Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Psychology of an April Fool

Today is the day to make people (temporarily) believe in something they shouldn't. Okay, maybe that's better stated as: today is the day to remind people that they should know better. April Fool's Day tests our skepticism, our self-perception, and (often) our patience. Maybe that's not such a bad thing.

In a world of real scientific studies that test our credulity, it's probably not such a big surprise that there are researchers who investigate pranks and their role in our psychology. Turns out, there might be some real human improvement might come from our reactions to being duped. Counterfactual thinking (when we replay the situations in our minds and imagine them playing out differently) can shine light on cognitive deficiencies and help us initiate change. That is to say, a good prank can help us know (ourselves) better.

So have I whet your appetite for some April Fooling? If so, check out WIRED's top ten pranks for nerds here. One of my favorites is the Newton Virus by the British art and design collective Troika. Their Newton virus introduces gravity to your laptop. . . virtually. Check it out in the below video.

The project is part of the Design and the Elastic Mind exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. The virus is said to come on a small USB key that looks like an evil Apple apple, work once, and doesn't eat all of your files. Ah, the halcyon days when viruses were friendly pranks and not international warfare.

In any case, what Troika has made - whether a tool for 'art-virusing' your friends or simply another example of the 'art-prank' - is undoubtedly an elegant piece of work. I'm just trying to figure out what it says about me that I can't decide which one it is.

Peanut Butter Jelly Time on American Idol

Fight at Providence Baptist College

They were just kidding...