Molly Crockett, PhD

Associate Professor in Psychology
University Center for Human Values
Princeton University

Faculty Bio
Molly Crockett, PhD
Lab Website
Crockett Lab

Imagining worlds anew: social neuroscience, master narratives, and the cultural evolution of morality”

The biologist E.O. Wilson famously ascribed the problems of humanity to “Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology.” To solve these problems, many suggest we need to understand human emotions and design technology around it — an approach that rests on hidden assumptions about human nature and its capacity for change. This talk will unpack these assumptions and some of their implications. I’ll first discuss evidence from social neuroscience that contradicts dominant cultural narratives of human nature as fundamentally selfish. I’ll then show how, despite this evidence, the myth of self-interest can create self-fulfilling prophecies. In particular, I’ll share studies showing how social media platforms exploit adaptive biases in social learning to amplify outrage and inflate beliefs about intergroup hostility. But such self-fulfilling prophecies are not inevitable. I’ll next share evidence from field studies demonstrating an expanded circle of moral concern in cultural settings that tell a different story about human nature- one that is more aligned with the neuroscientific evidence. I’ll conclude by exploring how people alive today might be able to impact the moral psychology of future generations through the stories we tell about human nature and the technologies we design to share them.

Dr. Molly Crockett is an Associate Professor in Psychology at the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. Crockett’s lab investigates social cognition: how people decide whether to help or harm, punish or forgive, trust or condemn. Their research integrates theory and methods from psychology, neuroscience, economics, philosophy, and data science. Crockett’s recent work has explored moral outrage in the digital age and trust in leaders during a pandemic.

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