Bruce Hood (psychologist)

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Bruce Hood
Bruce Hood giving his Why We Fail to Reason & How to Speak Easily talk at QED 2015
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Bristol, University of Cambridge, University of Dundee, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
ThesisDevelopment of visual selective attention (1991)

Bruce MacFarlane Hood is a Canadian-born British experimental psychologist and philosopher who specialises in developmental cognitive neuroscience. He is currently based at the University of Bristol and his major research interests include intuitive theories, self identity, essentialism and the cognitive processes behind adult magical thinking.


Hood completed undergraduate studies in psychology, then received a Master of Arts and a Master of Philosophy from the University of Dundee.[1] He received a PhD from University of Cambridge in 1991, studying the visual development of infants.[2] After moving to the US he took a place as a visiting professor at MIT and faculty professor at Harvard University.[3] He is currently a professor at the University of Bristol, where he conducts research at the School of Psychological Science and teaches the Developmental Psychology modules.[4]


Cognitive development in childhood[edit]

In his research, Hood investigates various aspects of cognitive development in children. He best known for discovering a naïve theory of gravity[5] and looking at the origins of superstitious beliefs in children. Most notably, his research showed that children inherently prefer 'their' individual objects over duplicated ones [6] a behaviour which persists into adulthood.[7] Further, he investigates how children use gaze to infer about the mental states of humans they are interacting with.[8][9]

Science of Happiness[edit]

Since 2018, Hood has been delivering the Science of Happiness course at University of Bristol as well as other universities and organizations. Modelled after the successful Psychology and the Good Life course initiated by Laurie Santos at Yale University, the programme has been shown to improve mental well-being[10] and is the basis for the BBC podcast The Happiness Half-Hour[11] co-presented by Hood.

Public engagement[edit]

Hood has been engaging in science outreach since the beginning of his career. In 2009, he published his first popular science bookSuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable. The book tackles how the human brain generates superstitious beliefs.[12] Hood argues that humans evolved to "detect patterns in the world" and defines the supersense as the "inclination to infer that there are hidden forces that create the patterns that we think we detect".[13] Contrary to prominent skeptics such as Richard Dawkins, Hood is convinced that superstitious beliefs are inevitable and even beneficial to humans. For instance, he argues that essentialism is beneficial to social interactions, since it allows humans to overcome objectification and attribute uniqueness to other humans. However, Hood clearly differentiates between secular and religious beliefs, where secular supernatural beliefs are universally applicable across cultures and religious beliefs are culturally specific. He also argues that secular superstitious beliefs do predispose humans to religious beliefs.[14]

In 2012, Hood published his second popular science book The Self Illusion: Why there is no 'you' inside your head (published under the alternative title The Self Illusion: How the social brain creates identity in America). In this book, he argues that the human sense of self is a construct of the brain which facilitates experiencing and interacting with the world.[15] "Who we are," Hood writes, "is a story of our self − a constructed narrative that our brain creates".[16] Bruce uses a "a distinction that William James drew between the self as "I" and "me." Our consciousness of the self in the here and now is the "I" and most of the time, we experience this as being an integrated and coherent individual – a bit like the character in the story. The self which we tell others about, is autobiographical or the "me" which again is a coherent account of who we think we are based on past experiences, current events and aspirations for the future."[17]

In October 2012, Hood devised the world's largest simultaneous memory experiment for the Society of Biology involving 2000 participants to demonstrate the phenomenon of false memories.[18] This was officially recognised by the Guinness Book of Records in 2013.[19]

Hood's third popular science book, The Domesticated Brain, was published in 2014 and explores the neuro-cognitive origins and consequences of social behaviour in humans. The book's thesis is that "over the most recent evolution, the last 20,000 years", humans have been "selecting each other for prosocial behaviour and that has changed our brains and the way we've become more codependent".[20] He presented this topic at The Royal Society of Arts,[21] The Royal Society[22] and the 2014 Cheltenham Science Festival.[23]

