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One on one...with Jon Driver

Professor of Psychology at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. Includes online-only answers.

09 January 2011

One inspiration
The late Irvin Rock, a charismatic American perceptual psychologist, was a sabbatical visitor to my then psychology department when I was a young and naive research assistant back in the 1980s. Although nearing retirement he still retained the enthusiasm, curiosity and excitement of an absolute beginner. He illustrated vividly to me and others that a scientific career is a voyage of discovery that can be as interesting and fulfilling as you choose to make it; and that the choices continue.

One moment that changed the course of your career
When I was a teenage schoolboy in Hull my mother worked as a school librarian. One day she brought home some psychology textbooks, including Richard Gregory’s Eye and Brain, plus Luria’s Introduction to Neuropsychology. Those two books really captured my imagination. By a quirk of fate, reading them coincided with some first personal encounters with neurological patients, as a volunteer on an occupational therapy ward, and via my Gran who suffered from Parkinson’s disease. These early experiences set me on the path I have followed ever since. I still remain fascinated by how brain mechanisms support mental processes in health and disease.

One book that you think all psychologists should read
Milner and Goodale’s The Visual Brain in Action shows that much can still be learnt from single cases in neuropsychology when viewed with a fresh eye. It also illustrates how progress can be greatly accelerated when human neuropsychology is placed within the much wider context of cognitive neuroscience, neuroanatomy, and related animal work. Although one can quibble with details of their particular theory, I think that the more general point about combining different strands
of evidence will serve neuropsychology well for many decades.

One thing that you would change about psychology
Sometimes the minor disagreements within the field can get more attention than the major areas of consensus and proven fact. Hopefully it’s the latter that endure.

One challenge psychology faces
Inspiring schoolchildren and many other non-expert audiences, yet without becoming diluted, trivialised or sensationalised.

One regret
Giving up mathematics too soon.

One nugget of advice for aspiring psychologists
Enjoy psychology, which is a sufficiently well-shaped field to have lots of enduring important issues, yet is also sufficiently amorphous and new that you really can make your own distinctive contribution.

One cultural recommendation
Turn up the bass when listening to Stax records, then go and see Booker T and the MGs while they’re still playing.

One alternative career path you might have chosen
Bass player and studio tech, if I had been more talented musically, more technically minded, or just more stubborn.

One final thought
Although some of the lowest-hanging fruit has been picked, the best research in psychology is still to come.

Online only answers

One limitation of imaging research

I'm a fan rather than a critic of neuroimaging, and think there is still much more to come from it, particularly for psychology.
But like most approaches it's at its best when combined with other complementary approaches.

One hero / heroine from psychology past or present

I have so many psychology heroines and heroes that to name just one would be like asking a parent of several children which is their favourite.
To name just a few, Donald Broadbent, Mike Posner and Anne Treisman are obvious choices in attention research.
Bob Rafal might seen less obvious unless you've seen him assess patients, or have read his best behavioural neurology papers.
Finally Uta Frith and Chris Frith remain a heroine and hero, for both remaining so interested and interesting throughout their careers.

One thing that organised psychology (e.g. the BPS) could do better

Throw more parties. The BPS is doing the more serious stuff very well.

One great thing that psychology has achieved

Bringing the scientific approach to bear on mental life is a fantastic achievement; as is bringing this to the attention of other disciplines also.

One problem [research, professional or otherwise] that psychology should deal with

Hanging together despite increasing specialisation.

One hope for the future of psychology

I hope that psychology continues to hang together around the scientific study of mental life, while incorporating new approaches
and techniques that are unimaginable now. Current cognitive-neuroscience methods were completely unimaginable
back when I first read psychology textbooks as a schoolboy.

One proud moment



Being picked by the BPS to represent British Psychology as a young researcher, at the International Congress of Psychology in Montreal.