Data Oriented Talks

☞ Self-Regulation, Choice, and Ego Depletion

This is an overview of our research program on the strength model of self-control. It mainly covers laboratory studies. The theme is that people have a limited capacity for self-control and rational choice, and behavior changes when that capacity is depleted.

☞ How Rejection Affects People

If the need to belong is one of the most important foundations of human motivation, then social rejection, which thwarts that need, should produce striking effects. This talk covers the past decade’s work in my laboratory on how social rejection affects people. Their behavior changes drastically, including effects on aggression, helping, self-defeating behavior, intelligent performance, self-regulation, and the rational pursuit of enlightened self-interest. It explores cognitive factors and emotional ones. Surprisingly, the immediate impact of aggression appears to involve a numbness akin to shock reactions, characterized by a loss of emotion and even of sensitivity to pain.

☞ New Directions in Self-Regulation Research

Just when we thought we had worked out the main outlines of self-regulation theory, several new findings have emerged to challenge that picture. This talk presents results from laboratory, longitudinal, and meta-analytic studies. High self-control may specialize less in resisting temptation than in avoiding it. Self-control is often highly effective but does grow weaker (ego depletion) as the day wears on. Ego depletion intensifies subjective desires and feelings, rather than just weakening powers of restraint. Similarity in trait self-control is not the best predictor of relationship satisfaction. Powerful leaders self-regulate task performance in unusual ways, sometimes performing better but sometimes worse than subordinates.

☞ Willpower: Self-Control, Decision Fatigue, and Energy Depletion

A new understanding of how people control themselves has emerged from the past decade of research studies. Self-control depends on a limited energy supply, and each person’s willpower fluctuates during the day as various events deplete and then replenish it. Decision making and creative initiative also deplete the same willpower supply, while eating and sleeping can restore it. Some circumstances propel people to perform well despite depleted willpower, including power and leadership roles, local incentives, and personal beliefs. People with high self-control specialize less in resisting temptation than avoiding it.

Big Idea Oriented Talks

☞ Human Nature and Culture: What Is the Human Psyche Designed for?

This talk, based on my 2005 book, presents an integrative theory of human nature as created by nature for participation in culture. It establishes the controversial point that culture influenced physical evolution and shows how this offers a comprehensive, integrative explanation of the distinctively human psychological traits. No original data.

☞ Sexual Economics: A General Theory of (Hetero) Sexual Interactions, Or Why the Man Buys Dinner

Probably my most integrative work on human sexuality, this talk invokes economic theory (e.g., supply & demand) to analyze human sexuality. It covers a large number of facts and findings about sex, some of which will come as a surprise. There is a bit of original data but the main part is theoretical integration of extensive research literature.

☞ Is There Anything Good About Men?

Based on my 2010 book, this talk provides a radical new perspective on gender differences in motivation, personality, and achievement, including recasting gender politics. An elaborate interdisciplinary argument drawing from biology, psychology, economics, and related fields contends that men and women are more often partners than enemies and that cultural systems exploit both genders, usually in different ways.

☞ The Why, What, and How of Human Consciousness

Consciousness is a distinguishing trait of human experience, but does it cause behavior or serve other useful functions? Recent critiques, especially from studies of automatic processes and brain functions, have suggested that it is inefficient and ineffective for controlling action and unnecessary for perceiving the environment. This talk reviews experimental studies on how manipulations of conscious thought cause changes in behavior. It draws new conclusions about what conscious thought can and cannot do—and what it can do better than unconscious processes. It goes on to argue that the core functions of conscious thought are for relating to the social and cultural environment. The paper is based on articles in Psychological Review (2010) and Annual Review of Psychology (2011).

☞ What Is the Self?

The self has been one of the most widely studied phenomena in psychology, yet there is no consensus about what it is, and indeed some scholars have boldly proposed that there is no such thing. This talk argues the reality of the self as a social adaptation at the interface between the physical body and the social system. It reviews evidence that human groups function best on the basis of differentiated identities. The conclusion is that the self emerged not from the inner requirements of the brain or psyche but rather from the requirements of organized groups.

Data and Big Ideas

☞ Toward a Scientific Theory of Free Will

This talk combines conceptual discussion of the grand problem with free will with laboratory studies, including our work on self-control, decision making, and the new work on glucose, as well as studies on manipulated disbelief in free will. It seeks to provide a scientific understanding of free will as an evolved form of action control suited to enable human beings to function in their complex social environment, including culture.

☞ Emotion, Behavior, and the Illusion of Learning

The assumption that emotion is the direct cause of behavior is widespread but the evidence for it is surprisingly weak and confounded. This talk reviews the evidence and proposes an alternative theory depicting emotion as a feedback system. One corollary is that people will often use their emotional reactions as cues to how much they learned.

☞ Erotic Plasticity: Nature, Culture, and Sex Drive

Based on my 2000 Psychological Bulletin review, this article integrates a mass of information about influences on human sexuality. The theme is that cultural, social, and situational factors have a stronger influence on female than male sexuality. No original data, though it covers a wide range of previously published findings.

Additional Talks (available with multiple lecture engagements)

☞ Pathways to Self-Destruction: How & Why People Do Stupid Things

Developed specifically for an NIH symposium, this talk reviews multiple strands of theorizing, literature review, and original experiments that cover my approaches to irrational, self-defeating behavior, including emotional distress, foolish risk taking, destructive tradeoffs, escaping self-awareness, and failed self-regulation. This talk is not central to my current work and should only be used as a second or third talk or if there is overwhelming particular interest in self-defeating behavior.

☞ After 18,000 Studies, What Good Is Self-Esteem?

An integrative overview of the research literature on the benefits of high self-esteem, plus some additional discussion of how people with high vs. low self-esteem are different.