BBC Future

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Our IQs have never been higher – but it hasn’t made us smart

We tend to assume that our intelligence is simply a matter of nature and nurture – but as the celebrated psychologist James Flynn explains to BBC Future, many other factors can stunt or boost your IQ, right down to the person you choose to marry.<p>James Flynn is worried about leaving the world to …

IQ

The mystery of why left-handers are so much rarer

Relatively few people are lefties, and it’s a puzzle why. Still, the science of handedness is revealing fascinating insights about you – from how it could change the way you think, to the fact that you might be ‘left-eared’.<p>From the time we pick up a chunky crayon and start scribbling as children, …

Psychology

How anxiety warps your perception

An anxious mindset can change the way you view the world in profound ways. But could a simple new treatment offer a way out of the perpetual fear?<p>As your thoughts run uncontrollably, your heartbeat starts to race and your breathing becomes heavy. Uneasiness is followed by fear, and then without …

Perception

The bomber that paved the way for the Moon missions

Richard Hollingham tracks down one of the B-52 bombers that launched the world’s first space plane.<p>Joe Walker could be one of the greatest astronauts you have never heard of.<p>On 22 August 1963, Walker strapped into the cockpit of an X-15 experimental rocket plane for his final flight. He took off …

Airplanes

Why the present day could be the best time to be alive

It feels like it’s been a bad year, but scientific and societal strides forward in recent decades have transformed global living standards. The world is far from perfect, however, which is why BBC Future is staging a unique event in November to address our global challenges.<p>Imagine you had the …

Space Travel

The astronomical cost of going to Mars – and staying there

If Elon Musk pulls off affordable transport to Mars, there are still other costs that need to be addressed.<p>On Tuesday, tech entrepreneur Elon Musk told the world he has a plan to help humanity establish a colony on the planet Mars. But he delivered a sobering fact to the audience at the 67th annual …

Elon Musk

The genius who grows tiny brains in a lab

Our brains are complex organic computers – some believe the most complicated in the Universe. Yet one scientist has managed to create mini brains that mimic how our minds work.<p>Deep in a lab in Cambridge, England, you will find see an extraordinary thing: tiny, exact replicas of the human brain …

The Brain

What if the aliens we are looking for are AI?

The search for extraterrestrial life has so far assumed our cosmic neighbours are organic. What if we’re dealing with artificial intelligence?<p>For more than a century we have been broadcasting our presence to the cosmos. This year, the faintest signals from the world’s first major televised event – …

Aliens

The benefits of going bald

Want to appear more intelligent, influential, educated and honest? Lose your hair.<p>The Vikings used a lotion of goose poo. The ancient Greek medic Hippocrates believed the best cure for baldness was really pigeon droppings, which he mixed with horseradish, cumin and nettles. One 5,000 year-old …

Hair

Will dentists help you to grow new teeth?

Kinder and more lasting treatments could reduce your pain at the dentist.<p>If you don’t like going to the dentist, you’re not alone. Most people have some anxiety about visiting the dentist, with one study in the Netherlands indicating that 24% of adults feared the dentist. Moreover, significant …

Dentistry

Four ways that other people can warp your memory

Your past is not your own. Through simple nudges, your friends, colleagues and strangers can change your recollections in ways you will never realise.<p>When we think of our memories, it’s natural to imagine a kind of personal library, a bit like Sherlock Holmes’s memory palace, where we have stored …

Psychology

‘Tunnel vision’ doesn’t begin to describe this woman’s sight

Despite having healthy eyes, Agnes finds it impossible to see more than one object at a time, while being blind to everything else around her. Her strange condition reveals surprising truths about the ways we all perceive the world.<p>Look around, what do you see? Children playing outside, your office …

The Brain

The woman who is allergic to water

Rachel’s rare condition means that a bath is agony; even her own tears will scorch her face. How can the human body reject life’s most basic necessity?<p>Rachel wakes up – and drinks a kind of poison that feels like a glass of stinging nettles. As it slip downs her throat, she can feel it blistering …

Medicine

Five ways to encourage generosity

How do charities encourage us to part with our cash? As Claudia Hammond finds, there are some proven ways to appeal to people’s better natures.<p><b>1) Don’t rely on cliched pictures</b><p>In a typical appeal after an earthquake we often see a family standing sadly in front of their wrecked home while they wait …

Psychology

The benefits of having a babyface

If you’re blessed with big doe eyes, it can help you get ahead and get away with more than you think.<p>He was America’s most wanted man – a gangster so bloodthirsty, Al Capone booted him out of his gang for being too violent.<p>On 20 April 1934, the police decided to get him. They’d been tipped off that …

Psychology

Would you fly in a pilotless airliner?

