A Psychological Perspective on Evil; Randy Larsen, PhD

This talk presents a psychological perspective on evil. This perspective emphasizes the underlying cognitive and emotional mechanisms that allow humans to be cruel to one another. This understanding can be applied to comprehending extraordinary acts of evil, such as recently occurred in Paris, but it also applies to understanding the garden-variety cruelties that people commit everyday against one another. Also described are various personality traits, e.g., narcissism, psychopathy, borderline – that illustrate one or more of the mechanisms that contribute to human cruelty. At the individual level, evil is overcome through the development of compassion and empathy.

Dr. Larsen holds the Stuckenberg Professorship in Human Values and Moral Development in the Department of Psychology at Washington University, a position endowed by a St. Louis businessman – William R. Stuckenberg – who was a friend of the Ethical Society and a man keenly interested in morality and human values. Dr. Larsen’s research interests range from the positive side of human nature, e.g., happiness, resilience, and well-being, to the darker aspects of our humanity, for example, prejudice, jealousy, and depression. He has published over 100 scientific papers and four books, and is currently working on a book on ethical issues for scientists.