Originally published in 1973, this book contains the 1971 William James Lectures at Harvard, the first by that name to be given by a British psychologist. In addition, there are reprints of four shorter lectures which had not been easily available before. Together the resulting collection gave a broad picture of a number of advances in human psychology in the previous ten years. Memory, attention, language, and the processes of decision are discussed, and typical recent ideas and experiments described. Each topic is presented, however, with continual reference to the reasons why the research was done, its implications for philosophy and for scientific method, and its connection with an attitude to politics and life as a whole. The author not only describes little known facts about the way people take decisions or remember, but also argues that we are living through a change in our attitudes to human nature: and that proper concern for human values, or understanding of people with minds different from our own, must demand a more scientific and less intuitive analysis of man.
Experiments on human beings still strike many of us as cold-blooded and inhuman; this book tries to explain why some scientists devote themselves to this approach. It makes the connection between measurements of reaction time or of ability to see a written word in a brief flash, and our political and personal beliefs.
Donald E. Broadbent is well recognised as a major influence on cognitive psychology today. This reissue is an opportunity to see his exceptional writing in print again and should be read with equal interest by psychologists as well as laymen who would like to know about some of the more practical aspects of psychological enquiry of the time.