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Radio review: The Compass: Why we play, and Terrorism and the Mind: Talking to terrorists

11 February 2022


The Compass: Why we play (World Service, Wednesday of last week) suggested that the sociability of bingo nourishes cognitive functions

The Compass: Why we play (World Service, Wednesday of last week) suggested that the sociability of bingo nourishes cognitive functions

WHERE do you stand on the great bridge-bingo debate? If you have not already made up your mind, then you will need to eventually, because that’s the choice you get for recreation once you are of a certain age. At least, that was the impression given by The Compass: Why we play (World Service, Wednesday of last week). Bridge, it had been thought, was the game to keep your wits sharp, whereas bingo rots the brain.

But this hypothesis has recently been contradicted by research that suggests that the sociability of bingo is just as nourishing to our cognitive functions as is the card-counting involved in bridge. By the same token, computerised “brain-training” exercises, which engage with specific intellectual abilities, are not as good as those pursuits that entail wide social interaction. To put it another way, having fun is good for you.

This series has taken us from cradle to grave: from peek-a-boo, through grown-up snakes-and-ladders played in multi-storey car parks, to the role-playing games used to stimulate dementia patients. But the series signed off not with the depressing image of our second infancy, but with a story from east Jerusalem, where a game of backgammon helped to sort out a problem of municipal politics between Arab and Jewish inhabitants.

It is all too easy for those of us watching from a distance to attribute violently confrontational behaviour to some form of psychological deficiency. To its credit, Terrorism and the Mind: Talking to terrorists (Radio 4, Friday) did not. Raffaello Pantucci’s documentary made clear that members of al-Qaeda, for instance, are generally rational. They have to be, to work within a structured organisation. It is a mistake to assume that a suicide bomber is necessarily deranged.

Those “lone actors” might seem to offer a different psychological profile; and, in this programme, psychologists wrestled with the evidence to determine whether some kind of useful profile could be extrapolated. It was uncomfortable to hear experts grappling with a subject that could so easily end up stigmatising a particular psychological condition. The listener had to conclude that such an inquiry was doomed to failure, since only post facto could any connection be determined between thought and act — and, by then, it is way too late.

If you have just made it through a dry January, then you will find in In Our Time (Radio 4, Thursday of last week) a sense of solidarity with the millions who have gone before. Aided by a trio of academics, Melvyn Bragg traced the history of the Temperance Movement back to the original pledge of seven men from Preston, in 1832. The temperance halls and hotels that still stand in our towns and cities bear witness to the productivity unleashed by self-denial, even if the social justice that was also the ambition of the movements’ leaders has not yet been achieved.

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