The Floating University

The Psychology of Everything

What Compassion, Racism, and Sex tell us about Human Nature.

PAUL BLOOM, Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University

Lesson Overview

Give Paul Bloom one hour, and he'll teach you "the psychology of everything." Through the case studies of compassion, racism, and sex, Dr. Bloom explores the intrinsic fundamentals of human nature, including some of our most intriguing tendencies, such as the kindness of babies, stereotyping (which can be both detrimental and beneficial), and our universal sense of beauty.

Additional topics addressed in the lecture include: "What do studies suggest is the number one characteristic that males and females look for in a mate?", "How can I get someone to have compassion for causes I care about?", "Are we all unconscious racists?", and even, "What do the porn preferences of monkeys tells us about our own sexual choices?"

What makes psychology such an exciting course of study, says Dr. Bloom, is that it is still a relatively young field -- and its cross-disciplinary nature means it's the perfect liberal arts major.


Discussion Questions

(1.) Consider the studies of implicit racist bias. Many people interpret these studies as showing that we are all racists. Do you think this is true? 

(2.) We have discussed universals of sexual desire, but, of course, there are interesting human differences in what we are attracted to. Consider one way in which people vary in their desires, and discuss how one could scientifically explore why this difference exists. The example of the rhesus macaques "paying" to view pornography and male celebrities could provide a useful model in this case. 

(3.) Do you think research on the psychology of morality has any bearing on political and social debates? Do psychologists have anything interesting to add here? If your answer is yes, give an example. 

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About Paul Bloom

Paul Bloom is a professor of psychology at Yale University. His research explores how children and adults understand the physical and social worlds, with special focus on morality, religion, fiction, and art. He has won numerous awards for his research and teaching. He is the past president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and co-editor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, one of the major journals in the field. He is the author or editor of four books, including How Children Learn the Meanings of Words, and Descartes' Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human and, his most recent book, How Pleasure Works (published in June 2010).