Saturday, 29 November 2014

An interview with Professor Bruce Hood, School of Experimental Psychology, 11/11/2014 - by Melissa Levy

Professor Bruce Hood is a Professor of Developmental Psychology in Society. He is specifically interested in cognitive development from a neuroscience perspective, but also works on face and gaze processing, inhibitory control of thoughts and actions, spatial representation and action, na├»ve theories and the origin of adult magical reasoning from children’s natural intuitions. If you want any more information about what he and his group then follow this link: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/expsych/people/bruce-m-hood/

Where did you go to university and what did you study?

“My first university was the University of Dundee in Scotland where I did an arts degree. In Scotland you can do a four year degree and take lots of different topics, I didn’t know anything about psychology and I was doing things like economics, accountancy and finance but I had to take another subject and so I took psychology and fell in love with it! This made me decide that I wanted to be a psychologist! So I went to Cambridge and did my PHD there, so I’ve been in Scotland and Cambridge.”

How did you get from there to where you are now in Bristol?

“How long have you got?!
After Cambridge I had a position at UCL and then I got a MRC (medical research council) travelling fellowship which enabled me to go anywhere in the world and I went to MIT. So I did my post-doctorate at MIT and then I applied for a position at Harvard and I was an associate professor there for five years. Then I came to Bristol.”

How would you describe your area of research to someone who’s not in the field?

“Well I have very diverse interests but I suppose they all deal with aspects of development of mind - in the childhood origins of how we think as adults. I’m interested in children not because they’re kids but because I think they give a great insight into the complexity of adult behaviour and the human mind and also some indication as to how we’ve evolved complexity.”

How would you describe your typical day and your typical research? It’s obviously different to that of a chemist let’s say…

“Well unfortunately I don’t have the luxury of doing the research myself directly, although occasionally I will help out. I really love conducting research and collecting data but because I’ve got so many projects running simultaneously I can’t actually collect data myself. So usually it’s working with my post-docs and my grad-students to devise and design experiments, piloting them here in the centre and then very often taking them out into the community.
We do research at the @Bristol Science Museum, but we also collect data in the schools, so it’s a lot of what you would regard as field work. But if we were using a technology which doesn’t transport like eye-movement recordings or ERP (Event Related Potentials –brain signals) then we would do that in the lab.”

If you could go back to conducting the field work yourself would you do that or are you happy with where you are now?

“Yeah I am happy where I am now, but I’ve not lost touch with the sheer joy of data collecting. For me, experimentation is just wondrous and the fact that I can be paid for something that I enjoy so thoroughly is fantastic and I love to share that! I mean there are so many questions that I’d like to answer and I couldn’t answer them myself so I need to have people doing it for me and that’s why we have research students doing that all. I mean I would be delighted if I was just doing research.”

What advice would you give to someone looking for a career in science?

“Passion! That’s what gets you out of bed in the morning!
You have to have a sense of wonder and joy and curiosity, and if this is what you want then this should be enough to drive you forward, and if you have the confidence to do so then you should be fine.”

What has been your proudest achievement to date?

“Well I suppose it has to be giving the royal institute Christmas lectures on the BBC. I’m very passionate about what I do and I really want to take science out into the community and that is the pinnacle of public engagements so that gave me, for a very short time, a platform and a spotlight, which was really quite exceptional. I got to meet so many amazing people, I got to inspire people and I’ve had email correspondence from parents of young children – they still contact me three years later keeping me up to date with their achievements in science and I find that extraordinarily valuable to realise that what you do actually changes people’s lives and makes a difference.
 I’ve always felt that we (psychologists) have a bit of an identity problem that people don’t see us as a real science and that really annoys me. So that’s my other agenda, to make sure people understand how complex the mind can be and that it’s not common sense at all. There are some extraordinary things that we are yet to discover. So yeah I’m passionate about science communication.”

If you could do science with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?

“Gosh, so many to choose from!
One of my greatest mentors was Richard Gregory. You may not know, but Richard Gregory was and still is a great influence on many of us. Richard effectively started the first science museum, the Exploratorium here in Bristol, and he was a great and passionate science communicator. He did some really brilliant work on vision and perception, has illusions named after him – everyone who works in my field of perception will know of Richard Gregory. He was of a genre with a connection to the past, he knew Wittgenstein, he was taught by some of the great names, so he made this connection for me with the past. But he was just so enthusiastic and so passionate – it was infectious, he was like a little child at times when he was talking about things! And really that’s what’s so important to me about science.


People think that science is dull and boring and of course it isn’t! You and I know that it’s actually very fulfilling, and  communicating that passion in a way which is sensible to the general public is what my agenda is.”