New Reviews | Titles | Authors | Subjects

Stuart Sutherland


Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Sutherland, who died in 1998, was a psychologist who wrote about his own experience of manic depression. The present book is a detailed examination of the misunderstandings, especially about statistics, that lead people to form false beliefs.

There are 23 chapters, with some repetition of material among them. Fairly close attention is often required from the reader but the tone is humorous. This emerges at the outset, when Sutherland considers what generic pronoun to use. "The use of masculine pronouns might offend feminists, but since in almost all cases the pronoun refers to someone acting irrationally, I decided it was safer to use the generic masculine: the reader is welcome to infer that I consider women to be more rational than men."

The examples of false reasoning discussed here are practically all derived from published research, references to which are provided in end notes. Plenty of instances of counter-intuitive findings emerge. For example, it is widely believed that the best way to encourage a particular form of behaviour is to offer a reward, but Sutherland finds that if you want someone to value a task and perform well you should not offer a material reward. And Sutherland is scathing about reliance on intuition as a guide; job interviews, he suggests, are largely a waste of time and are unlikely to select the best candidate.

Each chapter ends with a few morals, the last of which is usually a joke. ("Flee any psychologist who asks you to do a Rorschach test: he does not know his job." And "Ask yourself whether the benefits of jogging and low-fat yoghurt are really worth the misery.")

Reading this book should help to counteract some of the errors in thinking we nearly all make, including Sutherland himself, as he acknowledges. But, as he also points out, in some cases it may be a mistake to reason too closely about one's decisions.

30 March 2010

%T Irrationality
%A Sutherland, Stuart
%I Pinter & Martin
%C London
%D 2007
%G ISBN 978-1-905177-07-3
%P ix + 258pp
%K psychology
%O Paperback edition; originally published 1992 by Constable & Co.

New Reviews | Titles | Authors | Subjects