Perhaps the worst thing about losing loved ones to COVID-19 is not being able to say a proper goodbye. We’re wired to do so — and thoughtful COVID-19 policies prevent this.

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Photo by Amin Moshrefi, courtesy of Unsplash

Throughout much of human existence, life sucked, and then you died. Worse yet, you died young, usually. Even two centuries ago, most people in Western Europe who were lucky enough to make it through infancy could expect to die in their early to mid-40s. Disease and malnutrition were so rampant that making it to 70 was a small miracle. But in the modern world of improved nutrition, sanitation, and medication, people in wealthy nations who only make it to 70 are perceived as dying young.

According to developmental psychologist Laura Carstensen, senior citizens in wealthy nations have responded to this recent gift of extended life in some interesting ways. The most important way is that more than people of any other age, senior citizens value and nurture close, established relationships. When we have limited time left in this life, we wish to spend it with those we love. This is the gist of socioemotional selectivity theory, and it applies to people of any age who believe that their time in this world is limited. …

Research on narcissism shows exactly why Trump encouraged violence in DC on January 6, 2021.

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Image by Vince Fleming, courtesy of Unsplash

As a social psychologist who studies how people figure out other people, I have long been surprised at the unwillingness of many psychologists to say that Donald Trump is a narcissist. In this blog, I document a few of the many ways in which Trump qualifies as a narcissist. Then, I briefly explain how badly his narcissism has damaged America. Ultimately, it was the main reason for yesterday’s assault on the U.S Capital.

Let me begin by noting that there are some clear exceptions to the rule that psychologists have been cautious about labeling Trump a narcissist. Harvard social and educational psychologist Howard Gardner described Trump as “Remarkably narcissistic.” And the clinical psychologist Dan P. McAdams strongly agreed. …

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Photo by Azazella BQ, courtesy of Unsplash

On January 2, 2021 – rather than going golfing or working hard to get the new COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of desperate Americans – President Trump spent just over an hour talking on the phone to Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger (and a couple of his associates). The lengthy conversation was packed with about a dozen whacky conspiracy theories, all of which have been thoroughly debunked by Georgia’s conservative elected officials, by GBI and FBI officers, and by numerous Republican and Democratic judges.

Everyone from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal says that every American should listen to the recording of this phone call. But every American doesn’t have the time to do so. Thus, if you’ll allow me to interject a little sass and snarkiness, I’ll summarize that painful, 61-minute-long, recorded telephone conversation for you. I listened to — and read the transcript of — the entire call. But before I do this, allow me to say that, unlike the legal experts who argue that the call was downright illegal, I don’t care so much about its illegality. Instead, I care mainly about what it says about the ethical and intellectual bankruptcy of the man who has led the United States for almost four years. If Trump were a better actor, I’d think he was engaging in an Oscar-worthy performance on this phone call. After all, he sounds like he genuinely believes all the crazy things he says about why he won the election in Georgia. Whether Trump really believes anything he said or not, listening to this call was like hearing a four-year-old toy car owner tell an expert mechanic how to rebuild and install transmissions. …

A Donald Trump — Ted Cruz conversation

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Cartoon by the author, Brett Pelham














Both the widespread belief that race is biological and hidden aspects of modern segregation guarantee that racism is harsher than classism

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Rural poverty (L) by Christopher Windus (L). Urban poverty (R) by Gor Davtyan, both courtesy of Unsplash

Poverty Sucks. I grew up in rural Northwest Georgia, living on about two dollars per day. So, I understand very well the sting of poverty. I’ve spent lots of time visiting loved ones in prison, and I have several loved ones who’ve been shot. I’ve also seen the bloody, swollen face, and the broken collarbone, of a teenage brother who was badly beaten by the police. A year later, I saw it again. Thankfully, this beating did not break any bones. But it left facial scars.

