Rocks Have Personalities, and Other Lessons From the Nobel Prizes of Weird Science

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Photo: Maureen P Sullivan/Getty Images

It’s now officially fall, which means holiday creep is just around the corner. But in these last few precious weeks (days?) before everything turns seasonally inappropriate and tinsel-y, let’s take a second to appreciate another annual event: Last night was the 2016 ceremony for the Ig Nobels, a chance to celebrate the goofiest, oddball-est, most head-scratching “they studied what?” studies that science has to offer.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Rocks can be devious, bubbly, or reliable, among other traits.
Study: “The Brand Personality of Rocks: A Critical Evaluation of a Brand Personality Scale”

For this one, the researchers took a scale typically used in marketing studies and applied it to, well, rocks — which, as it turned out, really did seem to have personalities of their own. And when I say personalities, I mean the study subjects created entire backstories for these things, the way an actor might do with a character they’re playing. One participant, for example, described a smooth, dark stone as someone “slick and smart but devious” who “probably would backstab you if he could make his way up the corporate ladder faster.” Fortunately for all of us, rocks look silly wearing suits.

If you have an itch, you can get rid of it by looking in a mirror and scratching the other side of your body.
Study: “Itch Relief by Mirror Scratching”

Not sure why you’d want to go with this particular strategy, as it seems to require more effort than just scratching the regular way. But as the researchers note, their finding might have some useful practical applications, offering some relief to people with itchy skin conditions who can’t scratch the affected area (truth be told, I wish I’d known this trick back when I had the chicken pox). And either way, it’s an interesting example of the the visual tricks your brain can play on itself.

Gullible people are more likely to believe meaningless BS.
Study: “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit”

This one seems intuitive, but it’s delightful nonetheless: The researchers investigated a particular brand of bullshit that the authors defined as “assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous.” Study participants rated the profundity of statements like “Imagination is inside exponential space time events”; those who considered them the most profound also tended to be “less reflective [and] lower in cognitive ability.” The best part: Some of those assertions, including that ball of nonsense about imagination, happened to be taken directly from Deepak Chopra’s Twitter feed.

Things look different if you view them upside-down from between your legs.
Study: “Perceived Size and Perceived Distance of Targets Viewed from Between the Legs”

Who knew? (Fun fact: Apparently there’s a bridge in Japan that’s meant to be viewed exactly like that.)

If it tickles your fancy, you can watch a video of the whole ceremony here to learn more about all the studies above, as well as the rest of the winners —about which I have two words: Rat. Underpants. You won’t be disappointed.