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The Self IllusionBruce Hood

Constable and Robinson, £12.99 

We all like to believe that our memories are accurate and our personalities are consistent, but Bruce Hood demonstrates the ease with which we form false memories and the ways in which our actions depend on our environment.

Every piece of information about our brains and behaviour is backed up with descriptions of an experiment or real-life scenario. For example, if you imagine what it is like to be a professor for five minutes before playing Trivial Pursuit, you will perform better than if you imagine being a football hooligan. More worryingly, if African Americans were asked their race before performing an IQ test, they did worse than if they hadn’t been primed to think about race.

But what’s the point of knowing these sometimes disturbing facts? After all, lack of free will can be a depressing thought – and people who don’t believe in free will tend to perform worse at work than their colleagues. However, understanding some of the reasons behind our actions and attitudes makes it easier to accept why many people can behave ‘out of character’. Some of the issues covered in The Self Illusion also have implications for criminal justice and the way we treat children.

This is a fascinating and beautifully written book, made personal by examples from the author’s own life. 

Karen Patel AMSB

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