6000 postcards

5 January 2006

If you study or work at UCL, the sight of dusty old boxes stacked up in the corner of a cupboard is a regular one. However, one intrepid academic bravely delved into the boxes and made an intriguing discovery, so much so it is the subject of a Radio 4 programme, to be broadcast at 11am on 6 January 2006.

When Senior Lecturer Mr Richard Rawles (UCL Psychology) opened the boxes, he discovered 6,000 postcards, all dating from 1953. On the back of each card was text that seemed to be answers to a questionnaire about left and right- handedness, but the cards had lain undisturbed for more than 50 years.

In the programme, Professor Chris McManus (UCL Psychology), a leading expert in laterality, describes how he and his colleagues traced the postcards’ origins to an early BBC television science programme presented by a young Dr Jacob Bronowski, and how the cards are an early example of viewer participation, now a common practice in the age of digital television.

Professor McManus also describes how he and two undergraduate students, James Moore (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) and Matthew Freegard (UCL Psychology), put the answers through a computer-driven analysis to find out what they can tell us now about the people and the time they lived in.