Driverless trains and cars are already with us – but how soon before pilotless airliners? The biggest challenge may be getting passengers on board.<p>Have you ever had a panic attack in mid-flight? Those that have will tell you it’s not fun. And there are plenty of reasons that make people panic. Some …

Airplanes

Why you feel busy all the time (when you’re actually not)

Overwhelmed? It can seem like we’re busier than ever, but that’s not quite true, says Oliver Burkeman, who has been exploring the topic in a new series for BBC Radio 4.<p>Few facts about modern life seem more indisputable than how busy everyone seems to be. Across the industrialised world, large …

Psychology

Getting sense of statistics - by eating them

How do you convey complicated data in a way that’s easier to understand? A group of researchers think the answer may lie in our tastebuds.<p>Have you ever wondered what your credit score might taste like?<p>Numbers reflect interest rates, determine the outcome of presidential elections and dominate …

Statistics

Clues to your personality appeared before you could talk

Long before you could express yourself with words, you were giving away the signs of your adult temperament. Christian Jarrett explains how.<p>Your personality has been sculpted by many hands. Your genes, your friends, the schools you attended, plus many other factors, will all have played a part in …

Personality

How curiosity can protect the mind from bias

Neither intelligence nor education can stop you from forming prejudiced opinions – but an inquisitive attitude may help you make wiser judgements.<p>Ask a left-wing Brit what they believe about the safety of nuclear power, and you can guess their answer. Ask a right-wing American about the risks posed …

Bias

The people who study the meaning of nonsense

The strange world of wugs, wuwus and gutches can teach us how we learn to speak and where language came from in the first place.<p>A young Stephen Fry is sitting on a couch, philosophising about the English language. He’s sporting an unfashionable pageboy haircut and has the air of a serious …

Language

The pilot who stole a secret Soviet fighter jet

When pilot Viktor Belenko defected 40 years ago, he did so in a mysterious Soviet plane – the MiG-25. BBC Future investigates the far-reaching effects of one of the Cold War’s most intriguing events.<p>On 6 September 1976, an aircraft appears out of the clouds near the Japanese city of Hakodate, on …

Airplanes

Why paper cuts hurt so much

The scraping slice from an errant page of A4 doesn’t break the skin, but it can be extremely painful. Why?<p>Paper seems completely harmless, but anybody who has refilled a photocopier or thumbed too quickly through a book knows that this humble material harbours a deep, dark secret. Deployed …

Science

The bold and controversial plan to drill into a supervolcano

A volcano hidden off the coast of Italy is so huge that it has the power to change life on Earth – should scientists drill into it to unlock its secrets, or is the risk too great? Jonathan Frochtzwajg investigates.<p>Stefano Carlino descends underground, into a deep pit occupied by what looks like a …

Physical Geography

The tiny bits of code that can wreck computers

Some dangerous bits of code come in surprisingly small sizes. But just a few bytes can be enough to wreck computers and even bring a warship to a standstill.<p>One of the best programming jokes – and there are plenty to choose from – goes like this: Why did the programmer die in the shower? Because …

University of Cambridge

The complicated ways that money messes with your morals

A string of studies appeared to show that rich people are more tight-fisted and less trustworthy – but what’s the truth in the claims? Claudia Hammond investigates.<p>At some time or another you’ve probably found yourself in a bar where the richest person present seems to be the slowest to reach for …

Money

Why we should celebrate shyness

From Agatha Christie and Charles Darwin to Keira Knightley, Francoise Hardy and Morrissey, the socially awkward and anxious have changed the world for the better. Have we forgotten the benefits of being shy?<p>If you are ever overcome by feelings of self-doubt, just remember Agatha Christie. In April …

Psychology

How comedy makes us better people

After years spent in dark comedy clubs, Mary O’Hara knows what makes her laugh. But what else can a good joke do? She meets the performers and researchers who say that comedy can change how we think and even how we act.<p>Maeve Higgins once set herself a task. The Irish-born comedian wanted to see …

Psychology

The 1950s jet launching tiny satellites

The first fighter to fly twice the speed of sound, the Lockheed F-104 was a controversial design. Now, decades after retirement, the Starfighter is taking on a new role.<p>If you asked an eight-year-old to design a jet fighter, the end result might resemble the Lockheed F-104.<p>The F-104 looks less like …

Airplanes

What happens to the body when you fast

For how long could we live without food? And what are the benefits of following a 5:2 diet? Watch the video below to find out.<p>In 1965, a 27-year-old man turned up to a Scottish hospital with a strange request. The man, who weighed 207kg (around 32 stone) was giving up food – and he wanted the …

Nutrition