Hood's most recent book, Possessed: Why Do We Want More Than We Need? published in 2019[24] addresses the psychological mechanisms behind over-consumption and the link between materialism and self-identity building on the ideas of William James and Russell Belk's 'extended self-concept'. In addition to books, Hood has appeared in numerous popular science podcasts, radio shows, TV series and documentary movies.[25] In 2011, Hood was chosen to present the prestigious Royal Institution Christmas Lectures entitled Meet Your Brain[26] The lectures were first broadcast on BBC4 and again on BBC2 in 2012. Hood also appeared in the award-winning eco-documentary movie Living in the Futures' Past[27] co-produced and presented by academy award winner Jeff Bridges.


Professor Bruce Hood at the QED conference in Manchester 2011

Hood played a key part in exposing the ADE 651 bogus bomb detector and similar devices in January 2010. He got involved in exposing the scam upon realising that the devices were produced locally in Somerset (UK) and challenged the creator of the devices, Jim McCormick, to demonstrate their validity. Even though McCormick initially agreed to this, the demonstration was then delayed and McCormick later required Hood to sign a non-disclosure statement concerning their meeting. Hood had also contacted the BBC about McCormick and his fraudulent products, which ultimately resulted in the production of a BBC Newsnight documentary about ADE 651 and a related device, the GT200.[28][29] In this documentary, Hood demonstrates that the perceived effect of the devices can be explained by the ideomotor phenomenon, which had fooled naive users.[30]

Awards and recognition[edit]

He was awarded a Sloan Fellowship in neuroscience in 1997,[31] a Young Investigator Award from the International Society for Infant Studies and the Robert L. Fantz prize in 1999.[32] He is the only individual to win the University of Bristol Engagement Award twice (2008–2012) and in 2013, Hood received The British Psychological Society Public Engagement and Media award.[33] From 2014 to 2016, Hood was President of the Psychology Section of the British Science Association and in 2016, he received the inaugural Distinguished Contribution to Developmental Psychology award[34] from the British Psychological Society. In 2019, he received an honorary Doctor of Science from Abertay University[35] and is honorary life-time fellow of the Association Psychological Science[36] and The Royal Institution of Great Britain.[37][38]



  • Bruce Hood: Possessed: Why We Want More Than We Need (2019), Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0190699918
  • Bruce Hood: The Domesticated Brain (2014), Pelican Books. ISBN 978-0141974866 OCLC 1084362158
  • Bruce Hood: The Self Illusion: Why there is no 'you' inside your head (2012), Constable & Robinson. ISBN 978-1780330075
  • Daniel Schacter, Daniel Gilbert, Daniel Wegner, Bruce Hood: Psychology (2011), Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0230579835
  • Bruce Hood: SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable (2009), Constable & Robinson. ISBN 978-1849010306

Key publications[edit]

Popular science articles[edit]


