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Bering in Mind

Bering in Mind

A research psychologist's curious look at human behavior

An Invitation to Impropriety: How Can I Help You? (Yes, You!)

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I ve always wanted to write my very own advice column, a sort of Ask Jesse sort of thing. Unfortunately, not only are advice columns desperately overplayed these days, but I also have absolutely no commonsense. In fact, I ve a very long list of bodily scars, debts, disgruntled students and enemies to prove my amazing lack of talent in intuitive decision-making. Another problem is that I don t really believe in any significant sense of the term, anyway in free will, a very muddy notion of the causes of our own behaviors that, I gather, is key to being a good advice columnist.

So I ve been thinking: just to shake things up a bit, and since I ve slowly been moving my regular writing over to my Slate column anyway, what might I try here at Scientific American that s like an advice column, but with a Bering in Mind twist? Perhaps in lieu of offering you advice on how to handle your possibly perverted father-in-law who you suspect is an elderly frotteur, or how to be tactful while delicately informing your co-worker that she smells like a giant sewer rat, I can give you something even better a peek at what the scientific data have to say about your particular issue. In other words, perhaps I can tell you why you re going through what you are rather than what to do about it. I may not believe in free will, but I m a firm believer that knowledge changes perspective, and perspective changes absolutely everything. Once you have that, you don t need anyone else s advice.

And good advice is really only good to the extent it aligns with actual research findings, anyway. Nearly two centuries worth of data in the behavioral sciences is available to inform our understanding of our everyday (and not so everyday) problems, yet rarely do we take advantage of this font of empirical wisdom. Instead we turn to wise old Aunt Bertie, or our BFFs, horoscopes and, well, advice columns. Or even worse, we don t ask anyone at all and live in confusion, fear, or ignorance.

That s not to say that I can t give you a piece of my subjective mind alongside the objective data. I m happy to judge you mercilessly before throwing you and your awkward debacle to the wolves in the comments section. Oh, I m only kidding kind of. Actually, anyone who has read my stuff in the past knows that I m a fan of the underdog and unconventional theories and ideas. Intellectual sobriety has never been a part of this blog and never will be, if I can help it, so let s have a bit of fun.

So go on, send your questions to beringinmind@gmail.com. And tell all your friends. Remember, these types of things are only as good as the material that you, the readers, give me to work with. I won t use your name or other identity-compromising details, of course, in my public response to you. Do feel free to send me an anonymous email from a fake account, if you re really that worried. But, honestly, if somehow you haven t noticed over the years, I m rather hard to offend or shock, and I can tell you with absolute sincerity that I find those that would condemn you elsewhere for things beyond your control to be anathema. I am a man, said the Roman philosopher Terence. I consider nothing that is human alien to me. Just give me some personal storyline and narrative context in your email much like an advice column query to make it mildly entertaining. I ll take it from there.

 

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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