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The Mind is Flat: the Shocking Shallowness of Human Psychology

The University of Warwick via FutureLearn

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  • Provider FutureLearn
  • $ Cost Free Online Course (Audit)
  • Session Finished
  • Language English
  • Certificate Paid Certificate Available
  • Effort 5 hours a week
  • Start Date
  • Duration 6 weeks long

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What are the forces shaping human behaviour? How do we think and decide? This course, from Professor Nick Chater and Warwick Business School, explores the origins of human rationality and irrationality.

Explore our illusion of mental depth

Our everyday conception of how our minds work is profoundly misleading. We are victims of an ‘illusion of mental depth’ - we imagine that our thoughts and behaviours arise from hidden motives and beliefs, and that we can understand ourselves by somehow uncovering these hidden forces, whether through therapy, lab experiments or brain scanning.

This course will suggest that this conception is not entirely correct, that we’re inventing these motives and beliefs at the very moment of decision. Professor Chater’s central proposition will be that there is no mental depth, that mental depth is an illusion.

Understand mystifying aspects of human behaviour

This course consists of six weeks of material. Each week we’ll start with a paradox, some mystifying aspect of human behaviour, before looking at insights into it, gained over decades of psychological and behavioural research. You’ll have a chance to try out a classic psychological experiment online.

Some of the really exciting things we’ll be looking at are:

  • why we take risks and why we fear them;
  • how people succeed or fail to work with other people successfully;
  • how our behaviour, governed by a plethora of complicated psychological forces, makes sense at all;
  • the theory that we are creating an improvised character and trying to stay in our role;
  • and finally, how we can make society more coherent and create a better world.

Meet behavioural science experts from academia, government and industry

You’ll learn from Warwick Business School’s leading behavioural science group, as well as a diverse range of people who have thought very deeply in a practical context about the nature of human behaviour.

We’ll be talking to Rory Sutherland, ad man and behavioural economics impresario; Tim Harford, the Financial Times undercover columnist; Gus O’Donnell, former head of the Civil Service; and many other senior representatives in high-profile organisations.

What previous learners say

Over 72,000 learners from across the world have joined previous runs of this course, and below are a few examples of the impact it had on them:

“Absolutely enjoyed every single minute of the course. It was interactive, provoking, educational, illustrative, and persuasive, and would definitely recommend to friends of mine. Thank you [Warwick] and fellow colleagues from this course.” Dilyana Gramadarova

“Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the course. It has been very interesting both for the content and the realisation of how much psychology has moved into the mainstream. I was really interested to hear from “behaviourists” in finance, ecology, marketing, the government and the civil service. Thank you.” Christine Chapell

“We are responsible for our own happiness even though it can be dictated by everyday experiences & our own actions. Governments are required to help us make better choices and therefore live happier lives. Thank you so much for the ‘Mind is Flat’ course, I have enjoyed it immensely. It has been such an eye opener how our everyday lives are influenced by clever marketing, advertising & each other’s personalities.” Catharine McEuan

No special knowledge or previous experience of studying is required.

Taught by

Nick Chater

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Reviews for FutureLearn's The Mind is Flat: the Shocking Shallowness of Human Psychology
2.3 Based on 8 reviews

  • 5 star 0%
  • 4 stars 38%
  • 3 star 0%
  • 2 star 13%
  • 1 stars 50%

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  • 1
Peter H
2.0 3 years ago
Peter completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.
At the end of the first week I wrote that I found this course 'frustrating, infuriating, unconvincing'. I still felt that way at the end. Halfway through the course I gave up posting any comments because they were all negative.

The impression given was that we always think in the same way. We were not given the results of experiments, so we couldn't see how many subjects did NOT produce the majority reaction. There was no explanation given for these exceptions. Perhaps we can indeed think deeply, producing reasoned decisions based on good evidence, even though sometimes we ma…
10 people found
this review helpful
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Stephen L
1.0 2 years ago
by Stephen completed this course.
I found this course disappointing. I can accept the 'flat mind' idea, but as I see it, it implies that we are influenced by others much more than we think, and our trust may be misplaced. I was expecting illustrations of this, e.g. we trust banks even if they are gambling with our money, we tend to trust people similar to us leading to racism, sexism and so on. We are also very bad at putting forward persuasive arguments, relying instead on authority and emotional appeal.

The course didn't really deal with anything like this. Instead we were supposed to think it strange that not everyone has perfect pitch and that if house A is twice as big as house B then it will cost about twice as much. Then at the end we saw how people put a lot of mental effort into coordinating their behaviour with others, going against the idea of a flat mind.
2 people found
this review helpful
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Natrina N
4.0 2 years ago
by Natrina completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.
"The Mind is Flat" is a course focused on arguing a certain type of conceptualization about the human mind. In the process, good psychological research is presented, which is good for beginners who just have had introductory classes to general psychology. As I have studied Psychology in college, the contents were not groundbreaking to me (and I did not reach the conclusion that the mind is flat either), but it be so for the few people out there that might still think that human beings (including you, dear reader and myself!) are rational in the Homo œconomicus sense.
1 person found
this review helpful
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1.0 10 months ago
Anonymous dropped this course.
Example of UK's rotten class system. Laughably bad professor and laughably bad class because it tries so hard to be "intelligent" but comes off as pompous. I was really amused how this class was so obviously bad and how people finally called out the professor out in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I was amused when there was a Skype call (as a part of the class) with some "classy" friend of the professor which went along the lines "Oh dare say Old Chap how about Electro Physics chakras of Siberian tunradas?" I'd give it 10/10 as pure comedy gold, 1/10 as educational value. Shameful
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Marcus M
1.0 2 years ago
by Marcus completed this course, spending 1 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.
Found it boring. Too much reading. Insufficient number of videos. Probably one of the worst MOOCs I have been on.
3 people found
this review helpful
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Sue S
1.0 a year ago
by Sue partially completed this course.
Pretentious BS. I felt like it was more Nick Charter & Co trying to show off one pretentious idea after another. When you listen to someone talk about something for 20 minutes and you realise nothing has really been said.
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Will G
4.0 2 years ago
by Will completed this course.
0 person found
this review helpful
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Pamylle G
4.0 3 years ago
by Pamylle audited this course.
0 person found
this review helpful
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