Illusory insights

November 28, 2003

David Myers' experience of writing psychology for a general audience is apparent from the ease with which this book can be read. However, his application of up-to-date research findings ensures that this book will also appeal to a more academic audience wishing to develop an introductory understanding of the field.

The book is presented in three sections: "The powers of intuition", "The perils of intuition" and "Practical intuition". In the last section, phenomena described in the first two sections are demonstrated in a variety of applied contexts, including, among others, sporting, clinical and psychic contexts. Throughout the book, Myers presents engaging anecdotes backed up with findings from empirical studies.

Although the majority of chapters are rich in empirical evidence, one or two areas of the book are less convincing. For instance, the comparatively small space dedicated to the discussion of creative processes does not seem to warrant its inclusion in the title of chapter three, "Intuitive expertise and creativity". Perhaps somewhat more obviously, the comparison of male and female intuition in the latter part of chapter two ("Social intuition") lacks the level of empirical support afforded other topics and seems a little out of place given that gender differences are not explored in detail elsewhere in the book.

Some of the phenomena could also have been developed considerably further in order to address the full gamut of human behaviour. Indeed, a major criticism of this book is that it focuses almost exclusively on individual behaviour. Even in the chapters on social intuition and intuitions about reality, the emphasis is firmly on interpersonal processes. Yet research shows that many of the processes described in those chapters can also be studied at an intergroup level. For example, in chapter six, Myers introduces two common biases in person perception, the "fundamental attribution error" and "illusory correlation". Quite an extensive body of research has examined these biases from the perspective of the social group, and one of the most important findings was that our willingness to express bias in person perception often depends on both our own group membership and that of the person being judged. Such issues are barely touched on in this book.

Finally, in aiming to offer such an all-encompassing account of the field, the book leaves one issue unresolved, namely a convincing explanation for intuitive behaviour. The book would have benefited from a more thorough examination of the explanations that have been put forward for the range of phenomena observed and also why our processing appears more biased in some contexts than in others. A chapter in which causal explanations are compared directly would have presented a forum for lively discussion.

Instead, Myers offers a two-page epilogue that simply acknowledges the existence of differences across contexts.

Despite these weaknesses, Intuition is an informative read, made all the more engaging by Myers' ability to bring to life for a general audience findings from current psychological research.

Mark Tarrant is lecturer in psychology, Keele University.

Intuition: Its Powers and Perils

Author - David G. Myers
Publisher - Yale University Press
Pages - 322
Price - £17.95
ISBN - 0 300 09531 7

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