  1. ^ Fisher, S.; Hood, B. (1987). "The stress of the transition to university: A longitudinal study of psychological disturbance, absent-mindedness and vulnerability to homesickness". British Journal of Psychology. 78 (4): 425–441. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1987.tb02260.x. PMID 3427309.
  2. ^ Hood, Bruce MacFarlane. "Development of visual selective attention in the human infant". LibrarySearch. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
  3. ^ Hood, B. M.; Willen, J. D.; Driver, J. (1998). "Adult's Eyes Trigger Shifts of Visual Attention in Human Infants". Psychological Science. 9 (2): 131. CiteSeerX doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00024. S2CID 569781.
  4. ^ "Professor Bruce Hood". Bristol Neuroscience. University of Bristol. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  5. ^ Tecwyn E.C., Buchsbaum D. (2018) Hood’s Gravity Rules. In: Vonk J., Shackelford T. (eds) Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior. Springer,
  6. ^ "The Comfort of Childhood Toys and Attachment". 21 November 2017.
  7. ^ Frazier, BN (January 2009). "Picasso Paintings, Moon Rocks, and Hand-Written Beatles Lyrics: Adults' Evaluations of Authentic Objects". Journal of Cognition and Culture. 9 (1–2): 1–14. doi:10.1163/156853709X414601. PMC 2903069. PMID 20631919.
  8. ^ Einav, S (January 2006). "Children's use of the temporal dimension of gaze for inferring preference". Developmental Psychology. 42 (1): 142–52. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.42.1.142. PMID 16420124.
  9. ^ Einav, S (November 2008). "Tell-tale eyes: children's attribution of gaze aversion as a lying cue". Developmental Psychology. 44 (6): 1655–67. CiteSeerX doi:10.1037/a0013299. PMID 18999328.
  10. ^ "Bristol University happiness course students found to be more upbeat". 24 March 2021.
  11. ^ "BBC Sounds - the Happiness Half Hour - Available Episodes".
  12. ^ DiSalvo, David (22 May 2009). "Are We Born Believers or Cultural Receivers? A Discussion with Author and Psychologist Bruce Hood". Neuronarrative. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  13. ^ D. J. Grothe (17 April 2009). "Bruce M. Hood – Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable". Point of Inquiry. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
  14. ^ Grothe, DJ (28 March 2010). "Why we believe in the unbelievable". For Good Reason. For Good Reason. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  15. ^ Lehrer, Jonah (25 May 2012). "The Self Illusion: An Interview With Bruce Hood". Wired. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
  16. ^ Hood, Bruce (2012). The Self Illusion. London: Constable. p. xi. ISBN 978-1-78033-007-5.
  17. ^ Lehrer, Jonah (25 May 2012). "The Self Illusion: An Interview With Bruce Hood". Wired. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  18. ^ "Bristol professor designs game for Guinness World Record attempt". Bristol University News. Bristol University. 19 October 2011. Retrieved 7 September 2014.
  19. ^ "Society of Biology sets new World Record". Society of Biology. The Society of Biology. 11 June 2013. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  20. ^ Thompson, Paul; Jenkins, Paul S.; Orton, Paul (25 April 2015). "Skepticule 094: Question.Explore.Discover – QEDcon 2015, Manchester, UK – Special Episode 1 of 2 (inc. interview with Bruce Hood)". Skepticule. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
  21. ^ "Bruce Hood on the Domesticated Brain". RSA Events. RSA. 7 May 2014. Archived from the original on 4 September 2014. Retrieved 17 September 2014.
  22. ^ "Royal Society talk – Professor Bruce Hood". Bristol University Public and Ceremonial Events Office. University of Bristol. 29 May 2014. Archived from the original on 13 September 2014. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
  23. ^ "Bruce Hood: The domesticated brain". The Times Cheltenham Festivals Science '14. Cheltenham Festivals. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
  24. ^ Possessed.
  25. ^ Bruce Hood IMDB page
  26. ^ "Meet your brain | the Royal Institution: Science Lives Here".
  27. ^ "Home".
  28. ^ Hawley, Caroline; Jones, Meirion (22 January 2010). "Export ban for useless 'bomb detector'". BBC Newsnight. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  29. ^ Jones, Meirion; Hawley, Caroline (17 February 2010). "Why did UK not ban so-called 'bomb detectors' earlier?". BBC Newsnight. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
  30. ^ Sturgess, Kylie (5 March 2010). "Interview with Bruce M. Hood". The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Center for Inquiry. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  31. ^ "Past fellows". Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  32. ^ "Robert L. Fantz Memorial Award for Young Psychologists". American Psychological Foundation. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  33. ^ "Public Engagement & Media Award | BPS".
  34. ^ "2016: 101 Bruce Hood Wins BPS Distinguished Contribution | School of Psychological Science | University of Bristol".
  35. ^ "Professor Bruce Hood - Honorary Graduate". 17 December 2019.
  36. ^ "Home".
  37. ^ "Professor Bruce Hood". RSA. RSA. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
  38. ^ "About Bruce". Professor Bruce M. Hood – A blog where science and superstition meet. Retrieved 6 September 2014.