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The Moral Universe

The Moral Universe


Dialogues on the psychology of right and wrong
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  • Profile

    Adam Waytz is an Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. His research uses methods from social psychology and cognitive neuroscience to study the causes and consequences of perceiving mental states in other agents and to investigate processes related to social connection, meaning-making, morality and ethics.

    Jamil Zaki is an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University. His research examines the neural bases of social cognition and behavior: how people come to understand each other, and decide to behave towards each other.
  • The “Reverse Popularizer:” How communicating science can create new ideas

    By proportion, Americans believe in creationism just as much now as when I was born.  Research funding has diminished enough to threaten scientists’ ability to work and our nation’s competitiveness in science and engineering.  These trends reflect a deeper issue in the public’s sentiment about science.  A recent Pew trust poll found that whereas about [...]

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    Quantiphobia and the turning of morals into facts

    When stats-wiz and political prognosticator Nate Silver’s new venture, FiveThirtyEight, launched last week, it punctuated the rise of “data journalism,” journalism that incorporates actual numerical data into reporting and storytelling!  Silver’s star rose through his New York Times blog, which largely focused on political analysis and his ability to predict 50 out of 50 states [...]

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    The Feeling of Being Stared At

    Perhaps my favorite psychology article of all time, is Edward Titchener’s, “The Feeling of Being Stared At,” which appeared in Science on December 23, 1898 (almost 115 years ago exactly!).  I give it a good read any time I am in need of inspiration, which has been lacking majorly during these dreary winter days.  Despite [...]

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    Crowds versus company: When are we drawn to groups?

    Trains are fascinating places (full disclosure, I’m on a very un-fascinating train right now).  Tens or hundreds of straphangers crowd into each car, standing within inches of each other and doing everything they can to pretend they’re alone.  I’d venture to guess that most commuters would not rate crowds highly, and would covet some personal [...]

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    Using empathy to use people: Emotional intelligence and manipulation

    People tend to stereotype psychological phenomena.  It’s tempting to think that stress is always bad, resilience is always good, and so forth.  Like other stereotypes, these beliefs help us neaten the world and extract signal from noise.  Also like other stereotypes, such beliefs are misleading and often harmful.  Call me pessimistic, but whenever the media [...]

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    The problem with rich people and ethics

    The main problem with rich people and ethics, has nothing to do with them per se; it has to do with us, and the fairly well developed stereotypes we hold about what the ethics of the rich are.  Unlike, say, people who repair laundry machines, or Aleut musicians, or female cricketers (about whom we do [...]

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    Psychological studies are not about you

    I have some bad news that, I hope, will turn out to be good news.  Psychological studies are not about you.  They make few if any predictions about how you should live your life, how to tell if you’re an introvert, or anything else about you as an individual. I’m not trying to pull a [...]

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    Empathy as a choice 3: “Growing” empathy

    For the last few weeks, I’ve written about a simple idea: far from being automatic, empathy often requires a choice to engage with others’ emotions.  This choice, in turn, depends on would-be empathizers’ desire to connect with others even when doing so is painful or costly.  I think a “choice model” can change how we [...]

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    More Questions Than Answers About Whistleblowing

    My colleagues, Liane Young and James Dungan, and I recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about whistleblowing based on recent research we also published on the topic.  Very simply, our work demonstrates that people’s willingness to blow the whistle (i.e. report) unethical behaviors they observe rests on the tradeoff they make between [...]

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    Empathy as a choice 2: Autism and psychopathy

    Last week, I wrote about a simple idea: far from being an automatic reflex, empathy often requires a choice to engage with others’ emotions.  Moreover, people often refuse this choice, because empathy can be challenging, painful, costly, or all three.  Instead of meeting these challenges, we often keep our distance from others’ suffering, tune out [...]

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