Monday, January 5, 2015

Psy-Q by Ben Ambridge

I may have had an unusual education, but by the time I left college I did not know that many companies administer a type of IQ test or personality test to applicants as part of their interview procedure. Only in a course in graduate school did I encounter the very cool questions devised to see how one thinks. Ben Ambridge doesn’t give us many IQ questions here, but lots of PSY-Q questions, designed to determine how people perceive, think, and compose opinions. Ambridge thinks they’re fun, and I agree, but they’re not only fun. I argue that it is also instructive to know how most people answer these questions, right or wrong.

The set up for the puzzles, jokes, experiments might be just a sentence or a paragraph. The explanation often takes a little more space, not including thinking time. Take for example the short set up for The Patient: “Scientists have found a new disease that is spreading around the country…The disease is pretty rare, but it causes cancer…scientists have developed a test that is 99% accurate, and you have tested positive! What are the chances you have the disease?” I am sure you have seen this, or a variation of this example before. Do you remember how to solve it? What percentage of folks can figure it out? (A hint: many psychologists find this confusing!) Ambridge gives us this, a little history of how the question is used in real life situations, and links to further reading about game theory, examples, and a math website that makes jokes about frequent errors in the use of statistics.

Ambridge also uses real life scenarios like online dating statistics, whether or not to leave your present job with a struggling company, whether to change lanes in heavy traffic. I have encountered these types of questions, the results, and the studies that engendered them before but Ambridge is such a good-humored and enthusiastic host that one doesn’t mind looking the fool once again. Truthfully, I think this is the perfect book for a bright teen who may find they are interested in the way folks make decisions, reveal their prejudices, and believe fallacies. Our own errors in judgment are likewise illustrated.

And not just teens! My brother just returned from a job interview for a high-end managment job and they gave him a PSY-Q for TWO HOURS! What a riot. I wish I'd shown him the book beforehand. He at least wouldn't have been surprised or thrown by some of the questions. Well then, perhaps teens also. The teen with whom I shared the book with became immediately engrossed. He’d stated more than once that he might be interested in programming for online games. I can’t think of a more entertaining way to learn about the ways people perceive the information they are given, how they react in certain situations, and how impressionable we all are. This book is a fun way to get an education.

Ambridge is amusing, clear, and relevant. Readers may find they want to follow the web links to further information and more tests, if their interest is piqued.

This book is a Penguin Paperback Original, but it is also available as an eBook. If the links are embedded in the e-text, that might be the best way to read this book, though there is something about being able to pass around a paper copy that is appealing.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores


  1. I just had to look up Bayes' rule - very cool! Sounds like a great book for long car trips.

    1. Oh yes, it would be great with a group. And I can't stress how excited someone who could actually grasp the Bayesian solution would be to discover it's uses. There were some sight tests I'd never seen before, and some memory tests. Very cool. And Ambridge is a wonderful host.