Nick Haslam

Nick Haslam is professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne, where he teaches social and personality psychology. His most recent book is Psychology in the Bathroom (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

Nick Haslam reviews 'Scatterbrain: How the mind’s mistakes make humans creative, innovative and successful' by Henning Beck

March 2020, no. 419 24 February 2020
Nick Haslam reviews 'Scatterbrain: How the mind’s mistakes make humans creative, innovative and successful' by Henning Beck
Once, when we humans reflected on what made us special, we latched on to those qualities that distinguished us from the rest of creation. We were smarter, more rational, more cognitively capable. The philosopher Joseph de Maistre, for example, proposed that ‘the concept of number is the obvious distinction between beast and man’. More recently, with the onrush of the digital age, we have come ... (read more)

Nick Haslam reviews 'The Gendered Brain: The new neuroscience that shatters the myth of the female brain' by Gina Rippon

March 2019, no. 409 25 February 2019
Nick Haslam reviews 'The Gendered Brain: The new neuroscience that shatters the myth of the female brain' by Gina Rippon
A few intellectually superior women exist, conceded nineteenth-century anthropologist Gustav Le Bon, but ‘they are as exceptional as the birth of any monstrosity, as, for example, of a gorilla with two heads’. Armed with cephalometers, scales, and birdseed for measuring skull volumes, Le Bon and his peers found that women’s heads tended to contain smaller brains than men’s. The five missin ... (read more)

Nick Haslam reviews 'Out of My Head: On the trail of consciousness' by Tim Parks

December 2018, no. 407 27 November 2018
Nick Haslam reviews 'Out of My Head: On the trail of consciousness' by Tim Parks
How does consciousness, the feeling of what happens, emerge from the object that Tim Parks describes in this engaging book as ‘a gruesome pinkish grey, vaguely intestinal lump’? Is mind identical with brain, is it secreted by it in some fashion, or does it, as some philosophers suggest, mysteriously ‘supervene’ on neural processes? Dualism is deeply unfashionable, and the rise of brain sci ... (read more)

Nick Haslam reviews 'The Lost Boys: Inside Muzafer Sherif’s Robbers Cave experiment' by Gina Perry

June-July 2018, no. 402 25 May 2018
Nick Haslam reviews 'The Lost Boys: Inside Muzafer Sherif’s Robbers Cave experiment' by Gina Perry
Social psychology has a few iconic experiments that have entered public consciousness. There is the shaken but obliging participant who delivers potentially lethal electric shocks to another person in Stanley Milgram’s obedience research. There are the young Californians who descend into an orgy of brutality and degradation while enacting the roles of prisoners and guards in Philip Zimbardo’s ... (read more)

Nick Haslam reviews 'Freud: The making of an illusion' by Frederick Crews

March 2018, no. 399 21 February 2018
Nick Haslam reviews 'Freud: The making of an illusion' by Frederick Crews
Shortly after Sigmund Freud’s death in 1939, W.H. Auden published an elegy to the famous Viennese refugee. Auden’s Freud is flawed and fallible – ‘He wasn’t clever at all: he merely told / the unhappy Present to recite the Past’ – but unquestionably great. ‘If some traces of the autocratic pose, / the paternal strictness he distrusted, still / clung to his utterance and features, / ... (read more)

Nick Haslam reviews 'The Secret Life of The Mind: How our brain thinks, feels, and decides' by Mariano Sigman

September 2017, no. 394 30 August 2017
Nick Haslam reviews 'The Secret Life of The Mind: How our brain thinks, feels, and decides' by Mariano Sigman
Along time ago in a university far, far away, I received an application for graduate study in psychology. The applicant claimed to have no particular orientation to the field, just a broad and open-minded curiosity. In her own words, she was a ‘tabula rosa’: a rose tablet. The student had misrendered John Locke’s famous tabula rasa, the empiricist metaphor of the human mind as a blank slate ... (read more)

Nick Haslam reviews 'A Day in the Life of the Brain: The neuroscience of consciousness from dawn till dusk' by Susan Greenfield

April 2017, no. 390 29 March 2017
Nick Haslam reviews 'A Day in the Life of the Brain: The neuroscience of consciousness from dawn till dusk' by Susan Greenfield
The youthful genre of popular neuroscience enjoys a few advantages that popular psychology, its older sibling, does not. The general public holds neuroscience in higher esteem, more confident in its scientific legitimacy. The concreteness of brain science – its colourful scans, its focus on a kilogram or so of custardy matter rather than a weightless cloud of mind – gives it a solidity that ps ... (read more)

Nick Haslam reviews 'ADHD Nation: The disorder. The drugs. The inside story.' by Alan Schwarz

January–February 2017, no. 388 20 December 2016
Nick Haslam reviews 'ADHD Nation: The disorder. The drugs. The inside story.' by Alan Schwarz
The spectrum of opinion on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – ADHD in the acronym-crazed world of psychiatry – runs from the firiest red to the deepest purple. At the radical red extreme, critics see the diagnosis as a dangerous fiction, scripted by Big Pharma so that rambunctious youth can be profitably pacified. At the violet end, advocates view the condition as a disorder of the bra ... (read more)

Nick Haslam reviews 'Ivan Pavlov: A Russian life in science' by Daniel P. Todes

December 2016, no. 387 30 November 2016
Nick Haslam reviews 'Ivan Pavlov: A Russian life in science' by Daniel P. Todes
Conventional wisdom has it that Ivan Pavlov made dogs salivate to the sound of a bell, discovered the conditioned reflex, and laid the foundations for behaviourism, an austere creed that ruled the mind to be off limits for science. Almost all of this is false. Pavlov’s bell was in fact a sophisticated adjustable buzzer. The ‘conditioned reflex’ is a mistranslation: reflexes are instead ‘co ... (read more)

Nick Haslam reviews 'In a Different Key: The story of Autism' by John Donvan and Caren Zucker

June–July 2016, no. 382 24 May 2016
Nick Haslam reviews 'In a Different Key: The story of Autism' by John Donvan and Caren Zucker
There may or may not be an epidemic of autism, but the idea of 'autism' has been remarkably catching. Once understood as a vanishingly rare condition, identified only in 1943, decades after Sigmund Freud and his followers first explored the psychopathology of childhood, autism has become commonplace. Popular culture celebrates it as an amusing quirk, often embodied in the figure of the boy genius, ... (read more)
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