When bombarding an enemy position in Italy, allied forces subjected it to a sustained artillery barrage for a period of many hours. Afterwards, the enemy emerged spoiling for a fight. The allies then bombarded the same position with intermittent shelling, with regular three minute gaps. When they subsequently attacked the position, they found it deserted. The predictable gaps in the attack had given the enemy an opportunity to run away.
Leo Murray examines the conditions under which soldiers fight more or less effectively, and argues that wars can be won through “tactical psychology”: creating the circumstances under which the enemy is more likely to surrender or to run away.
This book doesn’t contain much rigorous psychology, so it’s probably not going to be top of your reading list in preparation for university. But it’s fun to read, contains some thundering war stories, and is a good example of the practical application of psychology in the real world.
“Morality is all well and good, but this book is about winning wars.”
Psychology likes to think of itself as a rigorous science. We like to think that we are employing the same scientific methodology that has proven to be so successful in the physical sciences. This book explains the ways in which we may be deluding ourselves, and promotes an agenda for change.
Psychologists, Chambers claims, are routinely torturing statistics until they give the desired outcome. This, along with publication bias, means that the textbooks are riddled with type 1 errors: false positives.
Also, the public can’t read the psychology that it has paid for. Have you ever clicked on a link to a psychology paper only to discover that the full text of the article is behind a paywall? The scandal is that we have already paid, via our taxes, for the article to be written, and now we are being asked to pay again to read it.
This book is going to be – or should be – really influential in the coming years. Put it high on your reading list if you plan on studying psychology at university.
Nick Chater believes that the “hidden depths” of the mind are illusory. If we perceive our actions to have motivation, or suppose ourselves to have beliefs and desires, then we are wrong. He holds that we generate our beliefs, values, and actions as we go along.
“Thoughts, like fiction, come into existence in the instant that they are invented and not a moment before. The sense that behaviour is merely the surface of a vast sea, immeasurably deep and teeming with inner motives, beliefs and desires is a conjuring trick played by our minds. The truth is not that the depths are empty, or even shallow, but that the mind is flat: the surface is all there is.”
This position rejects psychodynamic theory, and validates cognitive behavioural therapy which, in attempting to change behaviour and belief in the now, is attempting to manipulate something more fundamental that an imagined unconscious self.
Chater has written an entire book (The Mind is Flat: The Illusion of Mental Depth and The Improvised Mind) on this idea. This article for the Observer is a neat summary.
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.