Humans, we all know, are strange, irrational, beautiful creatures who often act in weird and wonderful ways. That makes us hard to deal with sometimes, but it also makes us totally fascinating.
All our quirks are fuel for psychologists, who spend their professional lives trying to dig into our heads, uncovering the processes that drive us to be so maddeningly unpredictable and amazingly complex. Understanding a little of what these explorations have uncovered isn't just a great way to feed your brain; it can also help you succeed in business (or relationships). These great TED Talks from some of the field's leading lights make learning about psychology easy and entertaining.
1. How we read each other's minds, Rebecca Saxe
According to Saxe, a professor of neuroscience at MIT, you don't need tarot cards or ESP to read people's minds. A functioning right temporo-parietal junction will do just fine. In her talk, Saxe explains how this brain region allows humans to be uncannily good at sensing other people's feelings, thoughts, and motivations.
"If you love science jargon and scientific analysis, this one's for you," writes MakeUseOf's Joel Lee, recommending this talk in a round-up of his favorite psych-related TED Talks. PsyBlog calls Saxe a "superstar of psychology."
2. The riddle of experience vs. memory, Daniel Kahneman
If you're looking for highly credentialed TED speakers, Kahneman's résumé won't fail to impress. A Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and bestselling author, Kahneman uses his 20 minutes on the TED stage to explain that there are actually two flavors of happiness: the kind we experience in the moment and the kind we experience in our memories. Maximizing your own well being in life means keeping both in mind.
3. The paradox of choice, Barry Schwartz
More choice is always better, right? Not according to Schwartz, a psychologist who argues that having to decide which of approximately 6,000 brands of similar toothpaste to buy "has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied."
His entry is included on a great list of must-see psychology-related TED Talks from software engineer and psychology enthusiast Tristan Muntsinger on Quora, earns inclusion on Lee's list, and gets the "superstar" nod from PsyBlog. In short, everyone recommends this talk.
4. Are we in control of our own decisions?, Dan Ariely
Look at best-of lists of TED Talks (in general or psychology specifically) and you'll pretty much always see the name of behavioral economist Dan Ariely. The funny thing is each list includes a different talk. A man of apparently boundless energy, Ariely has appeared on the TED stage no fewer than five times, and seems to have wowed on every occasion.
This is the one picked by Muntsinger. According to the TED blurb, the talk "uses classic visual illusions and his own counterintuitive (and sometimes shocking) research findings to show how we're not as rational as we think when we make decisions."
5. What makes us feel good about our work?, Dan Ariely (again)
Business Insider's Chris Weller prefers this one by Ariely. When he rounded up his favorite TED Talks related to psychology, he included this talk on what really motivates us at work. In it Ariely recounts "an experiment in which people stopped working far earlier when the researchers destroyed their work before assigning a new task. The takeaway: People are motivated when they feel appreciated," Waller explains.
6. Flow, the secret to happiness, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
In this talk, legendary psychologist Csikszentmihalyi (he's another PsyBlog "superstar") dares to ask one of life's biggest questions: What makes us happy? The answer isn't fame or money, he insists, but flow -- that lost-in-time feeling you get when you focus intensely on work you're good at.
7. The power of vulnerability, Brené Brown
One of the top-five-most-popular TED Talks of all time, this moving account of Brown's own struggles with shame and control weaves together sometimes hilarious personal anecdotes with hard research to convince viewers that forging real connections requires the bravery to be vulnerable. Brain Pickings Maria Popova calls it her "favorite TEDx gem."
8. The psychology of evil, Philip Zimbardo
Psychology isn't all happiness and flourishing, of course. The discipline also delves into the darker sides of human nature and what drives us toward unethical or even downright evil behavior. That's the topic of this talk by "superstar" Zimbardo (it's also recommended by Muntzinger) in which "he shares insights and graphic unseen photos from the Abu Ghraib trials."
But don't worry, it's not all gloom and doom. He also "talks about the flip side: how easy it is to be a hero, and how we can rise to the challenge," according to the talk's official blurb.