In 2009 we asked Professor Bruce Hood (Psychology Department, University of Bristol), to comment on his current work and ideas that have influenced him…

Which of your own ideas have you been thinking about most recently?
In [my new book] SuperSense, I talk about psychological essentialism as the basis for a common supernatural belief where we attribute some invisible property to the material world. For example, people are repelled by the thought of wearing a killer’s cardigan. I think of this as moral contagion but critics simply dismiss this as a learned association, that is, avoid bad things. Somehow learned association doesn’t capture the repugnance generated by the cardigan example and so I struggle to keep finding better ways to explain it.

What idea of someone else has made most impact on you recently?
After a previous Bristol Festival of Ideas event, Steven Pinker told me about the work of economic psychologist, Philip Tetlock over dinner. Tetlock proposes that societies have sacred values to generate group cohesion and that individuals who violate these sacred values are ostracised.This idea forms a core explanation in why our ‘SuperSense’ is so common and how it can make sacred things profound by evoking the supernatural.

What is the most important book/article of ideas that everyone shouldread and why?

I have to say that Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene changed my thinking for ever and set me out on the path of behavioural science.

Further information/

Professor Bruce Hood established the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre (BCDC) at the University of Bristol in 2001. He is a member of the British Psychological Society, the Experimental Psychology Society and the American Psychology Association, and holds a number of awards. In 2005, he was elected a Fellow of the American Psychological Society. Bruce has also have given keynote addresses to the British Psychological Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and is actively involved in the public engagement of science. Bruce’s forthcoming book:SuperSense: Why We Believe the Unbelievable, is due to be published in April 2009 by HarperOne. Bruce appears at the Bristol Festival of Ideas on 13th May in discussion with journalist David Aaronovitch.

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