Hood630A conversation with Bruce Hood in Edge:

I've reached a crossroads in my research and in the questions I'm now starting to ask. Part of that was driven by some insight and realization about the direction I was taking, and part of it was also driven by changes in economic circumstances. Notably, the reduction in funding in this country has impacted upon my field quite dramatically (behavioral sciences). The way that that has impacted is that there's far less money to fund research, so the competition to get funding has become very acute. Now we have to justify with a view to application. In the past you could just go off on a flight of fancy studying the things that were of intrinsic interest.

But now we have to steer our grant applications towards potential application, and certainly we have to write a substantial proportion of the proposal to deal with impact, public engagement. And that's across the board. As I said, if this had been five, ten years ago, there would have been some resistance to that, but increasingly now the research councils feel that we, as a public body funded by taxation, need to be called to account in terms of what we're doing with the money, the taxpayers' money.

This has led me to start thinking more about what I do in terms of its tangible application in the real world? That's the external influences that have been shaping the sorts of questions I'm starting to ask now.

There's been a growing awareness that there have been a lot of problems with the way that psychological research has been going on in the past, very much lab-based type of work. There has been a general issue in the experimental method, what you typically do is you hone in on a question, and you try to refine that question by removing all the extraneous variables to try and make it as clean as possible. But then that does raise the question, to what extent? And does what you eventually find actually have real relevance or validity to the external world? Because in many senses, the complexity of the external world might be part of the problem that the brain is trying to solve.