Subjects

Paul Bloom

Professor of Psychology, Yale University

Leading scientist and renowned speaker on the psychology of everyday life.

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Biography

Paul Bloom is a distinguished scientist and award-winning author with an international reputation, and he presents his research to his colleagues at conferences and publishes it in top scientific journals. He is also one of the Yale University's most-renowned teachers, known for both his award-winning lectures to large audiences — as in his 500-person course "Introduction to Psychology" — and his more intimate seminars, such as his freshman class on the seven deadly sins.

The author of several books, his newest book is Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion. In it, Dr. Bloom argues that empathy is a bad thing—that it makes the world worse. While we've been taught that putting yourself in another's shoes cultivates compassion, it actually blinds you to the long-term consequences of your actions.

Paul's book, Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil, draws on years of original research to show that goodness and badness, guilt, shame, and pride, are all innate ideas that humans have from birth — not just societal constructs. Dr. Bloom explores the strength and the limitations of this innate morality, shedding remarkable new insight into what it means to be human and form judgments.

Dr. Bloom is also the author of How Pleasure Works: Why We Like What We Like. Drawing on insights from child development, philosophy, neuroscience, and behavioral economics, How Pleasure Works shows how certain universal habits of the human mind explain what we like and why we like it. Other books include Descartes' Baby and How Children Learn the Meanings of Words.

For business audiences, Paul Bloom summarizes the state-of-the-art findings from cognitive science and social psychology on why people are drawn to certain objects, including consumer products. The research findings that he presents suggest that people are natural essentialists when it comes to these everyday objects; we are strongly affected by what we see as their deeper natures, including who created them and where they came from. This influences our preferences in often surprising and counter-intuitive ways.

For general audiences, he presents an accessible and extremely funny discussion of everyday pleasure, drawing upon the research and ideas from his book, How Pleasure Works. In a wide-ranging discussion, he argues that there are deep and surprising commonalities in the pleasures that we get from art, food, sex, stories, and consumer products.

For both general audiences and audiences interested in culture, politics, and religion, he talks about the research into everyday morality. Where do our gut feelings about issues such as abortion, torture, and gay marriage come from? Do liberals think differently from conservatives? How much does religion matter? Based on his own research — including studies of babies and young children — Paul Bloom explores the factors that underlie moral conflict, and explores also how, at a deeper level, we all share the same sense of right and wrong.

In his laboratory at Yale, Paul Bloom and his students explore some of the most interesting aspects of human nature, including:

  • what we like about art, and how it relates to the pleasures of food and sex
  • why we are so drawn to certain everyday objects
  • our sense of good and evil; what we can learn about our moral and political values by the study of babies, chimpanzees, and psychopaths.

Credentials

  • Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology, Yale University
  • PhD in Cognitive Science, MIT
  • Editor of one of the major journals in psychology and neuroscience
  • Ex-president, Society for Philosophy and Psychology
  • Author of over 100 scientific articles
  • Publishes regularly in popular venues such as The Atlantic, The New York Times, Seed, Natural History, and The Guardian
  • His research is currently funded by both the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health
  • His popular writing has been included in The Best American Science Writing

Awards

  • LexHixon Award for Undergraduate Teaching, Yale University
  • Eleanor Maccoby Award from the American Psychological Association for Descartes' Baby and How Children Learn the Meaning of Words
  • DeVane Lecturer
  • Stanton Prize from the Society for Philosophy and Psychology

Books

Against Empathy

The Case for Rational Compassion

Paul Bloom

We often think of our capacity to experience the suffering of others as the ultimate source of goodness. Many of our wisest policy-makers, activists, scientists, and philosophers agree that the only problem with empathy is that we don’t have enough of it.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, argues Yale researcher Paul Bloom. In Against Empathy, Bloom reveals empathy to be one of the leading motivators of inequality and immorality in society. Far from helping us to improve the lives of others, empathy is a capricious and irrational emotion that appeals to our narrow prejudices. It muddles our judgment and, ironically, often leads to cruelty. We are at our best when we are smart enough not to rely on it, but to draw instead upon a more distanced compassion.

