mary. “That bully has been picking on kids all year!”

Turning to Danny, Mr. Medes asked “Are you OK, Daniel?”

“Sure,” Daniel replied. “Mary and Peter stopped him before he could do anything but call me names.”

“Thank you, Peter, Mary. If you will excuse me, I must go see to our young miscreant.” With that, Mr. Medes turned and headed for the principal’s office.

“Why did that bully say you can’t read?” Peter asked. “Every time I see you, you’ve got your nose buried in a book!”

“I’ve got dyslexia,” Daniel replied. “It makes words look funny to me. So I have to practice reading, lots.”

At that moment, the homeroom bell rang.

“Oops!” Daniel said. “Gotta run!”

The three friends went their classrooms and didn’t see each other again until lunchtime. During lunch they sat together as Peter and Mary told Daniel about their club and some of the experiments that they had done.

“Gosh, I wish I could do an experiment!” Daniel said. “But what could we do before class?”

“Let’s go to Mr. Medes,” Mary said. “He’s got lots of ideas for experiments.”

Cleaning up their lunch trays, the three headed for Mr. Medes’ classroom.

“Mr. Medes,” Mary started, “we were talking about experiments at lunch and Daniel would like to try one. Do you have any ideas?”

“I wish there were an experiment that would let you see what its like to be dyslexic,” Daniel added.

“That’s a great idea, Daniel!” Mr. Medes said. Turning to the board, he quickly wrote with four different colors of marker:

Test 1 Test 2
RED GREEN BLUE BLACK GREEN BLUE BLACK RED
BLACK RED GREEN BLUE BLUE BLACK RED GREEN
BLUE BLACK RED GREEN BLACK RED GREEN BLUE
GREEN BLUE BLACK RED BLACK BLUE GREEN RED

“Why are you writing a bunch of colors?” Daniel asked. “And why are they in different markers?”

“Because this Stroop test will let Peter and Mary see what it is like to be dyslexic,” Mr. Medes replied. “Tell me, Peter, can you tell me what colors used to write those words?”

“Sure,” Peter said. “You used red, green, blue, and black marker. What kind of a question is that?”

“A very important one. You see, we’re going to see what happens when your brain gets a little confused. All you have to do is tell me which color each word is written in, as quickly as possible. Do you think you can do that without making a mistake?”

“Sure,” Peter replied.

“How about you, Mary?”

“I don’t know; it looks kind of tricky,” she said.

“Well, the only way to find out it to do the experiment,” Mr. Medes said as he handed Daniel a stopwatch. “Daniel, would you time them, please? What you have to do is read each test as quickly as you can. Daniel will time you on each one. Will you read one of them faster than the other or will you take the same amount of time for both?”

“I think that test two will take longer,” Mary said.

“No, they’ll both take the same amount of time,” Peter contradicted.

“Well, let’s find out!” Daniel said, excited to be taking part in his first experiment.

What do you think will happen? Do the experiment!

 

 

 

Staring at the board, Peter quickly read out the colors in test one without a mistake. But the second test was very different.

“Red, green, blue, black, red, green, blue, black, red, blue, blue, black, I mean red, green, no blue,” Peter said. “I give up! Nobody can do this!”

“Welcome to my world,” Daniel said.

Mr. Medes just smiled and pointed at Mary. “OK, Mary. You are up. Ready? Set, go!”

Mary started calling out the color names in test one. Like Peter, she was able to read them out without making a mistake.But like Peter, she also bogged down on the second test. Though she was able to go one line further than Peter had before making a mistake, it took her nearly twice as long to read the colors in test two as the first one.

“Wow!” Daniel said. “Why did they get so confused on the second test?”

“What happened is that different parts of their brains were fighting,” Mr. Medes replied. “When you learn to read, your brain gets programmed to think of the color red every time it sees the word red. Because the colors and the words matched in the first test, it was easy to read them out. But the words and the colors didn’t match in the second test, so it takes just a little extra time to remember that you want the color the word was written in and not the color the word names.”

“That’s like what happens when I read!” Daniel exclaimed. “I have to pay extra attention so that I see the words right.”

“I told you that they’d walk a mile in your shoes,” Mr. Medes said. “Though nobody knows for sure what causes dyslexia, it has effects that are a lot like those that Peter and Mary just experienced. As a matter of fact, there are some neurologists that use this Stroop test to help diagnose dyslexia.”

“Gosh!” Peter said. “That must be tough!”

“Yeah,” Daniel replied. “I have to read everything twice to be sure I read it right. And I have to do extra homework to do to improve my reading. But I can read, and I’m getting straight A’s.”

Mary let out a low whistle. “Wow – that’s better than either Peter or I am doing!”

“Well, he’s not alone. Many famous scientists were probably dyslexic, from Leonardo da Vinci to Thomas Edison to Alexander Graham Bell.”

Just then the class bell rang.

“Speaking of bells, it it time for you to get to class, Daniel!” Mr. Medes said as he turned to erase the board. “See you in sixth hour!”

With a wave to his two new friends, Daniel went off to his next class, happy to have been part of his first experiment.

