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Meet Your Brain

publication date: Dec 23, 2011
Professor Bruce HoodProfessor Bruce Hood is the Director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre in the Experimental Psychology Department at the University of Bristol and is the author of SuperSense, a popular science book on the origins of supernatural beliefs.

He continues to conduct research in diverse fields of human psychology specialising in the cognitive development of children.

Here are some highlights of the lectures.

Your memories: truth or fiction?

False memory is a fascinating area. Scientific research by Bruce and colleagues in his field reveals that memories are actively reconstructed and can be distorted by the insertion of related information, so that the brain cannot tell what was the original and what has been "learnt". Bruce explores what this means for what we think are our earliest memories, and discuss how this understanding of our brains means fictional accounts, like the hit film Inception, aren't so far from reality after all. (Inception's plot is centred on the idea of planting a false memory. False memories work because your brain is assembling details to make a pattern or a representation of an event and can be prompted.)

Are you seeing what I'm seeing?

Have you ever seen a face in a piece of burnt toast? Why are our brains so obsessed with people-patterns? It's not just objects either, your brain likes to give a personality to anything that shows a hint of character; whether it's your teddy bear, your pet fish or even your car. Bruce Hood explains paredolia  – the tendency to see face-like properties in objects – and anthropomorphism – the tendency to attribute human qualities to non-human things – using visual examples.

That's magic!

We all want to understand how magic tricks work. In this feature, Christmas lecturer Bruce Hood explores how magicians, illusionists and conjurers use the power of misdirection to overcome our natural thought patterns. He explains what's going on inside our heads when we watch a trick and what science can teach us about the ways that magicians can surprise and bamboozle others.

The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures will be broadcast on BBC Four at 8pm on 27, 28 and 29 December, 2011. Record them for future viewing if you plan to be out!