Basing his argument on groundbreaking scientific findings, Bloom makes the case that some of the worst decisions made by individuals and nations — who to give money to, when to go to war, how to respond to climate change, and who to imprison — are too often motivated by honest, yet misplaced, emotions. With precision and wit, he demonstrates how empathy distorts our judgment in every aspect of our lives, from philanthropy and charity to the justice system; from medical care and education to parenting and marriage. Without empathy, Bloom insists, our decisions would be clearer, fairer, and — yes — ultimately more moral.

Brilliantly argued, urgent and humane, Against Empathy shows us that, when it comes to both major policy decisions and the choices we make in our everyday lives, limiting our impulse toward empathy is often the most compassionate choice we can make.

Ecco Press (6 Dec. 2016)

Article

Sorry, I don't feel your pain — the dangers of empathyProspect Magazine

Reviews

A Rational Gut CheckStanford Social Innovation Review
Why Empathy Is BadNew York Magazine

Praise

“Refreshing.”
Library Journal

“Provocative… and powerful.”
Publishers Weekly

“An intriguing counterattack to modern psychological cynicism.”
Kirkus

“Bloom challenges one of our most cherished assumptions about what it takes to be good. With elegance and humor, Bloom reveals just how flawed that assumption is, and offers a new vision of a moral life-one based on how our minds actually work.”
— Carl Zimmer, author of Evolution: Making Sense of Life

“Bloom’s analysis is penetrating, comprehensive, and timely. Against Empathy is destined to become a classic in psychology.”
— Michael Shermer, Publisher Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist Scientific American, and author of The Moral Arc and The Science of Good and Evil

“Despite a near consensus about its merits, Bloom shows that empathy is often just the warm embrace of prejudice-and, like anger, a reliable source of moral confusion. . . . a thrilling book, and reading it could well make you a better person.”
— Sam Harris, author of the New York Times bestsellers The End of Faith, The Moral Landscape, and Waking Up

“I couldn’t put this brilliantly argued book down.”
— Amy Chua, Yale Law Professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and The Triple Package

“A brilliant, witty, and convincing defense of rational generosity against its pain-feeling detractors. Read this book and you will never think about empathy, goodness, or cold-blooded reason the same way again.”
— Larissa MacFarquhar, author of Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help

“Brilliant, powerful, and provocative, Against Empathy is sure to be one of the most controversial books of our time.”
— Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness

“One of the most thought-provoking and convincing books I’ve read. Bloom’s logic is compelling, his prose fluid, and his deep humanity and compassion always evident. A must-read for those who want an alternative to a world where emotional gambits reign supreme — for better and often, for worse.”
— Maria Konnivkova, author of The Confidence Game

“The title may shock, but this is a book of calm reason and expansive compassion. It’s also a pleasure to read: warm, lucid, and thought-provoking.”
— Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Better Angels of Our Nature

“Bracing and provocative, Against Empathy takes a scalpel to empathy. This lucid and entertaining book argues there is a better way — that our capacity for reason, tempered with compassion, will make us better policy makers and better people.”
— Emily Yoffe, author of What the Dog Did

Just Babies

The Origins of Good and Evil

Paul Bloom

A leading cognitive scientist argues that a deep sense of good and evil is bred in the bone.

From Sigmund Freud to Jean Piaget, psychologists have long believed that we begin life as amoral animals. After all, isn't it the role of society — and especially parents — to transform babies from little psychopaths into civilized beings who can experience empathy and shame, and override selfish impulses? In Just Babies, Paul Bloom argues that humans are in fact hardwired with a sense of morality. Drawing upon years of original research at Yale, he shows that babies and toddlers can judge the goodness and badness of others' actions; that they act to soothe those in distress; and that they feel guilt, shame, pride, and righteous anger.


Yet this innate morality is tragically limited. Our natural morality extends toward those in our own group, but this is offset by ingrained dislike, even hatred, of those in different groups. Put simply, we are natural-born bigots. Vivid and intellectually probing, Just Babies argues that it's only through our uniquely human capacity for reason that we can transcend the primitive sense of morality we are born with. This erudite yet accessible book will captivate readers of Steven Pinker, Philip Zimbardo, and Robert Wright.

