Curating Mind Games: Psychology in the Modern World

Listen to Claudia Hammond's recent Ri events and discover the inspiration behind her curated series.

I’m lucky enough to have the chance to cover lots of the issues that I think are important in psychology, neuroscience and mental health in the BBC Radio 4 programme I present, All in the Mind. But it's a particular luxury to be allowed the chance to suggest a topic to discuss with a live audience who are there in the room with me and the speakers.

For my two events at the Ri I’ve chosen two topics I think about a lot which genuinely puzzle me. For years I’ve moaned that psychologists don’t get taken as seriously as economists when it comes to policy-making. So many policy decisions seem to involve predictions, or often assumptions, about people’s behaviour – that plain packaging will reduce the number of cigarettes people buy, or that the so-called “bedroom tax” will free up accommodation by encouraging people to move to smaller homes. No one knows yet whether these policies will work. What we do know is that they both involve human behaviour and the people who have spent years researching human behaviour are psychologists. So why not ask them for their advice?

I wonder whether psychologists have an image problem with means that policy-makers don’t always realise their research might be relevant. Do they see psychologists as one of two things – therapists helping unhappy people, or academics studying the bleeding obvious or the flippant? The whole spectrum of research in between on real life issues gets neglected. 

Or is it the fault of psychologists themselves? Have economists stolen their ground because they are prepared to make concrete suggestions in a way that psychologists can find difficult?  Are psychologists prepared to make their research more accessible and to give their best guess at what should be done using the available evidence before the “more research that’s needed” gets done? 

For the second event I’ve chosen another subject I really want to understand. Why has sexism persisted? Women are still paid less than men, the number of women politicians is decreasing and women who speak out about it are sent hideous threats online. We are still wedded to the idea that men and women think, speak and behave differently from each other because their brains are different. How much evidence is there for this? Are scientific myths used to prop up sexist attitudes and inequality?  

Again I’ve got a lot of questions to which I genuinely want to know the answers. With three great speakers at each event, I’m hoping that the audience and I will find them.

Listen to the first of Claudia's Ri events below:

Listen to the second of Claudia's Ri events below:

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