Psychology at the Cheltenham Science Festival

Ella Rhodes looks forward to the June event.

The Times Cheltenham Science Festival will include a host of psychologists and neuroscientists talking about a variety of topics, from risky professions to the existence of free will. The six-day festival will also include events supported by the British Psychological Society.

The three events organised by the Society will begin on 3 June with a journey through the senses with head of the Oxford University cross-modal laboratory, Professor Charles Spence, and molecular gastronomist Jozef Youssef. The pair will show how taste is not just about the tongue but also involves sight, hearing and touch. Their demonstrations of shocking and baffling flavours will show that everything we see, hear and smell influences what we taste.

Spence will also be presenting alongside Dr Roger Newport (University of Nottingham) on 5 June in a session about illusions. As well as familiar optical illusions they will demonstrate other, more baffling varieties of illusion which can affect taste, cause your nose to ‘grow’ or your arm to disappear.

On 4 June psychologist and historian Dr Peter Lamont will be speaking at another BPS-supported event about thoughts, emotions and desires which, he will show, are not simply connections in the brain but depend on connections between brains. Using witty words, videos and music, the audience will experience their thoughts being controlled and discover a new way to feel.

Among the many other fascinating talks and events will be an enlightening event with Rory Sutherland, author of The Spectator’s Wiki Man column and advertising chief, who will speak about behavioural economics, neuroscience and nudging as well as ways people can learn from the social sciences.

While one in four people will suffer from mental health disorder during their lifetime the treatment for depression, anxiety and many others is shrouded in mystery — with tales of biased studies funded by drug companies and trials hidden from the public eye. David Adam will join psychiatrist Guy Goodwin as they discuss the facts behind therapies and drug-based treatments.

Neuroscientist Vince Walsh and behavioural scientist Nick Chater will explore risk-riddled professions, where people have to take risks with multi-million pound deals, or with life and death decisions. Along with professional risk takers they will talk about the psychology of convincing yourself to face danger and crucial decision-making under pressure.

Whether or not we have free will is an age-old debate among philosophers, but modern neuroscience has weighed in with its own ideas on the matter. Philosopher Julian Baggini and neuroscientist Patrick Haggard will discuss this from multiple perspectives.

Cheltenham Science Festival runs from 2-7 June: view the full Festival programme.


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