Science Tuesday: Are only the foolish fooled?

By Sanah Faroke, Staff Writer
@sanahfaroke

April Fools’ is the day where we all have to be on a constant look-out for the liars, the cheats and the tricksters (and apparently I speak like a 90-year-old woman). Sometimes I forget that naivety can be a little like being foolish. In a previous post, I mentioned that I’m the worst at lying. Well, I’m also really bad at picking up when people lie to me.

Pranks? I get scared every time. That joke about gullible not being in the dictionary? Yeah, I fell for that one too. Here’s the thing to mull over on April Fools’ — are we easily tricked by people, or do we have a knack for tricking ourselves?

It’s possible that we could be eating too many chicken sandwiches at Chick-Fil-A or slurping too many strawberry milkshakes from Johnny Rockets, but according to a study at Oxford University, eating lots of high-fattening food can hurt our cognitive skills. I guess we’re not all that bright, are we?

The researchers studied rats, feeding them at first a low-fat diet and tested their ability to make it through a maze. After fattening them up for about nine days on a high-fat diet, researchers found that the rats were making more mistakes than usual. So, I guess spring isn’t the only reason to be hitting the gym and eating right. A healthy diet makes for a healthy brain.

So what about when we’re voluntarily being, well, dumb?

We’re at such a young age, and even though no one is tricking us into sticking a tongue to a frozen flagpole, it doesn’t mean we don’t do reckless things. According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, teens and young adults can’t help but overestimate the good that can come, with little regard for the negative risk. Mulling over spring break, eh? Yeah, aren’t we all.

And while we can’t help being reckless, more often than not, we tend to fool ourselves. In a study conducted by Louisa Egan, Laurie Santos and Paul Bloom at Yale University, they compared similar behaviors in self-deception in capuchin monkeys with that of 4-year-old children.

They found that when the monkeys were presented with colored M&Ms they chose one color over another, even though all M&Ms taste like a wonderful piece of chocolate heaven. The same scenario happened with children when stickers were used. So it didn’t really matter which choice they made, it was just about coming up with a solution for which one they picked and justifying it, and in a sense, fooling themselves. Come on, we’ve all done it with shoes, handbags, (ehem) boyfriends, so why not M&Ms?

So what has April Fools’ taught us? Perhaps it’s that we fool ourselves more on the daily than when other people try to trick us on this silly holiday. What more could we want than self-assurance from our own self-deception? It’s kind of like saying you’ll eat a salad for lunch, but really, in an hour, you know you’ll be trudging to the kitchen for some left over Pad Thai. So who’s the fool now? Eh, it’s still kind of us.

 

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