Brain Pickings Icon
Brain Pickings

Harvard’s Steven Pinker on Violence and Human Nature

Harvard psycholinguist and prolific author Steven Pinker is among the most compelling thinkers of our time, with particularly perceptive insight into language and the human mind. Pinker has also done fascinating work on the history of violence, unearthing some surprising and counterintuitive findings that refute what contemporary media might suggest about the rate of violence in the world today.

In this excellent talk from 2010’s Harvard Thinks Big event, Pinker looks at two reasons for these misconceptions: Our cognitive limitations and our moral psychology.

Our intuitions about violence and the facts about violence go in opposite directions.


News media has the unprecedented ability to send cameramen to places in the world where violence takes place and beam them back to our laptop screens or television. Moreover, they have the programming philosophy “If it bleeds, it leads.”

In a cultural environment where we’re bombarded with doom-and-gloom messaging about human nature and the state of the world, Pinker’s research is a necessary and timely grounding element that puts reality into perspective. For a more in-depth look at his fascinating work on the subject, treat yourself to Pinker’s insightful and ennobling The Better Angels of Our Nature.

HT Open Culture

Published March 14, 2011




Filed Under

View Full Site

Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I get a small percentage of its price. That helps support Brain Pickings by offsetting a fraction of what it takes to maintain the site, and is very much appreciated