We caught up with Professor Richard Wiseman between speaking engagements and asked him about his life, work and his upcoming keynote session at Learning Live.
How did you first become interested in psychology and who/what were your inspirations?
When I was 8 years old I became hooked on magic, and so became fascinated by how magic tricks fooled people. I started to examine the way that magicians and illusions controlled people’s attention and perception, and so started to read psychology books. By the time I was 18 I had become interested in many aspects of the human mind and so decided to study psychology at University College London. In terms of inspirations, I am a fan of any psychologist that studies how people change and grow, as opposed to those that are into why they stay the same!
You are Britain’s first (and so far only) Professor in the Public Understanding of Psychology. What does this title mean to you – and what should it mean to us?
It means that I am very interested in getting the findings from academic research into the minds and lives of the public. I have written books about areas of psychology that help people – such as how to be luckier, be happier and sleep better – and give lots of public talks that hopefully excite people about evidence-based psychology. There is lots of bad psychology out there, so it is nice to help promote techniques and idea that actually make a difference,
You’ve done much research in the field of parapsychology. What is it about this area that attracts you?
I am very skeptical about the paranormal, but am interested in why people have strange experiences. These experiences – such as seeing an alleged ghost or having a dream that apparently comes true – tell us a great deal about how the mind works. Plus it is a fun area to work in because you get to meet lots of colourful characters!
When you want to learn something new, how do you prefer to go about it?
I guess by setting myself a challenge. Right now, for example, I am setting up an optical illusion exhibition. Before doing this I knew very little about the world of exhibitions, and so it has been a learning experience. It involves chatting to people, reading and visiting other exhibitions. Over time you see what does, and doesn’t, work and then you become the expert! So my general approach is to set a goal that is outside my current expertise, but still feels like it is achievable.
What might our conference delegates discover and learn about themselves from your keynote session?
They will hopefully learn about some of the myths about change that simply aren’t true. They will also learn about how research psychologists go about investigating change and, perhaps most important of all, some simple but effective techniques that will help them be luckier, happier and more productive in their lives.