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
Born Toronto, Canada
Citizenship British
Nationality British
Institutions University of Bristol, University of Cambridge, University of Dundee, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Thesis Development of visual selective attention (1991)

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


Bruce 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 USA 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 Experimental Psychology 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 is most known for looking at the origins of superstitious beliefs in children. Most notably, his research showed that children inherently prefer 'their' individual objects over duplicated ones,[5] a behaviour which persists into adulthood.[6]

Further, he investigates how children use the gaze to infer about the mental states of humans they are interacting with.[7][8] Hood also studies how children form theories, for example about gravity[9] and spatial representations.[10]

Public engagement[edit]

Hood has been engaging in science outreach since the beginning of his career. In 2006, he appeared on the BBC Radio 4 show Material World[11] and also presented his research at the British Science Association Science Festival later in the same year.[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]

He reappeared at the same event three years later in 2009[14] and published his popular science book SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable in the same year. The book tackles how the human brain generates superstitious beliefs.[15]

In 2011, Hood appeared on BBC Radio 4's The Infinite Monkey Cage show to talk about the science of superstition[16][17] and also participated in the live performance event Uncaged Monkeys in Bristol.[18] Later the same year, he held the prestigious Royal Institution Christmas Lectures titled 'Meet Your Brain'.[19][20] Organized in three parts, they explored the structure of the brain, how the brain controls behaviours and thoughts and how brains allow humans to function in a social context.[21]

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.[22] Later the same year, Hood devised the world’s largest simultaneous memory experiment for the Society of Biology involving 2000 participants to demonstrate the phenomenon of false memories.[23] This was officially recognised by the Guinness Book of Records in 2013.[24]

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".[25] He presented this topic at The Royal Society of Arts,[26] The Royal Society[27] and the 2014 Cheltenham Science Festival.[28]


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.[29][30] In this documentary, Hood demonstrates that the perceived effect of the devices can be explained by the ideomotor phenomenon, which had fooled naive users.[31]

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.[32]


The home page of

In 2015 Hood founded Speakezee,[33] an academic speaking platform which can be used by institutions and organisations to find speakers for their events and vice versa.

"I got the idea after being invited to give too many talks than I could possibly accept, so this system should make it easier to find others who are just as good".[34]

Speakers are able to create profiles detailing their subject expertise and speaking experience. Organisers are then able to find and short list speakers and contact them directly to discuss speaking at their event.[33] It also allows academics to advertise their specialist talks to other academics who organise departmental seminars.[35]

"At its heart is the desire to help more academics engage with the public and to make it easier for organisers to find relevant experts to talk at their event, whatever the size."[33]

A platform that is free to use, Speakezee is currently in its first phase and primarily focused in the UK. More functionality and new features are planned for the future, making it more useful for a wider audience and with a view to ultimately expanding the site's use internationally.[33][34] Hood hopes "it will stimulate a café culture of intellectual exchange".[25]

Awards and recognition[edit]

He was awarded a Sloan Fellowship in neuroscience in 1997,[36] a Young Investigator Award from the International Society for Infant Studies and the Robert L. Fantz prize in 1999.[37] He was also elected to fellow status by the American Psychological Association and is a fellow of The Society for Biology and The Royal Institution of Great Britain.[38][39]

He won the 2011/12 University of Bristol individual engagement award, specifically for his local science engagement activity with the group At-Bristol.[40] In 2013, Hood received the Public Engagement and Media Awards from The British Psychological Society for his commitment to public engagement through public lectures, media appearances, pub events and science festivals.[41]