Broadway Books (11 Nov 2014)
Bodley Head (14 Nov 2013)

Reviews

'Just Babies'The Washington Post
Little AngelsThe New York Times
Is morality hard-wired?Salon
Just BabiesThe Boston Globe

Praise

"Insightful [and] frequently funny…Bloom manages to translate abstract principles into clear, readable prose, making complex material accessible to the layperson without oversimplifying. His voice is witty, engaging, and candidly quirky…Reveals striking truths about the nature of morality and humanity."
Boston Globe

"Fascinating."
The Atlantic

"Bloom — an elegant, lucid and economical writer — makes an excellent guide...He’s an observer and evaluator who’s not ideologically invested in any one interpretation of the evidence… If he takes exception with moral philosophy’s fixation on depersonalized thought problems, he is just as leery of the notion that morality is entirely based on feelings derived from our evolutionary past. The hard-wired stuff is just the beginning, Bloom points out, and reason has an essential part to play in our moral development, as well."
— Laura Miller, Salon

"In a lively, accessible style, Bloom…draws on research into adults from many societies, including the extant hunter-gatherer tribes. And he tackles the moral claims of philosophy and religion, arguing that we understand how the 'amoral force of natural selection' may have instilled the foundations for moral thought and action."
New Scientist

"Brisk and authoritative...[Bloom’s] discussion of disgust is particularly good…the experiments he describes are nifty."
Nature

"With his account sharply tuned to the general reader, Bloom skims along assuredly through the research. He uses the findings to nimbly springboard into discussions of philosophy and psychology, exploring the bases of large moral debates, such as acceptable sexual practices or when killing is justified. Of interest both to parents curious about the inner lives of their little ones and to those seeking a more general, thought-provoking examination of morality, the book offers remarkable insight into our first baby steps as moral beings."
Booklist

"One comes to Paul Bloom for his unfailingly brilliant psychological research; one stays for the wise and relaxed way he writes about it."
— Jim Holt, author of Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story

"The rich cognitive and moral life of babies is among the most fascinating discoveries of twenty-first-century psychology. Paul Bloom explains how this work illuminates human nature, and does it with his trademark clarity, depth, discernment, and graceful style."
— Steven Pinker, professor of psychology, Harvard University; author of How the Mind Works

"Take a tour through the latest and most amazing research in child psychology, and come back with a better understanding of the strange things adults do. Bloom shows us how a first rate scientist integrates conflicting findings, broad scholarship, and deep humanity to draw a nuanced and often surprising portrait of human nature, with all its beauty, horror, and hope."
— Jonathan Haidt, Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership, New York University Stern School of Business; author of The Happiness Hypothesis and The Righteous Mind

"Just Babies is an extremely important book. Today it is received wisdom that morality is unreal: our evolutionary instincts are purely selfish. We're also told that human society is built on irrational impulses, that reason and choice count for nothing. A leading experimental psychologist, but also a skilled reader of philosophy, Bloom authoritatively punctures both of these errors. Lively and deftly argued, with admirably fair treatment of opposing views, Just Babies shows that humans inherit a rich basis for morality, but also some disturbing tendencies. Making the best of the good and doing what we can to inhibit the bad is the job of history, culture and reason."
— Martha C. Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, University of Chicago; author of Political Emotions

"Wonderfully clear and entertaining…If you want to understand yourself, your children, and the psychopath in the next cubicle better than you do at present-read this book."
— Sam Harris, author Free Will and The End of Faith

"Just Babies is a fascinating, original exploration of our sense of right and wrong. Bloom and his colleagues plumb the mysteries of morality by playing games with babies, and in this witty, elegant book, he demonstrates the profound lessons we can gain from their responses. After finishing it, you'll never look at an infant the same way again."
— Carl Zimmer, author of Soul Made Flesh: The Discovery of the Brain and How it Changed the World

"In Just Babies, Paul Bloom provides a wonderful, in-depth look at how our morality develops from infancy onward, making the strong case for the subtle interplay of genes and environment in the way we turn out-a must for social science enthusiasts and parents."
— Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics;
author of Predictably Irrational