I’ve never been beaten by the police. But I still get nervous any time a police car pulls up beside me. And my blood pressure still shoots up when I go to the doctor for a checkup. This spike in blood pressure happens because, when I was a kid, going to the doctor meant my parents thought I could be dying. Otherwise, we did not go. But I don’t get nervous when I go to the dentist. This is because I never once saw a dentist as a child. My first trip to the dentist happened when I was 20. Dr. Matthews quickly relieved my excruciating toothache by pulling a badly decayed molar. The last time my dad had a toothache, he pulled the bad tooth himself, with a pair of plyers. If there is an upside to all this, it is that I admire and adore dentists. …

You may be falling prey to the hindsight bias

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Image by Markus Spiske, courtesy of Unsplash

Have you ever seen a referee blow a call that cost your favorite sports team a big win? I certainly have. So, you and I are probably in the same boat. But that doesn’t mean we’re on the same page. If you’re like most other people on planet earth, you think most referees suck at their jobs. But they don’t. They’re actually very good at them. Allow me to explain. But be patient. I need to explain two separate facts about the human mind — to clarify why referees are much better at their jobs than most people think.

Before I argue that you’re wrong about referees, allow me to compliment you on your knowledge of trivia. I hope you’ll agree that: (a) many people feel nauseous when they spin around too much, (b) Abe Lincoln was the 15th U.S. President, and (c) pheromones are a type of hormone. Speaking of honest Abe, please be honest. How many of these three things did you know already? If you think you already knew at least one of these three things, I have bad news. You didn’t know any of them. I know that because none of them are true. People can feel nauseated, but it is only things (like vomit or poison gas) that are nauseous. If you are nauseous, then you make others want to puke. Further, Abe Lincoln was the 16th President, and pheromones are not hormones. Yes, I’m being nitpicky. But that’s the point. I’m being nitpicky with you in much the same way you’re often nitpicky with referees. …

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Photo by Capturing the human heart, courtesy of Unsplash

Even after the U.S. electoral college made it official that Joe Biden is the President-elect, many Americans continue to believe that Democrats stole the election. According to an early December, 2020, Rasmussen poll of 1,000 likely U.S. voters, 47% of Americans believe that it is at least “somewhat likely” that “Democrats stole votes or destroyed pro-Trump ballots in several states to ensure that Joe Biden would win.” To be sure, Rasmussen has been criticized by progressives because their survey questions sometimes invite conservative responses. But because that issue is a matter for a different blog, I’m going to trust this part of their recent survey. …

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Images (L to R) by Islander Images, Priscilla Du Preez, and Alexis Brown, courtesy of Unsplash

Almost everyone has heard the disturbing stories of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. But almost no one has heard about one of the simplest things we can do to make these tragic stories less common in the future. This simple thing is contact, and it’s more powerful than most people could ever imagine.

That’s right. Decades of research in psychology and sociology show that simple, routine contact with the member of groups other than your own is a very powerful way to reduce prejudice and racial tensions. This means, for example, that one of the best ways to reduce racial prejudice toward Black Americans is to foster respectful contact between Black and White people. This works for the members of any two groups who mistrust one another. Get to know a Muslim neighbor, and you will see your anti-Muslim prejudice begin to melt away. …

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Photos by the author, Brett Pelham

On December 5th, 2020, I performed my twice-monthly trial by fire and bravely traveled to my local Giant Grocery Store. I had no choice. I was out of bacon and Breyer’s ice cream. I knew all too well that grocery shopping can be a harrowing experience. After all, many shoppers in my densely populated Maryland suburb fail to follow basic COVID safety rules. You know who I’m talking about. They brush by you from behind, and they sometimes have a couple handsy, unmasked eight-year-olds in tow. These are the shoppers who are in COVID-denial. …

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Photo by Duy Pham, courtesy of Unsplash

Four decades ago, Lee Ross and his colleagues asked students at Stanford University to do a very unusual thing. They asked them to walk around the Stanford campus for half an hour wearing a large sandwich board that read “Repent,” counting the number of people who spoke with them while they walked around wearing the sign. Presumably, the data from this unusual task would become part of a study of “communication techniques.”

In reality, the researchers wanted to compare students who said yes and those who said no to this unusual request. Ross and his colleagues observed something surprising. Students who agreed to the unusual request believed that a clear majority of other students would also agree to do so. …


Brett Pelham

Brett is a social psychologist at Montgomery College, MD. Brett studies health, gender, culture, religion, identity, and stereotypes.

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