20 Compelling TED Talks for Psychology Students

ted talks for psychology students

No matter the subject, TED provides some of the Internet’s most insightful, educational content, keeping students, hobbyists, amateurs and professionals as informed as possible. Psychology, as one can probably imagine, receives a fair amount of recognition as well. From across the community, speakers from myriad backgrounds expound upon the stranger corners of the mind and behavior. While only a sample of what the illuminating website and lecture series has to offer, the following videos pique the interest of anyone interested in learning all they can about psychology.

  1. Viktor Frankl: Why to believe in others

    The highly regarded psychiatrist Viktor Frankl formulated many of his revolutionary ideas while incarcerated in a concentration camp. In this illuminating lecture, he adroitly summarizes his main points regarding humanity’s never-ending quest for an overarching meaning of life. He argues that overestimation and idealism nurtures the best in people, likening the phenomenon to landing an aircraft.

  2. Oliver Sacks: What hallucinations reveal about our minds

    Mainstream society tends to associate hallucinations and delusions with the drug-addled and the mentally ill, but in reality they stem from many different sources and provide some amazing insight into how the brain works. Charles Bonnet syndrome, for example, involves the visually impaired “seeing” some incredibly vivid images that aren’t there. Neurological anthropologist Oliver Sacks has studied this phenomenon and discusses his interesting findings regarding perception, cognition and brain activity.

  3. Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory

    Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahnman pioneered the study of behavioral economics, making note of some bizarre disparities between how different elements of the human brain process emotions. This lecture focuses mainly on the “cognitive traps” the mind sets for itself — a phenomenon most people never even realize in their lifetimes. Both the “experiencing self” and the “remembering self” impact perception, memory and personality in unique ways and shape individuals for good and for ill alike.

  4. Jim Fallon: Exploring the mind of a killer

    For psychology students interested in the criminal justice sector, this particular TED Talk provides plenty to pique their intrigue. Jim Fallon uses both science and personal history to deeply dissect the complex genetic and neurological factors that contribute to homicidal impulses. However, some of the biological components do frequently require traumatic events to trigger.

  5. Martin Seligman on positive psychology

    Because psychology and psychiatry plunge into the ugliest depths of human behavior, most people tend to associate the disciplines with mental illness and unrest. While this is certainly a major component of both fields, by no means should it be considered the only one. As Martin Seligman asserts, today’s psychological climate possesses the knowledge to build people up in a manner far more effective and permanent than those ultimately empty self-help “guides.”

  6. Philip Zimbardo prescribes a healthy take on time One’s perception of time, the infamous Philip Zimbardo argues, directly impacts broad concepts such as success and contentment. A sharpened ability to deeply consider the past, present and future when making decisions could very well lead to heightened productivity and an increased sense of satisfaction. One must also understand the role temptation plays before committing to anything in the long term, and the lecturer uses the failed “virginity pledge” as an effective example.
  7. Stegana Broadbent: How the internet enables intimacy

    Much ado is made over the role technology plays in interpersonal relationships, and psychologists spend quite a bit of time on understanding how the latest trends have impacted the human mind. This quick talk by a respected ethnographer, Stegana Broadbent, challenges many of the preconceived notions regarding communication breakdown at the hands of the internet. She argues that it actually results in the opposite effect, as people frequently use it to grow even closer, even faster than ever.

  8. Daniel Goleman on compassion

    Daniel Goleman’s main thesis is clear and simple — humanity needs compassion in order to survive. He explores issues of brain and social science alike to understand why some people just don’t reach out to help others in need. Though an incredibly complex study, one of the many facets he notes is the correlation between willingness to display empathy and compassion and time constraints.

  9. Laurie Santos: A monkey economy as irrational as ours

    This lecture blends evolutionary biology, genetics and psychology together into one intriguing glimpse at yet another bizarrely familiar intersection between human and monkey behavior. In spite of humanity’s vast intelligence, many of the same quirks and irrationalities also crop up in its simian relatives (and ancestors). For example, monkeys do possess their own unique economic system — and Laurie Santos points out that some of their least effective patterns parallel the decisions that led to today’s financial crisis.

