FAQ

Where are you?

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.

I’d like to invite you to give a talk.

Thanks for your interest! If this is a departmental colloquium, please email me. For all other requests, please contact Wesley Neff, at Leigh Bureau.

What sort of talks do you give to non-academic audiences?

See here.

Could I see a copy of your CV?

See here.

Do you have a professional photo for promotional purposes?

See here. (Please credit Greg Martin.)

What are you working on these days?

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.

Are you accepting graduate students for Fall, 2022?

Yes. If you think you’re a good fit, please apply! The application deadline at the University of Toronto is December 1.

What makes for a good fit?

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.

What courses do you teach?

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.

Are there any popular articles you've writen that you're especially excited about?

Yes! Here are a few favorites:

What about recent articles in scientific and scholarly journals?

Here are some (most of them with co-authors), from the last couple of years:

Do you have online courses?

Yes! I’ve taught a course on Introduction to Psychology and another on Moral Psychology. Both can be started at any time, and are free.

I’m interested in Psychology and would like to read more about it. Besides your own books, what do you recommend?

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.)

Any novelists you recommend?

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.

People who regularly publish online who are worth reading?

I try to read everything by Roxanne Gay, Freddie DeBoer, Scott Alexander Siskind, Caitlin Flannagan, Graeme Wood, and Tyler Cowen.

Any advice for first-time teachers of university classes?

As a matter of fact, yes.