"Paul Bloom's engaging explorations of the moral preferences of infants set the stage for a book that isn't really 'just babies' because it goes deeply into the nature of morality itself, for all of us. This is a book for everyone who wants to know more about the kind of moral beings we are."
— Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University; author of The Life You Can Save

"Paul Bloom has such an interesting mind, and it's a rare treat to follow as he tracks the origins of human morality. With clarity and wit, Bloom shows that babies have an incredible amount to teach us-and in these masterful pages, the lessons are full of surprise and delight."
— Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy

"'The Origins of Good and Evil' is an ambitious subtitle, but this book earns it. Paul Bloom combines graceful, witty writing with intellectual rigor to produce a compelling account of how and why people are so wonderful and so horrible. Drawing on his own pioneering work and the work of many other psychologists, Bloom shows that, from infancy on, the imprint of our creator, natural selection, is evident: we are in some sense moral animals, complete with compassion and a sense of justice, but our "moral compass" can be self-serving, sometimes to gruesome effect. Still, transcendence of a sort is possible; Bloom rightly emphasizes the edifying power of reason and self-reflection, and notes how these tools of enlightenment have led to genuine moral progress. This book, by fostering self-reflection, is itself a tool of enlightenment, and can help humanity take another step toward the good."
— Robert Wright, author of The Moral Animal and The Evolution of God

"Just Babies is exactly the combination of penetrating insight, cutting-edge science, and elegant prose that readers have come to expect from one of psychology's best writers and sharpest minds."
— Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, Harvard University;
author of Stumbling on Happiness

"Paul Bloom is a scientist who knows how to tell a fascinating and charming story. As a new parent, I found Just Babies not only full of insights into my son's developing moral sense but also a great pleasure to read."
— Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

"Without God does anything go? No, because we have an evolved moral nature that gives us a sense of right and wrong. But when does this sense develop? Thanks to Paul Bloom and this remarkable and important book, we have an answer-very early childhood. Just Babies is a vital contribution to the scientific study of morality that fills in a major gap in our understanding of human nature, and as a bonus it's a riveting read!"
— Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and author of
The Science of Good and Evil

"Paul Bloom is one of the best psychologist-writers today. In Just Babies he combines hard data with charming anecdote and incisive analysis to explore one of the most profound questions that's ever confronted mankind: how we become moral beings. He makes an erudite and impassioned case for the primacy of deliberation and reason in our lives-a truth given short shrift in pop psychology."
— Sally Satel, M.D., coauthor of Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience

"Bloom makes a convincing case that morality demands compassion but sometimes also overrides it…An engaging examination of human morality."
— Kirkus Reviews

"With wit and passion, Yale psychology professor Bloom (How Pleasure Works) explores the nature of morality, drawing on current research in psychology, evolutionary biology, and philosophy while discussing which factors appear to be innate and which are culturally determined. Bloom convincingly establishes that the nature of morality is open to scientific investigation."
Publishers Weekly

How Pleasure Works

Why We Like What We Like

Paul Bloom

Yale psychologist Paul Bloom presents a striking new vision of the pleasures of everyday life

Some teenage girls enjoy cutting themselves with razors. The average American spends more than four hours a day watching television. The thought of sex with a virgin is intensely arousing to many men. Abstract art can sell for millions of dollars. Young children enjoy playing with imaginary friends and can be comforted by security blankets. People slow their cars to look at gory accidents, and go to movies that make them cry.

In this fascinating and witty account, Paul Bloom examines the science behind these curious desires, attractions, and tastes, covering everything from the animal instincts of sex and food to the uniquely human taste for art, music, and stories. Drawing on insights from child development, philosophy, neuroscience, and behavioral economics, How Pleasure Works shows how certain universal habits of the human mind explain what we like and why we like it.

