We asked neuropsychologist, Christine Mohr, to comment on her current work and ideas that have influenced her…
Which of your own ideas have you been thinking about most recently?
I am interested in why some high risk factors for a mental health problem are really a problem for some individuals but not for others. To give an example, magical thinking is a feature in psychosis, but is also a style of thinking in many completely healthy individuals of the general population. A not so new idea is that some people can compensate pretty well when challenged in life, while others are less able to do so. Yet, it is not yet clear what these compensation mechanisms are. Another idea I am working on for some time now is that healthyindividuals with enhanced magical belief are probably more creative than highly sceptical individuals providing them with a specific advantage in everyday life. Whether this is indeed the case, and whether creativity might separate the group of ‘magical believers’ into good or bad compensators remains to be seen. This line of research is based on work by other researchers such as Gordon Claridge (Oxford) and Peter Brugger (Zurich).
What idea of someone else has made most impact on you recently?
As mentioned above, my research is not a stand-alone project, but combines and extends on efforts made by many other academics. Currently, on the search for compensation mechanisms, I am strongly influenced by the literature on stress and psychopathology as well as the one on drug use and psychopathology. In the last 12 months, Britain has seen hefty debates on the re-classification of cannabis, triggered by Professor David Nutt’s critical statements on the role of science in politics. Finding evidence-based links between risk factors, psychopathology, and compensation mechanisms seems key if we want to understand who is at risk of a psychopathology and who is not.
What is the most important book/article of ideas that everyone should read and why?
I do not have a particular book I could suggest. I often read several in parallel, and find myself lucky if I can finish them next to all other duties and projects I am involved. I try to keep up to date with the books who won or were shortlisted for the Purlizer Price. I am also reading Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Science. While most of the arguments are familiar to an experimental psychologist, the presentation of his arguments are very refreshing and entertaining. What seems worth noting as well is my recent visit to Hay-on-Wye. I was chasing psychology books related to my subject area that were published between 1880 and 1960. I just finished one entitled Genius, Some Revelations written by Arthur C Jacobson and published by John Hamilton Ltd. in 1926. What is always striking when making the efforts to read the older literature: many ideas one thought are new, are not. This can be frustrating, but is also exciting, because it helps to disentangle what has really been added to our knowledge, has been confirmed, or even rejected. Jacobson suggested at the time that culture impacts on geniusness but also on elevated risk for psychopathology. I only read recently that a study showed enhanced creativity (problem solving) when people have moved to a different country. Having to adapt to a different language and different habits seems to foster problem solving. Or at least, this is a possible conclusion.
And finally, each year we ask everyone involved – audiences as well as speakers – one question. Charles Masterman, Liberal Party politician and journalist, asked in his book The Condition of England 100 Years Ago: “What will the future make of the present?” What is your answer to this?
Given my comment above, I would hope that the present is not forgotten. I hope that what we find out today is still appreciated when science moved on, and much of today’s knowledge seems obvious and evident to future generations. Scientific rigour is labour-, time-, and cost-intense. Society invests heavily in the gathering, transfer and establishement of knowledge. I hope that the value of this investment is not forgotten, whatever the economic times.
Christine Mohr obtained a PhD in 2001 for her work on the ‘neuropsychology of magical belief’ at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and has continued working in this field ever since. She joined the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol in 2004 where she teaches neuropsychiatry. Strongly guided by her neuropsychological background, she mainly investigates and publishes on the brain correlates of paranormal beliefs and experiences (including out-of-body experiences). Although not primarily concerned with the question of whether the paranormal exists or not (she is a skeptic), her research seeks to understand why paranormal belief is widely distributed in the general population in the face of scant supporting scientific evidence. She co-founded Bristol Skeptics in 2010.