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7 Great TED Talks About Psychology

One of the best ways to learn about psychology is to listen to some of the world’s greatest experts talk about their research. In this selection of TED Talks about psychology, the popular video lecture series designed to educate and inspire, we highlight just a few of the best psychology talks on subjects ranging from the nature of evil to the secrets of happiness.

Philip Zimbardo: The Psychology of Evil

Can good people really commit evil acts? Philip Zimbardo, known for his famous Stanford Prison Experiment, offers insight into the nature of evil and how nice people can be led to do terrible things. In this speech, Zimbardo talks about the atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and discusses the parallels between those events and his infamous prison experiment. But, he suggests, if people are capable of being transformed into doing bad things, then they are just as capable of being transformed into doing good things. Heroism, he claims, is something that can be taught.

Elizabeth Loftus: The Fiction of Memory

Elizabeth Loftus is a renowned memory expert perhaps best known for her research on false memories, or how we believe in memories that are mistaken, incomplete, or completely fictitious. In this TED talk, Loftus shares some of the astonishing things she has learned about false memory in her decades of research, including how surprisingly common such false memories are.

Oliver Sacks: What Hallucination Reveals About Our Minds

Noted neurologist Oliver Sacks takes a looks at a fascinating condition known as Charles Bonnet syndrome in which visually impaired patients experience vivid, lucid hallucinations. The cause, Sacks explains, is that the visual parts of the brain are no longer being stimulated by actual sensory information. They then become excitable and start to fire spontaneously, resulting in visual hallucinations. Listen to the rest of the talk to learn more about what this syndrome reveals about the brain.

Dan Gilbert: The Psychology of Your Future Self

Do you think that the way you are now is the ultimate, finished version of yourself? Psychologist Dan Gilbert refers to this tendency to believe that we are at our personal pinnacle as the “end of history illusion.” In other words, we mistakenly believe that who we are now is who we will always be. Listen to Gilbert explain why this idea is just plain wrong.

Tali Sharot: The Optimism Bias

Sharot explores our tendency to look on the bright side of life, even when it might be to our own detriment. The optimism bias, Sharot explains, is a type of cognitive illusion that 80 percent of the population experiences. It causes us to overestimate the likelihood that good things will happen to us as well as underestimate the likelihood that we will experience bad events.

Listen to Sharot explain the effects this bias has on our lives as well as the possible dangers this optimism might pose to our health and happiness.

Joachim de Posada: Don’t Eat the Marshmallow!

During the late 60s and early 70s, psychologists at Stanford performed a series of fascinating experiments looking at delay gratification. In the experiments, preschoolers were left alone in a room with some sort of treat (often a marshmallow or cookie). Prior to leaving the room, the researchers told each child that if they could go 15 minutes without eating the treat, they would be rewarded with two treats.

What the experimenters discovered is that those children who were able to delay gratification and wait for the second treat were more likely to do better academically later on in life. Learn more about a classic experiment on delayed gratification and what it might mean for future success.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, The Secret to Happiness

In this TED talk, pioneering positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about his theory of flow and what really makes people happy. He relates the story of how he first became interested in psychology after attending a lecture given by famed psychiatrist Carl Jung.

Csikszentmihalyi’s theory proposes that people experience moments he refers to as flow, or being completely absorbed in the moment. In these moments, time seems to sink away as people become so immersed in the activity that it seems effortless. People are more likely to experience flow when the activity offers enough of a challenge that the individual must focus their skills and abilities on completing the task.

Why is flow so important? Csikszentmihalyi suggests that these moments of flow can be critical to our happiness, so learning how to achieve flow experiences more frequently in our daily lives can be important.