Heavy heavy books: psychology update!

I was listening to the Guardian’s Science Weekly podcast, and I heard Mo Costandi mention that people’s perceptions of what they’re reading are affected by its physical characteristics, including weight. My ears pricked up at that because I was complaining about large-format paperbacks on this blog just the other day.

So I asked him for details over Twitter, and he pointed me to this article he wrote in June. It’s full of odd results, but the most relevant one is this. I’ll quote the whole paragraph, rather than trying to summarise it:

In the first experiment, 54 passersby were asked to evaluate a job candidate on the basis of a CV attached to either a light (0.34 kg) or a heavy (2 kg) clipboard. Those given the CV on the heavier clipboard generally rated the candidate as being better and having a more serious interest in the position than those given the lighter clipboard, even though the CVs used in both cases were identical. Those given the heavy clipboard also rated their accuracy on the task as more important than those given the lighter one, but did not report putting more effort into it. They did not, however, rate the candidate as more likely to get along with co-workers. This suggests that the weight cue affected their impressions of the candidate’s performance and seriousness, but not the irrelevant trait of social likeability, and that the observed effects were not due their perception of their own actions.

So physical weight is apparently makes the reader attribute seriousness and quality to what they’re reading — at least in a CV. You can see why a publisher might want to get some of that action. Particularly a university press publishing a literary novel which they are asserting deserves to be considered a classic.

But it makes you wonder what other effects the extra weight might have: does it make a novel more or less funny? Does it makes the characters more or less likeable? What does it do to the prose style? Or the plotting?

Such speculation aside… I actually wonder whether it’s unambiguously positive to be perceived as more serious, even for a literary novel about important subjects. I mean, I like novels to be more literary rather than less and I’m not intimidated by big fat books, but I still find that serious literature requires a degree of concentration and discipline, even for a book you’re enjoying and reading for pleasure. Anything that emphasises the literature-as-Serious-Business aspect is only going to make it more likely that reading starts to feel like a chore.

Tumblr round-up, September 6th

Not a particularly busy week over on Tumblr.

That’s from the series Stellar by Ignacio Torres, who says

This project began from the theory that humans are made of cosmic matter as a result of a stars death. I created imagery that showcased this cosmic birth through the use of dust and reflective confetti to create galaxies.

I wasn’t so keen on Torres’s other work (too much of a fashion magazine aesthetic for my taste), but I thought these were rather lovely. Worth clicking through and checking out the whole series.

Other C20th art. Scenery with Ocean, 1940 by Kansuke Yamamoto; Untitled from the Mother Goddess series, 2009 by Pinar Yolacan. Some visionary art: Cholera — Hitler — Revelation.

Some broadly medieval stuff: a C15th roof boss in the form of a winged lion, representing St Mark the Evangelist; and another one; stained glass of a woman carrying a shield, and a woman dispensing poison; a painting of the Madonna and child by Jean Fouquet; a fritware jug of a bull from Iran.

Two altered medieval works: the tomb of Pope Clement V in Avignon, with a modern addition by Spanish artist Miquel Barceló; and a Byzantine mosaic that was the subject of a bit of Stalin-style editing to remove any evidence of heretics.

Going back even further in time: a remarkable photo of a Chinese archeological dig; and an ancient Greek grave marker.

And some sciencey/naturey stuff to end with:

A nice post at Cabinet of Curiosities about a spider which built its web downwind of a large patch of rosebay willowherb.

At the New York Times, the need to revise the procedures for police line-ups in the light of psychological research.

A frozen lake — an Ethiopian volcano — a moth from Papua New Guinea — converting Conan to 3D.