Right Hand, Left Hand, by Chris McManus

512yxI6NxbLThe left hemisphere of the brain is “logical”, and the right is “emotional”, yes? Left handed people are more creative? Right handed people more logical? These are the kind of pseudo-scientific factoids that give psychology a bad name with other scientists. Like many lazy oversimplifications, there is a grain of truth at the core of them. Proper psychological science is about using observation and experiment to get to the bottom of the matter, and this book reviews what we actually know about lateralisation of function in the human brain.

It is really readable. It ranges from psychology to anthropology, molecular biology to astronomy, and cultural studies to anecdote. It has won loads of prizes, is great fun to read, and frankly is absolutely fascinating.

If you’re just interested in the psychology then perhaps start with chapter 8, but in fact I would just start at the beginning because you’re probably going to end up reading the whole thing anyway!

Dark Rites by Dan Jones

This article in the New Scientist offers a psychological explanation for rituals like the Japanese tea ceremony, and religious rituals.

“Collective rituals are public signals that you are committed to the group, which facilitate co-operation with the group and create a sense of shared purpose.”

There is a description of an experiment in which children are copy ritualistic actions more accurately if they have previously been made to feel ostracised.

Another experiment compares two groups of children. One group worked together to make necklaces of beads based upon an invariant ritualised procedure: “first we add a green heart, then an orange square”, and so on. A control group simply made freestyle necklaces. After seven minutes the experimental group expressed greater feelings of affiliation and connection to their group than the controls.

“Children copy apparently aimless sequences of actions more faithfully than ones with a clear goal.”

New Scientist, No. 3004, 17th January 2015, p37-39.