June 14 – All Mixed Up

Descartes once famously declared “I think therefore I am” (actually, he wrote “cogito ergo sum”, but it works out to the same thing). His thought was that if we can’t trust our senses, we are truly lost. Today, Mary and Peter discover exactly how far they can trust their senses as they explore the world of psychology in the Secret Science Society!

 

Mary was more than a little annoyed with Peter. They’d made plans to go down to the creek and search for dragonflies as part of his merit badge requirements (she was much better at spotting them than he was), but he was more than half an hour late. Since she was waiting in the clubhouse, normally she wouldn’t have minded; there was plenty to keep her interested while she waited. But the late afternoon heat was making the clubhouse less a place to discover the secrets of  the universe and more a place to torture your worst enemy. Finally, she decide to go over to Peter’s house and see what the delay was.

Given that the clubhouse was in Peter’s garage, it didn’t take her long to get to his backdoor. Knocking on it, she called out “Peter! Where are you?”

“Come in!” came Peter’s reply, muffled somewhat by the door.

As Mary stepping in, she suddenly shivered.

“Brr!” Mary exclaimed, he annoyance with Peter’s tardiness momentarily forgotten. “Do you have a parka or something? It’s freezing in here!”

“What do you mean?” Peter asked. “It’s 80 degrees! I keep trying to push the thermostat down, but Mom won’t let me,” he added.

“I don’t wonder,” Mary replied. “It is like an ice cave in here.”

“That’s weird,” said Peter. “It feels warm to me. How can the same temperature feel so different to two people?”

“I dunno – maybe there’s a physics explanation for it? Let’s ask you Mom. Is she doing any experiments right now?”

Peter’s mother, who was an expert astrophysicist, was always willing to explain things to Peter and Mary but if she was working on an experiment, she might forget to use words and just absentmindedly write an equation on the whiteboard in her study.

“No, she’s just balancing the checkbook; we’d be doing her a favor to ask a science question!”

Quickly, the two went into the study where, sure enough, Peter’s mother sat in front of a pile of bills, matching the checks to the bank statement on the screen in front of her. As Peter and Mary entered the room, she turned with a bright smile.

“I thought you two would be out chasing the wild dragonfly,” she said.

“We were supposed to but Peter never showed up,” Mary said. “But we’ve got something else to ask. How come I feel cold and Peter feels hot when we’re in the same room?”

“Peter, you know better than to make another scientist wait,” his mother chided. “You owe Mary an apology -”

“Sorry,” Peter said.

“As for your question, that’s a good one. Would you believe that psychologists are still arguing over it?” As the two shook their heads, she added “maybe we can do an experiment to show part of why it happens.”

At that, the two brightened up. Since they both wanted to be scientists some day, one of their favorite things to do was to perform experiments. Peter’s mother smiled at the sudden interest on their faces.

“OK, let’s go into the kitchen.”

Leading the two young scientists into the kitchen, Peter’s mother took out three large bowls. She then took the bowls to the sink where she filled one with warm water, one with cold water to which she added a couple of ice cubes, and then filled the third with some water from each of the other two bowls.Finally, she placed the bowls on the kitchen table within easy reach of the scientists.

Turning back to Mary and Peter, she said, “you’ve seen my fill the bowls. When I say go, you’ll put one hand into the bowl of warm water and one hand into the bowl of cold water. You’ll leave your hands in there for a minute or so, and then you’ll put both hands into the middle bowl. What do you think you will feel?”

Mary said “Both hands will be in the same water, so they should feel the same thing; it will be lukewarm.”

“I’m not so sure,” Peter said. “You and I are in the same room and we feel different temperatures.”

“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” Peter’s mother said. “Put your hands in the outer bowls now!”

What do you think will happen? Try the experiment!

Peter and Mary put their hands into the two bowls. As they waited for Peter’s mother to give the signals to switch, Peter said “My left hand is cold and my right hand is warm. This isn’t much of an experiment.”

“Wait for it,” his mother replied. “Patience is the hallmark of a good researcher. In five, four, three, two one, NOW move both your hands into the center bowl!”

Quickly the two put their hands into the center bowl and got the shock of their lives. The hand that had been n the warm water felt cold, but the hand that had been in the cold water felt warm.

“Wow! This is weird!” Mary exclaimed. “What is going on?”

“This has to do with how your body senses temperature. You see, we don’t have little thermometers in our skin telling us what the absolute temperature is. Instead, we’ve got sensors that tell us what the change in temperature is. When the temperature is constant, then your sensors don’t notice any change and everything just feels ‘normal’. But if you go from a hot place to a cold one, then they feel the change and tell you that it has gotten colder. And if you go from a cold place to a hot one, then they tell you that the relative temperature has changed and you feel hotter.”

“So that’s why a swimming pool feels cold at first and then you get used to it!” Mary said.

“That’s right,” Peter’s mother replied. “And it is why you can go outside and it will feel hotter than blazes for a bit but before long you are used to it.”

“Cripes!” Peter said. “Outside! Let’s go find those dragonflies!”

“OK,” Mary said,” but then you owe me a cold soda for making me wait so long!”

“Deal!”

And with that, the two young scientists ran outside, eager to do more experiments.