Ig Nobel perception prize winner Atsuki Higashiyama: ‘Psychology teaches us to be scientific and skeptical’


Special To The Japan Times

Name: Atsuki Higashiyama
Age: 65
Nationality: Japanese
Occupation: Professor of psychology, Ritsumeikan University
Likes: Walking, spending a whole day not thinking
Dislikes: Business, teaching

1. Please explain your research on perception. My research focuses on 3-D perception — the relationship between visual perception and body orientation.

2. Did you ever expect to win an Ig Nobel prize? No, never. It was a complete surprise.

3. What prize did you receive? I received 10 trillion Zimbabwean dollars, a 61-second clock, a certificate and a very warm welcome.

4. Describe the pose that is synonymous with your research. I sometimes, not often, take the pose of bending over and looking between my legs. I have encouraged participants of the experiments to take this pose for a very short elapsed time on every trial. If we kept this pose for a long time, the blood would pile in the brain, which should be avoided.

5. What are you most compulsive about? Everything.

6. Whom do you most admire? My wife. She is my biggest supporter. Usually I get no reaction to my academic research, just silence, so it’s hard for me to evaluate my research. My wife, however, tells me my research is impressive. She’s the first person who admired me.

7. What’s your favorite Japanese word or phrase? “運鈍根” (“unkondon”). It spells out the condition for success — a combination or perseverance, luck and stolidity.

8. What is your first memory? In kindergarten, playing the role of a king in a drama. My parents enjoyed it.

9. Which theory or thinker has had the biggest impact in psychology in the past 100 years? Both Irvin Rock and Hermann von Helmholtz have been very influential, especially in their thinking on the fundamentals of visual perception.

10. What will you do when you retire? I don’t want to retire, but I will have more time for writing and research.

11. If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be? Queen Himiko who ruled Japan nearly two millennia ago, and Kukai, the founder of Shingon Buddhhism. Both were hugely influential, but there is much we don’t know about them.

12. What is your worst habit? Forgetting everything easily.

13. How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator? Cut it up.

14. What was the best piece of advice your mother or father gave you? Work hard. They said this over and over again. They taught me that a stolid mind is more important than a sharp one, as it is the route to success. Also, they told me friends are very important.

15. What are three uses of a stapler without staples? Musical instrument, a paper weight and a clothes peg.

16. Who has had the most impact on your life? Many people, especially teachers. One was a teacher in high school who taught me about Japanese literature. Another was a psychologist in university.

17. What are some of your hobbies? Writing, reading and researching. Do they count?

18. What has a life studying and teaching psychology taught you? Psychology teaches us to be scientific and skeptical. You have to make room for doubt. Not just in psychology, but many other social sciences place a huge and necessary emphasis on doubt.

19. What do you want to be when you grow up? Many things: an architect, novelist, singer, carpenter — something creative.

20. Do you have any words of advice for young people? Do what you like …and continue doing it long term.

Professor Atsuki Higashiyama won the spoof Ig Nobel perception prize in September for determining that objects look smaller when viewing them bent over and between one’s legs.