Vintage (2 Jun 2011)

Book Reviews

The Secret To Pleasure? Mind Over MatterNPR

Praise

"This book is not just a pleasure, but a revelation, by one of psychology’s deepest thinkers and best writers. Lucid and fascinating, you’ll want to read it slowly and savor the experience."
— Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness

"Following the path of pleasure, Bloom leads us through a menagerie of human strangeness. By the end of the trip, the 'magic inside us' begins to make sense. This book is a pearl, a work of great beauty and value, built up around a simple truth: that we are essentialists, tuned in to unseen order." 
— Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis

"Paul Bloom is among the deepest thinkers and clearest writers in the science of mind today. He has a knack for coming up with genuinely new insights about mental life — ones that you haven't already read about or thought of — and making them seem second nature through vivid examples and lucid explanations." 
— Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works

"How Pleasure Works has one of the best discussions I’ve read of why art is pleasurable, why it matters to us, and why it moves us so." 
— Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music

"In this eloquent and provocative book, Paul Bloom takes us inside the paradoxes of pleasure, exploring everything from cannibalism to Picasso to IKEA furniture. The quirks of delight, it turns out, are a delightful way to learn about the human mind."
— Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide

Podcast

How Pleasure WorksThe New York Times Papercuts

Excerpt

The Pleasures of ImaginationThe Chronicle Review

Descartes' Baby

How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human

Paul Bloom

All humans see the world in two fundamentally different ways: even babies have a rich understanding of both the physical and social worlds. They expect objects to obey principles of physics, and they're startled when things disappear or defy gravity. Yet they can also read emotions and respond with anger, sympathy, and joy.

In Descartes' Baby, Bloom draws on a wealth of scientific discoveries to show how these two ways of knowing give rise to such uniquely human traits as humor, disgust, religion, art, and morality. How our dualist perspective, developed throughout our lives, profoundly influences our thoughts, feelings, and actions is the subject of this richly rewarding book.

Arrow; New Ed edition (7 Jul 2005)

How Children Learn the Meanings of Words

(Learning, Development, and Conceptual Change)

Paul Bloom

How do children learn that the word "dog" refers not to all four-legged animals, and not just to Ralph, but to all members of a particular species? How do they learn the meanings of verbs like "think," adjectives like "good," and words for abstract entities such as "mortgage" and "story"? The acquisition of word meaning is one of the fundamental issues in the study of mind. According to Paul Bloom, children learn words through sophisticated cognitive abilities that exist for other purposes. These include the ability to infer others' intentions, the ability to acquire concepts, an appreciation of syntactic structure, and certain general learning and memory abilities. Although other researchers have associated word learning with some of these capacities, Bloom is the first to show how a complete explanation requires all of them. The acquisition of even simple nouns requires rich conceptual, social, and linguistic capacities interacting in complex ways. This book requires no background in psychology or linguistics and is written in a clear, engaging style. Topics include the effects of language on spatial reasoning, the origin of essentialist beliefs, and the young child's understanding of representational art. The book should appeal to general readers interested in language and cognition as well as to researchers in the field.

The MIT Press; New Ed edition (1 Feb 2002)

Language and Space

Ray Jackendoff, Paul Bloom, and Karen Wynn (Editors)

This wide-ranging collection of essays is inspired by the memory of the cognitive psychologist John Macnamara, whose influential contributions to language and concept acquisition have provided the basis for numerous research programs. The areas covered by the essays include the foundations of language and thought, congnitive and linguistic development, and mathematical approaches to cognition.

The MIT Press; First edition. edition (18 Jun 1999)

Topics

Paul tailors each presentation to the needs of his audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest his range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

The Psychology of Preference, Attraction and Pleasure

Videos

How Empathy Leads Us Astray | Innovation Hub

Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion | Inquiring Minds

Against Empathy | The Atlantic

Can prejudice ever be a good thing? | TED

Born good? Babies help unlock the origins of morality | 60 Minutes

The origins of pleasure | TED

Articles

— FastCo.Design
— BigThink
— Prospect Magazine
— The Guardian
— The Guardian
— Vox
— BigThink
— Think Again Podcast
— New York Magazine
— The New York Times
— BigThink
— Waking Up with Sam Harris Podcast
— The Verge
— Chronicle of Higher Education
— The Wall Street Journal
— Aspen Ideas To Go
— Very Bad Wizards Podcast
— Scientific American
— Guernica Magazine
— The Atlantic
— The Atlantic
— Yale Daily News
— NPR
— Boston Review
— Business Insider
— Smithsonian Magazine
— CNN
— Yale Daily News
— The Atlantic
— The Washington Post
— The New Yorker
— The Huffington Post