  10. Michael Shermer: The pattern behind self-deception

    As an expert on debunking myths and urban legends, Michael Shermer understands the intricate psychology behind why people put their faith in everything from UFOs to dowsing rods to 2012 doomsday “prophecies.” He posits that humanity’s ingrained need to believe in something and uncanny ability to recognize patterns (even ones that don’t necessarily exist) leads it to engage in such amazing displays of self-deception. Quite a few studies from many different sources support this insightful claim.

  11. Sheena Iyengar on the art of choosing

    No matter if options in question stand as amazingly trivial or earth-shatteringly major, the human brain reacts to choice with an incredibly complicated, interesting series of mental processes. Nurture and other cultural factors, of course, do play a significant role in shaping how individuals condition themselves to make choices, as with emotional and mental states. From this vantage point, Sheena Iyengar showcases the wide spectrum of psychological and sociological phenomena that lead into why people do what they do.

  12. Al Seckel says our brains are mis-wired

    Thanks to his extensive work in neurosurgery and cognitive science, Al Seckel possesses an intimate understanding of the brain’s over-reliance on perception. Because of this biological tendency, humans are susceptible to believing what illusions tell them. Be sure to watch the video of this lecture rather than simply reading the transcript, as the fantastic visuals greatly highlight how this phenomenon works — and gives people exactly what they want to see.

  13. Ian Dunbar on dog-friendly dog training

    Psychology students curious about animal behavior will certainly find this peek into the popular pets’ inner workings a nice little intellectual treat. Empathy sits at the center of forging a healthy, loving and mutually beneficial relationship with a dog. Learning such a valuable lesson in the service of a canine companion holds the potential to carry over into one’s interaction with other people as well.

  14. Richard Dawkins on our “queer” universe

    No matter how many explanations for scientific phenomena and advances crop up, the world just seems that much more unknowable and bizarre. Perhaps that explains why people tend to cling to their beliefs, even long after they’ve been undeniably debunked. The influential, controversial Richard Dawkins explains that humanity must break away from its tendency to stick with what’s known and understood if it hopes to ever unlock as much potential as possible.

  15. Stuart Brown says play is more than fun

    Anyone hoping for a career in education — regardless of whether or not they opt to study psychology — should consider Stuart Brown’s lecture essential viewing. No matter one’s age, the pleasures to be found in playtime provide the brain and body alike with everything needed to forge ahead healthily and productively. Imagination and improvisation cultivated in leisure time leads to an improved performance once individuals need to apply their skills to working.

  16. Dan Ariely on our buggy moral code

    Humanity is inherently irrational and illogical. In spite of this, however, there exist valid psychological explanations for the whys and hows behind immoral behavior. Subtle stimuli — largely undetectable by most untrained individuals — can drive people to experience lapses in their moral judgment, convincing themselves that cheating, lying and other actions that hurt people are perfectly reasonable.

  17. Inge Missmahl brings peace to the minds of Afghanistan

    In this wrenching, compelling lecture, psychologist and humanitarian Inge Missmahl opens up about her groundbreaking, sadly overlooked projects in Afghanistan. The war-ravaged nation is home to over 30 million individuals, yet only 24 mental health professionals practice there. Her efforts to increase the numbers bring hope and healing to a population that oftentimes feels depressed, wanting and teetering on the cusp of giving up entirely.

  18. Beau Lotto: Optical Illusions show how we see

    Even those with only a tangential understanding of psychology know how important perception is in understanding human behavior. And Beau Lotto points out how important optical illusions are to understanding human perception. Through demonstrations, he illustrates the evolution of eye and brain alike in order to underscore how such things keep people from fully realizing the world around them.

  19. Ken Robinson: Changing education paradigms

    Ken Robinson’s observations of intersections between education and psychology come delivered through some delightful animations. He peers into three of the most disconcerting elements of the school system — an increase in ADD and ADHD diagnoses, escalating drop-out rates and poorly-funded art programs — and discusses the sociological and psychological principles at play here. In spite of some concerns about economics and resources, there are viable solutions that nurture creativity and produce healthy, productive children.

  20. Robert Sapolsky: The uniqueness of humans

    Humans enjoy having a laugh at the seemingly silly things other animals do, oblivious to the fact that they offer up plenty of humorous fodder to the rest of Mother Nature in kind. Thanks to his extensive work with baboons, Robert Sapolsky looks at his fellow men and women through an intriguing (and hilarious) biological lens. Although they share plenty of parallels with other mammals, people certainly pull it off in their own unique, strange way.

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