The Psychology of Terrorism, by John Horgan.

Image resultPeople 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.


The Cyber Effect, by Mary Aiken.

cybereffectMary 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.

Network-wide reorganization of procedural memory during NREM sleep revealed by fMRI, by Shahabeddin Vahdat, Stuart Fogel, Habib Benali, and Julien Doyon.

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

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.

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.