Paul Bloom

Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology and Professor of Cognitive Science

Paul Bloom, B.A. McGill University, Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, faculty member at Yale since 1999: Your research on how adults and children understand their social and moral worlds has transformed our views of the earliest origins of those understandings and how those origins continue to shape experiences throughout our lives. The mind has provided an amply fertile playground for you and your students.

After demonstrating for the first time how young children’s views of others’ minds are essential to much of language development, you explored how we come to understand moral and social phenomena. In over one hundred scientific papers and six books, you have explored a dizzying array of topics, showing repeatedly how our lives are forever shaped by the cognitive follies of youth. You have unraveled many mysteries of social reasoning and its origins. You have discovered developmental origins of religious beliefs, explaining why so many of us come to embrace creationism, dualism, essentialism, and karma, and why we are so prone to blame the victim. Yet you also have shown that even infants have senses of good and evil and how such early intuitions shape our later views of punishment, hypocrisy, and fairness.

You jump across disciplines with a scholarly grace and precision akin to a champion figure skater – performing intellectual quadruple lutzes over psychology, philosophy, economics, and even theology. Your experimental papers appear in broad cross-disciplinary journals such as Science and Nature while also populating leading journals in psychology and cognitive science. Your books develop your ideas for broader audiences,   confronting all of us with new puzzles such as when empathy is bad, pain feels good, and pleasure disappoints. You reach even more readers through your provocative pieces in outlets such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic Monthly.

And you teach even larger multitudes. Your “Introduction to Psychology” course was first taught on Yale Open Courses and then on Coursera, where it currently has over one million views. Your Coursera course on “Moralities of Everyday Life” has many hundreds of thousands of learners. These courses pose universally appealing questions such as “what are most people afraid of?” and “what are causes and cures of mental illness?” and “what makes us happy?” Your TED talks on “The origins of pleasure” and “Can prejudice ever be a good thing?” have mesmerized many more. Your lectures are invariably multi-layered, elegantly explaining ideas and experiments to beginning students while also containing intriguing insights to experts, and always topped off with wit and charm.

You have taught legions of students, produced transformative research, and fascinated people across the globe. As you return to your home country of Canada to continue your explorations into the minds of people of all ages, your colleagues and friends thank you for contributing so much to the frontiers of psychology and send you off with fond and grateful wishes. To shamelessly appropriate the title of your latest book, in a balance of research, teaching, and collegiality during your two decades at Yale, you have hit the Sweet Spot.