I am a Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. Before that, I was at Yale for 21 years, and I continue to be the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor Emeritus there.
See here. (Please credit Greg Martin.)
Much of my current research is on the development of moral thought and action in children, funded through the Jacobs Foundation. Most of my recruitment of graduate students and postdocs over the next few years will be in this area.
But my interests are eclectic. I’m currently engaged in or planning research projects having to do with: dehumanization, what we think about animals and robots, personal identity and transformative experiences, perverse desires (including masochism and unusual art), intuitions about moral and immoral punishments, intuitions about natural and unnatural foods, beliefs about coercion, temporal asymmetries in reasoning, and the limits of love.
I also write popular books and theoretical papers, and have articles in the works about how philosophical theories of time should change our lives, why we think people are either good or bad, but not both, and the curious pleasure we get from pain. I'm currently working on my next book -- a complete and opinionated tour of the human mind.
First, there has to be some overlap in interest. You should look at my publications, particularly the most recent work, to get a sense of the research directions of my lab. The scope of this work is pretty broad, but it does have limits. I don’t tend to do clinical or applied work, for instance, and I’m not the person to go to if you’re interested in any form of neuroscience. I’m not expert enough in topics such as bilingualism, music cognition, or syntactic processing to properly advise students interested in pursuing those topics.
I should add, however, that although most of my research is developmental, I have accepted students who have absolutely no interest in ever working with children.
Second, my main focus is experimental research. While I have a soft spot for people who come to psychology from other disciplines (see below), I am unlikely to accept a student who has never been involved in constructing or carrying out an experiment.
Third, I tend to be impressed with students who have some background in a theoretical discipline outside of psychology, such as, say, analytic philosophy, computer science, evolutionary biology, or literary theory. It is hardly necessary to have a formal background in another area (most of my students have been straight psychology majors), but I mention this because much of the work in my laboratory is cross-disciplinary, and it is useful for students to come in with some preparation for this sort of thing.
Finally, I don’t expect students to come to graduate school with a worked out research project—this would actually be a bad thing. What I am looking for (and, I think, what most faculty members are looking for) is a smart and enthusiastic person with a good background in theory and research who is interested in working together on projects of mutual interest.
This coming academic year I am teaching a graduate seminar in moral psychology (Fall, 2021) and an undergraduate seminar in moral psychology (Winter, 2022).
Here is a preliminary syllabus for my Fall seminar.
Yes! Here are some recent articles, along with a few favorites from a while ago:
- The Pleasures of Pain and the Pains of Pleasure in the Behavioral Scientist
- What Becoming a Parent Really Does to Your Happiness in the Atlantic
- Why We Choose To Suffer in the Wall Street Journal
- Being in Time in the New Yorker
- The Strange Appeal Of Perverse Incentives in the New Yorker
- The Root Of All Cruelty? in the New Yorker
- Against Empathy in Boston Review
- The Lure Of Luxury in Boston Review
- The Moral Life Of Babies in The New York Times Magazine
- First Person Plural in The Atlantic
Here are some (most of them with co-authors), from the last couple of years:
- Arguing With The Vampire in Rivista Internazzionale Di Filisofia E Psiologia
- Children Prioritize Humans Over Animals Less Than Adults Do in Psychological Science
- The Paradox Of Pleasurable Fear in Trends in Cognitive Science
- What Does It Mean To Say That Cultured Meat Is Unnatural? in Appetite
- Developing judgments About Peers' Obligation To Intervene in Cognition
- Do Children and Adults Take Social Relationship Into Account When Evaluating People’s Actions? in Child Development
I find this a hard question. Psychology is such a broad field, and there is so much good work out there. Also, I have many psychologist friends who write popular books and I know if I wrote a list, I’d end up leaving some out and they’d look at the list and get hurt, and I just don’t want that.
But, just so that I’m not entirely copping out, I’ll list a few terrific books here that are a delight to read, none of which is written by a psychology professor. (Konnikova is a writer and professional poker player, Cobb is a zoologist, Paul is a philosopher, and Sutherland is an advertising executive.)
- The Biggest Bluff: How I learned to pay attention, master myself, and win. Maria Konnikova.
- The Idea of the Brain: The past and future of the brain. Matthew Cobb.
- Transformative Experience. Laurie Paul.
- Alchemy: The dark art and curious science of creating magic in brands, business, and life. Rory Sutherland.
This actually isn’t an FAQ (very few people have ever asked), but I love to recommend novels, so here goes.
- Everything by Emily St John Mandel, especially The Glass Hotel and Station Eleven
- Everything by Ian McEwan; I especially love Solar, which is his funniest book
- Everything by Richard Russo, especially Straight Man, which I think is the best campus novel ever.
- Zadie Smith and Martin Amis (I like British writers of a certain genre)
- Philip Roth (arguably the best writer from Newark)
- Michael Connely (best crime fiction)
- Colson Whitehead (especially Underground Railroad)
- Robertson Davies and Margaret Atwood, because they are terrific and also because they are fellow Canadians.
I try to read everything by Roxanne Gay, Freddie DeBoer, Scott Alexander Siskind, Caitlin Flannagan, Graeme Wood, and Tyler Cowen.