We have ways of making you talk, by Ian Leslie.

Expert interrogators know that torture doesn’t work, but until now, no-one could prove it. Two psychologists at the University of Liverpool have conducted a detailed content analysis of 878 hours of taped interrogations, and have developed a training programme for interrogators called the Alycone Course. Using role-play to simulate difficult interviews, it is widely regarded as one the best interrogation training programmes ever.

The Guardian, 14th October 2017, p.29-31.

We have ways of making you talk.



The Behaviourist Manifesto, by John Watson.

In 1913, the early behaviourist John Watson wrote a piece which was to influence psychologists throughout the twentieth century.

“Psychology as the behaviorist views it is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior. Introspection forms no essential part of its methods, nor is the scientific value of its data dependent upon the readiness with which they lend themselves to interpretation in terms of consciousness. The behaviorist, in his efforts to get a unitary scheme of animal response, recognizes no dividing line between man and brute. The behavior of man, with all of its refinement and complexity, forms only a part of the behaviorist’s total scheme of investigation.”

Read the whole thing here:


Diary, by Harry Stawson.

This is a very readable account by someone with a brain tumour, about what it is like to be on the receiving end of various brain scanning techniques. Harry Stawson has a tumour in his right temporal lobe. He is left handed. The surgeons need to find out where the “eloquent” areas of his cortex – the parts responsible for language – reside in his slightly non-standard brain.

We tend to regard brain-scanning as a rather dry and academic topic, full of long biological words that are difficult to revise. This short article brings it down to earth in a very humane way.

You will have to go to a proper library to track down this issue of the London Review of Books.

London Review of Books Vol 39, No. 19, 5th October 2017, p. 42-3.

The Knowledge Illusion, by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach.


Try this out on a friend. Ask them these questions:

  1. On a scale of 1 to 7, rate how well you understand how a zip works.
  2. How does a zip work? Describe in as much detail as you can all  the steps in a zip’s operation.
  3. Now, on the same 1 to 7 scale, rate your knowledge of how a zip works again.

They will almost certainly give a lower estimate the second time, becuase the task has revealed to them how little they actually understand about a zip. This is called the Illusion of Explanatory Depth. The truly terrifying thing is that we are all subject to this illusion, about all of our knowledge. None of us actually know a fraction of the stuff that we think we know.

The reason for this is that we confuse other people’s knowledge with our own. Because other people that we trust understand stuff, we think that we understand that stuff ourselves. We are all prey to this confusion, from A-level students (and teachers), to scientists, politicians, and “experts” of all kinds.

Sloman and Fernback argue that this is because our minds are equipped and optimised for thinking in groups, rather than individually.

The ideas in this book are related to the ideas of Tversky and Kahneman, which are outlined in Thinking Fast and Slow. Thinking Fast and Slow is a longer and more scientifically dense book, but The Knowledge Illusion is also a really fun read, and much shorter.

Drug boosts self confidence, by Helen Thomson.

New research has shown that reducing peoples’ noradrenaline levels boosts their metacognitive insight. Propranolol, a noradrenaline antagonist, increases peoples’ estimation of the accuracy of their decisions, without affecting the actual of accuracy of decision making.

There are potential applications in the treatment of OCD and schizophrenia.

New Scientist No. 3129, 10th June 2017, p.12.

The World Until Yesterday, by Jared Diamond.

coverwuyPre-industrial societies are very different from ours. Some of them kill grandparents when they get to a certain age. Individuals are often fluent in ten or more languages. They feast when food is plentiful, but are happy to go without for several days if there is nothing to eat.

Until a few thousand years ago, all humans lived in this way. It is what we evolved to do. This book is a fascinating account of Jared Diamond’s lifetime of observation of pre-industrial people from around the world. It is long, but packed with packed with intriguing stories from tribal societies.

Not surprisingly, Jared Diamond thinks that we have a lot to learn from these people.

How you see it, how you don’t, by Damion Searls.

rorschachtestThe Rorschach test is often regarded as an example of the unscientific and subjective research methodology of the Psychodynamic school. In fact it was an early attempt at objectivity.

One research group gave the Rorschach test to Nazi prisoners in 1945, and rejected their own results because they couldn’t believe them. Those results are now being reappraised.

New Scientist No. 3120, 8th April 2017. p.42-43.