Have you ever put your car keys in the fridge while leaving milk on the outside, or been asked by a waiter whether you'd like the chicken or fish and just answered yes?

Typically, such accidents are explained away as unintentional.

In fact, a new study has shown that these errors occur because people always control their actions through mental imagery.

If they, perhaps without noticing, conjure up a wrong mental image, an unexpected action may follow.

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A UK study demonstrated for the first time how it is possible to bring about involuntary movements from people, just by giving them a strong enough mental image of that movement.

Thirty-two undergraduates took part in the University of Plymouth's experiment, in which they were asked to imagine performing a simple finger-tapping pattern in time with a metronome, but to keep completely still.

Occasionally, images of either the same or a different movement flashed up in front of them, which they were asked to ignore.

Strikingly, in these instances, participants could not follow the instructions to keep their fingers still.

They sometimes executed the actions they were imagining; especially when the action they saw matched the action they imagined and would therefore strengthen it.

"These findings are a step change for our understanding of how humans control their own actions, and why they sometimes fail to do so," said study leader and PhD student James Colton.

"They do not necessarily represent a form of 'mind-control', but show that our actions typically follow whatever we imagine."

This meant that simply bringing up the correct mental image would make us act in the way we want.

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However, Colton added, it also meant that when we accidentally pictured other actions, such as during multitasking, it may cause us to act in a way we did not intend, and this could feel involuntary.

The findings also revealed links between the voluntary control of action and more mysterious ideomotor phenomena such as the use of a Ouija board, which are revered by some for their ability to channel spirits from beyond the grave.

"In fact, the participants are simply channelling their own thoughts by imagining what their friends and relatives might be saying in a conducive environment," he said.

"As the famous psychologist and philosopher William James pointed out in 1890, such phenomena therefore do not reflect 'a curiosity' but instead tap into the 'normal process' of intentional behaviour."

Early morning munchies?

A new analysis of Google searches from people living in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and India has revealed that we all seem to get the fast food munchies in the early hours. Photo / 123RF
A new analysis of Google searches from people living in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and India has revealed that we all seem to get the fast food munchies in the early hours. Photo / 123RF

You might have also found yourself weirdly hungry for take-aways when you should be dead asleep.

You're not alone.

A new analysis of Google searches from people living in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and India has revealed that we all seem to get the fast food munchies in the evening and in the early hours.

Using large datasets provided by Google Trends, researchers from the University of Aberdeen in the UK discovered consistent daily patterns of internet information seeking behaviour for general and specific key words related to feeding behaviour.

Remarkably, the daily pattern in behaviour was present in all five countries - indicating that this novel human appetitive behaviour wasn't just a quirk of any one culture.

One consistent and biologically relevant observation was two evening spikes - an early and late Google search, at 7pm and 2am respectively.

The data offered a useful experimental approach to examine behavioural rhythms in motivation, and in particular the drive to maintain energy balance.

How "Bigfoot" was planet's biggest dinosaur

The excavations in 1998, with the brachiosaur foot bones below a tail of a Camarasaurus. Photo / KUVP archives
The excavations in 1998, with the brachiosaur foot bones below a tail of a Camarasaurus. Photo / KUVP archives

The Black Hills region of the United States is famous today for tourist attractions like Deadwood and Mount Rushmore, but around 150 million years ago it was home to one of the largest dinosaurs ever known.

This dinosaur was a member of the sauropod family with long necks and tails.

These giant plant-eating dinosaurs like Brontosaurus and Diplodocus were the largest land animals that ever lived on this planet.

The foot described in a new scientific paper was excavated in 1998 by an expedition from the University of Kansas, with Anthony Maltese, lead author of the study, as member of the crew.

As it was immediately apparent that the foot, nearly a metre wide, was from an extremely large animal - so the specimen was nicknamed Bigfoot.

Now, after detailed preparation and study, Maltese and his international team of researchers from the US, Switzerland, and Germany identified it as belonging to an animal very closely related to Brachiosaurus, famous for its appearance in the 1993 film Jurassic Park.

A Brachiosaurus nibbling from an Araucaria tree. These dinosaurs had enormous necks and relatively short tails. Image / Davide Bonadonna, Milan, Italy.
A Brachiosaurus nibbling from an Araucaria tree. These dinosaurs had enormous necks and relatively short tails. Image / Davide Bonadonna, Milan, Italy.

Maltese and his colleagues used 3D scanning and detailed measurements to compare Bigfoot to sauropod feet from numerous species.

Their research confirmed that this foot was unusually large - and bigger than any other dinosaur foot discovered to date.

Can cat poo make you better at business?

People infected with a parastite found in cat poo are more likely to have entrepreneurial spirit, according to international research. Photo / 123RF
People infected with a parastite found in cat poo are more likely to have entrepreneurial spirit, according to international research. Photo / 123RF

File this one under strange but true.

People infected with a parasite found in cat poo are more likely to have entrepreneurial spirit and less likely to cite fear of failure in starting new business ventures, one new study has suggested.

The parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, infects an estimated 2 billion people worldwide and has been linked to a host of behaviours, from car accidents to suicide.

Now US researchers have found a positive link between T. gondii exposure and entrepreneurial behaviour.

They even showed that countries such as Australia, with low rates of T. gondii, also tend to have fewer people intending to start their own business.

The University of Colorado researchers asked whether such effects extend to business-related behaviours by individuals and across countries.

By combining data from university students, business professionals, and global databases, they found a consistently positive link between T. gondii exposure and entrepreneurial behaviour - emphasising what they called a "hidden role of parasites as potential drivers of human behaviour and economic outcomes".