  • Bruce Hood (2014). The Domesticated Brain. Pelican. ISBN 978-0141974866
  • Bruce Hood (2012). The Self Illusion: Why there is no 'you' inside your head. Constable. ISBN 978-1780330075
  • Daniel Schacter, Daniel Gilbert, Daniel Wegner, Bruce Hood (2011). Psychology. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0230579835
  • Bruce Hood (2009). SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable. Constable. 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. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1987.tb02260.x. 
  2. ^ Hood, Bruce MacFarlane. "Development of visual selective attention in the human infant". LibrarySearch. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 13 Sep 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. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00024. 
  4. ^ "Professor Bruce Hood". Bristol Neuroscience. University of Bristol. Retrieved 6 Sep 2014. 
  5. ^ Hood, BM (Jan 2008). "Children prefer certain individuals over perfect duplicates". Cognition 106: 455–62. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2007.01.012. PMID 17335793. Retrieved 8 Sep 2014. 
  6. ^ Frazier, BN (Jan 2009). "Picasso Paintings, Moon Rocks, and Hand-Written Beatles Lyrics: Adults' Evaluations of Authentic Objects". Journal of Cognition and Culture 9: 1–14. doi:10.1163/156853709X414601. PMID 20631919. Retrieved 8 Sep 2014. 
  7. ^ Einav, S (Jan 2006). "Children's use of the temporal dimension of gaze for inferring preference". Developmental Psychology 42: 142–52. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.42.1.142. PMID 16420124. Retrieved 8 Sep 2014. 
  8. ^ Einav, S (Nov 2008). "Tell-tale eyes: children's attribution of gaze aversion as a lying cue". Developmental Psychology 44: 1655–67. doi:10.1037/a0013299. PMID 18999328. Retrieved 8 Sep 2014. 
  9. ^ Hood, Bruce M. (4 Jan 2002). "Gravity does rule for falling events". Developmental Science 1: 59–63. doi:10.1111/1467-7687.00013. Retrieved 13 Sep 2014. 
  10. ^ Smith, AD (2005). "Children's search behaviour in large-scale space: developmental components of exploration.". Perception 34: 1221–9. doi:10.1068/p5270. PMID 16309116. Retrieved 13 Sep 2014. 
  11. ^ "Bruce Hood discusses superstition on Radio 4". Bristol University News. Bristol University. 22 Sep 2006. Retrieved 7 Sep 2014. 
  12. ^ "Born with a superstitious brain". Bristol University News. Bristol University. 7 Sep 2006. Retrieved 7 Sep 2014. 
  13. ^ D. J. Grothe (2009-04-17). ""Bruce M. Hood - Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable". Point of Inquiry. Retrieved 2015-08-30. 
  14. ^ "British Science Festival talk explores supersense". Bristol University News. Bristol University. 8 Sep 2009. Retrieved 7 Sep 2014. 
  15. ^ DiSalvo, David (22 May 2009). "Are We Born Believers or Cultural Receivers? A Discussion with Author and Psychologist Bruce Hood". Neuronarrative. Retrieved 6 Sep 2014. 
  16. ^ "Bruce Hood on BBC Radio 4's The Infinite Monkey Cage". Bristol University News. Bristol University. 4 Jul 2011. Retrieved 7 Sep 2014. 
  17. ^ "Mon 04 July 11: Science and the supernatural". The Infinite Monkey Cage. BBC. Retrieved 7 Sep 2014. 
  18. ^ "Uncaged Monkeys at the Colston Hall". Bristol University News. Bristol University. 12 May 2011. Retrieved 7 Sep 2014. 
  19. ^ "Christmas Lectures 2011 - Meet your Brain : Ri Channel". Ri Channel. Retrieved 2011-12-29. 
  20. ^ "Bristol psychologist gives 2011 Royal Institution’s Christmas Lectures". Bristol University News. Bristol University. 20 Dec 2011. Retrieved 7 Sep 2014. 
  21. ^ Jha, Alok (26 Dec 2011). "Science Weekly podcast: Bruce Hood has Christmas lectures on the brain". Science Weekly. Guardian News and Media Ltd. Retrieved 13 Sep 2013. 
  22. ^ Lehrer, Jonah (25 May 2012). "The Self Illusion: An Interview With Bruce Hood". Frontal Cortex. Retrieved 13 Sep 2014. 
  23. ^ "Bristol professor designs game for Guinness World Record attempt". Bristol University News. Bristol University. 19 Oct 2011. Retrieved 7 Sep 2014. 
  24. ^ "Society of Biology sets new World Record". Society of Biology. The Society of Biology. 11 Jun 2013. Retrieved 6 Sep 2014. 
  25. ^ a b Paul Thompson; Paul S. Jenkins; Paul Orton (2015-04-25). "Skepticule 094: Question.Explore.Discover — QEDcon 2015, Manchester, UK — Special Episode 1 of 2 (inc. interview with Bruce Hood)". Skepticule. Retrieved 2015-08-30. 
  26. ^ "Bruce Hood on the Domesticated Brain". RSA Events. RSA. 7 May 2014. Retrieved 17 Sep 2014. 
  27. ^ "Royal Society talk - Professor Bruce Hood". Bristol University Public and Ceremonial Events Office. University of Bristol. 29 May 2014. Retrieved 13 Sep 2014. 
  28. ^ "Bruce Hood: The domesticated brain". The Times Cheltenham Festivals Science '14. Cheltenham Festivals. Retrieved 13 Sep 2014. 
  29. ^ Hawley, Caroline; Jones, Meirion (22 Jan 2010). "Export ban for useless 'bomb detector'". BBC Newsnight. BBC. Retrieved 6 Sep 2014. 
  30. ^ Jones, Meirion; Hawley, Caroline (17 Feb 2010). "Why did UK not ban so-called 'bomb detectors' earlier?". BBC Newsnight. BBC. Retrieved 21 Sep 2014. 
  31. ^ Sturgess, Kylie (5 Mar 2010). "Interview with Bruce M. Hood". The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Center for Inquiry. Retrieved 6 Sep 2014. 
  32. ^ Grothe, DJ (28 Mar 2010). "Why we believe in the unbelievable". For Good Reason. For Good Reason. Retrieved 8 Sep 2014. 
  33. ^ a b c d "About Speakezee". Speakezee. 2015. Retrieved 16 May 2015. 
  34. ^ a b Bruce Hood (17 February 2015). "Speakezee.Org". Retrieved 16 May 2015. 
  35. ^ "Register to 'Speakezee', a new online speakers bureau". University of Bath. 8 April 2015. Retrieved 16 May 2015. 
  36. ^ "Past fellows". Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Retrieved 6 Sep 2014. 
  37. ^ "Robert L. Fantz Memorial Award for Young Psychologists". American Psychological Foundation. American Psychological Foundation. Retrieved 6 Sep 2014. 
  38. ^ "Professor Bruce Hood". RSA. RSA. Retrieved 13 Sep 2014. 
  39. ^ "About Bruce". Professor Bruce M. Hood - A blog where science and superstition meet. Retrieved 6 Sep 2014. 
  40. ^ "2011/12 Engagement Award winners announced". Bristol University News. Bristol University. 28 May 2012. Retrieved 7 Sep 2014. 
  41. ^ "Professor Bruce Hood receives BPS award". The British Psychological Society. The British Psychological Society. 30 Jan 2014. Retrieved 4 Sep 2014.