People have very high expectations of what psychology can tell us about terrorists. Politicians and security forces want us to identify a “terrorist personality”, so we can identify those who might be attracted to terrorism before they become active. In fact terrorists come in all psychological shapes and sizes. Just like there are musicians with different personalities, and police officers with different personalities, and shopkeepers with different personalities, so there are terrorists with many different personalities, and it is impossible to predict from a personality assessment whether or not someone is likely to become involved in terrorism.
One of the problems of research into terrorism is sampling. Terrorists do not typically volunteer for psychological investigations. Those that do tend to be in custody, and have long ago disengaged from terrorist behaviour.
Horgan argues that the psychology of terrorism is in fact pre-paradigmatic, and that psychologist should focus for the time being on accurate and precise descriptions of terrorist behaviour, rather than attempts at explanation.
This is a hard book, which is definitely aimed at an undergraduate level or above. It will reward those who want to persevere with some advanced reading. That said, there are some highly readable bits and pieces. The snippets of transcriptions of interview with terrorists are fascinating.
Mary Aiken describes herself as a “cyberpsychologist”. She has spent her career investigating the effect that continual exposure to internet-connected devices has on the human mind. She describes how the addictive nature of phones and computers leads to deviant sexual behaviour, risk-taking, and crime. She is a scientist, but she also believes that we should go beyond science in our understanding of the modern world, because the nature of social interaction is changing so fast that we have no time to wait for carefully controlled longitudinal studies.
“A great, important book – a must read” – Steven D. Levitt
“Fascinating and accessible” – Alexandra Frean, The Times.
“A social alarm bell” – Sunday Times, Books of the Year.
Sleeping helps us to consolidate our procedural memories. This Canadian team managed to get people to go to sleep inside an fMRI scanner. They observed how the brain actually stores away memories.
This online paper also gives a great insight into the peer review process. If you scroll down, you can read the exchange between the editor of the journal and the author, which shows how peer review has improved the work prior to publication.
Network-wide reorganization of procedural memory during NREM sleep revealed by fMRI
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.
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:
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.
Try this out on a friend. Ask them these questions:
- On a scale of 1 to 7, rate how well you understand how a zip works.
- How does a zip work? Describe in as much detail as you can all the steps in a zip’s operation.
- 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.