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Bristol psychologist gives 2011 Royal Institution’s Christmas Lectures

Professor Bruce Hood delivering one of the 2011 Ri Christmas Lectures

Professor Bruce Hood delivering one of the 2011 Ri Christmas Lectures

Press release issued: 20 December 2011

Professor Bruce Hood's three-part series of lectures, entitled Meet Your Brain, will be broadcast on BBC Four on 27, 28 and 29 December

The Royal Institution’s Christmas Lectures, original science events for children started by Michael Faraday in 1825, have long been seen as one of the most important events in the scientific calendar. 

This year, renowned experimental psychologist Professor Bruce Hood, Director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre at the University of Bristol invites you to Meet Your Brain in a demonstration-packed, three-part series of lectures, delivered in the iconic theatre at the Royal Institution.  The lectures are supported by the Wellcome Trust.

The lectures will air on BBC Four at 8pm on Tuesday 27, Wednesday 28 and Thursday 29 December.

Professor Hood said: “Inside each and every one of us is the most marvellous structure in the known universe - the human brain.  Our brain makes us who we are and yet the way it works has been a mystery for much of human civilization.  We all know that we think but not how we think.  Deep inside every brain is a vast hidden world of complexity that defies description.  Yet science has made important discoveries in recent years that begin to uncover the workings of this remarkable organ.

“In this year’s Ri Christmas Lectures, I’ll explore how our brains work and just what makes us truly human.  I’ll explain how you create your own version of reality, what makes your brain decide what information to trust and what to ignore (without you even knowing!) and why you are programmed to read other people’s minds?”

The first lecture asks: What’s in your head?  Your brain may look like a big walnut, but it has the ability to create an almost unlimited stream of images, thoughts, memories and dreams.  In this lecture, Professor Hood will get under your skull and take a peek inside. He will temporarily deactivate a living human in front of the audience and use technology to mind read someone who is over 100 miles away. In the process, he’ll show how everything you perceive is just an interpretation of the nerve impulses that your brain receives - how our brain constructs our brain constructs our own reality and the matrix of the mind we live in.

Lecture 2, Who’s in charge here anyway? looks at how the brain actually operates when it comes to creating our sense of self.  Your conscious thoughts are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the activity going on inside your head. Every minute your brain is bombarded with information - sights, sounds, smells, feelings - and you are aware of only a tiny fraction of it.  How does your brain decide what to trust and what to ignore, all without you even knowing?  What sneaky shortcuts does it take to speed up your mental ability?  Why is multi-tasking so dangerous?  Using some surprising illusions and lots of audience participation, Professor Hood will make you say the wrong thing and fail to see what's right in front of you.  Can you really believe your eyes? Possibly not!

In the third lecture, Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Professor Hood explores the social nature of the brain and why childhood is so vital. He will explore why 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.  Yet there are elements of being human that prove virtually impossible to recreate artificially.  Can a robot ever fall in love?  With sensors to measure our response to some revealing live demonstrations, Professor Hood will look at what makes the human brain so special and how it is built to read other people’s minds.